Author: Fbiz

UN: Global Warming Threatens to Defeat Effort to Fix World Ills

Relentless global warming threatens the potential success of a sweeping set of goals established by the United Nations to tackle inequality, conflict and other ills, officials said on Tuesday.

Climate change imperils food supplies, water and places where people live, endangering the U.N. plan to address these world problems by 2030, according to a report by U.N. officials.

Member nations of the U.N. unanimously adopted 17 global development goals in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling such vexing issues as conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change.

The latest report, which called climate change “the greatest challenge to sustainable development,” came as diplomatic, business and other officials gathered for a high-level U.N. forum to take stock of the goals’ progress.

“The most urgent area for action is climate change,” said Liu Zhenmin, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, in the report.

“The compounded effects will be catastrophic and irreversible,” he said, listing increased extreme weather events, more severe natural disasters and land degradation. “These effects, which will render many parts of the globe uninhabitable, will affect the poor the most.”

Progress has been made on lowering child mortality, boosting immunization rates and global access to electricity, the report said.

Yet extreme poverty, hunger and inequality remain hugely problematic, and more than half of school-age children showed “shockingly low proficiency rates” in reading and math, it said.

Two-thirds of those children were in school.

Human trafficking rates nearly doubled from an average 150 detected victims per country in 2010 to 254 in 2016.

But it was unclear how much of the increase reflected improved reporting systems versus an increase in trafficking, said Francesca Perucci of the U.N.’s statistics division, who worked on the report.

“It’s hard to exactly distinguish the two,” she said at a launch of the report.

But climate change remained paramount.

Greenhouse gases have continued to climb, and “climate change is occurring much faster than anticipated,” the report said.

At this week’s goals summit, 47 countries were expected to present voluntary progress reviews. Almost 100 other countries and four cities including New York have done so.

Earlier U.N. reports said the goals were threatened by the persistence of violence, conflict and lack of private investment. Outside assessments have also cited nationalism, protectionism and insufficient funding.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

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Despite Funding Loss, Cities Vow to Continue Resilience Push

In the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, nine “water plazas” have been created that soak up excess rainfall while offering people a green space to meet and children to play.

The city is also planting gardens and putting solar panels on a growing area of its nearly 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) of flat roofs.

Paris, meanwhile, is redesigning and opening green schoolyards as cooler places for locals to escape extreme heat, while in New Zealand, Wellington is rolling out neighborhood water supplies to keep the taps on when an earthquake hits.

More than 70 cities that are part of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, set up in 2013, have crafted “resilience strategies” that include about 3,500 activities designed to combat shocks and stresses – everything from floods to an influx of refugees.

The United Nations estimates that by 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, which are increasingly impacted by extreme weather and sea level rise, while producing about 75% of planet-warming emissions.

Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, told a gathering of the network’s cities in Rotterdam on Tuesday that efforts to build resilience had now become established as an approach to improving quality of life in cities.

Those efforts to keep people safe and well in the face of rising climate, economic and social pressures will continue, despite the closure this month of the organization that helped them craft those plans, officials said.

At the end of July, 100RC will shut its offices after the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation said in April it would no longer fund the body, having given about $176 million for its work.

That funding helped pay initial salaries for chief resilience officers in member cities, for example, though about 80% of the cities now have made the role a part of their staff, 100RC officials said.

The Rockefeller Foundation said on Monday it would provide an additional $8 million over 18 months to help 100RC cities and their chief resilience officers transition to a network they will lead themselves.

“Ultimately, we aim to ensure continued collaboration and sharing among cities to address some of their most pressing challenges,” Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah said in a statement.

Expansion Ahead?

Krishna Mohan Ramachandran, chief resilience officer for the Indian city of Chennai, which has just launched its resilience strategy, said he was relieved it would be able to carry on with planned projects.

Those include conserving scarce water, putting vegetable gardens in schools, and finding less risky but nearby locations for flood-threatened communities, among others.

Rotterdam chief resilience officer Arnoud Molenaar, who led colleagues in lobbying for extra funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, said resilience work had garnered more support and created more value in cities than was often appreciated.

The Rockefeller bridge grant meant the network would now have time to raise more money from donors and others to stand on its own, and expand partnerships with politicians, communities and businesses, Molenaar said.

