Author: Fworld

New IOM Chief Seeks More Regular Pathways for Migration

On assuming her post as the new director general of the International Organization for Migration, Amy Pope said that one of her main priorities was to build more regular pathways for migration for people who have lost hope for a viable future and cannot stay home. 

“I am taking the helm of IOM at a time of unprecedented movement around the world,” she told journalists in Geneva on Monday. She also said conflicts, the inability to find a job or a future at home, or violence within neighborhoods or communities, drove more and more people “to find a better life somewhere else.”

The IOM estimates there were about 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, about 3.6% of the global population.

Pope, the first woman to head IOM in its 72-year history, said the No. 1 goal of the organization she leads “is to really harness the benefits and the promise of migration.”

Pope said it was important to build up more regular channels because the current situation was not tenable.

“If we do not work with member states to build out more regular pathways for people who are in need of movement, we will continue to see overwhelming appeals for asylum systems and people coming up to borders trying to cross the Mediterranean,” she said.

She said this situation was playing out in many parts of the world. In the Americas, for example, she said the number of people on the move and the profile of people on the move has evolved considerably.

“We are seeing people from all over the world show up and try to cross the Darien these days,” she said, referring to the Darien Gap migration route, a perilous stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama.  

Hundreds of thousands of people cross this dangerous territory every year in hopes of reaching the United States.

Pope said people make this journey because there are not enough regular avenues for people who are desperate to find work and improve their impoverished lives.

“Right now, when we look at the opportunities that exist, most people are searching out asylum pathways. And so, they are crossing the Darien because they look to present themselves at a border to seek asylum at that border,” she said.

Though many do not qualify, she said people continue to claim asylum because they see this as the only option open for them.

“That, to me, says that we collectively, with our member states and with the support of IOM, need to build up more regular pathways.

“Whether they are labor pathways, whether they are other humanitarian or family reunification pathways, we need to ensure that people who cannot stay at home have a safe way to move without going through extremely dangerous jungle,” she said.

Pope leaves for the Horn of Africa on Sunday. She said she chose this region as her first mission abroad because more than 80% of migration takes place within the African continent.

“Ultimately, our job as a U.N. organization is not to focus just on South to North migration, which I know occupies a lot of political space and a lot of print space, but to work with communities across the world to enable migration and outcomes no matter where they happen,” she said.

Pope begins her trip in Ethiopia, where she will meet with the African Union Commission and government officials, and then travel to Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.

A focus of her visit, she said, was to identify safe pathways and opportunities across the African continent and see how IOM can ensure migration enables development within countries in Africa.  

“We have seen increased migration heading south down to South Africa. We know that migrants along the route often are facing discrimination, dangers, a lot of violence along the way, and often when they land,” she said, adding that it was crucial to build awareness and better pathways for them.

Pope said she also will seek solutions for African migrants who are going to the Gulf for work. She likely was referring to the Gulf of Aden, where the IOM has been dealing with problems relating to Somali and Ethiopian migrants crossing into Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia for work.

“There have been many troubling reports about the treatment of migrants coming back from the Gulf,” she said.

Pope said she wants to ensure better protection for migrants against exploitation and better access to services.

Regarding the state of West African migrants, the IOM chief called the situation in Niger, which recently went through its third coup in less than two years, particularly worrying. She said that many African migrants expelled from Algeria were among some 5,000 migrants currently in eight transit centers in Niger waiting to go home.

“We are very much advocating to have some humanitarian corridor that is open so that we can allow the migrants who want to go home to be able to go home safely,” she said.

Pope refuted arguments that migrants were a drain on society. She said overwhelming evidence showed that migration benefits economies. 

“When you look at economies that have had a significant influx of migrants over the years, if you look at how they are performing in the future, we see overwhelmingly that people tend to be better off as a result of migration,” she said.  

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EU Proposes Over $5 Billion in Aid for Ukraine in 2024

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday said the bloc remains steadfast in its support for Ukraine, announcing a proposed spending package of up to $5.25 billion for Kyiv in 2024.

Borrell made the comments during a press briefing alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv where EU foreign ministers convened their first ever off-site meeting in a display of support for Ukraine.

Though Monday’s meeting in Kyiv was touted by Borrell as a historic first, it comes at an awkward time for the pro-Ukraine Western alliance. A pro-Russian candidate won an election in Slovakia, an EU and NATO member, and the U.S. Congress omitted funding for Ukraine from its temporary spending bill. The Ukrainian military counter-offensive has been slower than Western leaders had hoped before autumn mud clogs the treads of their donated tanks.

“Our victory explicitly depends on our cooperation — the more powerful and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the EU Foreign ministers during the meeting.

Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine continues to protect its people and its economy from continuous Russian attacks, that its counteroffensive aimed at liberating its occupied territories is progressing steadily and reminded the EU leadership that Ukraine needs more money, more weapons and more military training to achieve its goals. He also asked them to intensify sanctions against Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for efforts to prepare Ukraine for the coming winter, including through air defense and guaranteed energy supplies, after Russia bombed Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last year.

“Last winter, we saw the brutal way in which the Russian president is waging this war,” said Baerbock. “We must prevent this together with everything we have, as far as possible.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said holding the meeting in Ukraine’s capital was a show of “resolute and lasting support for Ukraine.”

“It is also a message to Russia that it should not count on our weariness.  We will be there for a long time to come,” Colonna told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said Russia must be held accountable for its aggression in Ukraine and that it is important to pressure Russia with sanctions.

“We have to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, for the freedom of the people of Ukraine,” she said.

Russian shelling

Meanwhile, at least two people were killed and 10 were injured, including children, by Russian shelling of Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson. Regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces pounded residential areas, shops, medical facilities and other infrastructure overnight. 

In September alone, 22 people were killed from Russia’s shelling of the city and its settlements said Roman Mrochko, head of Kherson city’s military administration.  

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

Russian position on Western support

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Russia believes fatigue with the war in Ukraine will grow in Western countries, but that it expects the United States to continue its involvement.

The White House has been in contact with allies and partners about continued funding for Ukraine and those conversations will continue, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said during a Monday press briefing.

Congress passed a stopgap bill on Saturday that extended government funding till November 17, avoiding a government shutdown but dropping additional aid to Ukraine, a White House priority opposed by a growing number of Republican lawmakers.

In a speech Sunday, Zelenskyy said nothing would weaken his country’s fight against Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden pressed Sunday for congressional Republicans to back a bill to provide more aid to Ukraine, saying he was “sick and tired” of the political brinkmanship that nearly led to a government shutdown.

Many lawmakers, however, acknowledge that winning approval for Ukraine assistance in Congress is growing more difficult as the war between Russia and Ukraine grinds on.

Voting in the House this past week pointed to potential trouble ahead. Nearly half of House Republicans voted to strip $300 million from a defense spending bill to train Ukrainian soldiers and purchase weapons. The money later was approved separately, but opponents of support for Ukraine celebrated their growing numbers. 

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Armenian Exodus From Nagorno-Karabakh Ebbs as Azerbaijan Moves to Reaffirm Control

The last bus carrying ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh left the region Monday, completing a grueling weeklong exodus of over 100,000 people — more than 80% of its residents — after Azerbaijan reclaimed the area in a lightning military operation. 

The bus that entered Armenia carried 15 passengers with serious illnesses and mobility problems, said Gegham Stepanyan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman. He called for information about any other residents who want to leave but have had trouble doing so. 

In a 24-hour military campaign that began on Sept. 19, the Azerbaijani army routed the region’s undermanned and outgunned Armenian forces, forcing them to capitulate. Separatist authorities then agreed to dissolve their government by the end of this year. 

While Baku has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, most of them hastily fled the region, fearing reprisals or losing the freedom to use their language and practice their religion and customs. 

The Armenian government said Monday that 100,514 of the region’s estimated 120,000 residents have crossed into Armenia. 

Armenian Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan said some people had died during the exhausting and slow journey over the single mountain road into Armenia that took as long as 40 hours. The exodus followed a nine-month Azerbaijani blockade of the region that left many suffering from malnutrition and lack of medicines. 

Sergey Astsetryan, 40, one of the last Nagorno-Karabakh residents to leave the region in his own vehicle Sunday, said some elderly people have decided to stay, adding that others might return if they see it’s safe for ethnic Armenians to live under Azerbaijani rule. 

“My father told me that he will return when he has the opportunity,” Astsetryan told reporters at a checkpoint on the Armenian border. 

Azerbaijani authorities moved quickly to reaffirm control of the region, arresting several former members of its separatist government and encouraging ethnic Azerbaijani residents who fled the area amid a separatist war three decades ago to start moving back. 

