Pick of the Day


milky.jpg

Milky Way Picture Courtesy: Jean Beaufort

night.jpg

Night Sky Picture Courtesy: Alex Grichenko

Pick of the Day


beverly.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Kevin Phillips

st.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Linnaea Mallette

Aerial Views


sri1.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Petr Kratochvil

sri.jpg

Picture Courtesy:Petr Kratochvil

Pick of the Day: Times Square, New York


times.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

start

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan 

Picture Perfect


first1.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Vera Kratochvil

first.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Vera Kratochvil

Picture Perfect


 

pic2.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Karen Arnold

pic3

Picture Courtesy: Circe Denyer

Picture Perfect


pic.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

pic1.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

Picture Perfect!


 

pic1.jpg

Arc De Triomphe Picture Courtesy: Jean Beaufort

pic.jpg

Eiffel Tower, Picture Courtesy: Jean Beaufort

Pick of the Day: Beach Fun!


beach

Picture Couratesy: Jean Beaufort

st1.jpg

Picture Coirtesy: Karen Arnold

 

Freedom of Expression!


st.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Flickr

Netizens believe that right to poke fun and even to offend others even religiously or even cyber stalking is an integral part of freedom of speech but some experts believe that freedom is not absolute and should not use as a licence to abuse.Freedom of speech dies not provide the right to offend others and hurt the sensibilities including religious sensibilities. We should know where to draw line in cyber world.Freedom makes it   possible for  both good and bad expression. 

Scientists: Plant More Trees to Combat Climate Change


tree.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed Monday.

Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peat lands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37 percent of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.

Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.

“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30 percent higher than those envisaged by a U.N. panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.

Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.

Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Paris climate agreement, weakened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.

“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.

Climate change could jeopardize production of crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soy even as a rising global population will raise demand, he said.

The study said that some of the measures would cost $10 a ton or less to avert a ton of carbon dioxide, with others up to $100 a ton to qualify as “cost-effective” by 2030.

“If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature,” said Mark Tercek, chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, which led the study.

News Couartesy: VOA NEWS

What is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard?


U.S. President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Treasury Department to impose additional sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as he announced a more aggressive stance toward Iran, including refusing to recertify the nuclear deal with Tehran.

The White House called the Revolutionary Guard, which is separate from Iran’s regular armed forces, a “primary tool and weapon in remaking Iran into a rogue state.” But what is the Revolutionary Guard?

Beginnings

The Revolutionary Guard was founded following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, in which the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by a cleric-led uprising. The Revolutionary Guard was created to enforce the new Islamic government and operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces. Once a ragtag force protecting the new regime, it is now the nation’s most powerful security institution.

Expanded force

The Revolutionary Guard has between 120,000 and 150,000 active personnel operating air, land and sea defense capabilities. Its elite Quds Force, which the Treasury Department designated a terrorist organization in 2007, is responsible for external operations. Domestically, the guard controls a large network of paramilitary volunteers, known as the Basij.

Loyal to supreme leader

The Guard only answers to Iran’s supreme leader. After the 1979 revolution, the guard faced possible disbanding, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allowed it to thrive and granted it more powers. Since then, the guard has been loyal to the supreme leader and the group’s powers have since been enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Political and economic actor

While the Revolutionary Guard has expanded militarily, it has also become a force within the political scene. Current and former members of the guard hold important posts in government, including foreign and security policy. The guard also has holdings in media, manufacturing, construction, banking and other sectors of the Iranian economy.

Sponsor of terrorism

In announcing the new sanctions Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity under a White House Executive Order. It said the group provides “support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
A Ghadr-H missle, center, a solid-fuel surface-to-surface Sejjil missile and a portrait of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are on display for the annual Defense Week, at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 24, 2017. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard displayed the country’s sophisticated Russian-made S-300 air defense system in public for the first time

Ballistic missiles

The Revolutionary Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program and has fired several missile tests since the nuclear deal in 2015. While the nuclear deal does not forbid missile tests, U.S. officials say they violate the spirit of the agreement. The missiles that have been tested can reach Israel, and in March 2016 the Revolutionary Guard launched a test missile bearing the words “Israel must be wiped out.”

News Courtesy:VOA NEWS

Pooch-loving Putin Presented With Puppy


putin.jpg

picture Courtesy: http://en.kremlin.ru

He may strike fear in the hearts of dissidents and foreign leaders, but Russian President Vladimir Putin lost his heart Wednesday to a fluffy white puppy with black and brown markings.

Putin received a belated birthday gift from Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — an  alabai, a top Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog. The pup is named Verny, or Russian for “loyal.”

Putin, who turned 65 over the weekend, cuddled Verny and kissed it on the head during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The pup joins the Kremlin kennel that already is home to a Bulgarian shepherd named Buffy, a gift from Bulgaria’s premier, and an Akita named Yume, from a Japanese official.

Putin with his favorite dog Konnie who died in 2014. Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Putin favorite Konnie, a black Labrador famous for terrifying German Chancellor Angela Merkel, died a few years ago. He was a present from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The Central Asian shepherd dog is a multipurpose working dog native to Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The breed is used for a number of purposes, including livestock protection, dog fighting, personal and property protection, companionship and military work.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

India May Allow Female Haj Pilgrims to Travel Without Male Guardian


mecca.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Indian women over the age of 45 and traveling in groups of four will be able to go for the Islamic haj pilgrimage without a male guardian next year, if the government adopts proposed reforms.

Women meeting these criteria will no longer have to be accompanied by a mahram, or close male relative, such as a father, husband, brother or son, a government-appointment panel recommended in the country’s first haj policy review.

“The mahram rule was there from the very beginning for women — in case they face any difficulty while traveling, it can be taken care of,” said Maqsood Ahmed Khan of the Haj Committee of India, a government body which organises the pilgrimages. “This (dropping of male kin) is an important recommendation, the chief executive told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Nearly half of pilgrims are women

Nearly half of an estimated 170,000 pilgrims who went for the annual religious celebration in Saudi Arabia from India this year were women, officials said.

The panel of bureaucrats and intellectuals was appointed by the ministry of minority affairs to review India’s haj policy for the first time.

Officials from the ministry, which will decide whether to adopt the recommendations, were not available for comment.

The policy would cover the next five years from 2018 and is in line with Saudi Arabia’s haj requirements.

Changes are not enough

Women’s rights campaigners welcomed the proposal but said it did not go far enough.

“Muslim women are traveling across the world independently,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which campaigns for Muslim women’s rights and won a ban on an instant divorce law in August. “While this is a good decision, the restrictions on age and group size should go.”

If the new rule is implemented, solo women will no longer have to pay private tour operators to provide them with a mahram for a fee of 10,000 Indian rupees ($153.29), campaigners said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS 

Catalan Leaders Face Growing Pressure Over Independence Threat


map

Atlas Courtesy: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Leaders in Catalonia are facing increasing domestic and international pressure to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, ahead of a planned speech by Catalonia’s regional president.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the regional parliament on Tuesday, and Spain’s government is worried the legislature will vote for a unilateral declaration of independence. Puigdemont has not revealed what his message to lawmakers will be.

Political leaders, both domestically and internationally, urged Catalan leaders on Monday to back down to ease growing tensions in the country.

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the city council in Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 28, 2017.

Major speaks out

Barcelona’s mayor was the latest to speak out against a declaration of independence, saying this would put “social cohesion” at risk. Ada Colau called on all sides to de-escalate tensions to solve “the most severe institutional crisis since the re-establishment of democracy in Spain.”

The head of Spain’s main opposition party, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, also called for Catalan leaders to drop an attempt to declare independence, saying “a universal declaration of independence doesn’t have a place in a state ruled by law.”

Germany and France also weighed in Monday against a split. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain,” but also encouraged dialogue, according to her spokesman.

France said it would not recognize Catalonia if the region declared independence. “This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics,” France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said.

Tensions have grown in Spain since last week when Catalonia held a regional vote for independence, an election deemed illegal by Madrid. Police cracked down on the vote, firing rubber bullets and storming crowds to disrupt the voting, leading to hundreds of injuries.

A man, wearing a t-shirt reading in Spanish: “Please, talk” chats with a passer-by about the current political situation in Catalonia, in Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.

Huge support at the polls

Catalan leaders say 90 percent of those who went to the polls voted to break with Spain. However, opponents of the referendum say the vote did not show the true will of the region because those who want to stay in Spain mainly boycotted the polls.

Police say about 350,000 demonstrators attended an anti-independence protest on Sunday.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies in Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities to demand dialogue to end the dispute.

An “estelada”, or Catalonia independence flag, hangs from a street light in downtown Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.

Banks, businesses may move

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not rule out using constitutional powers to take away Catalonia’s autonomous status if the region declares independence.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.

The crisis has prompted several major banks and businesses to announce they will move their headquarters out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain so they can be sure they will remain in the European Union common market.

Catalonia, a northeastern region in Spain, has its own language and cultural traditions. It is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economy.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

IS Deprives Thousands of Children of Education in Afghan Province


afghan.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Local affiliates of the so-called Islamic State militant group have shut down dozens of schools in a restive district of northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said.

Abdul Hai Yasheen, the director of education in northern Jawzjan province, told VOA that growing IS threats have scared thousands of students away from schools.

“The ongoing clashes in Qoshtepa and Darzab districts have scared the local people. They refrain from sending their children to school, including schools that are in areas under the government control,” Yasheen said.

Yasheen added that thousands of boys and girls in Darzab district have been deprived of a chance to get education.

“Our schools are closed, IS controls parts of the district, there is no education,” Abdul Murad, a Darzab resident told VOA. “IS kills and does not let us send children to school.”

“Twenty five schools are under IS militant’s control and our teachers are unable to go and teach there,” Baz Mohammad Dawar, Darzab district’s chief said. “Parents have been warned by IS not to send their children to school.”

“Over 18,500 students are unable to attend school and that’s a catastrophe,” Dawar added.

At least two schools remain closed in neighboring Khanqah district as well.

The terror group has destroyed much of the education infrastructure in parts of the Jawzjan province.

In July, IS militants destroyed more than a dozen schools in Darzab, including a girls’ high school. The militants warned that an educational curriculum acceptable to IS must be taught in areas that the group controls, according to provincial education officials.

The terror group had also warned girls not to attend school. They make up 40 percent of students in the district’s 47 government-run schools.

Reza Ghafoori, a provincial spokesperson, told VOA that authorities are seeking to resolve the issue through mediation by local leaders who are trying to talk to IS militants to allow children to attend school. The efforts, however, have not yielded a positive outcome yet.

Islamic State’s self-styled Khorasan Province branch (IS-K) emerged in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan more than two years ago. The terror group has recently attracted hundreds of local militants to its ranks in northern Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces. Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban commander who switched his allegiance to IS a year ago, is said to lead IS-affiliated groups in the region. A large number of Central Asian fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, have joined the IS cause in the northern provinces.

