Longtime US Congressman John Lewis Says He Has Cancer

Democratic congressman John Lewis, an icon in the fight for civil rights, announced Sunday he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now,” Lewis said in a statement.

“So I’ve decided to do what I know to do and what I have always done: I am going to fight and jeep fighting…we still have many bridges to cross,”

Lewis said he is “clear-eyed” about the prognosis and that his doctors tell him he has a fighting chance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that “generations of Americans” have Lewis in their thoughts and prayers, saying she knows he will be well.

The 79-year-old Lewis has represented the 5th Congressional District in Georgia since 1986 and has been a stalwart for liberal causes and human rights.

But Lewis is best known has a tireless fighter for civil rights — he marched with Martin Luther King in the early 1960s, sat down at segregated lunch counters, and was the victim of police nightsticks and billy clubs, suffering from a fractured skull.

Lewis was an original Freedom Rider, traveling on busses across the south as part of the battle for integration.

 

‘Star Wars’ Stays Aloft to Again Top North American Box Office

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” stayed on a strong glide path in North American theaters, taking in an estimated $73.6 million for the three-day weekend, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday.

The Disney film, marketed as a grand finale of the nine-film “Skywalker Saga,” has had mixed reviews and was down considerably from last weekend’s lofty $177.4 million opening.

But it has compiled a strong domestic total of $364.5 million.

It again maintained a big lead over the No. 2 film, Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level,” an action sequel starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, which had $34.4 million in North American ticket sales for the Friday-through-Sunday period.

In third for the second straight week was Disney’s “Frozen II,” at $17 million. The animated musical film has Broadway star Idina Menzel voicing Queen Elsa in her latest adventures.

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women” has been brought to the screen many times — no fewer than seven, by Variety’s count — but the new version from director Greta Gerwig has drawn strong reviews and netted $16.2 million to place fourth in its debut this weekend.

The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothee Chalamet, Emma Watson and Laura Dern, in the story of the joys and struggles of four sisters during the US Civil War.

In fifth was new Fox/Disney release “Spies in Disguise,” at $13.4 million. The animated children’s film features the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

“Knives Out” ($9.9 million)

“Uncut Gems” ($9.4 million)

“Bombshell” ($4.8 million)

“Cats” ($4.8 million)

“Richard Jewell” ($3 million)
 

Polish PM Condemns Putin for World War II ‘Lies’

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Sunday condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II, saying Moscow was lying to deflect attention from recent failures.

Poland’s foreign ministry had already summoned the Russian ambassador in protest on Friday, recalling that the war began with a Soviet-German alliance and that Poland lost around six million citizens in the conflict.

“President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done it deliberately,” Morawiecki said in a statement.

“This usually happens when Russian authorities feel international pressure related to their activities…. In recent weeks Russia has suffered several significant defeats,” he added.

As examples, Morawiecki mentioned that the European Union had prolonged sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Russian athletes were suspended for four years for doping, and Russia “failed in its attempt to take complete control over Belarus.”

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia Dec. 19, 2019.

“I consider President Putin’s words as an attempt to cover up these problems. The Russian leader is well aware that his accusations have nothing to do with reality — and that in Poland there are no monuments of Hitler or Stalin,” Morawiecki said.

“Such monuments stood here only when they were erected by the aggressors and perpetrators — the Third Reich and Soviet Russia.”

Ahead of the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to carve up eastern Europe between them in a secret clause of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The Soviets attacked Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, and occupied part of its territory before Hitler launched a surprise attack against the USSR in 1941.

Earlier this month, Putin blamed the Western powers and Poland for World War II, pointing to various treaties signed with Nazi Germany before the conflict began in 1939.

He later also accused Poland of anti-Semitism, claiming a pre-war Polish ambassador promised to put up a statue of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in Warsaw for his pledge to send Jews to Africa.

The row comes as bilateral tensions are running high, with NATO and EU member Poland fearing what has been described as Russian military adventurism and imperialist tendencies.

 

У Відні продовжились переговори з «Газпромом» про транзит – Макогон

Українсько-російські переговори про газовий транзит з 1 січня наступного року продовжились у Відні, повідомив у фейсбуці керівник «Оператора газотранспортної системи» Сергій Макогон.

«Починаємо наступний день перемовин. Мета – фіналізувати всі договори», – написав він.

Очільник Міненерго Росії Олександр Новак в коментарі російським ЗМІ 25 грудня також висловив сподівання, що угода про транзит газу буде підписана в ці вихідні.

20 грудня представники України, Росії, Євросоюзу, а також компанії «Оператор газотранспортної системи України», «Нафтогазу» та російського «Газпрому» попередньо домовилися зберегти транзит, натомість українська енергетична компанія відмовилася від інших позовів проти російського монополіста.

Серед найважливіших домовленостей сторін:

«Газпром» погодився до 29 грудня виплатити «Нафтогазу» 2,9 мільярда доларів, як це передбачає рішення Стокгольмського арбітражу від лютого 2018 року;
сторони відкликають всі позови, за якими наразі немає ухвалених рішень, в тому числі – позов «Нафтогазу» до російської енергетичної корпорації на 12,2 мільярда доларів та на 1,33 мільярда кубічних метрів газу;
з активів та майна «Газпрому» знімають арешти, сторони відмовляються від претензій в майбутньому щодо претензій у зв’язку з контрактами на постачання та транзит газу від 19 січня 2009 року;
після виконання цих умов – «Газпром» та «Нафтогаз» укладають договір про транзит газу через Україну​.

27 грудня уряд схвалив підписання мирової угоди з «Газпромом».

Коболєв про переговори з «Газпромом»: узгоджених текстів угод станом на зараз нема

Глава «Нафтогазу» Андрій Коболєв заявив ввечері 28 грудня, що остаточно узгоджених текстів угод з «Газпромом» щодо транзиту газу немає.

«Останні декілька днів наша команда працювала з росіянами над узгодженням текстів угод на виконання підписаного в Мінську протоколу. Зрозуміло, що боротьба йде за кожну кому. Є певний прогрес, але узгоджених текстів угод станом на зараз нема», – зазначив він.

Коболєв уточнив, що сторони обговорюють міжоператорську угоду, договір про організацію транзиту, мирову угоду між «Нафтогазом» та «Газпромом».

«Ще трохи про теми, про які цих перемовинах не йдеться: судові позови щодо захоплення наших активів в Криму; обов’язковість прямих закупівель у Газпрома (ця тема озвучувалася росіянами восени, а зараз виключена); штрафи АМКУ; «борг Януковича» та інші не-газові питання», – розповів Коболєв.

 

20 грудня представники України, Росії, Євросоюзу, а також компанії «Оператор газотранспортної системи України», «Нафтогазу» та російського «Газпрому» попередньо домовилися зберегти транзит, натомість українська енергетична компанія відмовилася від інших позовів проти російського монополіста.

Серед найважливіших домовленостей сторін:

«Газпром» погодився до 29 грудня виплатити «Нафтогазу» 2,9 мільярда доларів, як це передбачає рішення Стокгольмського арбітражу від лютого 2018 року;
сторони відкликають всі позови, за якими наразі немає ухвалених рішень, в тому числі – позов «Нафтогазу» до російської енергетичної корпорації на 12,2 мільярда доларів та на 1,33 мільярда кубічних метрів газу;
з активів та майна «Газпрому» знімають арешти, сторони відмовляються від претензій в майбутньому щодо претензій у зв’язку з контрактами на постачання та транзит газу від 19 січня 2009 року;
після виконання цих умов – «Газпром» та «Нафтогаз» укладають договір про транзит газу через Україну​.