Elizabeth Yee, who moved from 100RC to The Rockefeller Foundation to manage its climate and resilience work, said there was a “huge” amount of money looking for resilient urban infrastructure projects, but cities often struggled to meet investor requirements.

She said a key to finding funding was to design a bus rapid transit system or a clean power plant, for example, to also create local jobs and make communities more economically secure.

“I am hopeful that we can keep helping cities develop those projects and getting them ready for bigger, broader investment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the conference in Rotterdam.

Cities in the 100RC network have so far raised $25 billion from their own budgets, businesses and other sources to put their resilience plans into practice, 100RC’s Berkowitz said.

In a decade’s time, he said, he hoped urban resilience – with its holistic approach to multiple, modern-day stresses – would have become “an absolutely essential part of city government.”

For now, as cities rapidly expand and climate threats grow, much more such work will be needed, he said.

“Even 100 cities is a ridiculously small number of cities, compared to the world’s 10,000 cities,” he said. “We need more effort if we’re going to really win the battle of the 21st century, which is going to be fought in cities.”

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Woodstock 50 Organizers Still Hopeful Despite Second Venue Setback

The organizers of the beleaguered Woodstock 50 festival said on Tuesday they still hoped to get a permit for the event due to take place next month despite being turned down at a second site.

Authorities in the town of Vernon in upstate New York turned down the organizers’ application to stage the three-day event, marking the 50th anniversary of the famed 1969 “peace and music” festival.

Oneida County Administrator Anthony Picente Jr. told Hollywood trade publication Variety that efforts to stage the festival at Vernon Downs for some 65,000 people at short notice had been “chaotic.” Picente said he thought the chances of it taking place were “highly unlikely.”

However, Woodstock 50 producers said they would appeal.

“With a venue chosen, financing assembled and many of the artists supporting Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary event, the organizers are hopeful that their appeal and reapplication” will prevail, the producers said in a statement.

Tickets have yet to go on sale.

The Aug. 16-19 festival was originally due to take place at the Watkins Glen motor racing venue in upstate New York with a line-up including Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus.

Watkins Glen in June pulled out, throwing the festival into further uncertainty after the original investors withdrew their support, citing problems with permits and arranging security and sanitation.

Woodstock 50 announced in March that more than 80 musical acts, including 1969 festival veterans John Fogerty, Canned Heat and Santana, would take part. Some 100,000 fans, including campers, were originally expected to attend, but that number was later reduced to 60,000.

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Indonesian Woman Convicted of Recording Boss’ Sexual Advances Seeks Presidential Amnesty

The widely-publicized case of Baiq Nuril Maknun, the 41-year-old school bookkeeper sentenced to six months in prison for recording sexually-suggestive phone calls she received from the principal at her school, has gained traction after the Indonesian government indicated a willingness to grant her amnesty – which would eliminate any traces of wrongdoing from her part.

After a meeting in Jakarta with Nuril and her counsel on Monday, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister, Yasonna Laoly, told reporters an amnesty could be announced after Indonesia’s newly-elected president, Joko Widodo, through the state secretariat, discusses the legal proceedings with the House of Representatives. One of Nuril’s lawyers, Joko Jumadi, confirmed to VOA that they will meet with the House of Representatives Wednesday.
“I think it sounds to me like a green light,” he said. “We are optimistic. We have to be.”

Several law experts were also invited to the meeting, one of whom was Bivitri Susanti who confirmed to VOA that the president was indicated to have favored amnesty. Last week, Joko told reporters in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island, that though he would not intervene with the Supreme Court ruling, he advised that Nuril and her counsel apply for amnesty.

Talk of granting Nuril amnesty followed a controversial rejection of Nuril’s appeal from Indonesia’s Supreme Court last week – one that upheld her prison stay and a $35,000 (500 million rupiahs) fine.

