Voice of America

  • Scientists Find Gold-Loving Fungus In Australia
    A fluffy pink fungus that decorates itself with gold nanoparticles has been found in Western Australia. Researchers believe the fungus is an indicator of gold deposits and hope the discovery will help miners narrow down where to dig. Scientists in Australia have found a fungus that can bond with gold particles. It releases a chemical called superoxide that can dissolve gold in the soil. It is then able to mix this dissolved metal with another chemical to turn it back into solid gold, in the form of tiny nanoparticles. So why does this gold-loving fungus have an attraction to this precious metal? The research team believes by interacting with gold in this way it can grow faster and bigger relative to other fungi that do not. The research has been carried out by Australia’s national science agency. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the CSIRO, believes the discovery could be a new way to mine gold. The fungi could be markers that indicate the presence of gold, and narrow down the area where exploratory drilling would be most beneficial. The study’s author is Dr. Tsing Bohu, a CSIRO geo-microbiologist. “I think this is probably very novel because gold is very inert generally speaking but we found actually this fungus can interact with gold by dissolving gold. So I think it is very novel and it is also very important for mining and other industrial [processes] like leaching, so [it] has some potential applications,” he said. The fungus was found in soil at Boddington, 130 kilometers south-east of Perth in Western Australia. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications. Australia is the world’s second-largest producer of gold, but its output is expected to fall unless more deposits are discovered. In recent weeks, two Australians have stumbled upon large gold nuggets worth tens of thousands of dollars in Western Australia and the state of Victoria.      

  • French Police Arrest Suspect in Last Week’s Explosion in Lyon
    Police in France have arrested a suspect in connection with the last week’s bomb blast in the city of Lyon that injured 13 people. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced the development on Twitter Monday without giving further details. The Paris prosecutor's office which handles all terrorist investigations in France, issued a statement later confirming that a 24-year-old man was arrested in Lyon and placed in custody. He had been the target of an extensive police manhunt since Friday night when a homemade explosive device filled with screws and ball bearings was placed outside the store of a popular bakery chain in the historic center of Lyon. Security camera footage showed a partially masked suspect wheeling a bicycle to the scene, before leaving the bag in front of the store. Police circulated photos of the footage on Twitter, leading to "several dozen" leads. Eight women, four men and a 10-year-old girl, were wounded in the blast, but none of the victims were in life-threatening condition, according to French authorities.

  • Rise of Vietnam’s Second-Tier Cities
    In 2017, long after the Vietnam War, U.S. President Donald Trump finally made his debut in Vietnam, not in the capital city of Hanoi in the north, nor in the business hub of Ho Chi Minh City in the south, but at about the midway point, in Da Nang. The central Vietnamese city was hosting dozens of global leaders at the time, from New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern to South Korea's Moon Jae-in to Trump, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Pulling off one of the world’s biggest conferences without a hitch gave Da Nang something to brag about.  But it also was a sign of something bigger: locals and foreigners are now looking beyond Vietnam’s biggest cities and finding potential in second-tier locales. Da Nang is seen as a clean, well-managed city. The northern port of Hai Phong is luring trade from China. The province of Binh Duong, next to Ho Chi Minh City, is a prime spot for industrial production. The trend suggests that as Vietnam develops, it has a chance to spread out economic gains across the country. While many countries concentrate growth in coastal urban areas, Vietnam could see a more even distribution that reduces inequality and enables sustainable growth.  “Da Nang is currently one of the emerging hotspots for foreign direct investment inflow from Singapore and Europe,” recruitment agency Navigos Group said in a news release, noting that Binh Duong had even higher demand for employees and a bigger labor pool. The company opened a branch in Da Nang earlier this year, following a string of other businesses, from a German information technology outsourcing firm to the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.  “The rapid increase in recruitment demand brings many challenges,” said Gaku Echizenya, the CEO of Navigos Group. “We decided to inaugurate a representative office in Da Nang to help businesses and candidates easily connect with each other.” ​In the past Da Nang was known for its beaches and for seeing the first U.S. troops to deploy in the Vietnam War, in 1965. But more recently its municipal government has made it a place to do business. Its relatively clean streets and low crime rate make it attractive for Vietnamese seeking a less polluted place to escape the big cities. Da Nang ranked No. 5 in the latest Provincial Competitiveness Index, which scores cities and provinces based on business indicators like corruption and land access.  Receiving even more foreign investment than Da Nang in 2018 was Hai Phong. The city’s airport links international travelers to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Ha Long Bay. But beyond that it has been a key shipping hub, even more so as investors move out of China and seek alternative trading partners like Vietnam.  “Hai Phong has all the necessary ingredients to develop into a true global port city,” along the lines of Amsterdam and London, said Stephen Wyatt, country head of the real estate firm JLL Vietnam. He suggested the city focus on improving areas that could increase logistics efficiency, from traffic management, to customs procedures, to use of new technology. Other locations are getting more attention, too. Another domestic carrier, Bamboo Airlines, launched in January, and promises to bring more people and business to Quy Nhon, where the company is based. The town also operates a large container port and is becoming a more popular tourist destination.  Elsewhere, Vietnam seems full of factory-filled zones where investor demand is taking up most of the supply of real estate, from Dong Nai and Long An in the south to Bac Ninh and Hai Duong in the north.  It has not all been smooth sailing. Da Nang’s fast rise has come with criticism that its late technocratic leader Nguyen Ba Thanh ruled with an iron fist. And despite its generally well regulated reputation the city is now stuck in a business-government corruption scandal. But for better or worse, this and other of Vietnam’s second-tier cities are getting more of the spotlight than ever.