The streets of the regional capital, Stepanakert, which Azerbaijanis call Khankendi, appeared empty and littered with trash, with doors of deserted shops flung open. Azerbaijani police checkpoints were set up on the city’s edges. 

Russian peacekeeping troops could be seen on a balcony of one building, and others were at their base outside the city, where their vehicles were parked.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for former Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, who led the region before stepping down at the beginning of September. Azerbaijani police arrested one of Harutyunyan’s former prime ministers, Ruben Vardanyan, on Wednesday as he tried to cross into Armenia. 

“We put an end to the conflict,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in a speech Monday. “We protected our dignity, we restored justice and international law.” 

He added that “our agenda is peace in the Caucasus, peace in the region, cooperation, shared benefits, and today, we demonstrate that.” 

After six years of separatist fighting ended in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by Armenia. After a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan took back parts of the region in the south Caucasus Mountains along with surrounding territory that Armenian forces had captured earlier. 

Armenian authorities have accused the Russian peacekeepers, who were deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh after the 2020 war, of standing idle and failing to stop the Azerbaijani onslaught. The accusations were rejected by Moscow, which argued that its troops didn’t have a mandate to intervene. 

The mutual accusations have further strained the relations between Armenia and its longtime ally Russia, which has accused the Armenian government of a pro-Western tilt. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan alleged Thursday that the exodus of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh amounted to “a direct act of ethnic cleansing and depriving people of their motherland.” 

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry strongly rejected Pashinyan’s accusations, arguing their departure was “their personal and individual decision and has nothing to do with forced relocation.” 

A United Nations delegation arrived Sunday in Nagorno-Karabakh to monitor the situation. The mission is the organization’s first to the region for three decades, due to the “very complicated and delicate geopolitical situation” there, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Friday. 

Local officials dismissed the visit as a formality. Hunan Tadevosyan, spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh’s emergency services, said the U.N. representatives had come too late and the number of civilians left in the regional capital of Stepanakert could be “counted on one hand.” 

“We walked around the whole city but found no one. There is no general population left,” he said. 

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Temperatures in Spain Shatter Records as October Kicks Off

The start of October in Spain this year has been the warmest since records began, the country’s meteorological agency AEMET said on Monday, with nearly 40% of weather stations recording maximum temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit).

The early autumn season is so far offering Spaniards little respite after a summer with four heatwaves spread out over 24 days, part of a global pattern of rising temperatures that is widely attributed by scientists to human activity.

“In most of the Iberian Peninsula, temperatures on Oct. 1 were between seven and 14 degrees above normal for this time of the year,” said AEMET spokesperson Ruben del Campo, adding almost 100 individual records had been beaten on Sunday.

Two cities in south-central Spain, Badajoz and Montoro, broke the heat record for continental Spain during the month of October with 38 C and 38.2 C, respectively. The previous record was 37.5 C, documented in the resort city of Marbella in October 2014.

The weather station at Madrid’s iconic Retiro Park, which is over a century old, equaled its October record of 30 C set in 1930.

“The footprint of climate change is manifested in the fact that such warm spells are now much more frequent and more intense,” Del Campo told state broadcaster TVE.

He added that future summers would not only be hotter, but also longer, extending into the traditionally mild and rainy autumn.


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Things to Know About the Nobel Prizes

Fall has arrived in Scandinavia, which means Nobel Prize season is here.

The start of October is when the Nobel committees get together in Stockholm and Oslo to announce the winners of the yearly awards.

First up, as usual, is the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology, which will be announced Monday by a panel of judges at the Karolinska Institute in the Swedish capital. The prizes in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will follow, with one announcement every weekday until Oct. 9.

Here are some things to know about the Nobel Prizes:

An Idea More Powerful Than Dynamite

The Nobel Prizes were created by Alfred Nobel, a 19th-century businessman and chemist from Sweden. He held more than 300 patents, but his claim to fame before the Nobel Prizes was having invented dynamite by mixing nitroglycerine with a compound that made the explosive more stable.

Dynamite soon became popular in construction and mining as well as in the weapons industry. It made Nobel a very rich man. Perhaps it also made him think about his legacy, because toward the end of his life he decided to use his vast fortune to fund annual prizes “to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”

The first Nobel Prizes were presented in 1901, five years after his death. In 1968, a sixth prize was created, for economics, by Sweden’s central bank. Though Nobel purists stress that the economics prize is technically not a Nobel Prize, it’s always presented together with the others.

Peace in Norway

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Nobel decided that the peace prize should be awarded in Norway and the other prizes in Sweden. Nobel historians suspect Sweden’s history of militarism may have been a factor.

During Nobel’s lifetime, Sweden and Norway were in a union, which the Norwegians reluctantly joined after the Swedes invaded their country in 1814. It’s possible that Nobel thought Norway would be a more suitable location for a prize meant to encourage “fellowship among nations.”

To this day, the Nobel Peace Prize is a completely Norwegian affair, with the winners selected and announced by a Norwegian committee. The peace prize even has its own ceremony in the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death — while the other prizes are presented in Stockholm.

What’s politics got to do with it?

The Nobel Prizes project an aura of being above the political fray, focused solely on the benefit of humanity. But the peace and literature awards, in particular, are sometimes accused of being politicized. Critics question whether winners are selected because their work is truly outstanding or because it aligns with the political preferences of the judges.

The scrutiny can get intense for high-profile awards, such as in 2009, when President Barack Obama won the peace prize less than a year after taking office.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is an independent body that insists its only mission is to carry out the will of Alfred Nobel. However, it does have links to Norway’s political system. The five members are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, so the panel’s composition reflects the power balance in the legislature.

To avoid the perception that the prizes are influenced by Norway’s political leaders, sitting members of the Norwegian government or Parliament are barred from serving on the committee. Even so, the panel isn’t always viewed as independent by foreign countries. When imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the peace prize in 2010, Beijing responded by freezing trade talks with Norway. It took years for Norway-China relations to be restored.

Gold and glory

One reason the prizes are so famous is they come with a generous amount of cash. The Nobel Foundation, which administers the awards, raised the prize money by 10% this year to 11 million kronor (about $1 million). In addition to the money, the winners receive an 18-carat gold medal and diploma when they collect their Nobel Prizes at the award ceremonies in December.

Most winners are proud and humbled by joining the pantheon of Nobel laureates, from Albert Einstein to Mother Teresa. But two winners refused their Nobel Prizes: French writer Jean-Paul Sartre, who turned down the literature prize in 1964, and Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho, who declined the peace prize that he was meant to share with U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger in 1973.

Several others were not able to receive their awards because they were imprisoned, such as Belarusian pro-democracy activist Ales Bialiatski, who shared last year’s peace prize with human rights groups in Ukraine and Russia.

Lack of diversity

Historically, the vast majority of Nobel Prize winners have been white men. Though that’s started to change, there is still little diversity among Nobel winners, particularly in the science categories.

To date, 60 women have won Nobel Prizes, including 25 in the scientific categories. Only four women have won the Nobel Prize in physics and just two have won the economics prize.

In the early days of the Nobel Prizes, the lack of diversity among winners could be explained by the lack of diversity among scientists in general. But today critics say the judges need to do a better job at highlighting discoveries made by women and scientists outside Europe and North America.

The prize committees say their decisions are based on scientific merit, not gender, nationality or race. However, they are not deaf to the criticism. Five years ago, the head of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said it had started to ask nominating bodies to make sure they don’t overlook “women or people of other ethnicities or nationalities in their nominations.”

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UN Mission Now in Nagorno-Karabakh as Ethnic Armenian Exodus Nears End

A United Nations mission arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh Sunday, Azerbaijani media reported, as a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region began drawing to a close following an Azerbaijani military offensive last month.

The mission, led by a senior U.N. aid official, is the global body’s first access to the region in about 30 years.

Armenia has asked the World Court to order Azerbaijan to withdraw all its troops from civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh and give the United Nations access.

The World Court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, in February ordered Azerbaijan to ensure free movement through an area known as the Lachin corridor leading to and from the region.

The process of moving those wishing to relocate from Nagorno-Karabakh to neighboring Armenia is coming to an end, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted the Armenian government as saying late Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, the World Health Organization said over 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have made the journey in less than a week.

“We’ve activated our emergency systems and will be sending experts to the country across a range of disciplines including mental health, burns management, essential health services, and emergency coordination following a full assessment of the needs,” Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, regional director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said in a statement.