Case history

Nuril’s case began in 2012, when Muslim (who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name), the newly-minted principal of her school in Mataram, called her repeatedly. In the phone calls, he used sexually inappropriate language and even went as far as to tell her about his own affair with his own treasurer. As word spread suggesting Nuril and Muslim had indeed embarked on an affair, Nuril determined to disprove the rumor to her colleagues by recording the call.
Learning of the recordings, Muslim reported Nuril to the police, citing a clause in Indonesia’s controversial electronic information and transactions law that presides over defamation. Deemed innocent by the local court (though she still went to prison during the investigation) in 2017, the prosecutors took it up with the Supreme Court who later convicted Nuril of defamation in 2018 and sentenced her to a six-month jail time.

Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly talks to journalists with Baiq Nuril Maknun, a school bookkeeper who was jailed after she tried to report sexual harassment, in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 8, 2019.

Her case has sparked outrage from activists and rights organizations. An online crowd-funding campaign has also been set up to help with Nuril’s fine (she would have to serve an additional three months in prison if she fails to pay the fine).

“From the very beginning, law enforcers have sided with versions of the story from the principal,” Usman Hamid, head of the Indonesia chapter of Amnesty International, told VOA. “They should be protecting Nuril as a victim, not brand her as a [convict].”

Nuril’s case reignited discussions on sexual assault cases. Joko, Nuril’s lawyer, told VOA that the Supreme Court ruling against his client set a “terrible precedent for future reports from sexual assault victims.” Her case came after Indonesia was embroiled in the discourse around the passing of the anti-sexual violence bill, which faced opposition from religious groups.

Amnesty v. clemency

Another potential legal means for Nuril is through clemency, though law expert Bivitri said that it would be unlikely. “Clemency is usually provided to people embroiled in extraordinary cases, say people sentenced to death or for life,” she said.
Amnesty, she said, would be the best way forward. “If the president grants Nuril amnesty, then it could prove that the government protects its citizens while honoring the judicial proceedings.” She added that amnesty would erase her criminal record. In contrast, the granting of clemency would mean that Nuril agreed that she was in the wrong and that she would ask for the leniency of her punishment.

“We don’t see any criminal wrongdoing here from her part,” Usman of Amnesty International said.

Indonesia’s former presidents have previously granted amnesty. In 1959, then president Sukarno granted amnesty and abolition to the people involved in the rebel group D.I/T.I.I. Kahar Muzzakar in South Sulawesi. In 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted amnesty to the separatist movement in Aceh, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka.

“Joko could use this argument: for the sake of peace and humanity,” Usman said, before adding that history shows that amnesty has also been granted to individuals.


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Sri Lanka To Slash Airline Charges To Help Boost Tourism

Sri Lanka’s government announced Tuesday it will reduce ground handling charges for airlines and slash aviation fuel prices and embarkation fees to help the country’s vital tourism industry recover after Easter suicide bombings killed more than 250 people.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said the decision will lead to an increase in flights to Sri Lanka and a reduction in ticket prices, which will attract more tourists to the Indian Ocean island nation, famed for its pristine beaches.

Seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jammath, attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain.
Tourist arrivals declined 57% in June from a year earlier, dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry, the country’s third-largest foreign currency earner after remittances from overseas workers and textile and garment exports.

The cuts in charges and fees will be in place for six months, said Johanne Jayaratne, head of the government’s tourism development agency.

About 2.3 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2018, when 29 airlines offered 300 flights per week. After the April 21 attacks, 41 fights per week were canceled, amounting to a loss of 8,000 passenger seats. Several airlines have reinstated their normal schedules since then, but others have not.

Dimuthu Tennakoon, chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives, said the government decision will encourage airlines to increase their capacity and offer attractive fares.
“That will definitely happen with this reduction because fuel and ground handling contribute a significant percentage of the total cost element of any airline,” he said.

Tourism accounts for 4.9% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. Around half a million Sri Lankans depend directly on tourism and 2 million indirectly.
The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion.


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Greece’s New, Conservative Cabinet is Sworn In

Greece’s new Cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, two days after conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis won early elections on pledges to make the country more business-friendly, cut taxes and negotiate an easing of draconian budget conditions agreed as part of the country’s rescue program.

 The new Cabinet relies heavily on experienced politicians who have served in previous governments, but also includes non-politician technocrats considered experts in their fields.

FILE – Greece’s newly-elected prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, waves as he walks shortly after his swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, July 8, 2019.