IS and rival militants from the Taliban frequently fight for control of Darzab and Qoshtepa districts. Recent clashes between the two rival groups have resulted in the death of at least 30 militants from both sides, according to Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, the provincial police chief in Jawzjan.

“Two days ago, the IS miitants set a school on fire in Qoshtepa and killed two local elders on charges of serving in the local police force,” Jouzjani told Radio Liberty.

The ongoing clashes have led hundreds of families to leave their homes. Most of the fleeing families have taken refuge in the provincial capital Sheberghan and live in dire conditions, according to Radio Liberty.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Iranian Chess Star, Banned for Not Wearing Hijab, to Play for US


chess

Picture Courtesy: Twitter

A leading Iranian chess player, barred from her homeland’s team after she refused to wear a headscarf, will now compete as a player for the United States, the US Chess Federation said.

Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, who was born in Tehran, was forbidden from playing by the Iranian Chess Federation following the Gibraltar Chess Festival in January, US Chess said on its website. She did not wear a hijab during the event.

Since then, she has moved to the United States where she attends Saint Louis University and plays for the school’s team.

Derakhshani will now compete as an official United States chess player, US Chess posted on its website this week. US Chess is the national governing body for chess competition, sanctioning championships and overseeing player rankings.

FILE – Iranian chess player Dorsa Derakhshani speaks in an interview.

‘Welcomed and supported’

“It feels good and … peaceful to play for a federation where I am welcomed and supported,” the website quoted Derakhshani as saying.

On a U.S. radio broadcast last week, she said: “I’m looking forward to finally having a stable trainer and a team, and I really wish to become grandmaster.”

She also said she hopes to become a dentist.

Derakhshani holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster with the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

A few weeks after the Gibraltar competition, the Iranian Chess Federation announced it was banning Derakhshani for not wearing a hijab. It also banned her brother, who had played an Israeli player in Gibraltar, US Chess said.

Ban may be a distraction

Derakhshani said on the National Public Radio broadcast that she had competed before without a headscarf and thought the ban was issued for other reasons.

The announcement was made during the Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran, and all three Iranian competitors had lost in the opening round.

“So in the middle of all this, they needed another distraction … which worked perfectly,” she said in the broadcast. “Everybody started talking about us.”

Several top players including the U.S. women’s champion Nazi Paikidze boycotted the Tehran competition because players were required to wear a headscarf, US Chess said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

A Minute With: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling on ‘Blade Runner 2049’


HAR.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The long-awaited sequel to the cult classic “Blade Runner,” a 1982 sci-fi thriller, finally hits movie theaters on Friday.

But there is not much that stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling can say about “Blade Runner 2049,” for fear of revealing major plot spoilers.

Ford, who reprises his role as an older Rick Deckard, and Gosling as a new ‘blade runner’ Officer K, told Reuters that the film offers a glimpse into the potential impact of a rapidly changing climate and an increasingly isolated society reliant on technology.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The first film touched upon the future or what they envisaged the world to be. Now we’re 30 years on, what elements does this film address which you think will resonate with audiences today?

Gosling: “Overpopulation, global warming, being isolated by technology.”

Ford: “Social inequity.”

Gosling: “The false narratives we create about large groups of people in order to make ourselves feel better about how awful their circumstances are.”

Ford: “The necessity to have a moral structure into which to pour what’s possible and to make judgments about what we use and what we don’t use.”

Q: How would you say this film pushes forward messages about humanity that weren’t covered in the first one?

Ford: Well I would just quibble with the word ‘message’ because it’s an experiential opportunity because you discover your relationship to the ideas in the context of an emotional geography so I think as an audience, it has an opportunity to engage you in a way that is pretty rare.

Q: How did you go about playing your character with ambiguity as it is not always known who is a human and who is a Replicant?

Ford: I don’t think there’s a style to the acting necessarily. There is so much new information coming at you as a character and as an audience that you just want to be still and make sure that you’re reading this right, that you really know what’s going on so the characters are constantly in the midst of a dilemma that is like drinking out of a gardening hose. There is so much happening to them that it’s close to overwhelming for them.

Interview Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Forensic Psychologist Profiles Mass Killers


wiki.jpg

Las Vegas Strip shooting site , LasVegas Village and Festival Grounds Pictures taken one week before the beginning of the country music festival from a helicopter Picture Courtesy: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz/Wikimedia Commons

Studies show mass killings have tripled in the past few years. A massacre Sunday night in Las Vegas left 59 people dead as a gunman in a hotel fired upon thousands of people below who were attending a music festival.

Until that tragedy, last year’s shooting at an Orlando nightclub was the deadliest in U.S. history. Forty-nine people died when a gunman opened fire on club-goers. In 2012, a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, as well as six others, including the shooter’s mother and staff and teachers at the school.

Mass killers used trucks filled with fertilizer to create an explosion that left 168 people dead at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The land is now filled with empty chairs, each etched with the name of one of the victims.

That was the worst mass killing until September 2001, when killers crashed airplanes into The World Trade Center’s twin towers in lower Manhattan. As in Oklahoma City, the ground where the towers once stood is now a memorial.

Profiling mass killers

J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, said mass murderers “typically have more in common” with each other than not.

He said the killers tend to have a history of psychiatric problems, are mostly men, and have rocky intimate relationships.

Meloy said the killings are a quest for status and usually are not, despite killers’ claims, rooted in a cause.

“Oftentimes, the pathway to violence begins with a personal grievance,” Meloy said. “It typically has three components to it. One is there’s some kind of loss. Secondly, there’s the feeling of humiliation. Then thirdly, there’s anger toward and blaming of a person or a group of people who have caused them to have this problem.”

Access to weapons is one factor, but social media is another.

Meloy said social media makes killers notorious and, when an attack is shown online, those seeking notoriety decide to imitate the atrocity and gain notoriety for themselves.

It is an appeal that, unfortunately, Meloy predicts will spawn even more mass killings.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Mexico Quake Leaves Country’s Historic Churches Battered


WIKI.jpg

File Picture of Mexico City building Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Our Lady of Angels Church has survived several major earthquakes, but Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 shake proved to be the final death knell for the Mexico City building’s historic cupola.

Violent cracks crisscrossed the dome, and stone from the roof continued to fall onto the church’s wooden pews. On Sunday evening, the cupola split and half crashed to the floor.

“Each earthquake has left its mark,” said Marco Antonio Fuentes, part of the church’s ministry. “This one seems to be the straw that will break the camel’s back.”

According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 150 religious temples in this deeply Roman Catholic country were damaged by Tuesday’s deadly quake. Statues of saints have been left maimed, missing hands and feet. Once towering, celestial church naves now open to the sky. Dust from fallen stone and concrete cover altars.

Santiago Apostol church was destroyed during the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake, in Atzala, Mexico, Sept. 23, 2017.

Many of the battered churches are in the state of Puebla, where the quake’s epicenter was located. There in the city of Atzala, a child’s baptism turned into tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed, killing 11 family members inside, including the 2-month-old girl being christened.

On the first Sunday since the earthquake, priests no longer able to say Mass inside collapsing churches instead held services outside paying homage to victims and survivors.

“Our religion is more than a building,” Colin Noguez, the priest at Our Lady of Angels, told parishioners inside a tent with a table holding a cross and candles from the building.

A crucifix, recovered from a collapsed church, is held up by ropes inside an auditorium during a Mass, in Tepeojuma, Mexico, Sept. 24, 2017.

Many of the collapsed buildings where rescuers have been searching for survivors held offices and apartments, places where people worked and lived. The damage to churches hit a different chord — striking places that in many Mexican cities serve as pillars of strength in times of distress.

“It’s our mother,” Azalia Ramirez, 60, said of Our Lady of Angels, which sits in a working class neighborhood. “We come here looking for communion, peace and tranquility.”

Our Lady of Angels is believed to be the most heavily damaged church in Mexico City, while the severity of destruction to religious structures is largely concentrated in Puebla.

In Atzala, a town of 1,200 people, little remains of the golden yellow church with a red roof where the 11 people died. The interior where worshippers once prayed from pews is now a mess of twisted metal and fallen stone leading to an altar where the word “merciful” now hangs at a slant.

“Everything happened in the blink of an eye,” said Sergio Montiel, the church’s sexton.

As the Santiago de Apostol church shifted to recovery mode, a planned wedding instead took place outside under a beige tent with mariachi players standing nearby. The bride and groom exchanged rings and a kiss before being showered with rice and confetti just feet from the destruction.

“I’m very sad for the church,” said Aremy Sanchez, the bride. “But we must go on.”

People kneel during a Mass held outside the Parish of Santiago Apostol, where church officials were waiting for inspectors to check damages following the recent earthquake, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Sept. 24, 2017.

At Mass in Puebla and elsewhere, priests urged parishioners to use the painful moment as a time of reflection. Damaged churches held mass in plazas and auditoriums. In San Francisco Xochiteopan, clergy members moved broken statues of saints into a gym and proceeded with a service. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a national shrine in Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera asked God to deliver peace.

“It pains us to see our city hurt, so many hopes lost,” he said, speaking before a giant Mexican flag. “For that reason, we come to you, consoler of the afflicted.”

The origin of Our Lady of Angels dates back 433 years, when a painting of the Virgin Mary transported by a Spanish ship was found to have been damaged by water during the journey. A painter in the city’s then-predominantly indigenous community was commissioned to create a replica.

The replica, cracked and with progressively fading paint, has stood at the altar from the time the church was little more than a small hut to its present-day construction, built in the 19th century. The Virgin Mary painting has withstood seven floods and more earthquakes than parishioners can remember.

“I say Our Lady of Angels holds the miracle of perseverance,” said Adela Corona, a member of the ministry.

Engineers told the church’s leaders that the cupola has a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of collapsing. It contains stained glass brought from Germany depicting singing archangels. Projecting above the roof, the cupola is meant to symbolize how the church brings those inside closer to God.

“It is an important part of our historical heritage,” Fuentes said as the sound of small bits of the dome falling onto the floor echoed in the church. “Our idea is to save it.”

But just hours later, half the cupola came crashing down. No one was inside and the painting of the Virgin Mary, protected by a glass case, appeared unscathed.

“Hijole,” Fuentes said after the dome fell, using a popular Spanish word to express astonishment. “There’s sadness, surprise and fear for those who live here.”

But, he added, the Virgin Mary painting’s survival is what mattered: “She’s the boss here.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Rescuers Cling to Hope of Finding Quake Survivors in Mexico


mex.jpg

Picture Courtesy: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Mexican authorities have raised the death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake to 293, as rescue workers continue to search through the rubble, refusing to give up hope of finding survivors.