“The challenges are truly enormous, and we’re there to do all we can.”

The departure of hungry and exhausted Armenian families this week was blighted by an explosion at a fuel depot that killed at least 170 people.

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Mourners Hail Dead Russian Mercenary Prigozhin as ‘Patriotic Hero’

At memorials to Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in an unexplained plane crash exactly 40 days ago, dozens of mourners hailed the mutinous mercenary chief as a patriotic hero of Russia who had spoken truth to power.  

The private Embraer jet on which Prigozhin was traveling to St. Petersburg crashed north of Moscow killing all 10 people on board on Aug. 23, including two other top Wagner figures, Prigozhin’s four bodyguards and a crew of three. 

It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash two months to the day since Prigozhin’s failed mutiny. The Kremlin said on Aug. 30 that investigators were considering the possibility that the plane was downed on purpose.  

At his grave in the former imperial capital of St. Petersburg, his mother, Violetta, and his son, Pavel, laid flowers. Supporters waved the black flags of Wagner, which sport a skull and the motto “Blood, Honor, Motherland, Courage.” 

In eastern Orthodoxy, it is believed that the soul makes its final journey to either heaven or hell on the 40th day after death. 

At memorials in Moscow and other Russian cities, dozens of Wagner fighters and ordinary Russians paid their respects, though there was no mass outpouring of grief. Russian state television was completely silent about the Prigozhin memorials.  

“He can be criticized for certain events, but he was a patriot who defended the motherland’s interests on different continents,” Wagner’s recruitment arm said in a statement on Telegram.  

“He was charismatic and, importantly, he was close to the fighters and to the people. And that’s why he became popular both in Russia and abroad,” it said. 

Prigozhin’s mutiny posed the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule since the former KGB spy rose to power in 1999. Western diplomats say it exposed the strains on Russia of the war in Ukraine.  

After months of insulting Putin’s top brass with a variety of crude expletives and prison slang over their perceived failure to fight the Ukraine war properly, Prigozhin took control of the southern city of Rostov in late June. 

His fighters shot down several Russian aircraft, killing their pilots, and advanced toward Moscow before turning back 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital.  

Putin initially cast Prigozhin as a traitor whose mutiny could have tipped Russia into civil war, though he later did a deal with him to defuse the crisis. 

Mourners spoke of respect for Prigozhin.  

“He was a real authority, a leader,” Mikhail, a serviceman in Russia’s armed forces who refused to give his second name, told Reuters. 

Moscow resident Marta, who also refused to give her surname, said the people believed in Prigozhin, but that Wagner had been “decapitated” by the deaths of him and co-founder Dmitry Utkin.  

“Hope for justice died with him,” she said. “People believed in him.” 

Pro-Wagner groups posted a video of Prigozhin flying to Mali where, after a thunderstorm, he met a senior commander known by his call sign “Lotus” — Anton Yelizarov — who is now reported to be leading the group. 

Opponents, such as the United States, cast Wagner as a brutal crime group that plundered African states and meted out sledgehammer deaths to those who challenged it. 

Putin was shown meeting one of the most senior former commanders of the Wagner mercenary group Friday and discussing how best to use “volunteer units” in the Ukraine war.

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Swiss-Led Team Drives Electric Vans From Geneva to Doha, Qatar

A Swiss-led team has driven electric vans across Europe and the Arabian Peninsula to Qatar to showcase zero-emission battery powered vehicles, organizers said Sunday.

The five-strong Swiss and German team set out from Geneva on August 28 in two electric Volkswagen vans on a 6,500 kilometer (4,000 mile) journey that ended in Doha on Saturday.

“The motivation was really to do something unusual,” the group’s leader Frank Rinderknecht told AFP. “Certainly we did have the risk of not arriving — technical issues, health issues or an accident.”

The journey aimed to raise awareness about the environmental benefits of electric vehicles, he said. “If our trip put just a little bit of rethinking, of initiative, into people’s minds then I am not unhappy.”

The journey started with a crossing of the Swiss Alps and included what organizers believe was the first west-to-east crossing of Saudi Arabia with electric vehicles.

The team’s ID. Buzz VW vans — modelled on the German manufacturer’s Combi campervan — travelled across 12 countries, reaching Aqaba in Jordan from Turkey by ship.

However, the trip highlighted shortcomings of the charging infrastructure, Rinderknecht said, comparing the mismatch of technologies to the “early days of telecommunication.”

In Europe, the team had to use numerous apps to pay for charging points across different regions. In Jordan, they had to adapt their European systems to the Chinese hardware they found.

The journey to Doha was completed in partnership with the Geneva International Motor Show, which is being held outside the Swiss city for the first time since its inception in 1905.

The 10-day motor show to be held in Qatar from October 5 will feature 31 automotive brands and overlap with the October 8 Qatar Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit on Doha’s northern outskirts.

Saad Ali Al Kharji, deputy chairman of Qatar Tourism, said holding events like the motor show was part the gas-rich Gulf state’s “strategic vision of becoming the fastest-growing destination in the Middle East by 2030.”

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Suicide Bomber Strikes in Turkish Capital

No group has yet claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Sunday in the Turkish capital. The attack in Ankara came hours before parliament was scheduled to reopen after a recess. The Turkish president described the attack as a failure. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

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Nightclub Fire Kills at Least 9 in Murcia in Spain

At least nine people have been killed in a fire in a nightclub in Murcia in southeast Spain, the mayor said, adding that rescuers were still searching for people unaccounted for after the blaze.

The fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday in Teatre nightclub in Atalayas, on the outskirts of the city, emergency services said on social media platform X.

Murcia’s Mayor Jose Ballesta told reporters nine people were confirmed dead. Earlier, he said seven had been found in the same area of the first floor, where the fire broke out.

Outside the club, young people hugged, looking shocked as they waited for information about those missing.

“I’ve got five family members inside, I don’t know where they are. And two friends,” said a man, who did not give his name.

Ballesta declared three days of mourning for those who had died. Flags were lowered to half mast outside Murcia’s City Hall.

Footage released by Murcia’s fire service showed firefighters working to control flames inside the nightclub. The fire had destroyed part of the roof, the footage showed.

“We are devastated,” Ballesta said on Spanish TV channel 24h, adding rescuers were still searching for several people reported missing.

Ballesta told 24h the fire started at around 6 a.m. and had now been brought under control.

He said emergency services were working to establish the cause of the blaze.

Four people have been treated in hospital for smoke inhalation.


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Suicide Bomber Detonates Device in Turkish Capital

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device Sunday in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara. A second assailant was killed in a shootout with police, the interior minister said.

The attack occurred hours before Parliament was set to reopen after its three-month summer recess with an address by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Two police officers were slightly injured during the attack near an entrance to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, minister Ali Yerlikaya said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The assailants arrived at the scene inside a light commercial vehicle.

“Our heroic police officers, through their intuition, resisted the terrorists as soon as they got out of the vehicle,” Yerlikaya later told reporters. “One of them blew himself up while the other one was shot in the head before he had a chance to blow himself up.”

“Our fight against terrorism, their collaborators, the [drug] dealers, gangs and organized crime organizations will continue with determination,” he said.

The minister did not say who was behind the attack and there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Kurdish and far-left militant groups as well as the Islamic State group have carried out deadly attacks throughout the country in the past.

Last year, a bomb blast in a bustling pedestrian street in Istanbul left six people dead, including two children. More than 80 others were wounded. Turkey blamed the attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with it.

Security camera footage showed a vehicle stopping in front of the ministry Sunday, with a man exiting it and rushing toward the entrance of the building before blowing himself up. A second man is seen following him.

Earlier, television footage showed bomb squads working near a vehicle in the area, which is located near the Turkish Grand National Assembly and other government buildings. A rocket launcher could be seen lying near the vehicle.

Turkish authorities later imposed a temporary blackout on images from the scene.

Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said an investigation has been launched into the “terror attack.”

“These attacks will in no way hinder Turkey’s fight against terrorism,” he wrote on X. “Our fight against terrorism will continue with more determination.”

Police cordoned off access to the city center and increased security measures, warning citizens that they would be conducting controlled explosions of suspicious packages.

The two injured police officers were being treated in a hospital and were not in serious condition, Yerlikaya said.

Egypt, which has normalized ties with Turkey after a decade of tensions, condemned the attack. A terse statement from the Foreign Ministry offered Egypt’s solidarity with Turkey.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara and other foreign missions also issued messages condemning the attack.

Erdogan’s speech will be closely watched for indications as to when Turkey’s Parliament may ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO.