Mitsotakis appointed Christos Staikouras to the crucial post of finance minister. Staikouras is an economist and engineer who had served as deputy minister in a previous government.
The new foreign minister is Nikos Dendias, who held previous Cabinet positions in the ministries of development, defense and public order.
A former public order minister under a previous socialist government, Michalis Chrisohoidis, takes the reins of the ministry once again as one of Mitsotakis’ non-parliamentary appointees.
The new appointees headed to their ministries for official handovers after the swearing-in ceremony at the presidential mansion in central Athens.
Mitsotakis had barely announced his Cabinet selection Monday evening when Greece’s creditors bluntly rejected his calls to ease bailout conditions. Finance ministers from the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency, who met in Brussels, insisted key targets must be adhered to.
“Commitments are commitments, and if we break them, credibility is the first thing to fall apart. That brings about a lack of confidence and investment,” Eurogroup president Mario Centeno said after the meeting.
Greece was dependent for years on successive international bailouts that provided rescue loans from other European Union countries and the International Monetary Fund in return for deep reforms to the country’s economy that included steep tax hikes and major spending cuts.
Unemployment and poverty levels soared in the country. Greece’s third and final international bailout ended last year, but the country’s economy is still under strict supervision by its creditors.



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Migrants, Stuck in Libya, Demand Evacuation as Conflict Escalates

“We don’t need to eat,” said a young man held in a Libyan detention center five days after the compound was bombed killing more than 50 people and injuring at least 130.  “We didn’t touch the food. We need to be out of Libya.”  
The hunger strike in the detention center was on its third day Sunday, according to the protester communicating with VOA via phone and social media. He sent pictures of detainees holding signs like “We are in the grave” and “Save us from the next bomb. We are survivors, but still we are targeted.”

News and additional photographs of the protest came from other detainees communicating with hidden mobile phones.
The airstrikes hit the detention center late Tuesday, after international organizations warned both sides of Libya’s ongoing war that civilians were held at that location, which has been targeted before. Amnesty International says there is evidence the detention center is located near weapons’ storage, but Tripoli authorities say there is no legitimate military target in the area.

The morning after airstrikes hit a detention center holding migrants killed more than 50 people and injured at least 130, blood still stains the rubble as officials search for human remains, in Tripoli, Libya, July 3, 2019. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Officials say about 600 people were inside the detention center when the airstrikes hit a nearby garage, and then the center itself. Some survivors reported breaking open the doors of the detention center to escape, others escaped the bombing after guards let them out. Still others reported shots fired in the chaos.  
Five days later, migrants were still sleeping outside in the yard on Sunday, according to detainees, with part of the center destroyed and other parts appearing to be about to collapse.

The United Nations announced it would start evacuations over the weekend, but some protesters said moving to another detention center would only prolong the danger.

“If they are taking us to another detention center, we won’t go,” the protester told VOA on the phone. “We want to get out of this country or stay here.”

The migrants say they fled war, violence and abject poverty and risked their lives for the chance at a better life in Europe, before being captured and held in Tripoli. Photographed and transmitted to VOA July 7, 2019, in Tripoli, Libya.

Escalating war
To wind up in a Libyan detention center, migrants travel from across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.  
Many people die on the trip to Libya alone and nearly 700 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2019 trying to cross to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Thousands of survivors remain detained in Libya, hoping to try to cross to Europe and unwilling to return to the wars, violence and dire poverty they fled.  But as the war for Tripoli intensifies, some say Libya is as dangerous as the countries they fled.
“Sudan, Libya… they are the same,” said one woman outside the detention center only hours after last week’s bombing.  She had fled war and genocide in Sudan, only to find herself detained, impoverished and terrified in Libya, she said.

After the detention center was bombed, remaining structures appeared unstable and five days later, migrants were still sleeping outdoors. Pictured and transmitted to VOA July 7, 2019, in Tripoli, Libya.