  • Trump Not Bothered by North Korea Missile Tests
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed differing views Monday on whether recent North Korean missile tests violated a U.N. Security Council resolution, but remained united on the ultimate goal of achieving a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. Speaking during a joint news conference after talks in Tokyo, Trump said he viewed the tests as a bid for attention by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and that he was not personally bothered by them. Abe said the tests did violate the Security Council resolution. He also repeatedly stressed that in negotiations with North Korea his government is most interested in resolving the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. ​Trump's comments focused largely on economic issues, expressing his expectations of reaching trade deals with Japan and China that would reduce U.S. trade deficits, and highlighting what he sees as the "tremendous economic potential" that awaits North Korea if it makes an agreement that includes giving up its nuclear weapons. Abe welcomed what he called the steady progress of trade talks with the United States, particularly regarding energy, digital and infrastructure sectors. He said he looks forward to further cooperation and celebrated Trump's visit as an exhibit to the world of the "unshakeable bond" the two countries possess. No quick breakthrough on trade was expected although both leaders have expressed a desire for a bilateral trade pact after Trump pulled the United States out of the comprehensive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Tokyo had spearheaded with Washington under Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. At the start of their talks Monday, Trump said he would be fine with Abe serving as a mediator between the United States and Iran. "The prime minister has already spoken to me about that," Trump said in response to a question from VOA. "And I do believe that Iran would like to talk and if they'd like to talk we'd like to talk also. We'll see what happens. But I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran." Trump later at the news conference beside Abe said, "I think we'll make a deal." "It has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We're not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear. We're looking for no nuclear weapons," Trump added. ​U.S. - Iran tensions escalated in recent weeks as Trump ended waivers that had allowed some of Iran's biggest oil buyers to continue making purchases despite new U.S. sanctions, and as he increased the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats. Earlier Monday, Trump became the first foreign leader to meet with Emperor Naruhito, who ascended to the throne May 1. Trump and first lady Melania Trump took part in an elaborate welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace. The U.S. delegation was greeted at the palace by several dozen elementary schoolchildren waving Japanese and American flags. A military band played the U.S. "Star Spangled Banner" and Japan's "Kimigayo" anthems. The emperor is hosting an imperial banquet at the palace Monday night. Before Trump departs Japan on Tuesday, he is to visit the naval base at Yokosuka to tour a Japanese helicopter carrier and address American service personnel in conjunction with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (observed on Monday).

  • Black Dems in Vastly White Iowa Poised to Play 2020 Role
    In Iowa, one of the whitest states in the nation, more than 100 black Democrats who expect to attend the 2020 caucuses crammed into a tiny community center in the capital city to position themselves as a force in the most wide-open presidential campaign in a generation. "There is hope! There is hope, I tell you, the same hope that Barack Obama brought us,'' Jamie Woods, former chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Black Caucus, implored the cheering group last month.  In the state where Obama's 2008 candidacy cleared its first important hurdle, black Democrats are energized as seldom seen, in part motivated by overwhelming dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. That enthusiasm could make a difference in a state that holds a presidential caucus, which, unlike an open primary, attracts only the most motivated voters. That means a candidate who can rally more black voters in the caucuses can gain an outsized advantage, even though African Americans make up only 2% of Iowa's population. Iowa's caucus, coming next February as the first event in the Democratic Party's presidential nominating contest, is an early test of how voters are going to respond to nearly two dozen candidates and could be a harbinger of the primary a few weeks later in South Carolina, where African Americans comprise most of the Democratic primary electorate. "They're realizing that their voice needs to be heard,'' said Deidre DeJear, the first African American to win a primary for statewide office in Iowa and now state chairwoman for Sen. Kamala Harris' 2020 presidential campaign. "And they are using the platform they have whether they're elected or whether just a regular voter.'' Stacey Walker, the first black county board chairman in Iowa's second-most-populous metro area, said she hasn't seen this kind of energy among black operatives, activists and officeholders in Iowa in years. "Not since the Obama coalition have we seen so many persons of color actively engaged and inspired by our politics,'' Walker said. "It hasn't always been this way, and certainly not in Iowa.'' Giving an early indication of the energy within this small but influential segment of the caucus electorate, more than 200 black Democrats braved a driving ice storm in February to attend the Iowa Democratic Black Caucus winter fundraiser at a north Des Moines union hall.  Candidates are looking to harness that energy. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate and former mayor of Newark, has convened city leaders, including Quentin Hart, the first black mayor of Iowa's most densely African American city, Waterloo. Booker met Saturday with Shane McCampbell, the first black mayor of Burlington, along the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa. Harris met privately with state Rep. Phyllis Thede, who is African American, before the four-term lawmaker moderated a campaign event for the California Democrat in eastern Iowa earlier this year. In 2008, when Obama became the first African American to win the Iowa caucuses, 4% of caucus participants were black, double the percentage of the state's overall black population. Obama received 76% of the black vote on caucus night.  Non-black candidates are working to attract influential black supporters, who can help make the difference in a close race, especially given the crowded field.  Amy Klobuchar, for instance, last month hired Woods, the former Iowa Black Democratic Caucus chairwoman, as her caucus campaign's Iowa political director, giving the Minnesota senator a key ally in the competition for black votes.  Entrepreneur Andrew Yang hired Al Womble, a black Des Moines-area businessman known for his behind-the-scenes organizing, as his Iowa campaign chairman. Multiple black candidates in the race and the outreach by others in the crowded field create a different scenario than in 2008, when Obama was the only black candidate. What's more, most of the candidates put ending racial disparity in income and criminal justice atop their agendas. "Even though we're talking about racial disparity and white supremacy, and all this is bad, that this isn't who we are. No one single candidate is leading the charge,'' said Guy Nave, a Democrat from Decorah who is black and plans to attend the caucus.  Iowa Democrats are predicting turnout in the 2020 caucuses will beat the record 237,000 set in 2008, as Trump's approval in Iowa has struggled to top 50 percent. Meanwhile, candidates themselves are working to attract first-time caucus participants to eke out any advantage in a field that now numbers 23.  That means even a narrow edge of support from African Americans, in combination with a coalition of other voters, could make the difference for the winner in Iowa next February, said former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach. "If you can find a candidate that has a stronghold in a particular demographic and is able to turn them out, that could turn into something extraordinary on caucus night,'' said Sterzenbach, who is advising former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's presidential campaign.