27 грудня уряд схвалив підписання мирової угоди з «Газпромом».

US Mass Killings Hit New High in 2019; Most Were Shootings

The first one occurred 19 days into the new year when a man used an ax to kill four family members, including his infant daughter. Five months later, 12 people were killed in a workplace shooting in Virginia. Twenty-two more died at a Walmart in El Paso in August. 
 
A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University shows that there were more mass killings in 2019 than in any other year dating to at least the 1970s, punctuated by a chilling succession of deadly rampages during the summer. 
 
In all, there were 41 mass killings, defined as when four or more people are killed, excluding the perpetrator. Of those, 33 were mass shootings. More than 210 people were killed. 
 
Most of the mass killings barely became national news, failing to resonate among the general public because they didn’t spill into public places like massacres in El Paso and Odessa, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Jersey City, New Jersey. 
 
Most of the killings involved people who knew each other — family disputes, drug or gang violence, or people with beefs who directed their anger at co-workers or relatives. 

APTOPIX Virginia Beach Shooting
FILE – Family and friends watch as the casket of Virginia Beach shooting victim Katherine Nixon is wheeled to a hearse after a funeral service at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, Va., June 6, 2019.

In many cases, what set off the perpetrator remains a mystery. 
 
That’s the case with the very first mass killing of 2019, when a 42-year-old man took an ax and stabbed to death his mother, stepfather, girlfriend and 9-month-old daughter in Clackamas County, Oregon. Two others, a roommate and an 8-year-old girl, escaped; the rampage ended when responding police fatally shot the killer. 
 
The perpetrator had had occasional run-ins with police over the years, but what drove him to attack his family remains unknown. He had just gotten a job training mechanics at an auto dealership, and despite occasional arguments with his relatives, most said there was nothing out of the ordinary that raised significant red flags. 
 
The incident in Oregon was one of 18 mass killings in which family members were slain, and one of six that didn’t involve a gun. Among other trends in 2019: 
 
— The 41 mass killings were the most in a single year since the AP/USA Today and Northeastern database began tracking such events back to 2006, but other research going back to the 1970s shows no other year with as many mass slayings. The second-most killings in a year prior to 2019 was 38 in 2006. 
 
— The total of 211 people killed in this year’s cases is still eclipsed by the 224 victims in 2017, when the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place in Las Vegas. 
 
— California, with some of the most strict gun laws in the country, had the most mass slayings, with eight. But nearly half of U.S. states experienced a mass slaying, from big cities like New York to tiny towns like Elkmont, Alabama, with a population of just under 475 people. 
 
— Firearms were the weapons used in all but eight of the mass killings. Other weapons included knives and axes, and at least twice, the perpetrator set a mobile home on fire, killing those inside. 
 
— Nine mass shootings occurred in public places. Other mass killings occurred in homes, workplaces or bars. 

James Densley, a criminologist and professor at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, said the AP/USA Today/Northeastern database confirms and mirrors what his own research into exclusively mass shootings has shown. 

FILE - Demonstrators gather to protest after a mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 7, 2019.
FILE – Demonstrators gather to protest after a mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 7, 2019.

“What makes this even more exceptional is that mass killings are going up at a time when general homicides, overall homicides, are going down,” Densley said. “As a percentage of homicides, these mass killings are also accounting for more deaths.” 
 
He believes it’s partially a byproduct of an “angry and frustrated time” that we are living in. Densley also said crime tends to go in waves, with the 1970s and 1980s seeing a number of serial killers, the 1990s marked by school shootings and child abductions, and the early 2000s dominated by concerns over terrorism. 
 
“This seems to be the age of mass shootings,” Densley said. 
 
He and James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Northeastern University, also expressed worries about the “contagion effect,” the focus on mass killings fueling other mass killings. 
 
“These are still rare events. Clearly the risk is low but the fear is high,” Fox said. “What fuels contagion is fear.” 
 
The mass shootings this year include the three in August in Texas and Dayton that stirred fresh urgency, especially among Democratic presidential candidates, to restrict access to firearms. 
 
While the large death tolls attracted much of the attention, the killings inflicted a mental and physical toll on dozens of others. The database does not have a complete count of victims who were wounded, but among the three mass shootings in August alone, more than 65 people were injured. 
 
Daniel Munoz, 28, of Odessa was caught in the crossfire of the shooting that took place over a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch in West Texas. He was on his way to meet a friend at a bar when he saw a gunman and the barrel of a firearm. Instinctively, he got down just as his car was sprayed with bullets. 

FILE - Law enforcement officials process the crime scene Sept. 1, 2019, in Odessa, Texas, from Saturday's shooting which ended with the alleged shooter being shot dead by police in a stolen mail van, right.
FILE – Law enforcement officials process the crime scene, Sept. 1, 2019, in Odessa, Texas, from a shooting that ended with the alleged attacker being shot dead by police in a stolen mail van, right.

Munoz, who moved to Texas about a year ago to work in the oil industry, said he had actually been on edge since the Walmart shooting, which took place just 28 days earlier and about 300 miles (480 kilometers) away, worried that a shooting could happen anywhere at any time. 
 
He remembers calling his mother after the El Paso shooting to encourage her to have a firearm at home or with her in case she needed to defend herself. He would say the same to friends, telling them before they went to a Walmart to take a firearm in case they needed to protect themselves or others during an attack. 
 
“You can’t just always assume you’re safe. In that moment, as soon as the El Paso shooting happened, I was on edge,” Munoz said. 
 
Adding to his anxiety is that, as a convicted felon, he’s prohibited from possessing a firearm. 
 
A few weeks later, as he sat behind the wheel of his car, he spotted the driver of an approaching car wielding a firearm. 
 
“My worst nightmare became a reality,” he said. “I’m the middle of a gunfight and I have no way to defend myself.” 
 
In the months since, the self-described social butterfly steers clear of crowds and can only tolerate so much socializing. He still drives the same car, still riddled with bullet holes on the side panels, a bullet hole in the headrest of the passenger seat and the words “evidence” scrawled on the doors. His shoulder remains pocked with bullet fragments. 

Trump Retweets Post Naming Alleged Whistleblower

President Donald Trump retweeted a post that included the alleged name of the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment by the House. 

Just before midnight Friday, Trump retweeted a message from Twitter user @Surfermom77, an account that claims to be a woman named Sophia who lives in California. The account shows some indications of automation, including an unusually high amount of activity and profile pictures featuring stock images from the internet. 

By Saturday morning, the post seemed to have disappeared on many users’ feeds, suggesting Trump had deleted it, though it could still be found in other ways, including on a website that logs every presidential tweet.

The retweet then reappeared Saturday night. Twitter told The Associated Press that an outage with one of its systems caused tweets on some accounts, including Trump’s, to be visible to some but not others.

Trump has repeatedly backed efforts to unmask the whistleblower. But his Friday night retweet marks the first time he has directly sent the alleged name into the Twitter feed of his 68 million followers.

Unmasking the whistleblower, who works in the intelligence field, could violate federal protection laws that have historically been supported by both parties. 

Phone conversation

 The whistleblower filed a complaint in August about one of Trump’s telephone conversations with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other dealings with the Eastern European nation. The complaint prompted House Democrats to launch a probe that ended with Trump’s impeachment earlier this month. The matter now heads to the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to acquit the president.