Stockholm applied for NATO membership alongside Finland following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. While Finland has since joined, Turkey blocked Sweden’s membership in the military alliance, accusing it of being soft on groups that Turkey considers to be security threats. Only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify Swedish membership.

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Populist, Pro-Russia Ex-Premier, Leftist Party Win in Slovakia’s Parliamentary Elections

A populist former prime minister and his leftist party won parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to almost complete results.

With results from 99.2% of some 6,000 polling stations counted by the Slovak Statistics Office early Sunday, former Prime Minister Robert Fico and the leftist Smer, or Direction, party led with 23.3% of the votes.

The election Saturday was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and the win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.

The country of 5.5 million people created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

With no party winning a majority of seats, a coalition government will need to be formed. The president traditionally asks an election’s winner to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to become prime minister again. He served as prime minister in 2006-2010 and again in 2012-2018.

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second, with 17% of the votes.

The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15%. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.7%.

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

Hungary has been sanctioned by the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, while EU institutions say Poland has been on a slippery slope away from the EU’s rule-of-law principles. Fico has threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

Hungary also has — uniquely among EU countries — maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

Fico repeats Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country’s east needed protection. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Ordinary People group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity also won seats in parliament.

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Slovakia’s Pro-West, Pro-Russia Parties in Tight Race, Exit Polls Say

Voters in Slovakia cast ballots Saturday in early parliamentary elections, and two exit polls pointed to a tight finish between a liberal, pro-West newcomer and a populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russia and anti-American message.

The polls by the Focus and Median SK agencies gave a slight edge to the Progressive Slovakia party, saying it could capture between 20% and 23.5% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party appeared headed to getting between 19% and 22%, the polls indicated.

Official results were not expected until Sunday.

The election was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.

Michal Simecka, a 39-year-old member of the European Parliament who leads the liberal Progressive Slovakia, campaigned promising to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine.

But no party was expected to win a majority of seats, meaning a coalition government would need to be formed.

The exit polls pointed to a third-place finish with 11%-12% for the left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini. Pellegrini and Fico parted ways after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.

Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.

Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.

Progressive Slovakia, which was formed in 2017, sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.

The party also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.

“Every single vote matters,” Simecka said Saturday.

Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20% of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.

The exit polls indicated that seven or eight political groups and parties might surpass the 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council.

“It’s important for me that the new coalition would be formed by such parties that can agree on the priorities for Slovakia and ensure stability and calm,” Pellegrini said after voting in Bratislava.

The others include the Republic, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the EU and NATO.

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New Sports Website Broke Exclusive on Disgraced Spanish Soccer Chief

The fall of Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales, forced to resign over an unwanted kiss of midfielder Jenni Hermoso, was due in no small part to the work of an upstart sports news site that is shaking up the comfortable world of Spanish sports reporting.    

Founded in May 2022, the media site Relevo wanted to focus attention on teams and women’s sports that receive less coverage by its more established competitors, and to engage more with younger audiences.   

Fermin Elizari, Relevo’s new communities’ manager, said unlike most traditional media, journalists worked closely with social media, commercial and branding teams.  

“Our values … make us quite different,” he told VOA. “Spanish sports news is very traditional, very focused on men and not women and not very innovative. So, we thought that, let’s be very innovative, very inclusive and independent.”  

That method was tested with the website’s coverage of the Rubiales incident. And with it, said Elizari, “We have proved (our model) works.”   

The scandal

The soccer scandal came in the wake of Spain’s victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.  

To many, Rubiales’ actions in kissing Hermoso seemed out of place, but Rubiales insisted the player consented, even though she was later filmed in the dressing room telling teammates, “I didn’t like it.”  

The incident, along with footage of Rubiales clutching his crotch during the match against England in August while standing near the teenage daughter of Queen Letizia of Spain, sparked controversy around the world.  

As the Spanish team flew back to Madrid, Rubiales sought to quell the row by issuing an apology, putting out a statement in which Hermoso was quoted as saying, “[The kiss] was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the huge joy of winning a World Cup.”  

But Revelo revealed that Hermoso never uttered those words and even refused to appear alongside Rubiales in a video recording of his apology.   

The exclusive put pressure on Rubiales, who resigned from his post. He is now facing a criminal investigation for sexual assault and coercion. He insists the kiss was consensual. 

The judge in the case has widened the investigation to include Jorge Vilda, the soccer team manager, until he was fired on September 5, along with two other officials.  

Those officials have been placed under investigation for alleged coercion and will appear in court on October 10.   

Part of the success of Relevo was due to a deliberate strategy in a world of Spanish sports coverage dominated by daily newspapers like Marca, Sport, and AS, which focus coverage on Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.  

Until recently, these established newspapers paid scant attention to women’s soccer, whereas Relevo reported widely on women’s sports, sharing its scoops on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch.  

Natalia Torrente, the Relevo journalist who landed the Rubiales exclusive, said they carried out a survey that found women, Generation Z (aged 10-24) and millennials were dissatisfied with existing sports reporting. 

“Our journalism does not just talk to women; it talks to Generation Zers and millennials. We use their language, and we report things in a style and a platform which they read. That is why the site looks a bit like TikTok,” she told VOA. 

Torrente said she landed her scoop after realizing words attributed to Hermoso did not appear to be something she would ever say. 

“When the soccer federation put out the statement with Hermoso’s words, we said they were words ‘attributed to’ her. Then I spoke to three independent sources who confirmed that she and her family were put under pressure, but she refused,” she said.   

Her reporting is indicative of what Revelo had set out to achieve in its approach. 

When it was being set up, managers offered the most promising journalists with major sports newspapers — good salaries and the chance to do in-depth reports.  

Alfredo Matilla, head of news at Relevo, said the project was launched on social media in May of last year, becoming a website only in October, after it had built up a following.    

“We were surprised at the strategy, but the idea was to build up a following who knew us and liked what we were doing before we launched the website,” he told VOA.  

Matilla said another part of the strategy that distinguishes Relevo from other Spanish sports media: launching website content that is different from what’s posted to X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok or Twitch.     

“We have specialists for each social media who can help us adapt the content,” he said. “We don’t just put the same stuff on every [platform].”  

With a young staff — Matilla estimates an average age of 33 — Relevo has also tried to get as many women working for the site as men.  

“I am sure the fact that we had so many women allowed a greater sensitivity to things during the Rubiales case,” Matilla said.   

‘We want to establish … trust’   

For a media organization dedicated to sports, Matilla said getting sports people “to want to talk to us” was crucial.    

“At the moment, they don’t want to talk to the media, and they just say things which their [media relations professionals] allow them to say,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want to establish the trust so that they come to us.”  

Fernando Kallas, Iberia sports correspondent for Reuters news agency, said Relevo was good for Spanish journalism.  

“It has taken something from The Athletic model and many of the best journalists have gone from newspapers like,” he said. “Some of the older journalists on the established papers say it will not work, but it is doing well so far.”   

Graham Hunter, a British journalist who is an expert on Spanish football, said Relevo was shaking up the traditional media, whose relationship with the sports establishment has become too “comfortable.”  

  ‘Refreshing, defiant’

“Relevo in Spanish can be a military term meaning the relief watch, the people who take over. There is a refreshing, defiant, non-institutional attitude [or] tone to what they report on,” he said. “Slightly more fearless than the established media, many of whom have earned their reputation by not kowtowing to the grand institutions but by having contacts there which are too symbiotic, which perhaps become too comfortable.  

“Relevo has set themselves to become more independent, more challenging,” Hunter added. “It is having an impact both for readers and for the traditional media who need to look over their shoulder and think ‘Are we a bit too stuffy? Are we a bit too safe?'”  

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Kosovo Demands Serbia Withdraw Troops From Border

Kosovo demanded Saturday that Serbia withdraw its troops from their common border, saying it was ready to protect its territorial integrity.  

Tensions between the two countries have been high since last Sunday when Kosovo police fought around 30 heavily armed Serbs who stormed the Kosovo village of Banjska and barricaded themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery. Three attackers and one police officer were killed. 

The gunbattle prompted new international concern over stability in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority and declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and a 1999 NATO intervention. 

“We call on President [Aleksandar] Vucic and the institutions of Serbia to immediately withdraw all troops from the border with Kosovo,” the Kosovo government said in a statement. 

“The deployment of Serbian troops along the border with Kosovo is the next step by Serbia to threaten the territorial integrity of our country.” 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the Financial Times he did not intend to order his forces to cross the border into Kosovo because an escalation of the conflict would harm Belgrade’s aspirations to the join the European Union. 