  • Bolivian Women Fight Gender-Based Violence through Theater
    On stage, amid the hubbub of a Bolivian street market, women recount their stories of abuse at the hands of men. But the violence depicted in the play isn't just make-believe for the 22 indigenous actresses: It's based on their own real-life experiences. "Kusisita,'' a work that seeks to raise awareness about violence against women and mobilize people to fight it, has been drawing large audiences in Bolivia, which has one of South America's highest rates of femicides. In the theater, Maria Luque portrays a woman who asks her drunken husband to stop abusing her. In her own history, she said, she was so brutally beaten by the father of her four children that she was left partly paralyzed. Even after more than a decade, she still has trouble moving some of the muscles in her face.  "I've suffered discrimination since birth,'' she told The Associated Press. "My mom was very poor and she escaped violence. For some, (violence) might be normal, but we want to show that it shouldn't be that way.'' "Kusisita'' is one of two plays offered by the Kory Warmis - Women of Gold in the Aymara language - troupe, and both focus on the problems of gender violence and convincing women to reject it. "I was quiet, submissive, but I left that behind on stage. Theater is now my life,'' said Luque, 56, who immigrated to the city of El Alto from a rural community in search of work opportunities.  The plays, presented in Aymara, are also aimed at indigenous communities where nearly half of all reports of gender-based violence takes place, according to 2017 figures from the National Statistics Institute. Those communities make up roughly a fifth of Bolivia's population. ​About 40% of the country's police cases involve family violence and alcohol is involved in 90% of cases, according to a government report last year on gender-based violence. "It's a very high and alarming rate,'' said government minister Carlos Romero, who helped write the report. Actress Gumercinda Mamani, an artisan and shepherd , recalled how the body of a friend was found on the outskirts of La Paz with marks from a rope that her partner had used to choke her. "It's hard to understand how the man that you give your life to is the one who takes it away,'' said Mamani, a former representative for female farmers. ``I'm fighting against this.'' Carmen Aranibar, another actress, joined the group in the hopes that her story would encourage other women to leave abusive relationships. "We can't wait until they kill us or we want to take our own lives out of the desperation caused by violence,'' said Aranibar, a mother of two boys who sells diapers for a living. She said she endured beatings by her partner for more than 10 years before finding out that he was cheating on her with a younger woman.  "I nearly killed myself,'' she said. "I put up with everything he did because I was afraid that he'd leave me. But then I realized that it wasn't worth it and I left him. I'm happy here and that's what I tell in the play.'' The theater group, which was founded in 2014, finds itself gaining an audience as waves of women mobilize to fight gender violence across the world. In neighboring Argentina, a grassroots movement known as "Ni Una Menos,'' or Not One Less, emerged in 2015 and drew thousands to hold massive demonstrations in support of women's rights. But while movements in Bolivia have lacked the impact of Ni Una Menos or the (hash)MeToo movement in the United States, some say the plays have had impact. "It's a success, 100% percent,'' said Paola Ricalde of the La Paz mayorship's directorate for equality policies.  Theater group director Erika Andia said it's challenging to oversee a group of women who have been forced to be silent and submissive. But she said that their strength of will helped them achieve their goal of ``discovering what they're capable of, helping them loosen up and boost their confidence.'' "We never thought we'd reach so far,'' Andia said. "There are no limits to what we do. Every year we continue to grow and there's happiness after all the pain that our actresses have suffered.''