Libyan forces have been battling for the capital since early April, when Khalifa Haftar, the de-facto leader of eastern Libya declared he would reunite the divided country by force and marched on Tripoli in the west. Forces loyal to the Government of National Accord, which runs western Libya, have been defending the city since. Neither side appears to be backing down.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed and 5,000 wounded, according to the World Health Organization, and more than 100,000 have fled their homes.
Protesters outside the detention center on Sunday secretly sent out pictures and videos, calling on the international community to rescue them and allow them to apply for asylum in safer countries.
“Doctors Without Borders came with medicine, but we don’t want medicine,” said the protester communicating with VOA via phone and social media. “The UNHCR evacuated some people but we don’t want to evacuate to another detention center.  
“We want to go to a safe country, or we will stay here.”

An airstrike hits a Tripoli suburb July 7, 2019, as forces loyal to the Government of National Accord in the west battled forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, the eastern de-facto leader who has vowed to take the Libyan capital by force. (H. Murdock/VOA)


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Prodigy and Ukrainian Immigrant Creates Unique DNA Robot

Sofia Lysenko’s parents moved to the United States from the Ukraine when she was 3 years old. Today, at 17, some of the biggest American pharmaceutical companies want to team up with this teenage science prodigy because she has created an artificial macromolecule robot that can deliver drugs directly to the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Iryna Matviichuk met with Sofia to learn more. Anna Rice narrates her report.

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Unexpected Turns & Music

VOA Connect Episode 77 – Stories about people who are on a path they didn’t foresee, the career of a successful musician and the benefits of vinyl records

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Student Loan Debt

The average monthly student loan payment is about $400 a month in the United States.  Eddy Encinales, who used student loans to pay for college, talks to us about the effects of the debt and toll it takes trying to make her monthly payments and plan for her future.  

Reporter/Camera: Deepak Dobhal.  

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Vinyl Revival

Find out why records are staging a comeback! *Insert record scratching sound effect.*  

VOA Ukrainian; Reporter: Alina Golinata; Camera: Konstantin Golubchik; Adapted by: Zdenko Novacki.

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Australia Warns Released Student Not to Return to North Korea

Australia’s government warned a student on Friday not to return to North Korea a day after he was released from detention by Pyongyang under mysterious circumstances.

Alek Sigley, who flew to Tokyo on Thursday to join his Japanese wife, had been studying in the North Korean capital and had been missing since June 25.

“My advice would be pretty clear, I would stay in Japan. I would go back to South Korea … I would come back to Australia,” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told the Nine network.

“All of those would have to be better options before he returns to North Korea,” Dutton said. “I don’t think he will put himself back in that situation … it could have ended up very differently.”

Sigley left North Korea on Thursday and flew to Beijing, where he was met by Australian officials for the flight to Tokyo. He declined to comment to a throng of reporters at Haneda Airport, only making a peace sign before being taken away.

It is still not clear why he was detained by the secretive North. The details of his release were also not known.

Swedish authorities helped secure Sigley’s release because Australia has no diplomatic presence in North Korea and relies on other countries to act on its behalf.

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Philippines Faces Call for UN to Look into War on Drugs Killings

More than two dozen countries Thursday formally called for a United Nations investigation into thousands of killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, activists said.

Iceland submitted the draft resolution backed by mainly European states, they said. The text urges the government to prevent extrajudicial executions and marks the first time that the Human Rights Council is being asked to address the crisis.

The Duterte government has insisted the more than 5,000 suspected drug dealers killed by police in anti-narcotics operations all put up a fight.

At least 27,000 killed

But activists say that at least 27,000 have been killed since Duterte was elected in 2016 on a platform of crushing crime and that Myka, a 3-year-old shot during a police raid last weekend, is among the latest victims.

“Here we are three years later with 27,000 killed, among the most impoverished, in a massive crackdown. That is a conservative estimate,” Ellecer “Budit” Carlos of the Manila-based group iDefend told Reuters.

“In a non-armed conflict context, this is the worst case of extrajudicial killings globally,” he said after urging the council to act.

The Geneva forum is to vote on the resolution before ending its three-week session July 12. The Philippines is among its current 47 members.

‘There are worse things’

Carlos conceded that Asian countries are unlikely to vote in favor of the text, adding: “I think it will be a close shave.”

One Asian ambassador, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that his country would not support it, telling Reuters: “There are worse things happening in the world.”

But activists say the Council and the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet must shine a light on the situation.

“For us a primary priority for this session is the situation in the Philippines,” said Laila Matar of Human Rights Watch.