On Friday, the United States said it was monitoring a troubling Serbian military deployment along the Kosovo border that is destabilizing the area. 

“Kosovo, in coordination with international partners, is more determined than ever to protect its territorial integrity,” the Pristina government said. “This deployment also includes the deployment of anti-aircraft systems and heavy artillery.” 

The government of the Republic of Kosovo said it “has been in constant contact with the U.S. and the EU countries regarding this serious threat from Serbia.” 

NATO, which still has 4,500 troops in Kosovo, said Friday it had “authorized additional forces to address the current situation.” 

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As Alpine Glaciers Disappear, New Landscapes Take Their Place

In pockets of Europe’s Alpine mountains, glaciers are abundant enough that ski resorts operate above the snow and ice.

Ski lifts, resorts, cabins and huts dot the landscape — and have done so for decades. But glaciers are also one of the most obvious and early victims of human-caused climate change, and as they shrink year by year, the future of the mountain ecosystems and the people who enjoy them will look starkly different.

Glaciers — centuries of compacted snow and ice — are disappearing at an alarming rate. Swiss glaciers have lost 10% of their volume since 2021, and some glaciers are predicted to disappear entirely in the next few years.

At the Freigerferner glacier in Austria, melting means the glacier has split into two and hollowed out as warm air streamed through the glacier base, exacerbating the thaw.

Gaisskarferner, another glacier that forms part of a ski resort, is only connected to the rest of the snow and ice by sections of glacier that were saved over the summer with protective sheets to shield them from the sun.

But the losses go beyond a shorter ski season and glacier mass.

Andrea Fischer, a glaciologist with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said the rate of glacier loss can tell the world more about the state of the climate globally and how urgent curbing human-caused warming is.

“The loss of glaciers is not the most dangerous thing about climate change,” said Fischer. “The most dangerous thing about climate change is the effect on ecosystems, on natural hazards, and those processes are much harder to see. The glaciers just teach us how to see climate change.”

From a vantage point above the mountains in a light aircraft, the changing landscape is obvious. The glaciers are noticeably smaller and fewer, and bare rock lies in their place.

Much of the thawing is already locked in, so that even immediate and drastic cuts to planet-warming emissions can’t save the glaciers from disappearing or shrinking in the short term.

While the extent of glacier melt can create awareness and concern for the climate, “being only concerned does not change anything,” Fischer said.

She urged instead that concern should be channeled into “a positive attitude toward designing a new future,” where warming can successfully be curbed to stop the most detrimental effects of climate change.

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Pope Francis Creates 21 New Cardinals to Help Reform Church

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals at a ritual-filled ceremony Saturday, including key figures at the Vatican and in the field who will help enact his reforms and cement his legacy as he enters a crucial new phase in running the Roman Catholic Church.

On a crisp sunny morning filled with cheers from St. Peter’s Square, Francis further expanded his influence on the College of Cardinals who will help him govern and one day elect his successor: With Saturday’s additions, nearly three-quarters of the voting-age “princes of the church” owe their red hats to the Argentine Jesuit.

In his instructions to the new cardinals at the start of the service, Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, where sometimes they play solos, sometimes as an ensemble.

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” Francis told them. “This is why mutual listening is essential: Each musician must listen to the others.”

Among the new cardinals was the controversial new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Victor Manuel Fernandez, and the Chicago-born missionary now responsible for vetting bishop candidates around the globe, Robert Prevost.

Also entering the exclusive club were the Vatican’s ambassadors to the United States and Italy, two important diplomatic posts where the Holy See has a keen interest in reforming the church hierarchy. Leaders of the church in geopolitical hotspots like Hong Kong and Jerusalem, fragile communities like Juba, South Sudan, and sentimental favorites like Cordoba, Argentina, filled out the roster.

Francis’ promotions of Prevost and his ambassador to Washington, French Cardinal Christophe Pierre, were clear signs that he has his eye on shifting the balance of power in the U.S. hierarchy, where some conservative bishops have strongly resisted his reforms. Between them, Pierre and Prevost are responsible for proposing new bishop candidates and overseeing any investigations into problem ones already in place.

“I think I do have some insights into the church in the United States,” Prevost said after the ceremony during a welcome reception in the Apostolic Palace. “So, the need to be able to advise, work with Pope Francis and to look at the challenges that the church in the United States is facing, I hope to be able to respond to them with a healthy dialogue.”

The ceremony took place days before Francis opens a big meeting of bishops and lay Catholics on charting the church’s future, where hot-button issues such as women’s roles in the church, LGBTQ+ Catholics and priestly celibacy are up for discussion.

The October 4-29 synod is the first of two sessions — the second one comes next year — that in many ways could cement Francis’ legacy as he seeks to make the church a place where all are welcomed, where pastors listen to their flocks and accompany them rather than judge them.

Several of the new cardinals are voting members of the synod and have made clear they share Francis’ vision of a church that is more about the people in the pews than the hierarchy, and that creative change is necessary. Among them is Fernandez, known as the “pope’s theologian” and perhaps Francis’ most consequential Vatican appointment in his 10-year pontificate.

In his letter naming Fernandez as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis made clear he wanted his fellow Argentine to oversee a radical break from the past, saying the former Holy Office often resorted to “immoral methods” to enforce its will.

Rather than condemn and judge, Francis said, he wanted a doctrine office that guards the faith and gives people hope. He also made clear Fernandez wouldn’t have to deal with sex abuse cases, saying the office’s discipline section could handle that dossier.

It was a much-debated decision given that Fernandez himself has admitted he made mistakes handling a case while he was bishop in La Plata, Argentina, and that the scale of the problem globally has long cried out for authoritative, high-ranking leadership.

On the eve of the consistory to make Fernandez a cardinal, clergy abuse survivors, including a La Plata victim, rallied near the Vatican, calling on Francis to rescind the nomination.

“No bishop who has covered up child sex crimes and ignored and dismissed victims of clergy abuse in his diocese should be running the office that oversees, investigates and prosecutes clergy sex offenders from around the world, or be made a cardinal,” said Julieta Añazco, the La Plata survivor, according to a statement from the End Clergy Abuse.

With Saturday’s ceremony, Francis will have named 99 of the 137 cardinals who are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a future conclave to elect his successor. While not all are cookie-cutter proteges of the 86-year-old reigning pontiff, many share Francis’ pastoral emphasis as opposed to the doctrinaire-minded cardinals often selected by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Such a huge proportion of Francis-nominated cardinals almost ensures that a future pope will either be one of his own cardinals or one who managed to secure Franciscan cardinal votes to lead the church after he is gone, suggesting a certain continuity in priorities.

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Slovakia Election Pits Pro-Russia Candidate Against Liberal Pro-West One

Voters in Slovakia cast ballots Saturday in an early parliamentary election that pits a populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russia and anti-American message against a liberal, pro-West newcomer.

Depending on which of them prevails, the election could reverse the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in the war with Russia, threatening to break a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Former Prime MInister Robert Fico, 59, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party have vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war, if his attempt to return to power is successful.

Smer’s main challenger is Progressive Slovakia, a liberal party formed in 2017 and led by Michal Simecka, 39, a member of the European Parliament.

Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006-10 and again from 2012-18, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.

Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.

Progressive Slovakia sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.

The party vowed to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine. It also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.

Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20% of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.

No party is expected to win a majority of seats Saturday, meaning a coalition government will need to be formed. The party that secures the most votes typically gets the first chance to put together a government.

Polls indicate that seven or eight other political groups and parties might surpass a 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council.

They include the Republic, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the EU and NATO.

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VOA Immigration Weekly Recap, Sept. 24-30

Editor’s note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team:

What Happens to Immigration if US Government Shuts Down?

With congressional leaders gridlocked over the nation’s budget and the deadline to pass spending bills fast approaching, the federal government could shut down on October 1. And that could affect some immigration services and visa programs. If the federal government closes, only essential personnel will be working. All other federal workers will not be allowed to work. So how will that affect immigration in the U.S.? VOA’s Immigration reporter Aline Barros.

Why Immigrants Are More Optimistic Than US-Born Americans

Despite any hardships they might face, immigrants in America are more optimistic than U.S.-born Americans, according to a new survey of 3,358 immigrant adults. “They said, ‘You know, I face challenges here in the U.S., but it’s far better than where I came from. And I have this belief that things will be better for my children,’” says Shannon Schumacher, a senior survey analyst at KFF, a nonprofit organization focused on health policy formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Whether that’s their education, their safety, their economic opportunities — on a number of measures, they think that they’re better off and their children are better off.” Produced by Dora Mekouar.