President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during…
FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York.

The central points from the whistleblower’s complaint were confirmed during the House impeachment hearings by a string of diplomats and other career officials, many of whom testified in public. The White House also released a transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy, in which he asks for help investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. 

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity has been circulating in conservative media and on social media for months. 

U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers. 

President’s position

Trump insists he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine and has asserted that the whistleblower made up the complaint, despite its corroboration by other officials. Trump also argues that he has a right to face his accuser and has called on the whistleblower to step forward.

For months, an array of right-wing personalities, amateur pro-Trump internet sleuths and some conservative news outlets have published what they claim to be details about the whistleblower, including name and career history. The president himself has also been inching closer to outing the individual; earlier this week, Trump shared a tweet linking to a Washington Examiner article that included the alleged name.

@Surfermom77, the Twitter handle on the post Trump retweeted, describes herself as a “100%Trump Supporter” and California resident. The account had nearly 79,000 followers as of Saturday afternoon. Some of its previous posts have denounced Islam and sharply criticized former President Barack Obama and other Democrats.

In this Feb. 8, 2018, file photo the logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange.
FILE – The logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Feb. 8, 2018.

@Surfermom77 has displayed some hallmarks of a Twitter bot, an automated account. A recent profile picture on the account, for instance, is a stock photo of a woman in business attire that is available for use online. 
 
That photo was removed Saturday and replaced with an image of Trump. 
 
A deeper look at @Surfermom77’s account shows the user previously used two other stock photos as profile pictures, including one of a model wearing an orange hat used by a hat retailer. 
 
@Surfermom77 has also tweeted far more than typical users, more than 170,000 times since the account was activated in 2013. @Surfermom77 has posted, on average, 72 tweets a day, according to Nir Hauser, chief technology officer at VineSight, a technology firm that tracks online misinformation. 
 
“That’s not something most humans are doing,” Hauser said. 
 
While many bots only repost benign information like cat photos, others have been used to spread disinformation or polarizing claims, as Russian bots did in the leadup to the 2016 election. 
 
Many jobs

In past years, @Surfermom77 has described herself as a teacher, historian, documentary author and model. Attempts to reach the person behind the account by telephone on Saturday were unsuccessful. An email address could not be found. 
 
Facebook has a policy banning posts that name the alleged whistleblower. But Twitter, which doesn’t have such a rule, has not removed the tweet from @Supermom77 or tweets from others who have named the alleged whistleblower. 
 
“The tweet you referenced is not a violation of the Twitter rules,” the company wrote in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. 
 
Some details about the whistleblower that have been published online by Trump’s supporters have been inaccurate or misrepresented. 
 
For example, a photo shared widely on social media last month was circulated by Facebook, Reddit and Twitter users who wrongly claimed it showed the whistleblower with Obama’s staffers outside the White House as Trump moved in. 
 
The individual in the photo actually was R. David Edelman, a former special assistant to Obama on economic and tech policy. Edelman debunked the claim on his Twitter account and told the AP he received threats online as a result of the false claims. 

‘Completely inappropriate’
 
Michael German, an FBI whistleblower who left the agency after reporting allegations of mismanagement in counterterrorism cases, said outing government whistleblowers not only puts them at personal risk but also discourages other government officials from stepping forward to expose possible wrongdoing. 
 
German, now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said the ease with which the alleged whistleblower’s identity has been spread online shows the need for greater legal protections for whistleblowers. 
 
He added that it’s “completely inappropriate for the president of the United States to be engaged in any type of behavior that could harm a whistleblower.” 

North Korea Starts Key Meeting but Offers No Details on ‘New Way’ 

North Korea began a closely watched ruling party meeting led by Kim Jong Un, state media reported Sunday, amid signs Pyongyang is set to announce a firmer stance toward the United States. 
 
Kim is widely expected in the next week to announce the details of his “new way” for North Korea, following the expiration of its self-imposed end-of-year deadline for the U.S. to offer a better proposal in stalled nuclear talks. 
 
State media coverage of the Workers’ Party of Korea meeting offered few hints about the country’s direction. 
 
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) mentioned an “anti-imperialist” stance and the building up of national defense but gave no other details. 
 
“The plenary meeting goes on,” KCNA said, apparently indicating a multiday meeting. 
 
Talks boycotted

North Korea has boycotted nuclear talks for months and recently threatened to resume long-range missile and nuclear tests. An official said earlier this month that denuclearization was off the negotiating table. 
 
Those threats — mostly made by lower-level officials — were widely seen as an attempt to increase pressure on the U.S. ahead of North Korea’s deadline. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of…
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in this undated photo released Dec. 28, 2019, by the Korean Central News Agency.

Kim’s annual New Year’s speech is expected to offer much firmer evidence of the country’s direction in 2020. In his speech last year, he warned of a “new way” if the talks didn’t progress. 
 
North Korea also threatened to deliver a “Christmas gift” to the U.S., leading many analysts to predict a North Korean holiday missile test. But Christmas passed with no signs of what that “gift” might be. 
 
There are multiple possible explanations for why North Korea has refrained from a major provocation, including last-minute progress between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump or a warning from China, which typically frowns on North Korean missile and nuclear tests. 

No ‘cold feet’
 
“But Kim, nevertheless, probably did not get cold feet,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Asia and nuclear policy at the International Crisis Group. 
 
“North Korea’s course of action after the year-end deadline will be far more significant than a gift timed to coincide with what it sees as an American holiday. After all, anything can happen in the remaining six days of 2019 after Christmas. And presents can be delivered any time the giver feels so compelled,” Kim said. 

Even without a North Korean launch or other provocation, tensions have been high, especially after Japan’s public broadcaster NHK erroneously reported Friday that North Korea had launched a missile that landed in the waters east of Japan. The broadcaster later apologized for the false report, saying it was a media training alert. 

Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. attend a military drill for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear…
FILE – Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. participate in a drill at Camp Casey in Dongducheon, north of Seoul, South Korea, March 3, 2011.

A tense moment also occurred late Thursday when Camp Casey, a U.S. Army base in South Korea, accidentally blasted an emergency siren instead of taps, a bugle call typically played at military bases at the end of the day. 
 
The false alarms are even more notable considering the relative silence from North Korea during the last couple of weeks, after having ramped up threats in early December. 

‘Deafening’ silence
 
“It has been the uneasy calm before the storm,” said Robert Carlin, a former U.S. intelligence official with decades of experience researching North Korea. 
 
“The air was certainly heavy with Pyongyang’s warnings earlier. But then, beginning on December 15, these abruptly stopped and the North became extremely quiet, preternaturally quiet,” Carlin said in a post on 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea.

“The silence, in fact, has been deafening,” he said. 

Quick Response to Health Emergencies Protects Vulnerable Populations

The World Health Organization reports investigations into potential health threats and the quick response by WHO and partners to global emergencies has protected millions of the world’s most vulnerable people this year from disease and death.

In 2019, the World Health Organization and partners have responded to 51 emergencies in more than 40 countries and territories and have investigated 440 potential health threats in 138 countries and territories.  

After the headlines evoking these emergencies have faded away, the work of helping the victims of manmade and natural disasters recover carries on out of the media spotlight.  

Executive Director of WHO Emergencies Program, Michael Ryan, says the unseen work of sustaining fragile health systems in conflicts and other emergencies does not stop.