National Civil Protection Chief Luis Felipe Puente said more than half the fatalities — 155 people — died in the capital, Mexico City. In a tweet Friday, he said the death tolls remained unchanged in other areas, with 73 in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico state, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

Twitter Embed Tweet or Video

Rescue teams in central Mexico have been working around the clock among the flattened buildings since Tuesday’s massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake in search of survivors.

Mexican rescue workers, supported by teams from around the world, including Israel, Japan and the United States, have rescued at least 60 people in Mexico City and surrounding towns.

More than three days after the quake, rescuers were now finding more dead bodies than living survivors, but officials said there were signs of life at some sites picked up by dogs and sensors. The Mexican military said 115 people had been pulled alive from the rubble.

Work continues at the site of a collapsed building in Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 22, 2017. Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has insisted rescue operations will  continue. He praised Mexicans’ rapid response to the disaster, while stressing the priorities remain saving lives and getting medical attention to those in need.

“I need to recognize the volunteers who are unconditionally helping those who need it,” Pena Nieto said.

“Once again, Mexicans have demonstrated that the strength of solidarity is much greater,” the president’s office posted in a tweet that included a video showing thousands of people involved in relief efforts.

Twitter Embed Tweet or Video

But it was likely the death toll would rise.

In addition to the local response in Mexico City and the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca, help was coming from other nations.

The U.S. Agency for International Development sent a team of more than 60 disaster responders and tools and medical equipment to Mexico City on Thursday.

“They’ll be working closely with Mexican disaster authorities to help rescue earthquake survivors and assess structures for earthquake damage,” USAID Administrator Mark Green said.

Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake that devastated Mexico City and nearby states.

While officials remained focused on searching for survivors and caring for those who were injured in the temblor, those whose lives were upended in the quake were wondering what would happen to them.

About 2,000 homes were damaged in the quake. Many are uninhabitable, rendering occupants homeless.

Mexico has set up 50 shelters to house quake survivors, but some people are choosing to sleep in the streets.

The quake hit less than two weeks after another temblor killed more than 90 people in the country’s south. The U.S. Geological Survey said the two quakes appeared to be unrelated.

The earthquake struck exactly 32 years after an 8.0 temblor killed nearly 10,000 people in and around Mexico City.

Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Google Bets Big on Hardware With HTC Buy


gl.jpg

Photo Courtesy: Flickr

Google is biting off a big piece of device manufacturer HTC for $1.1 billion to expand its efforts to build phones, speakers and other gadgets equipped with its arsenal of digital services.

The deal announced Thursday underscores how serious Google is becoming about designing its own family of devices to compete against Apple and Amazon in a high-stakes battle to become the technological hub of people’s lives.

Over the past decade, Google had focused on giving away its Android operating system to an array of device makers, including Taiwan’s HTC, to ensure people would keep using its ubiquitous search engine, email, maps, YouTube video service and other software on smartphones and other pieces of hardware.

But that changed last year when Google stamped its brand on a smartphone and internet-connected speaker. HTC manufactured the Pixel phones that Google designed last year, perhaps paving the way for this deal to unfold.

Although Android powers about four out of every five smartphones and other mobile devices in the world, the software can be altered in ways that result in Google’s services being de-emphasized or left out completely from the pre-installed set of apps.

That fragmentation threatens to undercut Google’s ability to increase the ad sales that bring in most of the revenue to its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., as people spend more and more time on smartphones and other devices instead of personal computers.

Apple’s iPhone and other hardware products are also particularly popular among affluent consumers prized by advertisers, giving Google another incentive to develop its own high-priced phone as a mobile platform for its products and ads.

Google also wants to build more internet-connected devices designed primarily for home usage, such as its voice-controlled speaker that’s trying to catch up with Amazon’s Echo. The Home speaker includes a digital concierge, called Google Assistant, that answers questions and helps manage people’s lives, much like the Alexa in Amazon’s Echo.

The purchase is a gamble on several fronts for Google and Alphabet.

Google’s previous forays into hardware haven’t panned out to be big winners so far. It paid $12.5 billion for smartphone maker Motorola Mobility five years ago only to sell it to Lenovo Group for less than $3 billion after struggling to make a dent in the market. And in 2014, Google paid more than $3 billion for home device maker Nest Labs, which is still struggling to make money under Alphabet’s ownership.

Expanding into hardware also threatens to alienate Samsung Electronics, Huawei and other device makers that Google relies on to distribute its Android software.

News Courtesy:VOA NEWS

Monsoon Rains Paralyze Air, Street Traffic in Mumbai


filepic.jpg

File Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Torrential rains lashed India’s financial hub Mumbai for the second time in weeks on Tuesday, flooding low-lying areas and paralyzing traffic at the country’s second busiest airport after a plane overshot the runway.

Low visibility, strong winds and slippery conditions caused the SpiceJet flight to overshoot while landing on Tuesday night and skid onto the grass.

The airline said all 183 passengers on the flight from the northern city of Varanasi were safe, but the incident led to widespread disruptions.

India’s largest carrier Indigo and rivals Jet Airways and Vistara issued advisories saying they had halted all flights to and from Mumbai due to unavailability of runways and bad weather conditions.

The airport was earlier shut down for 30 minutes while the downpour hampered visibility.

A deluge in Mumbai last month killed 14 people, wrecked homes and caused chaos in the city of 20 million people.

Tuesday’s rain delayed services on the heavily used local train network, a rail official said, while road traffic was heavily disrupted by flooding.

The state of Maharashtra’s Education Minister Vinod Tawde in a tweet advised all schools and colleges in the city to remain closed on Wednesday, when the weather department forecasting that heavy rains would continue.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS via Reuters

Swiss Toilets Found Flush with Shredded Cash


dollar-bill-2462385.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Pixabay

Dirty money? Swiss investigators are perplexed about who flushed tens of thousands of euros down toilets in Geneva. And why?

Bundles of shredded 500-euro notes, worth about $120,000 or 100,000 euros, were found clogging toilets at a bank and three nearby restaurants.

The high-value euro notes are due to be discontinued in 2018 over fears they are being used in illegal activities, including money laundering and sponsoring terrorism.

The notes will remain legal tender, but the European Central Bank will stop producing them following a European Commission inquiry into their use.

Destroying legal tender is not an offense in Switzerland, but police want to know the circumstances that would lead someone to flush money down a toilet.

The Tribune de Geneve newspaper, which first reported the unusual deposit, said it appeared the money belonged to unnamed Spanish women who had placed it in a safe-deposit box at the bank.

Police have not disclosed the women’s identities and are unsure why they would have wanted to dispose of the euros.

“We are not so interested in the motive, but we want to be sure of the origin of the money,” said Vincent Derouand, spokesman for the Geneva prosecutor’s office.

“Clearly, it’s very surprising,” he said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Blasphemy: A Life-and-death Issue in Pakistan


sre.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Blasphemy is an emotive topic in Pakistan, where strong religious sentiments have led in the past to mob violence and worse.

For those accused of blasphemy – which can include anything seen as a deliberate insult to God, Islam or religious leaders – such an offense is literally a life-and-death matter. The relevant section of Pakistan’s penal code recommends either life imprisonment or death for any convicted blasphemer.

The issue has arisen again in Punjab, where a court last week condemned to death a Christian, Nadeem James, based on evidence police gathered from a friend who said James sent him a blasphemous poem via instant-messenger WhatsApp. A prosecutor confirmed the contention by James’s defense lawyer that he never sent any blasphemous material to anyone.

“The accused said … he never sent any blasphemous message through his cellphone,” prosecution lawyer Rana Naveed Anjum told VOA Urdu. “But once something has been alleged against you and there is enough evidence on record corroborating that assertion, then it is hard to deny or overlook such material.”

A fair trial is difficult

A prominent Pakistani human-rights activist, Mehdi Hassan, said the emotive nature of blasphemy makes it difficult to get a fair trial in cases involving religious beliefs.

“In Pakistan, religious might is very influential,” Hassan told VOA, “and that thinking has an impact on police and other departments in such cases.”

Nadeem James’s defense attorney, Anjum Wakeel, has said his client was “framed” by his so-called friend, “who was annoyed by [James’s] affair with a Muslim girl.”

Prosecutor Anjum agreed that James told investigators he had been framed.

Feelings ran high in the case, and the trial was held in secret, in a prison, because James and members of his family had been receiving threats, some of them by local clerics.

‘Blasphemy’ can mask personal disputes

Blasphemy remains one of Pakistan’s most controversial laws. Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are subject to abuse, and are made to settle personal disputes or vendettas.

Activist Mehdi Hassan said the country’s political parties should play a more active role and press Pakistani society to curb the misuse of these laws.

“To address this problem as a long-term solution, political parties should play a role, because democracy gives a level playing field to everyone,” Hassan told VOA.

Referring to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the revered founder of modern-day Pakistan, Hassan added: “We have to remember what Mr. Jinnah said, ‘Religious beliefs are the personal matter of an individual.'”

Jinnah was a lawyer and political figure prior to the partition of the Indian subcontinent that broke up the British Raj and created India and Pakistan as separate states in 1947. He served as Pakistan’s first governor-general until his death a year later.

A history of violence

Past blasphemy cases have stirred public anger that spiraled into mob violence and killings.

In April of this year, Mashaal Khan, a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardar, Pakistan, was beaten and shot dead by fellow students angered by accusations that he had posted blasphemous content online. In 2014, an angry mob in Punjab beat a Christian couple to death over blasphemy accusations, and in a high-profile case in 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard after Taseer proposed reforms for the blasphemy laws.

Despite criticism, Pakistan’s government has been advocating strict enforcement of blasphemy laws. In April the government used newspaper advertising and text messages on mobile phones to warn millions of Pakistanis not to post, share or upload “blasphemous” material online. Anyone encountering such material was asked to report it to the authorities.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report on Pakistan, ten Muslims and five non-Muslims were arrested in 2016 on blasphemy charges, and at least 19 people convicted of blasphemy were sentenced to death and are being held in prison.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Myanmar Leader’s Silence on Rohingya Disappoints, Angers


ang

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

For more than 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has stood as a human rights icon. Known as “The Lady,” she was admired and respected around the world as she endured house arrest and the repression of Myanmar’s military government.

Myanmar’s de facto leader has received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has been showered with honorary degrees and memberships.

Now there’s a petition to revoke her Nobel (the Nobel committee says that’s not possible) and a growing chorus of criticism. Even fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, retired Bishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, have called on her to say something to condemn the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group.

Minimal response

The United Nations has called the violence against the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic cleansing.

Others call it genocide.

Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in New Delhi, India, Sept. 13, 2017. The protesters criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, asking whether she was given a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peace or for persecuting Rohingya Muslims.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has said little. Her first statements were to say that the world was being misled about the issue. Nearly two weeks after scores of Rohingya villages had been destroyed, she said her government would protect all the country’s residents and would implement a U.N.-backed plan for ending the discrimination and abuse the Rohingya endure.

But nothing more.