“Bodies continue to pile up in Manila and other urban areas, again in the context of the war on drugs which we have seen is very much a war against the poor, impoverished and marginalized communities, which are the biggest victims,” she said.

It occurs in a wider context of “attacks on human rights defenders, media activists, journalists, anyone who really dares to speak up against the killings,” she added.

“Police accounts of drug raids are not reliable — the officers enforcing the ‘drug war’ have been shown to plant weapons and drugs to justify the killings,” Matar told the Council this week.

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Western Balkan Nations Press EU Aspirations at Poland Summit

Government ministers from some European Union nations sought Thursday to reassure their partners in the Western Balkans during a meeting in Poland that their aspirations to join the EU have full backing in the club, despite symptoms of a loss of momentum.

German Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth, said Berlin stands firmly by the accession process of all Western Balkans nations “because for us the Western Balkans is not the backyard of the European Union, but the inner courtyard. We are all responsible for ensuring that the prospect of EU accession remains concrete.”

Speaking in the Polish city of Poznan, which is hosting the meeting, Roth urged much more effort in that direction and the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. 

FILE – German Minister of State for European Affairs Michael Roth, right, speaks with the media as he arrives at the Europa building in Brussels, Dec. 11, 2018.

Foreign, interior and economy ministers from membership candidates Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, as well as potential candidates Bosnia and Kosovo, are seeking such reassurance after some European leaders raised doubts about the EU’s openness to expanding.

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated Monday that he thinks the EU has internal work to do that takes priority over taking in new members. He said he would “refuse any kind of enlargement before a deep reform of our institutional functioning.”

Speaking Thursday in Poland, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic reacted to Macron’s comments by questioning the purpose of holding such meetings “especially when some of the top European leaders are saying there’s no chance of any enlargement.”

FILE – Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic attends a rally in Novi Sad, Serbia, March 18, 2017.

Roth said Thursday that “only a concrete perspective that is credible and that motivates the people locally, that involves civil society, will ultimately make the necessary reforms possible” and will pave the accession road.

He said the process will stimulate development in various walks of life in the region, but that above all “it is also about regional cooperation and reconciliation,” like in the case of difficult dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, whose relations are marked by bloodshed.

“There is still a great deal to be done,” Roth said.

Arguments for enlargement

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Sachariewa pointed to huge improvement in the strained relations her EU member country achieved with North Macedonia thanks to the accession efforts. That should serve as an inspiration and an example for overcoming other problems among Western Balkan nations.   
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said that including Western Balkans nations in the EU would increase regional stability and development and spread the EU’s values to more of Europe.  
He pledged 500,000 euros from Poland for a fund developing investment in the region.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Polish President Andrzej Duda and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki plan to join the gathering Friday.

Poland is hosting the summit in Poznan because it currently presides over the so-called Berlin Process that brings the Western Balkan nations together with EU member states. Initiated by Germany, the process is meant to promote EU membership for the Western Balkans although there is no set time frame.

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Death Toll Climbs in Libya Bombing

The United Nations says at least 55 people were killed and more than 130 injured in the Tuesday night airstrike on a detention center holding illegal migrants in Libya’s capital.  VOA’s Heather Murdock is on the scene in Tripoli and files this report.

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Detained Australian Leaves North Korea, Arrives in China

An Australian student was released Thursday after a week in detention in North Korea and flew to Beijing, where he described his condition to reporters as “very good.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced to Parliament that Alek Sigley, 29, had been released hours earlier following intervention from Swedish diplomats Wednesday.

Sigley looked relaxed when he arrived at Beijing airport. He did not respond to reporters’ questions about what had happened in Pyongyang.

“I’m OK, I’m OK, I’m good. I’m very good,” Sigley said.

His father, Gary Sigley, said his son would soon be reunited with his Japanese wife Yuka Morinaga in Tokyo.

“He’s fine. He’s in very good spirits. He’s been treated well,” the father told reporters in his hometown of Perth.

Swedish diplomats had raised Sigley with North Korean authorities in Pyongyang where Australia does not have an embassy.

“Alex is safe and well. Swedish authorities advised the Australian government that they met with senior officials from the DPRK yesterday and raised the issue of Alex’s disappearance on Australia’s behalf,” Morrison said, using the official name for North Korea.