“In Bangladesh, we work with partners to address the health needs of nearly one million Rohingya refugees living in the crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar,” said Ryan. “The mortality rate in this highly vulnerable population has remained at low levels…These crude death rates remain well below what is considered acceptable in this situation…And, that is down to a lot of hard work by a lot of people.”  

Ryan says WHO and partners have provided health services to more than 10 million people in Yemen.   He says over one million children have been protected from vaccine-preventable diseases and more than 100,000 have been treated for severe acute malnutrition.

“In Uganda, Ebola transmission was prevented after cases crossed from DRC on two separate occasions,” said Ryan. “And, the preparedness work that has been going on in surrounding countries…Uganda, with the support of the international community spent $18 million on preparedness and stopped Ebola twice.” 

The World Health Organization estimates more than one billion dollars will be spent to root out the deadly Ebola virus, which has been circulating in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018.  The latest number of reported cases stands at 3,366, including 2,227 deaths.

Other emergencies to which WHO has responded over the past year include the cyclone in Mozambique, conflict emergencies in Syria and South Sudan, floods in Iran, an earthquake in Albania, and a deadly measles outbreak on the small Pacific island of Samoa.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Set to Hunt Martian Fossils, Scout for Manned Missions

A NASA robotic rover is nearing completion ahead of a journey next year to search for evidence of past life on Mars and lay the groundwork for the space agency’s mission to send humans into deep space.

The U.S. space agency on Friday showed off its Mars 2020 rover, whose official name will be chosen early next year. NASA will in February ship the rover to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center where its three sections will be fully assembled. A July launch will send the rover to a dry lake bed on Mars that is bigger than the island of Manhattan.

The four-wheeled, car-sized rover will scour the base of Mars’ Jezero Crater, an 820-foot-deep (250-meter-deep) crater thought to have been a lake the size of Lake Tahoe, once the craft lands in February 2021. The crater is believed to have an abundance of pristine sediments some 3.5 billion years old that scientists hope will hold fossils of Martian life.

“The trick, though, is that we’re looking for trace levels of chemicals from billions of years ago on Mars,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace told Reuters. The rover will collect up to 30 soil samples to be picked up and returned to Earth by a future spacecraft planned by NASA.

“Once we have a sufficient set, we’ll put them down on the ground, and another mission, which we hope to launch in 2026, will come, land on the surface, collect those samples and put them into a rocket, basically,” Wallace said. Humans have never before returned sediment samples from Mars.

The findings of the Mars 2020 research will be crucial to future human missions to the red planet, including the ability to make oxygen on the surface of Mars, Wallace said. The Mars 2020 Rover is carrying equipment that can turn carbon dioxide, which is pervasive on Mars, into oxygen for breathing and as a propellant.

LESSONS FROM CURIOSITY

If successful, Mars 2020 will mark NASA’s fifth Martian rover to carry out a soft landing, having learned crucial lessons from the most recent Curiosity rover that landed on the planet’s surface in 2012 and continues to traverse a Martian plain southeast of the Jezero Crater.

The Soviet Union is the only other country to successfully land a rover on Mars. China and Japan have attempted unsuccessfully to send orbiters around Mars, while India and Europe’s space agency have successfully lofted an orbiter to the planet.

Hong Kong Protesters Demand Mainland Chinese Traders Leave

Police fought with protesters who marched through a Hong Kong shopping mall Saturday demanding mainland Chinese traders leave the territory in a fresh weekend of anti-government tension.

The protest in Sheung Shui, near Hong Kong’s boundary with the mainland, was part of efforts to pressure the government by disrupting economic activity.

About 100 protesters marched through the mall shouting, “Liberate Hong Kong!” and “Return to the mainland!”

Police in civilian clothes with clubs tackled and handcuffed some protesters. One officer fired pepper spray at protesters and reporters. Government broadcaster RTHK reported 14 people were detained.

Some shoppers argued with police in olive fatigues and helmets who blocked walkways in the mall.

Protests that began in June over a proposed extradition law have spread to include demands for more democracy and other grievances.

The proposed law was withdrawn but protesters want the resignation of the territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, and other changes.

Protesters complain Beijing and Lam’s government are eroding the autonomy and Western-style civil liberties promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to China in 1997.

On Saturday, some merchants in the Sheung Shui mall wrapped orange tape around kiosks or partially closed security doors in shops but most business went ahead normally.

Hong Kong, which has no sales tax and a reputation for genuine products, is popular with Chinese traders who buy merchandise to resell on the mainland.

Sheung Shui was the site of clashes between police and demonstrators in June.

Earlier this week, protesters smashed windows in shopping areas over the Christmas holiday. Some fought with police.

A total of 336 people, some as young as 12, were arrested from Monday to Thursday, according to police. That brought the total number of people arrested over six months of protests to nearly 7,000.

Protesters have damaged subway stations, banks and other public facilities.

Earlier this month, opposition candidates won a majority of posts in elections for district representatives, the lowest level of government.

Debate Intensifies Over Future of CFA Franc in West Africa

Debate on the future of the CFA franc in the six-member Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) has intensified after it was announced last week that eight West African countries agreed to change the name of their common currency to Eco. They also severed the CFA franc’s links to former colonial ruler France.

The CFA franc used by west and central African states is considered by many as a sign of French interference in its former African colonies, and the main reason for the underdevelopment of CEMAC, which remains the poorest economic bloc in Africa. 

Louis Nsonkeng, a researcher and economic lecturer at the University of Bamenda-Cameroon, says when the Eco becomes legal tender, the eight West African states will have their financial freedom from the strong grip of former colonial master France. He says the six central African states that also use the CFA franc should immediately emulate the example of the west Africans.

“In 2017, the International Monetary Fund published the [list of] 10 richest countries in Africa,” Nsonkeng said. “None of the countries was from the CFA zone and most of these countries have their own currencies. If we discover that we don’t have the resources to manage a common currency, then we should dissolve the currency area. We should dissolve it and each country should decide on their own currency.”

Thomas Babissakana, a Cameroon economist and financial expert, is pictured in Yaounde, Dec. 26, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Congo use the CFA franc. The CEMAC member states have more than 50 percent of their financial reserves kept in the French treasury, following agreements signed in 1948.

Thomas Babissakana, a Cameroon economist and financial expert, says such agreements drain the economies of central African states because France now uses the euro, yet France still controls its currency.

It is unthinkable, he says, that a country will claim it has its independence when its currency, which is an essential instrument for its economic policies, is controlled by a former colonial master. 

Daniel Ona Ondo, president of the CEMAC commission, talks with the media in Douala, Dec. 26, 2019. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

The CFA franc, created in 1945, is considered by many as a sign of French interference in its former African colonies, even after the countries became independent.

The CFA franc was pegged to the French franc until 1999, when its value was fixed at about 660 CFA francs to one euro.

Daniel Ona Ondo, president of the CEMAC commission, says the six member states’ economic growth rate is estimated at 3 percent in 2019 — up from barely 1 percent in 2018 — and inflation remains under control at less than 3 percent. He says the most demanding issue is to consolidate regional integration before thinking of currency reforms.

Fourteen west and central African countries divided into two monetary unions, ECOWAS and CEMAC, use the CFA franc. 
 

At Least 12 Killed in Kazakhstan Plane Crash

An airliner with 98 people on board crashed in Kazakhstan shortly after takeoff early Friday, killing at least 12 and injuring 54 others, authorities said.                                

Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Committee said in a statement the Bek Air plane hit a concrete fence and a two-story building after takeoff from Almaty International Airport.

Local authorities had earlier put the death toll at 15, but the Interior Ministry of the Central Asian nation later revised the figure downward, without giving an explanation.

Flight 2100, a Fokker-100 aircraft, was heading to the capital, Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana, when it lost attitude at 7:22 a.m. local time.

Authorities say all Bek Air flights in Kazakhstan were immediately suspended pending the investigation of the crash.

The manufacturer of the Fokker-100, a medium-sized, twin-turbofan jet airliner, went bankrupt in 1996 and production of the plane stopped the following year.

The cause of the crash was unclear, but the central Asian country’s deputy prime minister, Roman Sklyar, said authorities were looking into pilot error or technical failure.  

Upwards of 1,000 first responders were working at the crash site, which was covered in snow. Dozens of people showed up at a local blood bank to donate.
           
The government said it would pay families of the victims about $10,000 apiece.
                      
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered an inspection of all airlines in the country, along with the aviation infrastructure. Eighteen passenger airlines and four cargo carriers are registered in Kazakhstan.
           

 

 

Pakistan Captures 5 Suspected al-Qaida Operatives

Authorities in eastern Pakistan announced Friday counterterrorism forces have captured five suspected al-Qaida operatives planning attacks on security officials.  

The operation in Punjab province targeted a facility serving as a media cell and a financing network for militants linked to al-Qaida’s regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the provincial counterterrorism department said in a statement.  

It described the five detainees as important members of AQIS, saying one of them was a close aide of the militant group’s current “operational commander” based in neighboring Afghanistan and was coordinating terrorist activities on both sides of the border.  

Officials said the raid in Gujranwala city also seized laptops with encrypted data, mobile phones, a printing press, suicide vests, explosives, weapons, including five Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles, ammunition, cash and maps of “sensitive” places in Punjab.  

The AQIS cell had recently relocated from Karachi, the country’s largest city and commercial center.

Pakistani military forces have conducted major operations against militant strongholds over the past decade in the northwestern remote tribal districts on the Afghan border, clearing most of them and killing thousands of militants.   

Officials say retaliatory suicide bombings and other terrorism-related incidents have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, including security forces. The security crackdown, however, has significantly reduced militant violence across Pakistan.

Militants who fled the security action in border areas have reportedly moved to other parts of Pakistan, including the country’s richest and most populous province of Punjab.

The United States designated AQIS as a global terrorist organization in 2016. It reportedly operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, claiming responsibility for attacks in the region.  

AQIS’s Indian-born chief, Asim Omar, was killed in September in southern Afghanistan in a joint operation by Afghan and U.S. security forces.  

The U.S. military, in a unilateral operation in 2011, located and killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.

Верховний суд підтвердив законність виведення з ринку банку «Михайлівський» – НБУ

Верховний суд підтвердив законність виведення з ринку банку «Михайлівський», повідомив Національний банк України. Суд ухвалив рішення 24 грудня.

«Касаційна скарга ТОВ «Екосіпан» залишена судом без задоволення, а постанова Київського апеляційного адміністративного суду від 7 серпня 2017 року, відповідно до якої акціонеру банку було відмовлено у задоволенні позовних вимог, залишена без змін», – заявили в НБУ.

НБУ відніс банк «Михайлівський» до категорії неплатоспроможних 23 травня 2016 року, а 12 липня ухвалив рішення про відкликання банківської ліцензії та ліквідацію банку. Рішення про виведення банку з ринку НБУ схвалив в зв’язку з великою кількістю операцій переказу вкладів фізичних осіб з фінансової компанії, пов’язаної з банком, на баланс банку, що збільшило навантаження на Фонд гарантування вкладів фізичних осіб.

У жовтні 2016 року власник банку ТОВ «Екосіпан» звернулося з позовом до суду, у якому просило визнати рішення Національного банку про виведення банку з ринку незаконним.

 

Євро зміцнився на 62 копійки – НБУ

Євро зміцнився на 62 копійки, свідчать дані на сайті Національного банку України.

На період з 28 грудня до 3 січня 2020 року регулятор встановив офіційну вартість євро на рівні 26 гривень 42 копійок.

Долар зміцнився на 30 копійок. Він коштуватиме 23 гривні 69 копійок.

Напередодні Національний банк України купив «чистими» рекордні для цього року 700 мільйонів доларів.

 

Євросоюз визнав успішність реформи «Нафтогазу» – Коболєв

Остаточним визнанням успішності анбандлінгу (розділення) компанії «Нафтогаз України» назвав голова її правління Андрій Коболєв отримання листа від віцепрезидента Єврокомісії Мароша Шефчовича. У ньому європейський високопосадовець підтверджує, що новостворений оператор газотранспортної системи України відокремлений і налаштований на роботу згідно з законодавством ЄС.

«Ми зробили велику і якісну роботу, яка суттєво наблизила інтеграцію України до єдиного європейського енергоринку. Робота нового Оператора ГТС дозволить перевести всі транзитні процедури на європейські рейки і посилить енергетичну безпеку у східноєвропейському регіоні», – наголосив Коболєв.

 

Кілька годин тому про своє послання Україні повідомив віцепрезидент Єврокомісії Марош Шефчович.

«Радий надіслати лист, який підтверджує, що новостворений в Україні оператор газотранспортної системи відокремлений та працює відповідно до законодавства ЄС. Це важливо для безперебійного транзиту російського газу до Європи через Україну», – вказав Шефчович.

 

Національна комісія, що здійснює регулювання у сферах енергетики та комунальних послуг (НКРЕКП), 24 грудня ухвалила остаточне рішення про сертифікацію оператора української газотранспортної системи. Про це повідомляє агентство «Інтерфакс-Україна».

Планується, що ТОВ «Оператор газотранспортної системи України» почне повноцінно працювати з 1 січня 2020 року.

9 грудня президент України Володимир Зеленський підписав останній закон, необхідний для завершення процесу створення незалежного оператора газотранспортної системи, згідно з європейськими правилами.

31 жовтня Верховна Рада ухвалила законопроєкт про анбандлінг «Нафтогазу». Документ передбачає, що ГТС залишиться у державній власності, однак для управління нею буде створено окрему компанію-оператора, на яку «Нафтогаз» впливати не зможе.

Анбандлінг «Нафтогазу» одна з умов, які дадуть можливість Україні могла укласти новий контракт про транзит газу з Росією за європейськими правилами, зазначав раніше глава Міненерго Олексій Оржель.

Наразі «Нафтогаз України» здійснює повний цикл операцій розвідки та розробки родовищ, експлуатаційного та розвідувального буріння, транспортування та зберігання нафти і газу, постачання природного і скрапленого газу споживачам. Відокремлення функцій, зокрема, транспортування газу вимагає, серед іншого, так званий Третій енергопакет нормативних актів Європейського союзу, втілити які зобов’язалася й Україна.

«Нафтогаз України» є одноособовим акціонером компанії «Укртрансгаз», яка займається транспортуванням газу. Реформа «Нафтогазу» передбачає проведення демонополізації компанії. Оператор української ГТС має бути виділений в юридичну особу, не пов’язану ні з «Нафтогазом», ні з іншими підприємствами, які займаються видобутком і генерацією енергії.

Peru Watchdog Says McDonald’s Franchisee Violated Safety Laws 

Peru´s labor watchdog has found McDonald’s Corp.’s Latin America franchisee Arcos Dorados guilty of six “very serious” violations of local safety and health laws following the deaths of two employees in a 
restaurant kitchen. 

The Labor Ministry’s regulating body proposed that the company be fined $254,000 over the deaths. 

Arcos Dorados, which operates all 29 McDonald’s restaurants in Peru, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. 

Alexandra Porras, 18, and Carlos Campo, 19, were electrocuted earlier this month in Lima while cleaning a kitchen. Protesters have taken to the streets carrying posters bearing the victims’ photos and slogans reading: “Justice for Alexa and Gabriel.” 

They were a couple who had been working for the fast-food chain for several months, according to their families. 

The government has improved business health and safety regulations in response to the case, Labor Minister Sylvia Caceres said at a news conference Thursday. The current system of one inspection of companies per year is being replaced by as many spot inspections as are necessary, she said. 

“We have to discourage companies that violate labor standards,” Caceres said, adding that further measures were under consideration. 

Arcos Dorados, which operates McDonald’s restaurants throughout South America and the Caribbean, said last week that McDonald’s stores in Peru would remain closed until it finished its own investigation into what happened. 

Japan to Send Warship, Aircraft to Middle East to Protect Vessels

Japan will send a warship and patrol planes to protect Japanese ships in the Middle East as the situation in the region, from which it sources nearly 90% of its crude oil imports, remains volatile, a document approved by the cabinet showed Friday.

Under the plan, a helicopter-equipped destroyer and two P-3C patrol planes will be dispatched for information-gathering aimed at ensuring safe passage for Japanese vessels through the region.

If there are any emergencies, a special order would be issued by the Japanese defense minister to allow the forces to use weapons to protect ships in danger.

Friction between Iran and the United States has increased since last year, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions on it, crippling its economy.

In May and June, there were several attacks on international merchant vessels, including the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, in the region, which the United States blamed on Iran. Tehran denies the accusations.

A hole the U.S. Navy says was made by a limpet mine is seen on the damaged Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, on a Wednesday,…
FILE – A hole the U.S. Navy says was made by a limpet mine is seen on the damaged Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, June 19, 2019.

Japan, a U.S. ally that has maintained friendly ties with Iran, has opted to launch its own operation rather than join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the region.

Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe briefed visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tokyo’s plan to send naval forces to the Gulf.

The planned operation is set to cover high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but not the Strait of Hormuz, the cabinet-approved document showed.

The Japanese government aims to start the operation of the patrol planes next month, while the destroyer will likely begin activities in the region in February, a defense ministry official said.

A European operation to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf will also get under way next month, when a French warship starts patrolling there.
 

Tesla Secures $1.29 Billion Loan from Chinese Banks for Shanghai Factory

Tesla Inc entered into agreements with lenders in China for a secured term loan facility of up to 9 billion yuan ($1.29 billion), according to a regulatory filing on Thursday.

The electric car maker said it has also signed agreements for an unsecured revolving loan facility of up to 2.25 billion yuan, adding that both the loans will be used for its Shanghai car plant. 

China Construction Bank Corp, Agricultural Bank of China , Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China are the lenders, according to the filing.

Besides construction and production at the Shanghai factory, the loan may also be used to repay the 3.5 billion yuan debt due to be repaid on March 4 next year.

The factory, which is Tesla’s first car manufacturing site outside the United States, is the centerpiece of its ambitions to boost sales in the world’s biggest auto market and avoid higher import tariffs imposed on U.S.-made cars.

Reuters reported earlier this week that Tesla and a group of China banks had agreed to a new 10 billion yuan, five-year loan facility for the automaker’s Shanghai car plant, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Нацбанк за день купив «чистими» рекордні 700 млн доларів

Національний банк України за день купив «чистими» рекордні 700 мільйонів доларів.

26 грудня регулятор оголосив аукціон на купівлю валюти обсягом до 1 мільярда доларів.

«Фактичний обсяг задоволених заявок суб’єктів ринку за результатами аукціону становив 230 млн доларів. Водночас за підсумками дня чиста купівля валюти Національним банком становила 700 млн доларів, оскільки після завершення аукціону НБУ також провів інтервенцію за єдиним курсом через функціонал Matching. Такі обсяги купівлі валюти за один день є рекордом цього року», – розповіли в Нацбанку.

За даними регулятора, загалом від початку року чиста купівля валюти НБУ становить близько 7,5 млрд доларів, що також є рекордним значенням з 2007 року.

У Національному банку підкреслюють, що пропозиція валюти суттєво перевищує попит внаслідок стійкого припливу іноземних інвестиицій в гривневі облігації уряду, залучення зовнішнього фінансування державними компаніями, а також значних обсягів валютних надходжень експортерів.

У 2019 році гривня посилилася майже на 20% стосовно долара. Наразі офіційна вартість американської національної валюти балансує на рівні грудня 2015-го – січня 2016-го.

 

Гончарук розповів про перші результати боротьби з нелегальними АЗС

Українська влада закрила 46 нелегальних автозаправних станцій, повідомив прем’єр-міністр України Олексій Гончарук у Facebook. Він заявив, що «проблему нелегальних автозаправних станцій» мають вирішити до 9 січня 2020 року.

«І сьогодні маємо перші результати: вже закрито 46 нелегальних АЗС та вилучено 1,3 тисячі тонн паливно-мастильних матеріалів на суму 33,4 млн грн. Також розпочато 18 кримінальних проваджень. Робота в цьому напрямку активно триває. Всі АЗС будуть працювати з ліцензіями або не будуть працювати взагалі!» – впевнений прем’єр.

23 грудня президент України Володимир Зеленський зустрівся з представниками компаній – учасниць паливного ринку, нафто- та газовидобувної галузі й мереж автозаправних станцій. Він закликав «відреагувати на зміцнення курсу гривні» та знизити ціни на бензин.

У відповідь вони поскаржилися на роботу нелегальних автозаправних станцій, проте наступного дня все ж знизили ціни на пальне.

«Нафтогаз» перерахував до бюджету 13 млрд гривень – Коболєв

«Нафтогаз України» перерахував до бюджету 13 мільярдів гривень, повідомив голова правління компанії Андрій Коболєв у Facebook.

За його словами, 26 грудня Кабінет міністрів ухвалив рішення про дострокову виплату дивідендів за 2019 рік.

«Одразу після прийняття цього рішення, ми перерахували державі 8,5 млрд грн дивідендів та 4,5 млрд грн інших податкових платежів. Всього за грудень ми забезпечили надходження до держбюджету близько 20 млрд гривень. Сподіваємось, це дозволить багатьом українцям спокійно і радісно зустріти свята», – написав Коболєв.

Він розповів, що станом на 25 грудня «Нафтогаз» за 2019 рік сплатив понад 103,8 мільярда гривень податків і дивідендів.

За даними компанії, у 2018 році «Нафтогаз України» сплатив до державного бюджету 136,5 мільярда гривень податків і дивідендів, що становило близько 15% загальних доходів держбюджету.

Election Officials Learn Military Mindset Ahead of 2020 Vote

Inside a hotel ballroom near the nation’s capital, a U.S. Army officer with battlefield experience told 120 state and local election officials that they may have more in common with the military strategists than they might think.

These government officials are on the front lines of a different kind of high-stakes battlefield — one in which they are helping to defend American democracy by ensuring free and fair elections.

“Everyone in this room is part of a bigger effort, and it’s only together are we going to get through this,” the officer said.

That officer and other past and present national security leaders had a critical message to convey to officials from 24 states gathered for a recent training held by a Harvard-affiliated democracy project: They are the linchpins in efforts to defend U.S. elections from an attack by Russia, China or other foreign threats, and developing a military mindset will help them protect the integrity of the vote.

In this Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, photo, a booklet is held up during an exercise run by military and national security officials,…
A booklet held by military and national security officials during an exercise for state and local election officials to simulate different scenarios for the 2020 elections, in Springfield, Va., Dec. 16, 2019.

Election security worries

The need for such training reflects how elections security worries have heightened in the aftermath of the 2016 election, when Russian military agents targeted voting systems across the country as part of a multipronged effort to influence the presidential election. Until then, the job of local election officials could had been described as something akin to a wedding planner who keeps track of who will be showing up on Election Day and ensures all the equipment and supplies are in place and ready to go.

Now, these officials are on the front lines. The federal government will be on high alert, gathering intelligence and scanning systems for suspicious cyber activity as they look to defend the nation’s elections. Meanwhile, it will be the state and county officials who will be on the ground charged with identifying and dealing with any hostile acts.

“It’s another level of war,” said Jesse Salinas, the chief elections official in Yolo County, California, who attended the training. “You only attack things that you feel are a threat to you, and our democracy is a threat to a lot of these nation-states that are getting involved trying to undermine it. We have to fight back, and we have to prepare.”

In this Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, photo, Karen Brenson Bell, from North Carolina, listens during an exercise run by military and…
Karen Brenson Bell, from North Carolina, listens during an exercise run by military and national security officials, for state and local election officials to simulate different scenarios for the 2020 elections, Dec. 16, 2019.

Defending Digital Democracy

Salinas brought four of his employees with him to the training, which was part of the Defending Digital Democracy project based at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. The group has been working actively with former and current military, national security, political and communications experts — many of whom dedicate their time after work and on weekends — to develop training and manuals for state and local election officials. Those involved with leading the training asked for anonymity because of their sensitive positions.

The project’s latest playbook focuses on bringing military best practices to running Election Day operations, encouraging state and local election officials to adopt a “battle staff” command structure with clear roles and responsibilities and standard operating procedures for dealing with minor issues. The project is also providing officials with a free state-of-the-art incident tracking system.

Eric Rosenbach, co-director of the Belfer Center and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served as chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the Obama administration, told the group gathered for the training that it “shouldn’t be lost on you that this is a very military-like model.”

“Let’s be honest about it,” Rosenbach said. “If democracy is under attack and you guys are the ones at the pointy end of the spear, why shouldn’t we train that way? Why shouldn’t we try to give you the help that comes with that model and try to build you up and do all we can?”

Beyond just putting out fires

Instructors stressed the need for election officials to be on the lookout for efforts to disrupt the vote and ensure that communications are flowing up from counties to the state, down from states to the counties, as well as up and down to the federal government and across states.

Piecing together seemingly disparate actions happening in real-time across geographical locations will allow the nation to defend itself, said Robby Mook, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager in 2016. Mook co-founded the Defending Digital Democracy project with Matt Rhoades, Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager.

“Find a way to input data in a consistent, efficient and reliable way to ensure you know what is going on and prevents things from falling through the cracks,” Mook told the election officials. “You got to rise above just putting out fires.”

At the training were officials from California, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia and other states. In one exercise, election officials were paired up as either a state or county under an Election Day scenario, charged with logging incidents and trying to piece together what turned out to be four different coordinated campaigns to disrupt voting.

“One of the big takeaways was just how the lack of one piece of information moving up from the counties to the state or moving from the states to counties, if either of those things don’t happen, it can have a significant impact,” said Stephen Trout, elections director for Oregon.

Trout said he would move quickly to acquire, customize and implement the incident tracking system, which would be an upgrade from the paper process currently in use. Dave Tackett, chief information officer for the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, said he will recommend some structuring changes at his state operations center, including bringing key personnel into the room and incorporating elements of the incident tracking system like mapping and the ability to assign individuals to specific incidents.

“Events like today are helping us zero in on how to structure ourselves better, how to really think in a different mindset so that we can carry out all the different tasks that have to be done with elections,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Elections. “(It’s) the importance of communications, the importance of having standard operating procedures in place so all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed ahead of time and you are prepared for the unknown.”

Botswana’s Ex-President Worries About Decline in Democracy, Rebuffs Corruption Claims

Botswana’s former President Ian Khama is strongly denying allegations of corruption and voicing his concerns about the direction of the country.

In an interview with VOA’s Nightline Africa radio program, Khama said claims made by the administration of current President Mokgweetsi Masisi that he misappropriated billions in the local currency are “laughable.” He said he plans to take the matter to court.

Khama said the false accusation is payback by members of the ruling party for his decision to campaign against them in the recent presidential election. The party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), was founded by Khama’s father.

“The only reason that this was done was because a few months ago I resigned from the ruling party. Because they had abandoned our democratic credentials that we have had such a good reputation with up to this point in time,” he told VOA.

Botswana had an election in October where Khama campaigned against the ruling party.

“They swore that they would ‘get at me and fix me’ in their own words for having done that,” he said.

Earlier this month, Jako Hubona, of Botswana’s Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, accused Khama and two other former high-ranking officials of transferring state funds to personal bank accounts in South Africa and Hong Kong. Only one official, senior intelligence officer Weleminah Maswabi, has been formally charged so far.

Botswana's president Mokgweetsi Masisi attends the World Economic Forum Africa meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, on Sept. 4, 2019, in Cape Town.
Botswana’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi attends the World Economic Forum Africa meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, Sept. 4, 2019, in Cape Town.

Trophy hunting licenses

Khama claims the current president, who previously served as his vice president, has become “drunk on power.” One policy difference between the two men is a decision by Masisi earlier this year to reverse a ban on trophy hunting of elephants. Conservation had been a major part of Khama’s administration.

But Khama said that although he disagrees with the decision, he did not seek to interfere.

“A new administration is at liberty to introduce its own policies. So when he did it I just said, ‘Well that’s fine,’” he said. “He’s the president today. If he wants to bring about those policy changes, he’s quite entitled to do so. I did the same thing. So who am I to try and challenge them?”

Decline in democracy

But Khama is gravely concerned about the state of democracy in his country and the ethics of the party he led for 10 years. He pointed to the fact that the BDP postponed primary elections three times this year and has incurred accusations of cheating. In recent history, Botswana has won accolades from organizations such as Transparency International for being among the least corrupt on the continent. Khama says that reputation is now in jeopardy.

“I would say it’s definitely in decline. If you’ve been following how our elections went, you would see that a number of petitions before the courts about allegations of rigging of the elections. Something certainly went wrong there that we’ve never, ever seen before,” he said.

‘We’re all family now’: Protesters Gather for Free Christmas Dinner in Hong Kong

Hundreds of anti-government protesters and their supporters gathered outside a tiny restaurant in Hong Kong for an unconventional Christmas dinner, sharing paper plates piled high with food under neon street signs.

“Hong Kongers are more united this Christmas (than) in previous years,” said Glory, the 31-year-old owner of Kwong Wing Catering, as he dished out noodles, fried chicken, and pasta from silver trays.

“Actually there is no Christmas atmosphere (this year), but there is a strong sense of unity,” he said. All of the food on offer Wednesday was free and prepared by the restaurant or donated by several sponsors.

Outside the eatery, hundreds of customers, many of them off-duty protesters, waited in line as tourists and other shoppers crowded the popular Tsim Sha Tsui area.

Protesters queue for a free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, China, December 25, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy…
Protesters queue for a free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, Dec. 25, 2019.

Jeanette, a 22-year-old university student, slurped bubble tea and pudding with her friend Yoyo as they discussed their holiday plans.

They would normally spend Christmas with their families, but felt this year had to be different. Both women said they had been involved in peaceful protests since the summer.

“We’re all family now,” said Jeanette, looking around at all of the other supporters eating around her. “We’re here because we want to support this shop, which has supported so many teenagers and protesters on the front line,” said Yoyo between mouthfuls of pudding.

Kwong Wing Catering is one of many businesses that are part of the so-called “yellow economy” across Hong Kong that are known for their support of the pro-democracy campaign. Colorful post-it notes with words of support from customers decorated the restaurant’s windows.

Protesters queue for a free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, China, December 25, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy…
Protesters queue for a free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, Dec. 25, 2019.

One of the chefs scheduled to cook at the eatery became a sort of folk hero after cooking for besieged student protesters at Polytechnic University in November.

He was supposed to cook for his supporters Wednesday, but was arrested by police earlier in the week, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. It was not immediately clear why the chef had been arrested.

Hong Kong has been embroiled in anti-government protests since June which show no signs of abating.

Black-clad protesters marched through Christmas-decorated shopping malls across Hong Kong Wednesday as police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds.

The protesters are angry about what they see as an encroachment by China on the wide-ranging autonomy Hong Kong was guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” framework that governs the former British colony.

China rejects such complaints.

Protesters serve themselves with free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, China, December 25, 2019…
Protesters serve themselves with free Christmas dinner offered by a local restaurant in Hong Kong, Dec. 25, 2019.

Ivan, a 20-year-old university student, said he waited for an hour and a half to receive his hot meal.

“I feel very comforted that someone is willing to cook a meal for us,” he said, adding that Hong Kong still had a “festive” atmosphere despite the protests and clashes with police.

“I just got tear-gassed yesterday so I think it’s very special.”

Wildfire-ravaged Areas of Australia get Holiday Relief

Areas of Australia that have been ravaged by deadly wildfires experienced temporary relief on Wednesday, but oppressive conditions are expected to return this weekend.

About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned nationwide over the past few months, with nine people killed and more than 950 homes destroyed. New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, has received the brunt of the damage, with around 850 homes razed in the state.

Parts of New South Wales, including Sydney, experienced cool and damp conditions on Christmas Day, but more than 70 fires continued to burn across the state. New South Wales has been in a seven-day state of emergency, which was to expire on Wednesday night.

About 2,000 firefighters and 400 firetrucks battled the blazes in more favorable conditions, but high temperatures are set to return. Sydney is forecast to hit 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, while the city’s western suburbs could reach 41 C (106 F).

Fire danger ratings remained very high in northwestern New South Wales, and were between high and moderate for the rest of the state.

In his annual Christmas message, Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to the families of the two firefighters — Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36 — who died last week battling blazes southwest of Sydney.

The wildfire crisis forced Morrison to cut short his much-criticized family vacation in Hawaii. He returned to Australia on Saturday night.

“To Andrew and Geoffrey’s parents, we know this is going to be a tough Christmas for you, first one without both those two amazing men,” he said.

“I want to thank all those who serve our nation, serving as volunteers fighting those fires as we speak,” Morrison added.

Meanwhile, about 200 firefighters continued to battle a wildfire Wednesday in the Adelaide Hills, which is currently at the “watch and act” level issued by the South Australian Country Fire Service.

South Australia state, which last week had 86 homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, is bracing for a return of extreme temperatures, with Adelaide, the state capital, expected to reach 41 C (106 F) on Saturday.

Mongolian Youth Seek to Preserve Reindeer-Based Tradition

Mongolia was once solely a land of nomadic communities moving from location to location, depending on the season. One tribe that has lived in the isolated mountains in the north of the country for generations is the Tsaatan. As the country urbanizes and cities continue to grow, the government has rezoned land on which they were previously free to roam. As Libby Hogan reports from northern Mongolia, young Tsaatan people now face the choice of moving to the city or staying and continuing a traditional nomadic life.

Turkey’s Erdogan in Tunisia for Surprise Talks with President

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Tunisia on Wednesday in a surprise visit for talks with his Tunisian counterpart, his office said, in the first visit by a head of state since Tunisian presidential elections in the autumn.

The visit comes as Turkey has ramped up efforts to strike deals with nations on the Mediterranean, where Ankara has been at odds with Greece over resources off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus.

Last month, Turkey signed a maritime delimitation agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government, a move that enraged Greece. Athens says the deal violates international law, but Ankara says it aims to protect its rights in the region and is in full compliance with maritime laws.

In a statement, Erdogan’s office said he was accompanied by his foreign and defense ministers, as well as his intelligence chief. It provided no further details on the content or purpose of the talks.

The visit is the first by a head of state to Tunisia since the election of President Kais Saied in October, after Tunisian parliamentary elections.

As part of its expanded cooperation with Tunisia’s neighbor Libya, Ankara also signed a military-cooperation deal with Fayez al-Serraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Erdogan has said Turkey may deploy troops in support of the GNA, which has been fighting off a months-long offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces to the east of the country.

On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey may need to draft a bill to send troops into Libya and added the parliament was currently working on it. Ankara’s possible deployment into Libya has also alarmed Russia, which said it was very concerned by such a prospect.

Turkey has already sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations arms embargo, according to a U.N. report seen by Reuters last month.

 

Україна збільшила експорт новорічних іграшок, найбільше купують Нідерланди – торговий представник

Україна у 2019 році в порівнянні з минулим роком збільшила експорт новорічних іграшок, повідомив заступник міністра розвитку економіки, торгівлі та сільського господарства, торговий представник України Тарас Качка у фейсбуці.

«За 10 місяців поточного року поставки виробів для новорічних і різдвяних свят склали 7,5 мільйонів доларів, що більше аналогічного періоду минулого року на 7,7%. У цій святковій групі 83,1% складають вироби зі скла. На інші вироби та прикраси припадає 16,9% експортних поставок. Найбільший імпортер українських ялинкових прикрас – Нідерланди, які займають 34,1% загального експорту новорічних та ялинкових виробів з України та 56,2% експорту до країн ЄС – це ринок Нідерландів. Іншими популярними напрямами експорту ялинкових прикрас є Польща, Німеччина, Білорусь, Швейцарія», – написав Тарас Качка.

Він також додав, що українські ялинкові прикраси представлені і на російському ринку.

«Без українських прикрас Новий рік і Різдво в Росії були би зовсім безнадійними і похмурими, тож там теж активно купували українські яскраві кульки. Суттєво зросли поставки новорічних прикрас за 10 місяців поточного року порівняно з минулорічним періодом до Латвії (у 2,9 рази), Грузії (у 2,4 рази), Молдови (у 2,3 рази), Румунії (у 2,1 рази), США (у 2,1 рази), Італії (у 1,9 рази). Нові ринки для українського святкового настрою – Австрія, Казахстан, Хорватія, Сербія та Кайманові острови, де вони, очевидно прикрашають чийсь затишний офшорчик», – додав торговий представник України.

За даними Мінекономіки, нині Україна експортує ялинкові прикраси у 27 країн світу.

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