“Her silence in this case — that is increasingly recognized as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or, by the scholars, genocide — silence is complicity,” Maung Zarni, a Myanmar rights activist said via Skype from Britain.

While other critics aren’t quite as harsh, the frustration at her silence is profound.

“I suppose the disappointment comes from that someone who knows how abusive the military is has failed to call them out,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

It’s not just that Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t condemned the violence, said John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Center at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Packer, who has spent years researching rights in Myanmar, noted that she has also used the language the military has used to justify its actions in Rakhine.

That includes referring to the Rohingya, who have been denied citizenship since 1982, as Bengalis, which reinforces the government’s position that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Almost all of them, Packer said, are from families that have been in Myanmar for generations, going back hundreds of years.

Burmese residents living in Japan, who support Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, stage a rally against ethnic Rohingya, in front of United Nations University in Tokyo, Sept. 13, 2017.

New at governing

There are those, however, who urge patience with Aung San Suu Kyi.

They argue that her National League for Democracy has run Myanmar’s government for only a few years, and that the military, which ruled for more than 50 years, retains a great deal of power. The country, also known has Burma, has weak institutions and battles high levels of corruption.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, has been critical of Aung San Suu Kyi’s stance on the Rohingya but says much of the international criticism is misplaced.

“Constitutionally, she has no power to stop this. But she has moral authority,” he said. He thinks more pressure should be applied to Myanmar’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing. “He is literally calling the shots.”

But aside from the military, powerful nationalist Buddhist monks and many in the ethnic Bamar majority group favor the crackdown on the Rohingya.

Thus, pressuring Aung San Suu Kyi, some experts say, could undermine a fragile democracy.

“She is fighting alone and under great restraints,” global policy analyst Tej Parikh wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in May.

Muslim women hold posters of Wirathu, the leader of Myanmar’s nationalist Buddhist monks, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Htin Kyaw, with writings that read “The waste of humanity” during a rally against persecution of Rohingya Muslims outside Myanmar’s Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 7, 2017.

Substantial control

Maung Zarni doesn’t buy that argument.

“You talked about how little power she has. Well, she controls five other ministries that are directly involved in the genocidal process. Because genocide isn’t just simply killing 100,000 people in two weeks,” he said. “She controls the religious affairs, she controls the immigration ministry, she is the de facto head of the government, and she is also foreign minister.”

Ganguly at Human Rights Watch said, “This is someone who stood up to the very same abusive army” for so many years as a political dissident. “For her to not call them out is shocking for everyone.”

Ultimately, Aung San Suu Kyi must speak, Packer at the Human Rights Research Center said.

“She has to come out and say this is not where we are going … we protect people’s lives, their homes.”

VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this report.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Iraq Says Holding 1,300 Women, Children, Families of IS Fighters


tabqa.png

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Iraqi authorities said Sunday they are holding more than 1,300 foreign women and children, the families of suspected Islamic State jihadists, at a camp for displaced people and expect to repatriate them to their home countries.

The women and children, most from Russia, Turkey and Central Asia with some from European countries, surrendered to Kurdish forces at the end of August after Iraqi fighters drove Islamic State from the northern town of Tal Afar, near Mosul.

Iraqi officials said they are verifying the nationalities of the women, many of whom no longer had their original passports or other international documents.

As Kurdish forces assumed control of Tal Afar, they handed over the women and children to Iraqi forces, while keeping the men, all assumed to be fighters, in their custody.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which is supporting 541 of the women and their children, said in a statement that Iraq “must swiftly move to clarify its future plans for these individuals.  Like all those fleeing conflict, it is imperative that these individuals are able to access protection, assistance, and information.  They are in de-facto detention.”

One 27-year-old French woman of Algerian descent told Reuters, “My mother doesn’t even know where I am.”  She said she had been tricked by her husband to come with him via Turkey into Syria and then Iraq when he joined Islamic State last year.

“I had just given birth to this little girl three months before,” she said, holding the infant. “He said, ‘Let’s go for a week’s holiday in Turkey.’  He had already bought the plane tickets and the hotel.”

After four months in Mosul, she said she ran away from her husband to Tal Afar in February.  She was hoping to make it back to France, but he found her and would not let her leave.  She cried as she recounted how her five-year-old son was killed by a rocket in June while playing in the streets.

“I don’t understand why he did this to us,” she said of her husband, who she said was killed fighting in Mosul.  “Dead or alive, I couldn’t care less about him.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Brazilian Ex-president Silva Complains of ‘Witch Hunt’


der.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Flickr

Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told a Brazilian court Wednesday that the corruption charges against him stem form a witch hunt and questioned the impartiality of the judge.

Silva’s deposition in the southeastern city of Curitiba was the second time he faced off with Judge Sergio Moro, who oversees the country’s sprawling investigation into bribes to politicians in return for favors to companies.

In May, Brazil’s former leader also struck a defiant note in court for another case and Moro eventually found him guilty, sentencing him to 9 years in prison. Silva is appealing that conviction.

“I am going to get home tomorrow and eat lunch with eight grandchildren,” Silva said. “Can I look my children in the eye and tell them that I testified in front of an impartial judge?”

Moro responded that he could, but Silva retorted: “That wasn’t what happened in the other case.”

In the case at hand Wednesday, the former president is accused of corruption for allegedly accepting an arrangement in which construction giant Odebrecht would buy a piece of land that was supposed to be the site of new headquarters for Silva’s Instituto Lula.

Several other charges are pending for Silva, who has denied any wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated.

“This is a witch hunt,” he told the court.

Last week, Silva’s former finance minister, Antonio Palocci, who has been in jail for a year, corroborated the accusation in this case. In court Wednesday, Silva said he “pitied” Palocci and said he was lying to save his own skin.

Supporters of Silva, many wearing the trademark red of his Workers’ Party, gave him a rock star’s welcome as he made his way through the crowd to enter the court.

“We have to be in the streets, we have to protest because we can’t accept losing a great leader of the country,” said one, Richard Fogabia, adding that he thought the proceedings were a show trial.

Another demonstration was staged in support of Moro.

The judge and Silva are two of the major players in the near-operatic drama that is the “Car Wash” investigation: Each has his own staunch supporters and bitter detractors.

‘Unjust, absurd and regrettable’

Silva is just one of the senior politicians caught up in the probe, which is the largest in Brazil’s history and has jailed several executives as well.

Odebrecht was one of the companies at the center of the bribery scheme, But the focus has more recently switched to JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, whose executives have confessed to doling out millions to secure legislative and political favors.

In exchange for their testimony, JBS chief executive Wesley Batista and his brother Joesley, the company’s former chairman, have received immunity from prosecution. But prosecutors are now looking into those deals.

On Wednesday, police arrested Wesley Batista amid allegations that he and his brother used their own plea bargains to gain an advantage in financial markets.

Executives from JBS have provided evidence for some of the most serious allegations, including claims that President Michel Temer arranged to receive millions in payouts in exchange for helping the meatpacker. Temer denies wrongdoing.

In recent days, prosecutors have questioned whether Joesley Bastista and other executives may have withheld some information, violating their plea deals.

Pierpaolo Cruz Bottini, a lawyer for the Batista brothers, called the arrest “unjust, absurd and regrettable.” He said his clients had cooperated with authorities at every step and suggested they were being targeted by some within the government for having reached plea bargains.

A warrant for Joesley Batista’s arrest was also issued, but the executive has been in custody since Sunday following the questions about his plea testimony.

Wednesday’s accusations focused on the company’s activity in the weeks before their plea deals became public.

Police investigator Victor Hugo Rodrigues Alves said the Batistas knew the plea bargains would affect stock prices and cause the Brazilian real to weaken against the U.S. dollar and he alleged they used that to their advantage.

Between late April and mid-May, while negotiating their plea bargains, the brothers made large purchases of dollars on the futures markets, Rodrigues Alves said. During that period, their holding company also sold hundreds of millions of dollars in JBS shares.

“The victims are not just JBS shareholders,” Rodrigues Alves said. “In a large context, the country is a victim, as the crimes shook the confidence of the market.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Monkey Selfie Case Settled


st3.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In the end, there was no monkey business.

British photographer David Slater has reached an agreement with the animal-rights group PETA over a selfie shot by a crested macaque.

Slater had left his camera unattended while on a trip to Indonesia in 2011 when a monkey named Naruto decided to take a selfie. The image of the amber eyes staring into the lens with a toothy grin became a huge favorite on the internet and an iconic image on Slater’s business website.

PETA takes up cause for monkey

Then in 2015 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a suit claiming Naruto owned the copyright to selfie photos it had shot with a photographer’s camera. The group sought financial control of the use of the photograph on behalf of the monkey.

Slater’s side argued the British copyright obtained for the photos by his company, Wildlife Personalities, should be honored worldwide.

On Monday, lawyers for PETA and Slater announced a deal, under which Slater would donate 25 percent of any future revenue from the images to charities dedicated to protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

No copyrights

The attorneys asked the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case and throw out a lower-court decision that said animals cannot own copyrights.

Andrew Dhuey, an attorney for Slater, declined to comment on how much money the photos have generated or whether Slater would keep all of the remaining 75 percent of future revenue.

There was no immediate ruling from the 9th Circuit on the dismissal.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

India Kicks Off World’s Largest March to Protect Children


Thousands of people gathered in southern India on Monday to kick off what is expected to be the world’s largest march against the trafficking and sexual abuse of children as reports of such crimes continue to rise in the country.

Organized by Nobel Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, over 10 million people from across India are due to take part in the month-long “Bharat Yatra” – or India March – which will end in the capital New Delhi on Oct. 16.

Flagging off the march from Kanyakumari, a coastal city on the southern-most tip of India in the state of Tamil Nadu, Satyarthi told crowds of school children, officials and activists it was time to shatter the silence around such crimes.

“The sun rises every morning. But today this morning is different and this sun is different. Today this sun rises to dispel the darkness of fear, hopelessness and shame faced by our children. Today we march to end this,” Satyarthi said.

“India is known for a country where children are being raped, where children are being sold. They are not safe in their schools, they are not safe even in their homes. If one child is in danger, then it means that the whole of India is danger.”

Children in India face a barrage of threats ranging from human trafficking, sexual violence and early marriage to a lack of access to quality education and healthcare, say activists.

More than 9,000 children were reported to have been trafficked in 2016, a 27 percent rise from the previous year, according to government data.

Most are from poor rural families who are lured to cities by traffickers who promise good jobs, but then sell them into slavery as domestic workers, to work in small manufacturing units, farming or pushed into sexual slavery in brothels.

In many cases, they are not paid or are held in debt bondage. Some are found, but many remain missing.

Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau also show that almost 15,000 children were victims of sexual violence such as rape, molestation and exploitation for pornography in 2015 – up 67 percent from the previous year.