  • Simon Pagenaud Wins Indy 500 on Penske's Golden Anniversary
    Simon Pagenaud arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month with his job on the line and rumors swirling around Gasoline Alley that Alexander Rossi could soon replace him at Team Penske. The Frenchman is leaving with a pair of wins, his face soon to be engraved on the Borg-Warner trophy as the Indianapolis 500 champion and an assurance from Roger Penske himself that he isn't going anywhere. "Do I even have to answer that?'' Penske asked. "Absolutely.'' In a head-to-head duel for the ages, Pagenaud defeated none other than Rossi with a dramatic pass on the penultimate lap, then holding on the rest of the way to hand Penske his 18th win in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.'' Even sweeter, it came the 50th anniversary of Penske's arrival at the Brickyard. Pagenaud and Rossi swapped the lead five times over the final 13 laps, and the margin of victory was a mere 0.2086 seconds -- the seventh-closest finish in the 103 years of the race. "It's a dream come true. A lifetime trying to achieve this,'' said Pagenaud, who dismissed the thought over job security as he celebrated his first Indy 500 win. "The milk motivated me. I was just focused on the job, man.'' Pagenaud was dominant all day, leading 116 of the 200 laps, and the win was cathartic. He stopped his car at the start-finish line and hopped out to share the moment with his fans. And once he finally made his way to victory lane, Pagenaud climbed from his car and let out a primal scream, then dumped the entire bottle of milk over his head.  "I never expected to be in this position,'' Pagenaud said, "and I certainly am grateful.'' President Donald Trump phoned Penske in victory lane from Japan, where he was meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over trade. Penske passed the phone to Pagenaud, and Trump later tweeted an invite to the White House for the winning team. Penske, who was there earlier with Joey Logano last month to celebrate last year's NASCAR Cup Series championship, said Trump told him: "I must have been your good-luck charm.'' Penske now has two consecutive Indy 500 victories -- Will Power won last year -- for the first time since 2002-03. It was his third win in the crown jewel race in the past five years and fifth in the past 14. ​It was a banner day, too, with Josef Newgarden finishing fourth and Power in fifth. Rossi lost his cool several times in the race, but the Californian had better fuel mileage than Pagenaud and the Penske cars. The 2016 race winner twice charged to the front in the closing laps. "Horsepower. That's unfortunately the way it is,'' said Rossi, who was in a Honda for Andretti Autosport. "I think we had the superior car. We just didn't have enough there at the end.'' Pagenaud was in a Chevrolet, and the bowtie brand was the dominant engine all May. It swept the top four spots in qualifying, won the race and took four of the top six spots. Pagenaud is the first Frenchman to win the Indy 500 since Rene Thomas in 1914. Indianapolis records count five French winners, but Gil de Ferran in 2003 and Gaston Chevrolet in 1920, while born in France, list other nationalities. Pagenaud was the 21st winner form the pole and first since Helio Castroneves a decade ago. As he began the traditional victory lap in the back of a convertible, Rossi was one of many drivers to walk onto the track to congratulate him. The American leaned in for a genuine embrace. "Nothing else matters but winning,'' Rossi said. "This one will be hard to get over.'' Rossi, who drove from the back to finish fourth a year ago, had been patient through the first half of the race and set himself up to take control after the halfway point. But a troublesome fuel hose on a pit stop caused a lengthy delay, and Rossi was angrily pounding his steering wheel while imploring the Andretti crew to get him back on track. He really lost his cool when he couldn't get past the lapped car of Oriol Servia. As Rossi finally raced by, he angrily raised his fist at the Spaniard. A late wreck then caused an 18-minute stoppage with Rossi set to restart the final sprint as the leader, and he conveyed his mood over his team radio. "A bunch of hungry, angry cars behind me,'' Rossi said. "Little do they know I'm angrier.'' Pagenaud got him on the restart, though, and the two went back and forth four more times before Pagenaud locked down the win. Former champion Takuma Sato finished third as he and Rossi gave Honda two spots on the podium. Santino Ferrucci in seventh was the highest finishing rookie. Attention had been heavy on rookie Colton Herta, but the 19-year-old driver for team owners Mike Harding and George Steinbrenner IV was the first driver out of the race when his gearbox broke. Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials had prepared for rain, and perhaps even a postponement, in NBC's debut as broadcaster. But it was a bright, sunny day -- a picture-perfect showcase for Pagenaud to triumph on Memorial Day weekend. 

  • Tornadoes Rake 2 Oklahoma Cities, Killing 2 and Injuring 29
    A tornado leveled a motel and tore through a mobile home park near Oklahoma City overnight, killing two people and injuring at least 29 others before a second twister raked a suburb of Tulsa more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, authorities said Sunday. The first tornado touched down in El Reno, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City, late Saturday night. It crossed an interstate and walloped the American Budget Value Inn before ripping through the Skyview Estates trailer park, flipping and leveling homes, Mayor Matt White said at a news conference. "It's a tragic scene out there,'' White said, adding later that, "People have absolutely lost everything.'' He said the city established a GoFundMe site, the City of El Reno Tornado Relief Fund, for affected families. Several other businesses were also damaged, though not to the same extent as the motel. ​The two people who were killed were in the mobile home park, White said. He did not provide additional details about them. The 29 people who were injured were taken to hospitals, where some were undergoing surgery. Some of the injuries were deemed critical, he said. The National Weather Service gave the tornado an EF3 rating, meaning it had wind speeds of 136-165 mph (219-266 kph). Personnel who investigated the damage said the tornado began around 10:28 p.m. Saturday and lasted for four minutes. The tornado was about 75 yards wide at its widest point and was on the ground for 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers). The tornado was spawned by a powerful storm system that rolled through the state -- the latest in a week of violent storms to hit the flood-weary Plains and Midwest that have been blamed for at least 11 deaths, including the two killed in El Reno. Early Sunday, another tornado destroyed several buildings and downed trees and power lines in the Tulsa suburb of Sapulpa, which is 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of El Reno. Pete Snyder, a hydrometeorological technician with the weather service in Tulsa, said crews were assessing damage to determine the tornado's rating. The area also experienced damage from strong straight-line winds, he said. The Sapulpa Police Department said on its Facebook page that it hadn't heard of any deaths and that only a few minor injuries had been reported.  Residents wandered around after sunrise to survey the damage, carefully avoiding fallen utility poles that blocked some streets. Among the buildings that were destroyed was a historic railroad building built in the early 1900s that the Farmers Feed Store had been using for storage. A furniture store's warehouse was also destroyed. In El Reno, emergency crews sifted through the rubble at the trailer park and motel, where the second story collapsed into a pile of debris strewn about the first floor and parking lot. ​Tweety Garrison, 63, told The Associated Press that she was in her mobile home with her husband, two young grandchildren and a family friend when she heard the storm coming and immediately hit the ground. Moments later, she heard her neighbor's mobile home slam into hers before it flipped over and landed on her roof. Garrison said the incident lasted five to 10 minutes and that she received a tornado warning on her phone but the sirens didn't go off until after the twister hit. Her 32-year-old son, Elton Garrison, said he heard the wailing tornado sirens and had just laid down at home about a half-mile (1 kilometer) away when his phone rang. He recognized his mother's number, but there was no voice on the other end when he answered. "I thought, `That's weird,''' he said. Then his mother called back, and delivered a chilling message: "We're trapped.'' He said when he arrived at his parent's home, he found it blocked by debris and sitting with another trailer on top of it. He began clearing a path to the home so that he could eventually lift a portion of an outside wall just enough so that all five occupants could slip beneath it and escape. "My parents were in there and two of my kids, one 9 and the other 12. ... My main emotion was fear,'' said Elton Garrison, who has lived in El Reno for about 26 years. "I couldn't get them out of there quick enough.'' He said he wasn't alarmed by the warning sirens when he first heard them at home. ​"We hear them all the time here, so it didn't seem like a big deal. ... I heard a lot of rain with the wind. But when it kind of got calm all of a sudden, that's when it didn't feel right.'' He said his parents had only recently recovered after losing their previous home to a fire a few years ago. "Now this,'' he said, before expressing gratitude that everyone inside his parents' home had emerged without serious injury. In the next breath, he added: "Items can be replaced. Lives can't.'' The storm is the latest to hit the flood-weary central U.S. and dumped yet more rain in the region's already bloated waterways. In Tulsa, authorities advised residents of some neighborhoods on Sunday to consider leaving for higher ground because the Arkansas River is stressing the city's old levee system. Downriver and about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Tulsa in Arkansas' second-largest city, Fort Smith, residents were preparing for what meteorologists are predicting will be the worst flooding in recorded history. 