After Lull, Asylum-Seekers Adapt to US Immigration Changes

A group of migrants from China surrendered to a Border Patrol agent in remote Southern California as gusts of wind drowned the hum of high-voltage power lines. They joined others from Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere in a desert campsite with shelters made from tree branches. The Associated Press reports.

Second Texas City at ‘Breaking Point’ as Migrants Flood Border, Mayor Says

The surge of migrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has pushed the city of El Paso, Texas, to “a breaking point,” with more than 2,000 people per day seeking asylum, exceeding shelter capacity and straining resources, its mayor said Saturday. “The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to … a breaking point right now,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. Reuters reports.

Eagle Pass, Texas, Sees Continuing Influx of Migrants

The Eagle Pass area in Texas continues to experience an influx of migrants — the majority from Venezuela, the largest displacement in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest globally, trailing only behind the Syrian refugee crisis, per the U.N. refugee agency. U.S. border authorities said they are managing the situation, but the noticeable rise in migrant arrivals in Eagle Pass has strained local resources and overwhelmed already crowded facilities. VOA’s Immigration reporter Aline Barros.

VOA Day in Photos: Asylum-Seekers Journey through Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas

Asylum-seekers waiting on the banks of the Rio Bravo River after crossing during their journey through Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas, in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Sept. 26, 2023.

Immigration around the world

Illegal Migration to Greece Surges, Sparking Measures to Shield Borders

Thousands of migrants have made their way illegally into Greece from Turkey, using rickety rafts to cross the Aegean Sea, the narrow waterway between the two countries. United Nations data in September shows sea arrivals have already more than doubled the roughly 12,000 migrants who were caught trying to illegally enter Greece last year. Illegal entries along the land border and the massive Evros River, which snakes along the rugged frontiers of the two countries in the northeast, also count record increases of more than 65% in the last two months alone, police said. Produced by Anthee Carassava.

Australian Lawmakers Urge Outside Help for Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Refugees

Seven Australian lawmakers have toured a refugee camp in Armenia, as thousands of ethnic Armenians flee their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Forces from Azerbaijan took control of the contested region last week. The delegation of Australian lawmakers visited Armenia this week and toured a camp for those fleeing the unrest. Produced by Phil Mercer.

Pakistani Vocational School Helps Afghan Women Refugees Build Businesses

In a small workshop in the bustling northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, a dozen Afghan women sit watching a teacher show them how to make clothes on a sewing machine. Reuters reports.

Charity Urges Court to Force Australia to Repatriate Detainees in Syrian Refugee Camp

Australia’s decision not to repatriate more than 30 women and children from a detention camp in northeast Syria is facing a legal challenge. The women are the wives and widows of Islamic State fighters and have been held in custody for the past four years. Produced by Phil Mercer.

Medics: Hundreds Dead From Dengue Fever in War-Torn Sudan

Outbreaks of dengue fever and acute watery diarrhea have “killed hundreds” in war-torn Sudan, medics reported Monday, warning of “catastrophic spreads” that could overwhelm the country’s decimated health system. In a statement, the Sudanese doctors’ union warned that the health situation in the southeastern state of Gedaref, on the border with Ethiopia, “is deteriorating at a horrific rate,” with thousands infected with dengue fever. Produced by Agence France-Presse.

Violence, Human Rights Violations Risk Future Stability of Syria

United Nations investigators say that human rights violations and abuse in Syria are sowing the seeds for further violence and radicalization, despite diplomatic efforts to stabilize the situation in the country, including through its readmission to the League of Arab States. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Senior US Officials Travel to Armenia as Karabakh’s Armenians Start to Leave

Senior Biden administration officials arrived Monday in Armenia, a day after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began fleeing following Azerbaijan’s defeat of the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict dating from the Soviet era. Reuters reports.

Spain Turns to Tractors to Tackle Migrant Unemployment, Farm Labor Shortage

Spain’s agricultural sector is threatened by an aging population and a shortage of farm labor. Now a program in Catalonia is training migrants, largely from Africa, to operate tractors to help them gain meaningful employment. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Barcelona. Videographer and Video Editor: Alfonso Beato.

News brief

— A government shutdown would affect the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ability to respond to cyberattacks; protect and save lives on land, at sea, and in the air; secure the nation’s borders and critical infrastructure; deploy across the country to help Americans recover from disasters, among others.

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Food Prices Rising Due to Climate Change, El Nino, and Russia’s War

How do you cook a meal when a staple ingredient is unaffordable? 

This question is playing out in households around the world as they face shortages of essential foods like rice, cooking oil and onions. That is because countries have imposed restrictions on the food they export to protect their own supplies from the combined effect of the war in Ukraine, El Nino’s threat to food production and increasing damage from climate change. 

For Caroline Kyalo, a 28-year-old who works in a salon in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, it was a question of trying to figure out how to cook for her two children without onions. Restrictions on the export of the vegetable by neighboring Tanzania has led prices to triple. 

Kyalo initially tried to use spring onions instead, but those also got too expensive. As did the prices of other necessities, like cooking oil and corn flour. 

“I just decided to be cooking once a day,” she said. 

Despite the East African country’s fertile lands and large workforce, the high cost of growing and transporting produce and the worst drought in decades led to a drop in local production. Plus, people preferred red onions from Tanzania because they were cheaper and lasted longer. By 2014, Kenya was getting half of its onions from its neighbor, according to a U.N. Food Agriculture Organization report. 

At Nairobi’s major food market, Wakulima, the prices for onions from Tanzania were the highest in seven years, seller Timothy Kinyua said. 

Some traders have adjusted by getting produce from Ethiopia, and others have switched to selling other vegetables, but Kinyua is sticking to onions. 

“It’s something we can’t cook without,” he said. 

Tanzania’s onion limits this year are part of the “contagion” of food restrictions from countries spooked by supply shortages and increased demand for their produce, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. 

Globally, 41 food export restrictions from 19 countries are in effect, ranging from outright bans to taxes, according to the institute. 

India banned shipments of some rice earlier this year, resulting in a shortfall of roughly a fifth of global exports. Neighboring Myanmar, the world’s fifth-biggest rice supplier, responded by stopping some exports of the grain. 

India also restricted shipments of onions after erratic rainfall — fueled by climate change — damaged crops. This sent prices in neighboring Bangladesh soaring, and authorities are scrambling to find new sources for the vegetable. 

Elsewhere, a drought in Spain took its toll on olive oil production. As European buyers turned to Turkey, olive oil prices soared in the Mediterranean country, prompting authorities there to restrict exports. Morocco, also coping with a drought ahead of its recent deadly earthquake, stopped exporting onions, potatoes and tomatoes in February. 

This isn’t the first time food prices have been in a tumult. Prices for staples like rice and wheat more than doubled in 2007-2008, but the world had ample food stocks it could draw on and was able to replenish those in subsequent years. 

But that cushion has shrunk in the past two years, and climate change means food supplies could very quickly run short of demand and spike prices, said Glauber, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“I think increased volatility is certainly the new normal,” he said. 

Food prices worldwide, experts say, will be determined by the interplay of three factors: how El Nino plays out and how long it lasts, whether bad weather damages crops and prompts more export restrictions, and the future of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food, especially to developing nations where food prices have risen and people are going hungry. 

An El Nino is a natural phenomenon that shifts global weather patterns and can result in extreme weather, ranging from drought to flooding. While scientists believe climate change is making this El Nino stronger, its exact impact on food production is impossible to glean until after it’s occurred. 

The early signs are worrying. 

India experienced its driest August in a century, and Thailand is facing a drought that has sparked fears about the world’s sugar supplies. The two are the largest exporters of sugar after Brazil. 

Less rainfall in India also dashed food exporters’ hopes that the new rice harvest in October would end the trade restrictions and stabilize prices. 

“It doesn’t look like [rice] prices will be coming down anytime soon,” said Aman Julka, director of Wesderby India Private Limited. 

Most at risk are nations that rely heavily on food imports. The Philippines, for instance, imports 14% of its food, according to the World Bank, and storm damage to crops could mean further shortfalls. Rice prices surged 8.7% in August from a year earlier, more than doubling from 4.2% in July. 

Food store owners in the capital of Manila are losing money, with prices increasing rapidly since September 1 and customers who used to snap up supplies in bulk buying smaller quantities. 

“We cannot save money anymore. It is like we just work so that we can have food daily,” said Charina Em, 32, who owns a store in the Trabajo market. 