But these figures are just the tip of the iceberg in socially conservative India, say activists, where fear of being blamed, shamed or stigmatized means victims and their families often keep quiet and do not report the abuses they face.

Breaking the Silence

Satyarthi, whose charity Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) has rescued 80,000 enslaved children, said the march was part of a three-year campaign to spread public awareness and push for stronger policies on child protection.

The march participants will travel around 11,000 km (7,000) miles) and cover 22 of India’s 29 states. They will stop in towns and villages, visit schools and colleges and hold events with local officials, police, religious and community leaders.

A schoolboy holds a sign calling for end of child trafficking and sex abuse at an event to kick off what is expected to be the world’s largest march against such crimes in Kanyakumari in India’s Tamil Nadu state, Sept 11, 2017.

Monday’s kick-off saw thousands of children from remote areas across the country traveling to Kanyakumari to participate in the event. They chanted slogans and waved banners calling for an end of child slavery and child sexual abuse.

“I am here today as I want to help protect other children like me,” said Ruby Kumari, 14, a pony-tailed schoolgirl from the district of Koderma in India’s eastern Jharkhand state.

“We want to tell people that we are the future of this country and we want a safe environment for all children. They should be able to go to good schools and not sent to work.”

The event also saw the participation of parents and their children who are survivors of sexual abuse and child labor.

Thirty-five-year-old Moti, whose two teen daughters were raped by a family friend in the northern state of Punjab for years before the crime was discovered, said he hoped the march would help parents understand the dangers faced by children.

“I had no idea that this was happening to my daughters. I trusted this man and he did this to my daughters,” said Moti, as he sat among the crowds, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with #MakeIndiaSafe printed on the back.

“If there had been marches like this before, perhaps I would have known better and I could have saved them. Now I am here to take part in his march so that it doesn’t happen to other children and parents won’t have to go through what I did.”

News Video:VOA NEWS

Hurricane Irma Threatens Florida’s Bustling Tourism Industry


Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction up Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sunday threatens to disrupt a thriving state tourism industry worth more than $100 billion annually just months ahead of the busy winter travel season.

Some of the state’s biggest attractions have announced temporary closures, including amusement park giants Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Legoland and Sea World, which all planned to close through Monday.

About 20 cruise lines have Miami as a home port or a port of call, according to the PortMiami website, and many have had to move ships out of the area and revise schedules.

USACarnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have canceled and revised several sailings as a result of the storm and have offered credits and waivers on trips where passengers are unable to travel.

FILE – Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship ‘Allure of the Seas’ enters its new home port in Fort Lauderdale as seen from nearby Hollywood, Florida, Nov. 11, 2010.

A Carnival spokesman said the situation in Florida on Sunday was still not clear enough to fully assess how widespread the effects will be.

“We will know more in the hours ahead since the hurricane is active in Florida right now,” spokesman Roger Frizzell said.

Irma made a second Florida landfall on Sunday on southwestern Marco Island as a Category 3 storm bringing winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph) and life-threatening sea surge.

Disney canceled the Monday sailing of one of its cruise ships and said it is assessing future sailings, which stop throughout the Caribbean and in the Bahamas.

Florida is one of the world’s top tourism destinations. Last year nearly 113 million people visited the state, a new record, and spent $109 billion, state officials said earlier this year.

The first half of 2017 was on track to beat that record pace, officials said.

FILE – Preslee Rakes, left, her mother Tina Rakes, center, and Brad Cunningham, right, all from Kansas, feed seagulls during a visit to the South Beach area of Miami Beach, Florida, Dec. 11, 2011.

The damage Irma’s winds and storm surge do to Florida’s 660 miles (1,060 km) of beaches and the structures built along them during more than 30 years of explosive population growth will be critical to how quickly the state’s ‘s No. 1 industry recovers.

The Gulf beaches west of St. Petersburg and Clearwater,  are squarely in the storm’s path.

In 2016, more than 6.3 million people visited Pinellas County, which encompasses those cities, and generated more $9.7 billion in economic activity.

Up and down the wide, sandy beaches of Pinellas County are traditional “old Florida” waterfront hotels such as the Don Cesar, a coral pink 1920s hotel on St. Pete Beach, which was closed by the storm. There are also modern high-rises and resorts that are part of the nation’s biggest chains and brands including Hyatt Hotels, Marriott International, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

The low-lying barrier islands would be inundated if Irma’s storm surge reaches forecast heights of as high as 15 feet (4.6 meters).

While some newer structures in the area are built on elevated pilings, many older homes and businesses are not.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Used Book Sales Boom in S. Africa as Economic Recession Bites


book.jpg

Photo Courtesy: Flickr

South Africa entered an economic recession in June, and the country’s unemployment rate is fast approaching 30 percent, according to the government statistics agency. But for the sellers of secondhand books, business has never been better.

Eric Nofal, who has been selling used books for almost 30 years, shows a customer around his store in Johannesburg.

He says he recently faced “intense” competition before launching his fifth bookshop in the city.

“My ex-wife also wanted to open up a shop in this area, but I beat her to the punch, so she is a bit [angry] with me, actually!,” he admitted.

Nofal adds  “I am making money and it is going into my third month and that is pretty good for a new business to make money so quickly. Books have come back.”

It is a big contrast to five years ago when Nofal’s sales dropped dramatically. Book lovers were embracing electronic reading devices like Kindles. He had to close six stores.

But now, Nofal says, the “kindle craze” may be over and many South Africans want to turn “real pages.”

Yet many of his clients give another reason for no longer buying new books.

“They have gone up a hell of a lot. Obviously it depends on your import or your [South African] rand level,” he said.

The rand has dropped steadily against the dollar since the end of 2011, when one dollar was valued at about eight rand. Presently, a dollar is valued at 13 rand.

“A new book should cost you about the price of a meal. In the UK [Britain] that is about right, a meal costs about seven pounds and a [new] book costs about seven pounds. Here on the other hand a reasonable meal for one person will cost you about 70 rand, 80 rand and a [new] book costs 350 [rand]. People just can not afford [new] books,” he said.

Dealers across Johannesburg put the number of second hand book stores at about 50, up from about 25 just a few years ago.

But used books are not always cheaper.

Unpacking hand-me-down books inside his shop, Doron Locketz says that despite the poor economy, some South Africans spend “big money” on rare second hand titles.

Second hand book dealer Doron Locketz sometimes makes “big money” selling rare used books.
“We sold a first edition of Long Walk to Freedom, and the big thing about it was that it was signed, pre the release date, by Mandela. It went to one of our collectors,” he said.

Locketz sold the autographed copy of Nelson Mandela’s bestseller for almost 80,000 rand … more than $6,000 US.

But he says the collectible book market is very small, and he mostly sells used books to a general audience.

“I am delighted to increasingly see more black customers, younger ones, who really have, many of them, a passion for books,” he said.

Economists are predicting a bleak outlook for South Africa for the next few years. So second hand book dealers like Locketz expect sales to rise even further in the near future.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Indian Hospitals Target Baby Thieves with Lasers, Tags, Cameras


stHospitals in India are starting to tag newborns, mothers and medics as well as installing extra security cameras and educating staff to spot baby thieves amid fears that baby trafficking is becoming an organized crime nationwide.

Officials said this was part of a drive starting at government-run hospitals in southern Tamil Nadu state to ensure nurses, doctors and visitors know of the threat of babies being stolen from maternity wards and sold illegally for adoption.

At the Rajaji government hospital in Madurai, the first in Tamil Nadu to introduce the program, laser beams at exit points trigger alarms if untagged adults take babies out.

“We just want to prevent the theft of babies,” N.K. Mahalakshmi, the doctor in charge of laser tagging at the hospital, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It is not fool proof but a deterrent. … Our hospital staff has also been told to be extra vigilant.”

Traffickers, officials sometimes collude

Campaigners have raised concerns that traffickers are often colluding with officials to steal babies from maternity wards and illegally sell them for adoption.

Mumbai police arrested a gang for convincing single mothers to sell their babies last year, while in West Bengal police found newborns being stolen from mothers in medical clinics after staff told them that their babies were stillborn.

Dev Ananth, a child protection officer in Tirunelveli district, said the state government is investigating several cases where hospital staff persuaded mothers to sell their babies for about 10,000 Indian rupees ($156).

Tirunelveli district will put posters up in every hospital, alerting pregnant women, families and staff to the dangers of trafficking in overcrowded corridors.

“Many don’t see it as a trafficking issue,” he said.

“We are going to train hospital staff to identify potential cases, including what to do if a baby is abandoned at birth. At present, the do’s and don’ts are not clear.”

No official data on trafficking

There is no official data on the number of babies stolen from hospitals in Tamil Nadu, but almost 180,000 children were born in government facilities in 2016, statistics show.

More than four out of 10 of human trafficking cases in India in 2015 involved children being bought, sold and exploited as modern-day slaves, according to crime figures.

“Public hospitals are vulnerable spaces where there are no effective ways to monitor access to newborn babies,” said Paul Sunder Singh of the children’s charity Karunalaya.

NEWS COURTESY:VOA NEWS

Army Chief: India Must Be Ready for War on 2 Fronts


bip

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

India’s army chief has warned the nation to be prepared for a possible two-front war — with China and Pakistan — at the same time.

General Bipin Rawat warned China would continue its efforts to “nibble away” at India’s territory, as it did during a recent standoff in the Himalayas that ended last week. He said more incidents like the standoff at Doklam plateau in Bhutan could lead to a larger conflict on India’s northern border.

Gauri

 

If that were to happen, Rawat warned, it is possible Pakistan would seize the opportunity to strike its arch nemesis from the west.“We have to be prepared for conflict on the northern and western borders,” he said.

“As far as our western adversary is considered,” he said in reference to Pakistan, “we don’t see any scope of reconciliation because their military, the polity, and the people in that nation have been made to believe that India wants to break their country into pieces.”

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since both nations gained independence from Britain 70 years ago. India and China have also fought once since then.

All three nations are nuclear powers, but Rawat said that will not necessarily be a deterrent.

“Nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence. Yes, they are. But to say that they can deter war or they will not allow nations to go to war, in our context that may also not be true,’’ he said.

Rawat made the comments at a seminar organized by the Center for Land Warfare Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Making Movies Gets More Frightening With Age, Judi Dench Says


vic

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Making movies gets more terrifying the older you get, British actress Judi Dench said on Monday, a day after her latest royal comedy drama “Victoria & Abdul” premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

Dench, who won an Oscar for her role in “Shakespeare in Love” and was nominated for Academy Awards six other times, said unlike in theater, where you can adjust with each performance, in films you get only one chance.

“It’s always challenging, I am always frightened, always frightened,” the 82-year-old actress told Reuters in an interview. “I get more frightened the older I get.

“It’s like having a huge bank of buttons and you chose to press so many in order to do what the writer and director wants you to do, and then when you see it, you think ‘oh no, I could have done that better!’.”