  • Trump: Japan-Mediated Iran Talks 'Would Be Fine'
    U.S. President Donald Trump says he would be fine with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe serving as a mediator between the United States and Iran. "The prime minister has already spoken to me about that," Trump said in response to a question from VOA."And I do believe that Iran would like to talk and if they'd like to talk we'd like to talk also. We'll see what happens. But I know for a fact that the prime minister is very close with the leadership of Iran." Trump spoke as he and Abe opened a meeting Monday at the Japanese state guest house. U.S. - Iran tensions escalated in recent weeks as Trump ended waivers that had allowed some of Iran's biggest oil buyers to continue making purchases despite new U.S. sanctions, and as he increased the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats. Trump and Abe are scheduled to hold a news conference Monday afternoon after their talks that were to include military and trade matters.   No quick breakthrough on trade is expected although both leaders have expressed a desire for a bilateral trade pact after Trump pulled the United States out of the comprehensive 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Tokyo had spearheaded with Washington under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump said there would be an announcement on trade coming probably in August "that will be very good for both countries," and reiterated his desire to see a better trade balance between them. Earlier Monday, Trump became the first foreign leader to meet with Emperor Naruhito, who ascended to the throne May 1. Trump and first lady Melania Trump took part in an elaborate welcoming ceremony at the Imperial Palace. The U.S. delegation was greeted at the palace by several dozen elementary schoolchildren waving Japanese and American flags. A military band played the U.S. "Star Spangled Banner" and Kimigayo anthems.  The emperor is hosting an imperial banquet at the palace Monday night. On Sunday, Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton were publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat currently posed by North Korea.   In a Sunday morning tweet from Tokyo, Trump issued a retort to Bolton who the previous day here had told reporters that there was “no doubt” North Korea’s recent test firing of short-range ballistic missiles violated a United Nations resolution.   Bolton’s remark was the first by a U.S. official describing the North Korean launches as a violation of U.N. resolutions. “North Korea fired off some small weapons which disturbed some of my people and others, but not me,” said Trump in his tweet. Trump’s tweet on North Korea caused confusion and consternation, not only within the administration but also among America’s allies in the region, acknowledged senior White House officials traveling with the president Some analysts say the missile launches are indeed a concern.   “It’s pretty clear the missile launch was a violation of U.N. sanctions, whatever the range. The reality is that U.S. forces and civilians in South Korea and Japan are already in range of North Koreans missiles, so accepting shorter or mid-range missiles puts the United States at risk, not to mention our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Kevin Maher, a Washington security consultant and a former head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, tells VOA. “These realities are inconvenient if the objective is to show a personal relationship with the dictator Kim Jung UN will stop North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile programs.”   The U.S. president also expressed confidence the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, “will keep his promise to me” in moving towards denuclearization. Trump said Monday there is "good respect" between the United States and North Korea, and he thinks "lots of good things will come." Trump and Kim have held two summits – in Singapore and Hanoi. Neither has led to any significant breakthroughs although the meetings were seen as reducing tensions between the two countries which have no diplomatic relations and their leaders had never met before. The United States and North Korea were belligerents in a three-year war in the early 1950's which devastated the Korean peninsula. It ended with an armistice, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.    Bolton, who 13 months ago replaced retired Army General H.R. McMaster as the president's national security adviser, is known as a hardliner who distrusts Pyongyang's intentions.   North Korea has a long track record of violating international agreements and has repeatedly defied U.N. sanctions against its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Before Trump departs Japan on Tuesday, he is to visit the naval base at Yokosuka to tour a Japanese helicopter carrier and address American service personnel in conjunction with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (observed on Monday).