Cynthia Esguerra, 66, has had to choose between food or medicine for her high cholesterol, gallstones and urinary issues. Even then, she can only buy half a kilo of rice at a time — insufficient for her and her husband. 

“I just don’t worry about my sickness. I leave it up to God. I don’t buy medicines anymore, I just put it there to buy food, our loans,” she said. 

The climate risks aren’t limited to rice but apply to anything that needs stable rainfall to thrive, including livestock, said Elyssa Kaur Ludher, a food security researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Vegetables, fruit trees and chickens will all face heat stress, raising the risk that food will spoil, she said. 

This constricts food supplies further, and if grain exports from Ukraine aren’t resolved, there will be additional shortages in feed for livestock and fertilizer, Ludher said. 

Russia’s July withdrawal from a wartime agreement that ensured ships could safely transport Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea was a blow to global food security, largely leaving only expensive and divisive routes through Europe for the war-torn country’s exports. 

The conflict also has hurt Ukraine’s agricultural production, with analysts saying farmers aren’t planting nearly as much corn and wheat. 

“This will affect those who already feel food affordability stresses,” Ludher said. 

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Shelters for Migrants Fill Up Across Germany as Attitudes Toward Newcomers Harden

Dozens of people from around the world lined up on a sunny morning this week in front of a former mental health hospital in Berlin to apply for asylum in Germany.

There were two older women from Moldova. A young man from Somalia sat next to them on a bench. A group of five young Pakistanis chatted loudly, standing behind two pregnant women from Vietnam.

The newcomers are among more than 10,000 migrants who have applied for asylum in the German capital this year, and are coming at a time when Berlin is running out of space to accommodate them.

“The situation is not very good at the moment,” Sascha Langenbach, the spokesperson for the state office for refugee affairs in Berlin, said in an interview this week. “This is much more than we expected last year.”

The former mental health hospital in Berlin’s Reinickendorf neighborhood was turned into the city’s registration center for asylum-seekers in 2019 and can house up to 1,000 migrants.

But it’s full.

Officials have put an additional 80 beds in a church on the premises. Beyond that, there are another 100 asylum shelters in Berlin, but those are at capacity too.

Berlin’s state government says it will open a hangar at the former Tempelhof airport to make space for migrants, put up a big tent at the asylum seekers’ registration center, and open a former hardware store and hotels and hostels in the city to provide another 5,500 beds for more migrants the city is expecting will come through the end of the year.

There are also not enough places in kindergartens and schools. In addition to the asylum seekers, Berlin has also taken in another 11,000 Ukrainian refugees this year who fled Russia’s war.

The lack of space and money for migrants and Ukrainian refugees isn’t unique to Berlin. It’s a problem across Germany, where local and state officials have been demanding more funds from the federal government without success.

More than 220,000 people applied for asylum in Germany between January and August — most of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Moldova and Georgia. In all of 2022, 240,000 people applied for asylum in Germany.

That’s a far cry from the more than 1 million people who arrived in Germany in 2015-16. But Germany has also taken in more than 1 million Ukrainians since the outbreak of the war in 2022. Unlike others who arrive, Ukrainians immediately receive residency status in Germany and the 26 other European Union countries.

While Germans welcomed asylum seekers with flowers, chocolates and toys when they first arrived in 2015, and many opened their homes to house Ukrainians in 2022, the mood toward new arrivals has profoundly changed since then.

“After two years of the (coronavirus) crisis, then the Ukraine war with its increasing prices for basically everything — heating, gas, also food — it’s sometimes pretty tough to convince people that they have to share places and capacities with people who just arrived,” Langenbach said.

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, has been successfully exploiting Germans’ hardening attitudes toward migrants. Polling now puts it in second place nationally with around 21%, far above the 10.3% it won during the last federal election in 2021.

AfD’s rise in the polls and the party leaders’ relentless anti-migrant rhetoric, including calls to close Germany’s borders to prevent migrants from entering, have put pressure on the national and state governments and other mainstream parties to toughen their approach toward migrants.

On Wednesday, Germany’s interior minister announced the country would increase border controls along “smuggling routes” with Poland and the Czech Republic to prevent irregular migrants from entering.

In June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended plans to stop migrants from entering the EU altogether until their chances of getting asylum have been reviewed, arguing that the bloc’s existing arrangements on sharing the burden of asylum seekers among the different European countries is “completely dysfunctional.”

Germany has been taking in more migrants than most other European countries, but other countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, which shelter millions of migrants from Syria, have taken in more refugees as a percentage of their population.

Despite the changing sentiment toward migrants in Germany, those who make it and apply for asylum are generally grateful to be here.

Abdullah al-Shweiti, from Homs, Syria, recently arrived in Berlin and was waiting for the results of his medical checkup at the asylum welcome center. He said he was relieved to be “in a safe place.”

The 29-year-old said he had run away from home because his family’s house had been bombed in the war and he didn’t want to fight in the army. He said he’d paid 3,000 euros ($3,180) to smugglers who helped him get from Lebanon to Europe. He took the Balkans route, trekking with other young Syrians north via Bulgaria through forests. They traveled on foot, by taxi and by bus until smugglers dropped them off in the German capital.

Mirbeycan Gurhan, a Kurdish man from Bingol in eastern Turkey, said he’d fled suppression by Turkish authorities. He paid 6,000 euros ($6,360) for smugglers to arrange a flight from Ankara to Belgrade, Serbia, and then a car to Germany.

“I hope I will have a better future here. I hope I can find work,” the 24-year-old said with a shy smile as his uncle, who applied for asylum in Berlin four years ago, stood next to him and translated.

Michael Elias, head of the Tamaja company that runs the asylum registration center in Berlin, said the arrival of migrants from all over the world is simply a reflection of the many crises around the globe, such as climate change and wars, and that Germany needs to be prepared for even more people to arrive.

“Yes, a lot of people are coming here, but look at what’s going on in the world,” Elias said. “We must simply anticipate that we’re not an island of the fortunate here, that things will reach us too.”

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US Senators Call on Russia to Free American Captives

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Friday a bipartisan resolution calling for the immediate release by Russia of two American detainees, Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 27 senators, focuses on the continuing detention of Gershkovich, 32, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was arrested on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry up to 20 years in prison.

A Moscow court declined Gershkovich’s latest appeal Tuesday of his pre-trial detention.

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have called baseless. He was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to serve 16 years.

“We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador [Lynne] Tracy reiterated to him that President [Joe] Biden and Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken are committed to bring him home,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at a mid-September briefing.

“Evan Gershkovich, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, has been wrongfully detained in Russia for merely for doing his job: reporting facts and shedding light on President [Vladimir] Putin’s bogus rationale for his illegal war against Ukraine,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s Democratic chairman.

“Freedom of the press is critical to holding governments accountable around the world,” said Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican.

During a news briefing Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Russia’s accusations baseless and called for Russia “to immediately release Evan and also to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. Our efforts to secure their release are ongoing, and we will not stop until they are home.”

“It is clear that Evan is being held for leverage because he is an American,” she said, adding that Biden “has been clear that we have no higher priority than securing the release of Evan, Paul Whelan and all Americans wrongfully detained abroad.”

Russia has said the reporter was caught “red-handed” in Yekaterinburg, where the FSB security service said he was trying to obtain military secrets. It has not provided any details to support that assertion.

The U.S. has accused Russia of using Gershkovich to conduct hostage diplomacy, at a time when relations between the two countries have broken down at their worst point in more than 60 years because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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US Warns of Large Serbian Military Buildup Near Kosovo

The United States called on Belgrade to pull its forces back from the border with Kosovo on Friday after detecting what it called an unprecedented Serbian military buildup.

Serbia deployed sophisticated tanks and artillery on the frontier after deadly clashes erupted at a monastery in northern Kosovo last week, the White House said.

The violence in which a Kosovo policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed marked one of the gravest escalations for years in Kosovo, a former Serbian breakaway province.

“We are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. “That includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry units.”

“We believe that this is a very destabilizing development,” he said. “We are calling on Serbia to withdraw those forces from the border.”

The buildup happened within the past week, but its purpose was not yet clear, Kirby said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had telephoned Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to urge an “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

And White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to Kosovo’s prime minister.

Serbia’s Vucic did not directly deny there had been a recent buildup but rejected claims that his country’s forces were on alert.

“I have denied untruths where they talk about the highest level of combat readiness of our forces, because I simply did not sign that and it is not accurate,” Vucic told reporters. “We don’t even have half the troops we had two or three months ago.”