Morrison thanked Swedish authorities for “their invaluable assistance in securing Alek’s prompt release.”

“This outcome demonstrates the value of discrete behind-the-scenes work of officials in resolving complex and sensitive consular cases in close partnership with other governments,” Morrison said.

The Pyongyang university student and tour guide lost contact with family and friends in Japan and Australia last Tuesday.

Morrison’s announcement was the first confirmation that he had been detained.

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AP Fact Check: Trump’s Falsified Record on Military Matters

Editor’s note: A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

WASHINGTON — In his Fourth of July remarks, President Donald Trump will be celebrating the armed forces and showcasing what he’s done for them. But in recent days, he has falsified his record on military matters on several fronts.

He’s claimed, for example, that he came up with the “genius idea” of giving veterans private health care so they don’t have to wait for Veterans Affairs appointments, only to find out that others had thought of it but failed to get it done.

President Barack Obama signed the law getting it done in 2014.

Trump also made the flatly false statement that he won troops their first raise in a decade, suggested he’s made progress reducing veteran suicides that is not backed up by the numbers, and contradicted the record in claiming that North Korea is cooperating on the return of the remains of U.S. troops.

A look at his statements on military matters and personnel, some of which may be heard from the stage Thursday or in tweets:

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take a selfie with U.S. troops at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, Dec. 27, 2018.

Military pay

Trump, addressing military members: “You also got very nice pay raises for the last couple of years. Congratulations. Oh, you care about that. They care about that. I didn’t think you noticed. Yeah, you were entitled. You know, it was close to 10 years before you had an increase. Ten years. And we said, ‘It’s time.’ And you got a couple of good ones, big ones, nice ones.” — remarks Sunday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The facts: He’s been spreading this falsehood for more than a year, soaking up cheers from crowds for something he didn’t do. In May 2018, for example, he declared to graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy: “We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.”

U.S. military members have received a pay raise every year for decades.

Trump also boasts about the size of the military pay raises under his administration, but there’s nothing extraordinary about them.

Several raises in the last decade have been larger than service members are getting under Trump — 2.6% this year, 2.4% last year, 2.1% in 2017.
Raises in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4% or more.

Pay increases shrank after that because of congressionally mandated budget caps. Trump and Congress did break a trend that began in 2011 of pay raises that hovered between 1% and 2%.

Veterans’ suicide

Trump: “On average, 20 veterans and members take their own lives every day. … We’re working very, very hard on that. In fact, the first time I heard the number was 23, and now it’s down somewhat. But it’s such an unacceptable number.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.

The facts: Trump incorrectly suggests that he helped reduce veterans’ suicide, noting that his administration was working “very, very hard” on the problem and that in fact the figure had come down. But no decline has been registered during his administration. There was a drop during the Obama administration, but that might be because of the way veterans’ suicides are counted.

The Veterans Affairs Department estimated in 2013 that 22 veterans were taking their lives each day on average (not 23, as Trump put it). The estimate was based on data submitted from fewer than half of the states. In 2016, VA released an estimate of 20 suicides per day, based on 2014 data from all 50 states as well as the Pentagon. 

The estimated average has not budged since. 

Trump has pledged additional money for suicide prevention and created in March a Cabinet-level task force that will seek to develop a national roadmap for suicide prevention, part of a campaign pledge to improve health care for veterans. 

Still, a report by the Government Accountability Office in December found the VA had left millions of dollars unspent that were available for suicide prevention efforts. The report said VA had spent just $57,000 out of $6.2 million available for paid media, such as social-media postings, thanks in part to leadership turmoil at the agency.

FILE – U.S. General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.N. Command, U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command, speaks during a repatriation ceremony for the remains of U.S. soldiers who were killed in the Korean War and collected in North Korea.

North Korea

Trump, on North Korea’s help in returning the remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War: “The remains are coming back as they get them, as they find them. The remains of our great heroes from the war. And we really appreciate that.” — remarks Sunday to Korean business leaders in Seoul.

Trump: “We’re very happy about the remains having come back. And they’re bringing back — in fact, we were notified they have additional remains of our great heroes from many years ago.” — remarks June 28 in Japan.