Dench began her career in theater, followed by numerous TV roles, but still recalls how during a film audition she was told she would never make a movie “because you have everything wrong with your face.”

But the turning-point came in 1997 when she was cast as Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown,” the first time she played the late British monarch. She stepped back into the queen’s shoes for “Victoria & Abdul,” which screened in the out-of-competition section in Venice.

“It’s like coming back to meet an old friend,” she said.

While “Mrs. Brown” explored Queen Victoria’s relationship with her servant John Brown, Stephen Frears’ new comedy drama is based on her subsequent unlikely friendship with Indian clerk Abdul Kazim who was sent to England to present her with a gold coin.

Kazim was only due to visit Britain briefly but Victoria took a shine to him and asked him to stay on and be her teacher.

In the end Kazim served Victoria until the end of her reign.

Judi Dench holds her honorary Doctor of Arts degree during the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 25, 2017.

Coming to London to shoot the film was the first time Indian actor Ali Fazal, who stars as Kazim, visited the British capital, and the first time he met Dench, “who is pretty much royalty amongst actors,” the 30-year-old actor said.

“It was a sort of parallel, going along with the film: I like to think I gained a wonderful friend,” he said.

Asked whether she would ever want to be royalty, Dench shook her head.

“No, certainly not, I can’t think of anything worse,” she said, although she added that the royal family was doing a “phenomenal job,” especially given it was not something they had chosen, but “just the job you’re born with.”

The festival ends on Sept. 9.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Sweden to Deport 106-Year-Old Afghan Refugee


sweden.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

A 106-year-old woman thought to be the world’s oldest refugee is set to be deported after being denied asylum in Sweden.

Bibihal Uzbeki’s son and grandson carried her on their backs as they fled from Kunduz in northeastern Afghanistan via Iran and Turkey in the hopes of finding haven in Europe.

Their journey made headlines in 2015, when they were part of a huge influx of people who came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. They traveled by foot and on trains through the Balkans before reaching Sweden.

Afghan refugee Bibihal Uzbeki, 106 years old, lies in bed in Hova, Sweden, Sept. 3, 2017.

Two years later, she and her 11 family members are living in the small village of Hova, in central Sweden.

Her family says Uzbeki has suffered a stroke since her application was rejected. They say traveling back to Afghanistan is out of the question for the bed-bound centenarian who is unable to see, speak or walk.

 

The family is appealing the decision

The Swedish Migration Agency confirmed in a statement to the Associated Press they had “taken a decision regarding an expulsion in the case,” adding “generally speaking, high age does not in itself provide grounds for asylum.”

People whose applications are rejected are allowed up to three appeals, a time-consuming process. The applications of other family members are in various stages of appeal.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

World War II Bomb Defused after Mass Evacuation in Germany


sto.jpg

The Image used only for representational purposes Picture Courtesy: Flickr

German bomb experts successfully defused a massive World War II bomb in the financial capital of Frankfurt on Sunday after nearly 65,000 people were evacuated to safety.

The 1.4 ton British bomb was found at a construction site last week.

Police on Sunday cordoned off a 1.5 kilometer radius around the bomb, leading to the largest evacuation in Germany since the end of World War II.

Helicopters with heat seeking devices scoured the area before the bomb experts began their work.

Among the evacuees were more than 100 patients from two hospitals, including people in intensive-care.

Experts had warned that if the bomb exploded, it would be powerful enough to flatten a whole street.

More than 2,000 tons of live bombs and munitions are discovered each year in Germany, more than 70 years after the end of the war. British and American warplanes pummeled the country with 1.5 million tons of bombs that killed 600,000 people.

German officials estimate that 15 percent of the bombs failed to explode.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

Men May Suffer if Marital Rape Becomes Crime, India Government Says


Criminalizing marital rape could “destabilize” marriages and make men vulnerable to harassment by their wives, said India’s government in response to a plea in the capital’s high court.

Victims and rights groups are seeking to change the law on marital rape, but the government said husbands risked being falsely accused of rape if the change were to go ahead.

It compared the proposal to outlaw marital rape with India’s tough anti-dowry law, which men’s rights groups say women are misusing to settle personal vendettas.

“It has to be ensured adequately that marital rape does not become a phenomenon which may destabilize the institution of marriage, apart from being an easy tool for harassing the husbands,” said an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court.

Tuesday’s statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government also said that the country should not blindly follow Western countries that have criminalized marital rape, as illiteracy and diversity make India unique.

Sexual violence against women is widely reported. Stories abound of girls molested en route to school or at home by relatives, or of women picked up by men in cars and gang raped.

The 2012 murder and gang rape of a 23-year-old women on a Delhi bus triggered protests, forcing the government to set up a panel to amend laws related to violence against women.

While India’s parliament passed some of its recommendations, such as criminalizing stalking and making acid attacks a specific offense, it did not agree with the panel’s proposal to outlaw marital rape.

More than 50 countries, including the United States, Nepal, Britain and South Africa, criminalize marital rape.

In India, conservative and patriarchal norms make it difficult for victims to speak out about sexual violence by their husbands, activists say. As a result, there are no accurate figures on marital rape.

More than 40 percent of married women aged 15 to 49 experience domestic violence, according to government data, rising to 70 percent among child brides.

Activists want India’s rape law — which provides an exemption for sexual intercourse by a man with his wife if she is more than 15 years old — to be declared unconstitutional as it discriminates against married women and girls.

The court hearing before a two-judge bench continues.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Tesla Starts Production of Solar Cells in Buffalo, New York


st1

Photo:Flickr

Tesla Inc. is starting production of the cells for its solar roof tiles at its factory in Buffalo, New York.

The company has already begun installing its solar roofs, which look like regular roofs but are made of glass tiles. But until now, it has been making them on a small scale near its vehicle factory in Fremont, California.

Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer, JB Straubel, says the company now has several hundred workers and machinery installed in its 1.2 million-square-foot factory in Buffalo.

“By the end of this year we will have the ramp-up of solar roof modules started in a substantial way,” Straubel told The Associated Press Thursday. “This is an interim milestone that we’re pretty proud of.”

The Buffalo plant was originally begun by Silevo, a solar panel startup, on the site of an old steel mill. Solar panel maker SolarCity Corp. bought Silevo in 2014. Then Tesla acquired SolarCity for around $2 billion late last year.

SolarCity was run by cousins of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who sat on SolarCity’s board.

“This factory, and the opportunity to build solar modules and cells in the U.S., was part of why this project made sense,” Straubel said.

Tesla’s partner, Panasonic Corp., will make the photovoltaic cells, which look similar to computer chips. Tesla workers will combine the cells into modules that fit into the roof tiles. The tiles will eventually be made in Buffalo as well, along with more traditional solar panels. Panasonic is also working with Tesla at its Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada.

Straubel says Tesla eventually hopes to reach 2 gigawatts of cell production annually at the Buffalo plant. That’s higher than its initial target of 1 gigawatt by 2019. Straubel said Tesla has been working on making the factory more efficient.

One gigawatt is equivalent to the annual output of a large nuclear or coal-fired power plant, Straubel said, “so it’s like we’re eliminating one of those every single year.”

Straubel wouldn’t say how many customers have ordered solar roof tiles, but said demand is strong and it will take Tesla through the end of next year to meet its current orders. Both he and Musk have had the tiles installed on their roofs.

Tesla shares were up less than 1 percent to $355.65 in afternoon trading.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Houston Endures Record Rain; Curfew Declared to Prevent Looting


houston.JPG

Photo Courtesy: https://www.defense.gov

The sun came out in Houston late Tuesday for the first time since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas last Friday, but the problems in the rain-soaked city, the fourth largest in the United States, are not going away. A citywide curfew was declared after several incidents of looting and armed robbery.

Since the hurricane hit, more than 124 centimeters (49 inches) of rain has fallen on Houston and surrounding area of southeastern Texas — the most rain from a single storm ever seen in the continental U.S. The storm is believed responsible for the deaths of at least nine people, and preliminary damage estimates have ranged up as high as $100 billion.

And Harvey, now downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm, is not finished. The swirling storm moved offshore into the Gulf of Mexico but is forecast to make landfall again late Tuesday night or Wednesday along the Texas-Louisiana border, bringing as much as 30 centimeters (12 inches) of additional rain.

A day to remember

In an ironic convergence of hurricane history, Tuesday was the 12th anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and caused catastrophic damage in New Orleans.

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, imposed a curfew from midnight until 5 a.m. after a number of crimes and several arrests were reported. It was not immediately clear whether the curfew would affect rescue efforts that have been continuing around the clock.

About 10,000 flood victims have been packed into Houston’s convention center, far exceeding its capacity, so city officials began moving some families to an arena that is home to the Houston Rockets professional basketball team.

People rest at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.

Sunshine brings a warning

The break in the weather that brought the sun out prompted authorities to warn residents not to try to return to their flooded homes. Many streets and highways are still impassable, and water levels continued to rise in reservoirs that already were overflowing. Still, a flood-control officer in Harris County, which includes Houston, said, “For the first time since Saturday night we’re seeing a glimmer of hope.”

The flood-control officer, Jeff Lindner, added quickly, though: “It is going to take time for all of this water to get out of here.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump participate in a tour of the Texas Department of Public Safety Emergency Operations Center, Aug. 29, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

Cabinet members join Trump

President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, inspected the indescribable damage and rescue work in southeastern Texas Tuesday. The president said the storm recovery will probably be one of the most expensive efforts the U.S. has ever undertaken.

Visiting an emergency operations center in the Texas capital, Austin, Trump said his administration and Congress are going to come up with the “right solution” to help storm victims.

Four members of Trump’s Cabinet accompanied him. Health and Human Services chief Tom Price said his department was trying to make sure storm victims get the medical care they need, especially chronic-disease sufferers who may be unable to reach their regular physicians.

Housing secretary Ben Carson said his department was reallocating assets from routine spending to disaster relief.

President Donald Trump, flanked by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and first lady Melania Trump, speaks during a briefing on Harvey relief efforts, Aug. 29, 2017, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

‘Historic … epic’ storm

In Corpus Christi, where the hurricane hit the Texas Gulf Coast, Trump said he wants his administration’s storm recovery effort to be “better than ever before.”

Trump said Harvey was a “historic … epic” storm. Waving a Texas state flag as he spoke to cheering supporters in Corpus Christi, he added: “But it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”

Total damage estimates from Harvey range between $30 billion and $100 billion. But the immediate job for emergency workers, including firefighters, doctors, and the Texas National Guard, is rescuing thousands of people still trapped by floods inside or on top of their homes.

More than 3,500 people in the Houston area already have been rescued in around-the-clock efforts by emergency personnel and volunteers pushing boats, rafts, inflatable dinghies and even floating plastic furniture through streets and highways that now resemble brown, debris-filled rivers.

Map of flooded areas of Houston, Texas after passage of Hurricane Harvey.