Serbia said on Wednesday that the defense minister and head of the armed forces had gone to visit a “deployment zone” but gave no further details.

The clashes on Sunday began when heavily armed Serb gunmen ambushed a patrol a few kilometers from the Serbian border, killing a Kosovo police officer.

Several dozen assailants then barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery, sparking an hourlong firefight in which three gunmen were killed and three were arrested.

Kosovo’s government has accused Belgrade of backing the entire operation. A member of a major Kosovo Serb political party admitted to leading the gunmen, his lawyer said Friday.

Kirby said the attack had a “very high level of sophistication,” involving around 20 vehicles, “military-grade” weapons, equipment and training.

“It’s worrisome,” he said. “It doesn’t look like just a bunch of guys who got together to do this.”

Peacekeeping force expected to grow

NATO would be “increasing its presence” of its peacekeeping force known as KFOR following the attack, Kirby added.

In Brussels, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the U.S.-led alliance was ready to boost the force to deal with the situation.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in a bloody war in 1998-99 and declared independence in 2008 — a status Belgrade and Moscow have refused to recognize.

It has long seen strained relations between its ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority, which have escalated in recent months in northern Kosovo.

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Humanitarian Operations in Armenia Gather Speed as Exodus Continues

Emergency aid efforts for tens of thousands of refugees who have fled to Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan are gathering speed as the exodus from the disputed region shows no signs of letting up.

Since Azerbaijan launched an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19, the United Nations refugee agency says, more than 88,700 refugees have arrived in Armenia, mainly in the country’s southern Syunik region.

“The numbers are increasing as we speak, and the needs are also really increasing,” said Kavita Belani, UNHCR representative in Armenia, speaking in the capital, Yerevan, Friday.

She said the government has registered more than 63,000 of the 88,700 refugees.

“There are huge crowds at the registration centers,” Belani said. “There is congestion simply because the sheer numbers are so high.”

She said the government, United Nations and international and nongovernmental agencies were setting up tents, providing mattresses, blankets, hot meals and other essential items to the growing community.

One of the most urgent needs, she said, was for psycho-social support as people were arriving exhausted, hungry, frightened and not knowing what to expect.

“When they come, they are full of anxiety. … They want answers as to what is going to happen next,” she said. “They have questions about compensation, about the houses they have left behind, including whether they will be able to return to their houses, at least to pick up their goods, because many arrive with very little luggage.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has activated contingency plans to protect and provide for vulnerable communities affected by the escalating hostilities.

The IFRC launched an emergency appeal Friday for nearly $22 million to provide immediate relief and long-term support to tens of thousands of people who have recently crossed into Armenia via the Lachin corridor.

“As we confront the growing humanitarian needs, we must also look ahead,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, regional director of IFRC Europe. “They will need further support as they navigate the many questions of settling somewhere new.”

Her colleague, Hicham Diab, IFRC operations manager in Armenia, is on the ground in Yerevan and is witness to the dire situation facing the new arrivals that Diab says “often involves families arriving with children so weak that they have fainted in their parents’ arms.”

“It feels like the people affected reached the finish line of a marathon and crashed on the spot, which I have never seen before,” said Diab.

Diab noted that more than 100 staff and volunteers have been mobilized and positioned at the registration points to help the refugees as they arrive. He said that the conflict has worsened existing vulnerabilities and that the affected regions face severe challenges.

Essential goods and services are scarce, and hospitals are stretched.

“There is a massive need for mental health and psychosocial support. … As the weather is getting colder, shelter is becoming the most critical need for vulnerable families,” he said.

UNICEF reports that children account for about 30% of the arrivals and that many have been separated from their families while making their escape.

“We are working to provide psychosocial support and working with the ministries and local authorities to ensure that family tracing is done immediately and that families can reunite,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

She added that UNICEF was working with Armenia’s Ministry of Education to set up child-friendly spaces in the town of Goris and was providing educational supplies for the arriving children.

Carlos Morazzani, operations manager at the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said his agency was working to reunite separated families in the region. He said that was especially important now because “when mass movements of people take place, people get separated, leading to real emotional distress.”

However, given the critical developments following the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, he said, the priority for the ICRC was on life-saving activities in the region, “including the transfer of wounded to hospitals into Armenia for treatment and bringing in medical supplies.”

“Over the past week, we have transferred around 130 people for medical care,” said Morazzani. “Another important element of our work right now is working to ensure the dignified management of the dead.”

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Russia Drafts 130,000 Conscripts, Increases Age Limit to 30

Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling up 130,000 conscripts for military service this fall, increasing the age limit of conscripts from 27 to 30, according to a document posted on the Russian government website on Friday.

Russia’s lower house of parliament voted last July to raise the age for conscripts, and that legislation will take effect on January 1, 2024. Putin said earlier this month that he is bracing for a long war with Ukraine as Russia’s armed forces press on with their “special military operation” in Ukraine, now in its 20th month.

Starting at the age of 18, all men in Russia are required to serve one year in the military.

The conscription will begin on October 1 in all parts of the Russian Federation, according to the defense ministry, including in the illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said Friday.

Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were formally annexed by Russia in September 2022 after so-called referendums were held there, which were universally dismissed as shams by Ukraine and Western nations. Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014.

Last year, Russia announced a plan to increase its professional and conscripted combat force by more than 30% to 1.5 million, a plan made more difficult by its heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Ukraine aid

While the West continues to supply Ukraine with military hardware, it is planning to produce its own, including air defenses, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told reporters on Friday.

“I think very soon specialists will arrive here who will make a plan for our own production of everything that we need. First and foremost, this relates to air defenses,” Yermak said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence Friday that Poland will find ways to address disagreements with Ukraine without affecting its military support for Ukraine.

“I’m expecting and I’m confident that Ukraine and Poland will find a way to address those issues without that impacting in a negative way the military support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview in Copenhagen.

Relations have been somewhat impaired between Poland, a NATO member, and its neighbor Ukraine, after Warsaw’s decision to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.

Seven EU countries have ordered ammunition under a landmark European Union procurement framework to get urgently needed artillery shells to Ukraine and replenish depleted Western stocks, according to the European Defense Agency.

The orders are for 155-millimeter artillery rounds, one of the most important munitions in Ukraine’s defensive war against Russian aggression.

The scheme was set up as part of a plan worth at least $2.1 billion, initiated in March, with the aim of getting 1 million shells and missiles to Ukraine within a year.

Some officials and diplomats have expressed skepticism about whether that goal will be met, but the plan is a significant step in the EU’s growing role in defense and military affairs, spurred by the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine goes through artillery ammunition rapidly, firing thousands of rounds a day, and Kyiv’s Western allies have been scrambling to keep up.

“It was … not sufficient only to deplete our own stocks,” Stoltenberg said Thursday in Kyiv.

The EDA said the EU deals were for both complete shells and for components such as fuses, projectiles, charges and primers.

The NATO chief also noted Thursday that Ukrainian forces are “gradually gaining ground” amid fierce fighting and he is constantly urging allies to provide more aid, boost defense production and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.

“The stronger Ukraine becomes, the closer we come to ending Russia’s aggression,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Kyiv.

Stoltenberg said it is in NATO’s security interest to provide Ukraine what it needs to win the war.

In the United States, as the federal government prepares for a possible shutdown, the country’s aid in the Ukrainian war effort could falter, according to Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh.

Those affected by the shutdown would include Pentagon civilians involved in English-language training for Ukraine’s F-16 pilots, so if there is a government shutdown, “there could be impacts to training,” Singh said. “At this point right now, I just don’t have more specific details to offer.”

Wagner redeployment

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered one of the top commanders of the Wagner military mercenary group to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine. Putin tasked Andrei Troshev with forming volunteer units that would fight primarily in the war zone.

Hundreds of fighters previously associated with the Wagner Group “have likely started to redeploy to Ukraine” as individuals and in small groups that are fighting for a variety of pro-Russian units, the British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It said reports suggest a concentration of Wagner veterans around the eastern city of Bakhmut, a sector where their past experience could be useful.

Their redeployment follows Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a suspicious plane crash on August 23, two months after the Wagner chief launched a day-long mutiny against Kremlin in June.

Some information in this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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After Ukraine Invasion, Family Chooses Refugee Life Over Life in Russia

Galina Zhalybina and her husband left Russia after the country invaded Ukraine. Like many Russian families, they crossed from Mexico into the U.S. and eventually landed in New York City. Despite challenging conditions in their new home, Zhalybina says she is not planning to go back to Russia anytime soon. Elena Wolf has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. VOA footage by Max Avloshenko.

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