The facts: His account is at odds with developments.

No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the U.S. suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. It hopes more remains may be brought home next year.

The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is the outfit responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said Wednesday.

Prichard said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.

Last summer, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.

U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.

The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.

Health care

Trump, on approving private-sector health care for veterans: “I actually came up with the idea. I said, ‘Why don’t we just have the veterans go out and see a private doctor and we’ll pay the cost of the doctor and that will solve the problem?’ Because some veterans were waiting for 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, they couldn’t get any service at all. I said, ‘We’ll just send them out.’ And I thought it was a genius idea, brilliant idea. And then I came back and met with the board and a lot of the people that handled the VA. … They said, ‘Actually, sir, we’ve been trying to get that passed for 40 years, and we haven’t been able to get it.’ … I’m good at getting things done. … It’s really cut down big on the waits.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.

Trump: “We passed VA Choice and VA Accountability to give our veterans the care that they deserve and they have been trying to pass these things for 45 years.” — Montoursville, Pennsylvania, rally May 20.

The facts: Trump did not invent the idea of giving veterans the option to see private doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system at government expense. Nor is he the first president in 40 years to pass the program.

Congress approved the private-sector Veterans Choice health program in 2014 and Obama signed it into law. Trump expanded it.

Under the expansion, which took effect last month, veterans still may have to wait weeks to see a doctor. The program allows veterans to see a private doctor if their VA wait is 20 days (28 for specialty care) or their drive is only 30 minutes.

Indeed, the VA says it does not expect a major increase in veterans seeking care outside the VA under Trump’s expanded program, partly because waiting times in the private sector are typically longer than at VA.

“The care in the private sector, nine times out of 10, is probably not as good as care in VA,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Congress in March.

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Japan Says Curbs on Exports to South Korea Due to Broken Pledge

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday that Japan cannot give South Korean exports preferential treatment because the country is not abiding by an agreement regarding wartime issues that Japan insists have been resolved.
Abe was objecting to criticism over escalating tensions between the two neighbors amid disputes over Koreans forced to work as laborers during World War II.

He was defending a decision announced Monday to impose restrictions on Japan’s exports of semiconductor-related materials to South Korea. As of Thursday, exports of some materials used in manufacturing computer parts, including fluorinated polyimides used for displays, must apply for approval for each contract.

“We did not intertwine historical issues with trade issues,” Abe said. “The issue of former Korean laborers is not about a historical issue but about whether to keep the promise between countries under international law … and what to do when the promise is broken.”

Abe made the comment when asked about diplomacy during a party leaders’ debate ahead of Tuesday’s start of official campaigning for the July 21 Upper House elections.
Relations between the two main U.S. allies in East Asia have rapidly soured since South Korea’s top court in October ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay 100 million won ($88,000) each to four plaintiffs forced to work for the company during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’s top court ordered the seizure of local assets of the company after it refused to pay the compensation. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also has refused an order by South Korea’s Supreme Court to financially compensate 10 Koreans for forced labor during Japan’s colonial era.

Abe said each country bears a responsibility to carry out export controls for national security reasons. “Within that obligation, if another country fails to keep its promise, we cannot give it preferential treatment like before,” he said.

Abe and other officials have offered conflicting explanations for the move, citing both a lack of trust and unspecified security concerns.
On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga cited national security concerns and “lack of trust” after exchanges with Seoul for Japan’s export control measures on South Korea.  
Japan is a major supplier of materials used to make the computer chips that run most devices, including Apple iPhones and laptop computers. Tokyo’s decision is also expected to affect exports called “resists” that are used for making semiconductors, and hydrogen fluoride used for semiconductors, pharmaceuticals and polymers such as nylon and Teflon.


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America’s Troubled World Heritage Site: the Everglades

In the United States, the Everglades National Park has been on the U.N.’s ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list since 2010. UNESCO is meeting this week and is expected to keep the troubled wetland on that list, despite decades of restoration efforts. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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A Vision of the Future of Reality, Enhanced by Technology

With cellphones becoming more sophisticated, internet becoming faster, and VR headsets becoming cheaper, we are at the precipice of a whole new virtual world.  Deana Mitchell talks to an expert who breaks down what this all means in, well—in reality.

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