Police officer a storm victim

As many as nine storm-related deaths have been reported. They include Houston police sergeant Steve Perez, who drowned in a highway underpass Saturday when his car was overwhelmed by floodwaters as he tried to get to his post.

Police chief Art Acevedo could barely hold back his tears when he talked about Perez, saying the 59-year-old veteran officer will get a proper tribute from the city as soon as possible.

Even as Harvey prepares to move north over land and start to dissipate, it will still bring lots and lots of rain inland. Forecasters are already posting flash flood watches for Arkansas, Tennessee, and parts of Missouri and southern Illinois.

Harvey is expected to die out as a low pressure system over the U.S. east coast by the end of the week.

FEMA boss offers warning

But the worst may not be over for storm survivors. Bock Long, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said difficult times lie ahead ahead even after the rain stops.

“This recovery is going to be frustrating,” Long said in a message of assurance to Texas residents, adding, “We’re going to be here with you.”

Trump did not visit Houston, where flood recovery and relocation efforts are currently concentrated, in order to avoid disrupting rescue efforts.

But White House officials said the president plans to return to Texas and possibly Louisiana  as soon as Saturday to see how the recovery effort is going.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

Study: Blasphemy Laws on Books in One-third of Nations


bus.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Laws prohibiting blasphemy are “astonishingly widespread” worldwide, with many laying down disproportionate punishments ranging from prison sentences to lashings or the death penalty, the lead author of a report on blasphemy said.

Iran, Pakistan, and Yemen score worst, topping a list of 71 countries with laws criminalizing views deemed blasphemous, found in all regions, according to a comprehensive report issued this month by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Statutes invite abuse

The bipartisan U.S. federal commission called for repeal of blasphemy statutes, saying they invited abuse and failed to protect freedoms of religion and expression.

“We found key patterns. All deviate from freedom of speech principles in some way, all have a vague formulation, with different interpretations,” Joelle Fiss, the Swiss-based lead author of the report told Reuters.

The ranking is based on how a state’s ban on blasphemy or criminalizing of it contravenes international law principles.

Ireland and Spain had the “best scores,” as their laws order a fine, according to the report which said many European states have blasphemy laws that are rarely invoked.

Supporters of Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama who is imprisoned for blaspheming Islam shout slogans during a protest outside the High Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 16, 2017. The imprisonment of the Christian politician has triggered an outpouring of anger and support around Indonesia.

Offenders face imprisonment

Some 86 percent of states with blasphemy laws prescribe imprisonment for convicted offenders, it said.

Proportionality of punishment was a key criteria for the researchers.

“That is why Iran and Pakistan are the two highest countries because they explicitly have the death penalty in their law,” Fiss said, referring to their laws which enforce the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammad.

Blasphemy laws can be misused by authorities to repress minorities, the report said, citing Pakistan and Egypt, and can serve as a pretext for religious extremists to foment hate.

Recent high-profile blasphemy cases include Jakarta’s former Christian governor being sentenced to two years in jail in May for insulting Islam, a ruling which activists and U.N. experts condemned as unfair and politicized. Critics fear the ruling will embolden hardline Islamist forces to challenge secularism in Indonesia.

Blasphemy on Facebook

A Pakistani court sentenced a man to death last month who allegedly committed blasphemy on Facebook, the first time the penalty was given for that crime on social media in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

“Each of the top five countries with the highest scoring laws has an official state religion,” the report said, referring to Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Somali and Qatar. All have Islam as their state religion.

Saudi Arabia, where flogging and amputations have been reported for alleged blasphemy, is not among the top “highest-risk countries,” but only 12th, as punishment is not defined in the blasphemy law itself.

“They don’t have a written penal law, but rely on judges’ interpretation of the Sharia. The score was disproportionately low,” Fiss said. “If a law is very vague, it means prosecutors and judges have a lot of discretion to interpret.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi Reportedly to Lead Uber


Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been named Uber’s top executive, taking the difficult job of mending the dysfunctional ride-hailing giant and turning it from money-losing behemoth to a profitable company.

pexels-photo.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Pexels

Uber’s fractured eight-member board voted to hire Khosrowshahi late Sunday, capping three days of meetings and the withdrawal of once-top candidate Jeffery Immelt, former CEO and still chairman of General Electric, two people briefed on the decision said. They didn’t want to be identified because the decision had not been officially announced as of Sunday night.

Khosrowshahi has been CEO of Expedia since August of 2015. The online booking site is one of the largest travel agencies in the world.

Self-driving cars

He’ll replace ousted CEO Travis Kalanick and faces the difficult task of changing Uber’s culture that has included sexual harassment and allegations of deceit and corporate espionage. Uber also is losing millions every quarter as it continues to expand and invest in self-driving cars.

The company currently is being run by a 14-person group of managers and is without multiple top executive positions that will be filled by Khosrowshahi.

Khosrowshahi has served as a member of Expedia’s board since it was spun off from IAC/InterActiveCorp. two years ago. An engineer who trained at Brown University, Khosrowshahi helped to expand IAC’s travel brands which were combined into Expedia, the company’s website says. He also serves on the boards of Fanatics Inc. and The New York Times Co.

Many problems to solve

He immediately will face troubles on many fronts, including having to deal with multiple board factions that had once pushed Immelt and Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman. Several factions of the board are suing each other.

Whitman, an investor in Uber, denied multiple times publicly that she was interested in the job. Although she spoke to some board members remotely Friday night, they could not guarantee an end to their infighting or that Kalanick would not become board chairman, said another person with knowledge of the board discussions. That person also didn’t want to be identified because board discussions are supposed to be private.

Khosrowshahi also must bring together a messy culture that an outside law firm found was rampant with sexual harassment and bullying of employees. He also must deal with driver discontent, although Uber already has started to fix that by allowing riders to tip drivers through its app.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Islamic State Becoming a Growing Presence in Southeast Asia


ph.png

Map Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Government security forces in the Philippines city of Marawi have been fighting for the past three months to rout militants suspected of ties to the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the region.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in May declared the country’s restive south under martial rule for 60 days – which, in July, was extended through the end of the year — after an attempt by security forces to capture an IS-linked militant leader failed. That set off clashes that left the city under siege.

A number of IS affiliates from Indonesia have reportedly crossed into the Philippines to support the local militants who are fighting against the Philippines military in the Marawi region.

Analysts say as IS militants are losing ground in Syria and Iraq, the terror group is attempting to expand in Southeast Asia, which is home to a number of separatist and militant groups.

“This is an evidence that the people under Jamaah Islamiyah in Indonesia now have a new ‘flag’ operating under ISIS, in this case, ISIS of the Philippines.” Ridwan Habib, a terrorism analyst at the University of Indonesia, told VOA. He used an acronym for the militant group. “Something serious is brewing and the government needs to anticipate what could happen next. We‘re worried that this new identity.

Extremist militant group

Jammah Islamiyah is an extremist militant group in Southeast Asia with links to al-Qaida, and has carried out numerous bomb attacks in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region, including the 2002 Bali attacks that killed more than 200 people.

IS has already shown signs of expanding in the region through local affiliates and sympathizers.

The group has been recruiting in Indonesia, with more than 380 people joining the terror group by January, according to the country’s counterterrorism agency. Most of those recruits have traveled to Syria and Iraq.

Greg Fealy, an associate professor at the Australian National University who studies terrorism in Indonesia, said the IS terror threat in the country has been on the rise since mid-2014.

IS has reportedly tapped a leader in the Abu Sayyaf group — an extremist militant group in the region known for kidnapping and beheading foreign tourists — as its Southeast Asia chief.

Indonesian authorities also confirmed that IS posed a threat to their country.

The terror group claimed responsibility for a coordinated bomb and gun attack in central Jakarta in January that killed eight people, including the four attackers.

U.S. Treasury authorities in March added Bahrun Naim, a prominent Indonesian militant, to the global terrorist list, saying he provided financial and operational support for IS in Indonesia and funneled money through Southeast Asia to recruit people to IS battlefields.

In the Philippines, IS has endorsed Isnilon Hapilon — the country’s most-wanted man, with a $5 million bounty placed on his head by the U.S. for alleged terrorist acts against American citizens — as the leader of a loosely affiliated association of small groups that have sprouted in the past three to four years around the central and southern Philippines.

Hapilon swore allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 video, according to the U.S. State Department.

FILE – Soldiers distribute pictures of a member of extremist group Abu Sayyaf, Isnilon Hapilon, who has a U.S. government bounty of $5 million for his capture, in Butig, Lanao del Sur in southern Philippines, Feb. 1, 2017.

 

Philippines as a new destination

Some analysts charge that many extremists in Indonesia who wish to join IS are now heading toward the Philippines instead of Syria and Iraq, because the condition in the terror group’s former strongholds have degraded due to the ongoing multifront military campaign against the group in the region.

“In terms of costs, distance and access, the Philippines is more feasible,” Ridwan Habib of the University of Indonesia said. “Therefore, many jihadists from Indonesia chose to go to Marawi instead of going to Syria.”

Habib warned that the situation could get worse if the ongoing conflict in Marawi is not tackled and managed properly.

The analyst claimed that Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant in the Philippines who has studied in Islamabad, Pakistan, has been attempting to help establish an IS presence in the Southeast Asia region.

Ahmad was reported to have been killed in the Marawi battle in June, but Khalild Abu Bakar, a Malaysian police chief, told media that he believes Ahmad is still alive.

Gen. Eduardo Ano, chief of staff of the Philippines armed forces, said Ahmad channeled more than $600,000 from the IS group to acquire firearms, food and other supplies for the attack in Marawi, according to The Associated Press.

Returning IS fighters dilemma

Many fighters from Southeast Asia who had traveled to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq are returning to their home countries as the terror group is losing ground in the Middle East.

Indonesia’s government reported last year that between 169 and 300 Indonesians who fought for IS have returned home.

“Though I have said there are 50 (IS affiliates) in Bali, 25 in NTT (East Nusa Tenggara) and 600 in NTB (Nusa Tenggara Barat), their whereabouts are known to us and under control,” Major General Simandjuntak, a military commander in Bali, told reporters last week.

“They are in a sleep or inactive mode,” he added.

Abdul Haris Masyhari, chairman of the committee on defense and foreign relations in Indonesia’s parliament, worried that returning IS fighters could set up cells in their hometowns.

“In reference to Bali, I hope law enforcement would take action and preventive measures to thwart terror plots,” Masyhari said.

Opposition to Islamic State is growing in Indonesia amongst the public.

In May, a survey of 1,350 adults suggested nearly 90 percent of the participants viewed IS as a serious threat to their country. Meanwhile, several surveys conducted in the country indicate an increase in extremist ideology among the youth, who are idolizing radical figures.