  • American Football Legend Bart Starr Dies at 85
    Former U.S. football superstar Bart Starr, who led his Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls, has died at 85. The Packers gave no cause of death, but Starr had not fully recovered from two strokes and a heart attack five years ago. Starr arrived in Green Bay in 1956 after playing college football for the University of Alabama. He was a solid but unremarkable player until legendary coach Vince Lombardi took over the Packers in 1959. Starr's name became synonymous with football greatness in the 1960s. Starr and Lombardi led Green Bay to five NFL championships, including wins in Super Bowls I and II. The 1967 Super Bowl will be forever known as the Ice Bowl, with wind chills as low as minus 56 degrees Celsius at one point. Despite the miserable conditions and with just minutes to go, Starr completed five consecutive passes and ran the ball into the end zone himself, to come from behind and beat the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17. Starr retired from playing in 1971 and later coached the Packers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Starr co-founded a ranch for troubled boys and the NFL's annual Bart Starr Award goes to the player who shows outstanding charitable traits.  

  • 8.0-Magnitude Quake Rocks Eastern Peru
    A powerful magnitude-8.0 earthquake shook a remote part of the Amazon jungle area of eastern Peru Sunday, destroying homes and knocking out power. Officials report one quake-related death after a man was killed when a boulder tumbled into his house. At least six injuries were reported. Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra is planning to tour the area to see the damage. He says landslides have blocked a number of roads. Sunday’s quake was centered about 92 kilometers from the town of Yurimaguas, in northern Peru, but was about 114 kilometers below the Earth's surface, sparing the region from more serious damage. Earthquakes are frequent in Peru, which is part of the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire," the world’s most active area of seismic activity.  

  • Lumberjacks Test Their Mettle in Timbersports Championship
    North America, as the world knows it today, would likely look different without their efforts. Woodsmen logged forests, producing essential lumber and firewood, while also clearing farmland. They grew to be called lumberjacks, and at a recent competition in Sweden, a champion emerged a cut above the rest. Arash Arabasadi reports.

  • New European Parliament Projected to Have More Far-Right Lawmakers
    European leaders have joined voters in casting their ballots to elect a new 751-member European Union parliament. The polling began Thursday but 21 of the 28 member nations held elections on Sunday. About 400 million people were eligible to vote. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports the voter turnout was the highest in 20 years.

  • Smaller Pro-EU Parties Surge in European Elections; Centrists Lose Seats
    Smaller European parties saw a surge of support in continent-wide elections for the European Parliament in what politicians and analysts agree will likely be seen as the most consequential since 1979, when European Union voters first began casting ballots for the bloc’s legislature. Early results Sunday suggested the 751-seat parliament will be more fragmented than ever before. Smaller parties, both euroskeptic and pro-EU ones, fared well at the expense of their more established and bigger center-right and center-left rivals. WATCH: EU vote Pro-EU Liberals and Greens will hold the balance of power in the new parliament, which will sit for five years. Philippe Lamberts, leader of the Greens group, said: “To make a stable majority in this parliament, the Greens are now indispensable.” The rise of new parties appears to have smashed the duopoly of control of the parliament traditionally enjoyed by the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). National populist parties As the results came in, nationalist populists were on course to win just under a quarter of the seats in the parliament, but they had set their sights on snatching a third of them. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique En Marche was defeated, coming in second to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Le Pen welcomed the win, saying it had delivered a serious blow to the authority of the French president. In Italy, too, nationalist populists led by Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister, made important gains. And eurosceptic hard-right parties topped the polls in Britain, Poland and Hungary. But the bigger takeaway from the election was how well pro-EU Greens and Liberals did. In several countries Green parties saw their support jump from five years ago. In Germany, the Greens made major gains at the expense of country’s left-wing Social Democrats, making a historic breakthrough by securing more than 20% of the vote. Carsten Schneider, a German Social Democrats lawmaker, acknowledged it was a “bitter result, a defeat for us.” “I think the main issue was climate change and we didn't succeed in putting that front and center, alongside the big social issues,” he added. In Ireland, too, Greens were celebrating, clinching three of Ireland’s 13 seats. The sudden crest in support for the Greens comes amid rising anxiety across Europe over the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss. Irish Prime Minister Leo Eric Varadkar tweeted: “I want to congratulate the Greens on a very good election. It’s a very clear message from the public that they want us to do more on climate action -- and we’ve got that message.” Voters in 21 countries went to the polls Sunday. In seven other nations, including Britain, voters cast their ballots last week with the results being held back until all countries had completed the balloting. Bloc gaining power The European Parliament has become more powerful in recent years — for much of its existence it was just a debating society without clout. Now it helps pick the president of the European Commission and contributes to the shaping of trade and digital regulations. Seats are allocated under a form of proportional representation. For years, the center-right EPP and the center-left S&D, both pro-EU parties, have together commanded an absolute majority in the parliament and its leaders have more often than not been able to settle disagreements in behind-the-scenes meetings. In Britain, in an election that wasn’t meant to have been — the country was due to have left the EU by now — the newly formed Brexit Party of Nigel Farage trounced both of Britain’s two main established parties, the Conservatives and Labour, signaling it will likely be a threat to the pair in a general election, which many observers think will have to be called this year. Both the Conservatives and Labour had been braced for a backlash from voters over Brexit, with the Brexit Party and pro-EU Liberal Democrats expected to do well. The predictions turned out to be right, with the ruling Conservatives recording their worst election performance in their history. The turnout in Britain was higher than previous European polls — as it was across all of the bloc where it averaged 50%, the highest rate since 1994. British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan blamed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s reluctance to resign from office for the defeat. On Twitter, he said: “Had the PM announced her resignation even 24 hours earlier, something might have been salvaged.” Still a strong pro-EU majority The reduction in the power of establishment parties could potentially make it more difficult for the bloc to agree on collective action when it comes to economic, trade and foreign policies, but EU officials were breathing a sigh of relief Sunday night when it became clear there would still be a strong pro-EU majority in the parliament. The center-right EPP will likely hold on to 173 seats in the EU parliament, down from 221 in 2014, while the Socialist group will fall from 191 to 147 seats. The Liberals were expected to rise from 67 seats to more than 100; the Greens increased from 50 to 71. Socialists looked set to top the poll in Spain. And traditional left parties fared better than had been predicted in Italy and the Netherlands.  

  • 3 Killed in Skirmish Between Pakistan Security Forces, Rights Activists
    At least three people were killed and several dozen wounded Sunday morning when Pakistan’s security forces and protesters skirmished at a security checkpoint in North Waziristan. The military blamed the incident in North Waziristan, close to Afghanistan’s border, on leaders of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a local rights movement. The country’s sitting government supported the military’s version of events, while several of the largest opposition parties seemed to be supporting PTM after the incident. PTM leaders Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, who represent the region in Pakistan's national assembly, were involved in the protest. After the incident, Wazir and several other PTM members were arrested, while Dawar went into hiding.   Dawar told VOA's Deewa Service security personnel were trying to block them from going to demonstrate against alleged abuses by the military during a search operation in the region a day earlier. “They beat up a woman and picked up some other people yesterday (Saturday). We were going to protest that incident when they opened fire on us. At first, it was aerial firing, then they fired on us directly,” he said. A message from ISPR, Pakistan military’s public relations wing, said the search operation and subsequent arrests were carried out in response to an attack on its local forces in that area on Friday. A separate official statement suggested the PTM protest was meant to “exert pressure for release of suspected terrorists’ facilitators” arrested in the search operation. The statement also said troops fired on protesters in response to an attack on soldiers. “Troops at the check post exercised maximum restraint in the face of provocation and direct firing on the check post,” said a statement by ISPR. It said five soldiers were also wounded in the incident Sunday morning. However, PTM leaders denied the accusations, saying soldiers fired on people who had been protesting peacefully. PTM activist Rahim Dawar of North Waziristan said he saw dozens of people who had been wounded in the firing. “I saw at least two dozen people that were hurt. For an hour, no one helped us. We were trying to pick up the injured when three army vehicles came and took the wounded away,” Rahim Dawar told VOA's Deewa Service. A cellphone video shared in various WhatsApp groups shows Mohsin Dawar and other protesters angrily yelling at security personnel, demanding to be let through. Neither Wazir nor any of the people around him seem to be wielding weapons. VOA was not able to independently verify the video. Updates from the area are difficult to gather, however, due to a curfew in the area and a complete suspension of internet and telephone services. “I started receiving calls within half an hour of the incident, but within the hour everything was blocked,” VOA Deewa Service reporter Adnan Bitani said. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young leader of Pakistan's People Party (PPP) and son of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said he could not believe the violence was perpetrated by PTM leaders. “I’m sorry, what? How can Mohsin Dawar attack a check post. ... I don’t think that an elected member of parliament can carry out an attack like this,” he said when questioned about the incident during a press conference. Acknowledging that he was unaware of facts in this case, he added that the country nonetheless needed to engage with the young political activists and address their grievances. “If we call out own citizens, our own politicians “traitors” every time they demand their rights, demand democracy, demand rule of law, then it will lead to something dangerous,” Bhutto Zardari said. The military has often alleged that PTM receives funding from hostile intelligence agencies and works on an anti-state agenda, a claim PTM denies. “Have we not paid a heavy price for trying to crush protests and silence dissent,” tweeted Maryam Nawaz Sharif, vice president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the daughter and heir-apparent of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both Bhutto Zardari and Sharif seemed to be alluding to Pakistan’s history, when part of the country, called East Pakistan, separated to make Bangladesh after its population felt oppressed and sidelined by the ruling elite in West Pakistan. PTM has so far been a peaceful movement focused on the rights of Pashtuns, particularly those living in the areas bordering Afghanistan who bear the brunt of Taliban violence as well as the military operations against the militants. The party's main demands have been to end extrajudicial killings, present victims of enforced disappearance into a court, clear landmines, and reduce checkpoints in the tribal areas, which, the party claims, are not just a hindrance for the local population, but a source of humiliation at the hands of those guarding the posts.  

  • Impeachment Questions Still Swirling in Washington
    President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are away from Washington, but questions about possible impeachment of the president continue to swirl as the White House thwarts multiple investigations led by House Democrats after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, while the House could impeach, Trump is virtually assured of remaining in office as there is almost zero chance the Republican-led Senate would convict him.

  • Impeachment Questions Still Swirling in Washington
    President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers are away from Washington, but questions about possible impeachment of the president continue to swirl as the White House thwarts multiple investigations led by House Democrats after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. While the House could impeach, Trump is virtually assured of remaining in office as there is almost zero chance the Republican-led Senate would convict him. Democrats are using their House majority to investigate Trump and his administration on everything from the treatment of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border to the president’s foreign business dealings and tax returns. Democrats also want the Justice Department to release the full, unredacted Mueller report. The White House is blocking them at almost every turn, causing tempers to boil over. “The Trump administration has taken obstruction of Congress to new heights,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. His words were echoed by Judiciary Committee member Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, also a Democrat. “We have to surmise that this is an absolute lawless behavior by this administration,” she said. The House is taking steps to hold key administration officials in contempt of Congress, but the body has a more potent – and explosive – option: formally leveling charges against Trump, or impeachment. “What we need to do is at least be on that track and at least be in the process of impeachment,” said. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat. Republicans see Democrats as desperately clinging to a narrative of presidential wrongdoing after special counsel Mueller found no collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russia. “The Democrats have no plans, no purpose, and no viable legislative agenda beyond attacking this administration,” said Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee. And powerful Democratic leaders, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are wary of launching impeachment proceedings, at least for now. “Impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country. And we can get the facts to the American people, through our investigation. It may take us to a place where it is unavoidable, in terms of impeachment.” Meanwhile, President Trump, sticking to his guns, called on Democrats to “get these phony investigations over with.” Last week, Trump halted consultations with Democrats on a major initiative to modernize U.S. infrastructure until congressional probes are complete. “You (Democrats) can go down the investigation track and you can go down the investment track – or the track of let’s get things done for the American people,” Trump said. Two U.S. presidents have been impeached, most recently Bill Clinton. The impeachment vote sullied Clinton’s record but did not lead to his removal from office. The same likely would be true for Trump. Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination all want to oust Trump, but at the ballot box. “It seems like every day or two, there is another affront to the rule of law … The best thing I can do to get us a new president is to win the nomination and defeat the president who’s there,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential candidate, one of more than twenty running to unseat Trump, speaking on ABC’s ‘This Week’ program. Polls do not show the American people clamoring for Trump’s impeachment. Bill Clinton’s approval numbers actually rose after House Republicans launched impeachment proceedings against him in 1998.  

  • 30 Dead, 200 Missing After Boat Sinks on DRC Lake
    Authorities in western Congo say at least 30 people are dead and another 200 are missing after a boat sank on a lake. Simon Mboo Wemba, the mayor of Inongo, told The Associated Press on Sunday night that many of those aboard the boat that sank on Lake Mai-Ndombe were teachers. The mayor says they had traveled to collect their salaries by boat because roads in the region are so poor. It was not immediately known how many people were aboard the boat when it hit bad weather late Saturday. But officials estimate several hundred were on board. More than 80 people survived. Boats in the vast nation of Congo are usually overloaded with passengers and cargo, and official manifests don't include all those aboard.    

  • We're Only About 43% Human, Study Shows
    New discoveries about what is inside the body are making scientists rethink what makes a person human and what makes people sick or healthy. Less than half of the cells in the body are human. The rest belong to microorganisms that affect the health, mood and whether certain people respond better to certain medications. “So to our 30 trillion human cells, we have on average about 39 trillion microbial cells. So by that measure, we’re only about 43% human,” said Rob Knight, director of the University of California San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation and professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering. Microbes affecting health It is common knowledge that bacteria, or even viruses and fungi, exist in areas of our body, including the mouth, skin and gut. However, it is only in recent years that scientists have discovered that each person’s gut bacteria is unique, and the collection of microbes can greatly impact a person’s health — such as their weight and whether they will develop ailments such as heart disease. Microbes in the gut can even affect mood. Researchers are studying whether conditions such as autism, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are linked to microbes. “They changed the way we think about biology, and changed the way we think about what it means to be human,” Knight said. The collection of microbes in each person is different, starting from when babies are born. How they enter the world, whether vaginally or through cesarean section (C-section), whether they drink breast milk or not, the animals they are exposed to and the medications they take, can all impact their development. “The biggest problem with antibiotics is early in childhood, and especially the combination of C-section and antibiotics and bottle feeding is especially bad for kids. We’ll see impacts on that even at age 8 to 12, in terms of their weight, even in terms of the cognitive performance,” Knight said. The cancer puzzle Karen Sfanos, associate professor of pathology, oncology and urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said researchers think at least 70% of a human body’s immunity and immune cells exist in the gut. She is studying the link between microbes and cancer. “There’s still many cancers out there where we have no idea what even causes the cancer. We’ve been trying to solve this puzzle, and up until this point, half the pieces were missing because we didn’t even know half the pieces existed. There’s just a tremendous amount of knowledge that’s to be gained and to be researched to understand the profound influence that these microbes might have on both cancer initiation but also therapeutic response to certain cancer therapies,” she said. What affects microbes in an adult body most is diet and how many different types of plants a person eats. “By eating a high-fat diet or an unhealthy diet, (it) can lead to pro-inflammatory microbes. It can cause inflammation in the gut, in your GI tract, and, unfortunately, in that scenario, the inflammation that happens in your gut can have a really long-distance effect on many other organ systems in your body,” Sfanos said. One company, DayTwo, is using the findings of gut microbe research to fight diabetes. “The diversity and abundance of the bacteria in the gut are a very useful predictor in how people process food,” said Josh Stevens, president of DayTwo. Since each person’s gut bacteria is different, how a body reacts to sugar is also different for each person. “So by profiling the gut, we can actually help people get to a personalized prescription for food that works for them,” Stevens said. Distinguishing the good from the bad Microbes in the body are changing every day. A growing number of scientists are researching these microbes to learn which ones are good and bad. They are seeing promising results in treating a hospital-acquired infection called C. diff. “You can treat C. diff by taking a stool from a healthy person and giving it to a sick person. And they typically recover in two or three days. And it has about (a) 90% cure rate, as opposed to 30% for antibiotics,” Knight said. This process is done by mixing a fecal sample from a healthy person into a liquid preparation and introducing it to a sick person via a feeding tube or colonoscopy. Researchers are working toward a future where there is a more precise approach to weeding out the bad bacteria and introducing more good microbes into the body to improve health.

  • Study: Less Than Half of Human Body Is Human
    New discoveries are making scientists rethink what makes us human, and even why we get sick and how to stay healthy. Research estimates that we're only about 43% human. The rest are microorganisms that affect health, mood and how you respond to medication. VOA's Elizabeth Lee visited a lab at the University of California San Diego for a peek at research about the bugs that live in all of us.