Irna Sinulingga with VOA’s Indonesian service contributed to this report.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

In Photos, North Korea Signals More Powerful ICBM in Works


rt.jpg

Picture Courtesy: / twitter

With photographs obliquely showing a new rocket design, North Korea has sent a message that it is working on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) more powerful than any it has previously tested, weapons experts said on Thursday.

If developed, such a missile could possibly reach any place on the U.S. mainland, including Washington and New York, they said.

North Korea’s state media published photographs late on Wednesday of leader Kim Jong Un standing next to a diagram of a three-stage rocket it called the Hwasong-13.

Missile experts, who scrutinise such pictures for clues about North Korea’s weapons programs, said there is no indication the rocket has been fully developed. In any case, it had not been flight tested and it was impossible to calculate its potential range.

However, a three-stage rocket would be more powerful than the two-stage Hwasong-14 ICBM tested twice in July, they said.

US mainland within range

South Korean and U.S. officials and experts have said the Hwasong-14 may have a range of about 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and could possibly strike many parts of the United States, but not the East Coast.

“We should be looking at Hwasong-13 as a 12,000-kilometer class ICBM that can strike all of the mainland United States,” said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Seoul’s Kyungnam University.

“It’s likely meant to show that they are working on a three-stage design with greater boost and range,” said retired Brigadier General Moon Sung-muk, an arms control expert who has represented South Korea in military talks with North Korea.

He said the pictures were intended to show that North Korea was refusing to bow to international pressure to abandon its weapons programs.

“The North is trying to be in control of the playing field,” Moon said.

‘A good first step’

Wednesday’s report carried by the KCNA news agency lacked the traditionally robust threats against the United States, and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed optimism about a possible improvement in relations.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was unclear if the photos were taken before or after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday welcomed what he called the restraint North Korea had shown recently in its weapons programs and said he hoped a path could be opening for dialogue “sometime in the near future.”

“We consider it overall a good first step that there haven’t been any missile launches or testing for … three-plus weeks or so,” Nauert told a regular briefing.

However Pyongyang needed to do a lot more to show it was willing to negotiate in good faith, she said.

Tensions ease

The photographs were accompanied by a report of Kim issuing instructions for the production of more rocket engines and warheads during a visit to the Academy of Defense Sciences, an agency he set up to develop ballistic missiles.

“We’re getting a look at it to emphasise domestic production of missiles, and to advertise what’s coming next,” said Joshua Pollack, a nuclear weapon and missile systems expert who edits the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Review.

The photographs were published as tensions between North Korea and the United States appeared to have eased slightly since North Korea tested the Hwasong-14 and later threatened to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Plastic used in missiles?

Kyungnam University’s Kim said the Hwasong-13 appeared similar to the KN-08, a three-stage missile of which only a mockup has previously been seen at military parades. But the new images show a modified design for the main booster stage that clusters two engines.

Another picture published by North Korean state media showed Kim Jong Un standing next to a rocket casing that appeared to be made of a material that could include plastic. Experts said if such material were used in the missile, it would be intended to reduce weight and boost range.

The photographs also showed the design for the Pukguksong-3, likely a new solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile being developed for submarine launches.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

Typhoon Hato Claims at Least 12 Near Hong Kong


map

Map Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The death toll from Typhoon Hato has risen to 12 as the most powerful storm to hit the southern Chinese region around Hong Kong in more than half a century barreled west.

Macau says eight people were killed in the gambling enclave, including two men found overnight in a parking garage. Another 153 were listed as injured amid extensive flooding, power outages, and the smashing of doors and windows by the high winds and driving rain.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency says four people were killed in the neighboring province of Guangdong and one person remains missing. Hato roared into the area Wednesday with winds of up to 160 kilometers (99 miles) per hour.

Fast storm, large rainfall

Xinhua said almost 27,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters, while extensive damage to farmland because of the heavy rain and high tides was also reported. Almost 2 million households lost power temporarily, while fishing boats were called back to port and train services and flights suspended, Xinhua said.

“Compared to other typhoons, Hato moved fast, quickly grew more powerful and caused massive amounts of rainfall,” Wu Zhifang, chief weather forecaster at Guangdong meteorological bureau, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

By Thursday, a weaker Hato was moving into China’s Guangxi region.

Flooding and injuries were also reported in Hong Kong, which lies across the water 64 kilometers (40 miles) from Macau, but there were no reports of deaths. Hato’s fierce gales blew out windows on skyscrapers in the Asian financial capital, raining shattered glass onto the eerily quiet streets below. Hong Kong’s weather authorities had raised the hurricane signal to the highest level for the first time in five years.

The earlier deaths in Macau were men, aged 30, 45 and 62. One fell from the 11th floor of a building, one was hit by a truck and another was killed when the wind blew down a wall. Details about the deaths in Guangdong weren’t immediately available.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

McDonald’s to Close 169 Outlets in India in Franchise Battle


mc.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

McDonald’s India has announced it will close 169 McDonald’s outlets in northern and eastern India after the American fast food giant decided to terminate a franchise agreement with its Indian partner.

McDonald’s said its partner Connaught Plaza Restaurants violated the terms of the franchise agreement, including reneging on payment of royalties.

Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which runs 169 McDonald’s outlets in northern and eastern India, said Tuesday it is considering legal action in the long-drawn legal battle. In June, it shut 43 McDonald’s outlets in the capital, New Delhi, after it failed to renew their licenses.

McDonald’s said its Indian partner would have to “cease using the McDonald’s name, trademarks, designs, branding, operational and marketing practice and policies” within 15 days of the termination notice.

The decision to close nearly a third of the 430 McDonald’s outlets in India creates a challenge for the company, disrupting operations in the world’s second most populous country.

Vikram Bakshi, the managing director of Connaught Plaza Restaurants, described the McDonald’s decision as “mindless and ill-advised.”

“Appropriate legal remedies that are available under law are being explored,” Bakshi said in a statement.

McDonald’s said it is looking for a new partner to work with in north India. McDonald’s franchises in southern and western India are run by a separate company.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Dutch Build Vital New Infrastructure — World’s Biggest Bike Parking Lot


bt.jpg

A Bicycle Parking Lot in Amsterdam Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The city of Utrecht in the cycling-mad Netherlands opened on Monday what it said would be the world’s largest parking garage for bikes with room for 12,500 once completed next year.

The move by authorities in the city of 344,000 people aims to prevent a sprawling clutter of bicycles outside its main train station, overwhelming limited parking space.

“This is a side-effect of the success of the bicycle in our cities,” city councilor Lot van Hooijdonk told Reuters. “We are happy so many people use bikes, but it creates huge challenges for the city, especially around the station.”

A cyclist parks his bike on the street near the world’s largest bike parking garage in Utrecht, Netherlands Aug. 21, 2017.

The Dutch love for cycling is increasingly being tested by a worsening shortage of parking space. An ever-growing number of bikes is forcing municipal authorities to spend millions of euros on state-of-the art parking venues, maintaining cycling lanes, removing wrecks and impounding badly parked bikes.

Utrecht’s 40-million-euro ($47 million) garage is designed to resolve the problem of cyclists leaving their bikes anywhere they want, preferably next to the station entrance.

The three-story garage will be directly linked to the street by bicycle paths and offer access to train platforms via elevators and stairs. Parking will be free for the first 24 hours and 1.25 euro for each following day.

A cyclist rides her bike in the world’s largest bike parking garage in Utrecht, Netherlands Aug. 21, 2017.

Elsewhere, The Hague plans a garage for 8,500 bikes while Amsterdam – with 835,000 people and around 847,000 bikes – is working on a storage space for thousands under the city’s Amstel river and linked to its central station.

Parking space in Amsterdam is scarce partly because of the many bikes left behind in and around the racks. Last year the Dutch capital removed some 24,000 neglected bikes and 40,000 were seized for parking violations.

($1 = 0.8490 euros)

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Sudanese Children of IS Militants Released in Libya


st.jpg

Image used for only representational purposes only Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Four children from Sudan whose parents are believed to have been killed fighting for Islamic State in the Libyan city of Sirte last year were handed over to the Sudanese consul on Sunday for return to their country.

Sirte was a stronghold for Islamic State from 2015-2016, when Libyan forces backed by U.S. air strikes ousted the ultra-hardline group. Hundreds of foreign militants joined Islamic State in Sirte.

Dozens of women and children detained towards the end of the fighting have been held in Misrata, the city from which the military campaign in Sirte was led.

They include nationals of Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Senegal, Chad, and Niger. Twenty-one Libyan children have been handed back to their families.

In June, eight children were handed over to the Sudanese authorities and returned to Sudan. Eleven other Sudanese women and children are still in Misrata.

The Red Crescent’s head of psychological support in Misrata, Salah Abuzreba, appealed to all countries “that haven’t responded until this moment to receive those children as a human act, so they can be returned to their relatives”.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

IS Member Behind Paris, Brussels Attacks Added to US Terrorist List


vm.jpgAhmad Alkhald, a Syrian national from Aleppo who played a key role in the Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, has been identified as a specially designated global terrorist by the United States, the U.S. State Department said.

The designation Thursday — which also included an Iraqi national who has provided close protection to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader in Iraq and Syria — imposed “strict sanctions” on the individuals and prohibited any dealings with them.

Alkhald is an IS bomb maker and the terror group’s explosives chief who helped carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, the State Department statement said.

The series of the deadly terrorist attacks on several public places killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels.

Alkhald reportedly traveled to Europe, where he made the explosive vests used in the Paris attacks.

Island a gateway to Europe

According to French media, he crossed into Europe via the Greek island of Leros in September 2015. The island has been a gateway for some other IS attackers who have reportedly sneaked in among Syrians seeking refuge in Europe in the aftermath of the country’s civil war.

Alkhald returned to Syria shortly before the Paris attacks and continued helping other IS plots in Europe, including the March 2016 attacks in Brussels.

“Alkhald is wanted internationally and a European warrant for his arrest has been issued,” the statement said.

Al-Baghdadi’s protector

Abu Yahya al-Iraqi, also known as Iyad Hamed Mahl al-Jumaily, was the second individual identified as a specially designated global terrorist in Thursday’s statement.

Al-Iraqi is a senior IS figure close to al-Baghdadi, the terror group’s leader. He is reportedly a key IS leader in Iraq and Syria and has played a major role in providing security for al-Baghdadi.

The designation “notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Alkhald and al-Iraqi have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.

The statement said the designation and action by the State Department would help expose and isolate the two men, and help law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world in their efforts against them.

A response to 9/11 attacks

Specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) is a designation established by the U.S. government in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. Individuals designated as SDGTs are believed to pose a threat to U.S. national security by committing acts of terrorism.

The State Department has placed 272 individuals from different terrorist entities on the designation list, including 20 IS leaders and operatives.

“These designations are part of a larger comprehensive plan to defeat [IS] that, in coordination with the 73-member global coalition, has made significant progress toward this goal,” the State Department said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

%d bloggers like this: