South Africa Theater Puts on a Show for the World With Online Season 

South Africa’s Market Theater is one of several African cultural institutions that has recently gone entirely online because of coronavirus restrictions that prevent large gatherings. But for this small institution often known as the “Theater of the Struggle” for its flouting of apartheid-era laws, obstacles are nothing new. Now, the theater hope its artistic message — which touches on local and global events — will resonate beyond the African continent.Johannesburg’s Market Theater is no stranger to struggle. It opened in 1976, at the height of South Africa’s racist apartheid system, and made a point of flouting segregation laws.  And so now, as a global pandemic has made live shows impossible, the institution’s artistic director, James Ngcobo says the show must go on — even if that means it goes online.  He told VOA the acclaimed theater, which has received 21 international awards for its work, is now seizing the opportunity to spread its stories well beyond this country, by streaming its entire season online.  Not only that — it is writing brand-new, topical shows that touch on the issues many South Africans — and people across the world — are facing right now. Ngcobo said he cooked up the plan shortly after South Africa’s government announced a strict total lockdown in late March, shuttering pretty much all non-essential businesses.   
“I then said to my team, ‘we are going on a long pause that we don’t know the pause is going to last for for how long. But our stories can never be on pause.’ And my team said to me. ‘So what do we do?’ And I said, ‘well, we are going to commission some of our finest playwrights to create works for us, that, at the moment, these short plays that are between 20 and 25 minutes, that we are producing for the virtual space.’” South African actor and playwright Paul Slabolepszy says it is more important than ever that art continues to be made. He spoke to VOA on the Google Hangouts platform.   “Without art, we are, we are nothing,” he said. “We explain ourselves, our conversations come through storytelling. If we were living just with the struggles that we have with no hope, life would be terrifying. We need stories all the time. We need to connect in any way we can to feel human.”  National theaters in Algeria and Egypt are also doing live shows online, and Somalia’s National Theater recently reopened for Independence Day celebrations —and hopefully more.   Meanwhile, major theaters on New York’s Broadway and London’s West End have also gone online. Ngcobo says the Market Theater has gotten an enthusiastic response to its online offerings from people in the U.S., Europe and other African countries.    But he laments that the continent’s artistic houses could do more. His theater is communicating with institutions in Ghana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to help them go online.  “In most places around the continent, it’s very sad because some places might not have the infrastructure that you find in other countries that I’ve mentioned, and South Africa. And so we are always looking at an idea of working with countries — especially Anglophone countries,” he said.At the small theater in central Johannesburg, the doors may be closed, and the lights may be off, but the curtain will still rise.  

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Stonewall Jackson Removed From Richmond’s Monument Avenue

Work crews wielding a giant crane, harnesses and power tools wrested an imposing statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson from its concrete pedestal along Richmond, Virginia’s famed Monument Avenue on Wednesday, just hours after the mayor ordered the removal of all Confederate statues from city land.  Mayor Levar Stoney’s decree came weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the most prominent and imposing statue along the avenue: that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which sits on state land. The removal of the Lee statue has been stalled pending the resolution of several lawsuits.  The Jackson statue is the latest of several dozen Confederate symbols to be removed from public land in the U.S. in the five weeks since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police sparked a nationwide protest movement.  In most instances, state or local governments moved to take down monuments in response to impassioned demonstrators, but in a few cases —including several other Virginia Confederate statues — protesters toppled the figures themselves. Also this week, Mississippi retired the last state flag in the U.S. that included the Confederate battle emblem.The statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stands at the Manassas Battlefield Park in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). Jackson was a commander in the First Battle of Bull Run, which marked the first major land battle of the Civil War.Flatbed trucks and other equipment were spotted Wednesday at several other monuments as well. The city has roughly a dozen Confederate statues on municipal land, including one of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Mayor Stoney said it will take several days to remove them.The mayor said he also is moving quickly because he is concerned that people could be hurt trying to take down the gigantic statues themselves. In Portsmouth last month, a man was seriously injured when protesters tried to pull down a Confederate statue.”Failing to remove the statues now poses a severe, immediate and growing threat to public safety,” he said, noting that hundreds of demonstrators have held protests in the city for 33 consecutive days.Stoney said the removal of the statues is “long overdue” and sends a message that the city of Richmond — the onetime capital of the Confederacy — is no longer a place with symbols of oppression and white supremacy.”Those statues stood high for over 100 years for a reason, and it was to intimidate and to show Black and brown people in this city who was in charge,” Stoney said.”I think the healing can now begin in the city of Richmond,” he said.Stoney’s move came on the day a new state law took effect granting control of the monuments to the city. The law outlines a removal process that would take at least 60 days to unfold.But during a City Council meeting Wednesday morning, the mayor balked as the council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to formally vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues.”Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” Stoney said. “I think we need to act today.”Work crews arrived at the Jackson statue about an hour later. 

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Jeffrey Epstein Associate Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested 

Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who was accused by many women of helping procure underage sex partners for Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested Thursday in New Hampshire, the FBI said. Maxwell, who lived for years with Epstein and was his frequent travel companion on trips around the world, was taken into custody around 8:30 a.m., said FBI spokesman Marty Feely. An indictment made public Thursday said Maxwell “assisted, facilitated and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse ” girls under age 18. FILE – This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein.Epstein killed himself in a federal detention center in New York last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Maxwell was accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. Those accusations, until now, never resulted in criminal charges. The indictment included counts of conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and two counts of perjury. Messages were sent Thursday to several of Maxwell’s attorneys seeking comment. She has previously repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called some of the claims against her “absolute rubbish.” FILE – Virginia Giuffre, an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein, leaves after the hearing in the criminal case against Epstein, at Federal Court in New York, Aug. 27, 2019.Among the most sensational accusations was a claim by one Epstein victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, that Maxwell arranged for her to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew at her London townhouse. Giuffre bolstered her allegations with a picture of her, Andrew and Giuffre that she said was taken at the time. Andrew denied her story. Maxwell was described in a lawsuit by another Epstein victim, Sarah Ransome, as the “highest-ranking employee” of Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking enterprise. She oversaw and trained recruiters, developed recruiting plans and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement, the lawsuit alleged.  

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Europe Contains Jobless Rate, But Faces Summer of Discontent

Europe has limited the rise in unemployment caused by the pandemic with a wide array of government support programs, but that cannot hide widespread economic distress and anxiety among workers and small business owners.First the good news: the unemployment rate in the 19 countries that use the euro only inched higher in May, to 7.4 % from 7.3% in April, official figures showed Thursday. Governments used labor market support programs to cushion the impact of the virus outbreak on workers. By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate has hit 13.3%.European governments pay part of workers’ salaries in return for companies not laying them off. Governments have also deployed an array of loan programs and other assistance aimed at employers like Marco Chinappi, whose family runs the three-star Hotel Mayor in Sperlonga, an Italian beach town down the coast from Rome.He was able to take advantage of a state-guaranteed bank loan of 25,000 euros ($28,000) at a low interest rate as well as measures to postpone paying some taxes. That helped him hire back his two seasonal workers, who each get 600 euros in support payments from the government.”With great difficulty, two months of work, I got the loan guaranteed by the government. Thankfully, because we were really in crisis,” he said. “We didn’t have any money.”Chinappi said he still doesn’t know if the assistance will keep the business afloat, given the hotel was already having financial difficulties and guests are only starting to “timidly” book rooms that would normally have been full by now.Gianni Cammisola, who sells cured meats, locally made quiche and imported Spanish jamon in the same town also relied on the government loan to keep his family-run business going.”I have a wife, two kids and I’m earning less this year. The 25,000 (euros) will let me feed the kids, especially if we have another lockdown,” he said. Cammisola estimates he lost 15,000 euros during the enforced closure, which coincided with the start of peak tourist season in the days around Easter and two big holidays April 25 and May 1.But he knows that Sperlonga is lucky, since it typically caters to Roman and Neapolitan tourists, and said the recent June 29 holiday long weekend was packed.”We lost April and May. But last weekend was like Ferragosto,” he said, referring to the Aug. 15 holiday that marks the peak of the Italian summer tourist season. “Thanks be to God,” he said, making the sign of the cross amid his salamis.The government support programs are being used across Europe to contain a surge in unemployment. In Germany, the eurozone’s largest economy, 6.7 million people were still on wage support programs in June. The program pays at least 60% of missing pay when workers are put on shorter hours or no hours.The government support for wages is granted because the companies are not to blame for the economic trouble – countries around the world have had to limit business, travel and public life to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The idea is to support the recovery since companies will not have to recruit and train new workers, having kept their staff.Another less positive factor limiting the jobless rate is that people have dropped out of the labor force and are no longer looking for work. That could be because they are limited by confinement measures, or because they have to take care of their children who are not in school or daycare because of the lockdowns.Eurostat estimated that 12.1 million people were unemployed in the countries that use the euro. The agency said that in order to fully capture the unprecedented labor market situation, its upcoming quarterly labor survey to be published July 9 would have additional information about underemployment and job market dropouts.The European Commission says the 19 countries that use the euro will see their economy contract 7.75% this year. 

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Top Intelligence Officials Set to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress Thursday on what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone will meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) FILE – American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan.Credible reports
New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, July 1, 2020, in Washington.Pompeo downplays concerns
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, July 1, 2020.Not taken lightly
Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

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Russian Voters Clear Path for Putin to Remain in President Until 2036

Voters in Russia have approved a package of constitutional reforms that includes opening the possibility that President Vladimir Putin can remain president until 2036.  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday the result was a “triumph.” Opposition officials and independent election observers cast doubts on the legitimacy of the voting, which ended Wednesday, noting among other concerns that turnout seemed artificially high in some areas.“We’ll never recognize this result,” opposition politician Alexei Navalny said.Election officials said the voting was carried out with integrity.The 67-year-old Putin has led Russia either as president or prime minister for more than two decades, and the reforms allow him to run for two more six-year terms after his current term runs out in 2024.With most of the votes counted, election officials said voters had approved the package 77.9% to 21.3%.  Putin has said he will decide closer to 2024 as to whether he would run for another term.Also included in the constitutional reforms are protections for pensions and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.The voting took place over the course of a week so that polling places could minimize crowds due to coronavirus concerns. 

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For California Theater Producers, The Show Must Go On, Even During Pandemic

As the number of COVID cases continue to rise in the United States, theater producers seek out ways to stay connected to their art and audience and keep actors employed. Deana Mitchell explores what happens when the show that must go on struggles during a pandemic.
Camera, Producer: Deana Mitchell

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Russian Voters Back Reforms Allowing Putin to Stay Until 2036

Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.With just over 85 percent of ballots counted after the end of seven days of voting, 77.8 percent of voters had supported the reforms, according to election commission figures cited by Russian state agencies.There had been little doubt that voters would back the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a maneuver to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life. FILE – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during a rally in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 29, 2019.But top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny slammed the results as a “huge lie” that don’t reflect real public opinion.The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia’s parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.The reforms include conservative and populist measures — like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage — but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024.Turnout as of 2000 GMT was about 65 percent, the election commission said.The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes — including apartments, cars and cash — on offer to voters.Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases. ‘Stability, security, prosperity’In a final appeal to voters on Tuesday, Putin said the changes were needed to ensure Russia’s future “stability, security, prosperity.”State television showed Putin voting Wednesday at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was handed a ballot by an electoral worker wearing a surgical mask and gloves. Russian President Vladimir Putin shows his passport to a member of a local electoral commission as he arrives to cast his ballot in a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms at a polling station in Moscow, July 1, 2020.Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Putin was not wearing any protective gear.At a polling station in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, 79-year-old Valentina Kungurtseva told AFP she supported the reforms.”For us as pensioners, it’s very important that they will increase our pension every year,” she said.”As long as we have a good president, life will be good,” she said.In the second city, Saint Petersburg, 20-year-old Sergei Goritsvetov said he opposed the reforms but doubted it would make any difference.”I voted against and I hope there will be many of us, but I don’t know what it will change,” he said. “At least I expressed my opinion.” A woman holds a placard reading “No to everlasting Putin” as she protests amendments to the Constitution of Russia on Pushkinskaya Square in downtown Moscow, July 1, 2020.Navalny had said Putin, 67 and in power as president or prime minister since 2000, wants to make himself “president for life” and called for a boycott, calling the vote illegitimate.”We have just watched a show with a planned finale,” he wrote on his blog after polls closed.”Putin will not leave himself,” Navalny wrote, “not until we begin to come out to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, by millions.”The opposition divided and failed to mount a serious campaign, with some voting “no” and others staying home. There were only small protests Wednesday in central Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Falling approval ratings Golos, an independent election monitor, said it had received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers were putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station after a nationwide vote on constitutional reforms in Moscow, July 1, 2020.Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova denied any problems on Wednesday, saying only a couple of violations were confirmed and they would have no effect on the result.Putin’s approval rating has fallen in recent months. It stood at 60 percent in June according to pollster Levada, down 20 points from the months after his reelection in 2018.Analysts say Putin wanted to get the vote over with before Russians — already suffering from several years of falling incomes — are hit by the full economic impact of the pandemic.Putin said in a recent interview that he had not decided whether to run again but suggested that part of the reason for the presidential reset was to allow Russia’s political elite to focus on governing instead of “hunting for possible successors.”
 

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White House Sending Top Intelligence Officials to Brief Congress on Alleged Russian Bounties

Top U.S. intelligence officials are set to brief key members of Congress about what is known — and what is not known — about an alleged Russian plot to pay militants for attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.The White House on Wednesday confirmed CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone would meet with members of the so-called Gang of Eight on Thursday.The meeting will be the first chance for lawmakers to hear directly from veteran intelligence officials about reports that Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to target and kill U.S. and allied troops.Until now, briefings on the allegations have been led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. representative who was sworn in just over a month ago, along with national security adviser Robert O’Brien and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom have served in their roles less than a year.The three have repeatedly told lawmakers that information on the alleged Russian bounty program could not be confirmed, defending the decision not to bring the intelligence to the attention of President Donald Trump.”The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval, in the Oval intelligence briefing, was a senior career civil servant,” O’Brien told White House reporters earlier on Wednesday. “And she made that decision because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence that came out.”O’Brien also said the White House was working on potential responses to Russia should additional intelligence lend credibility to the initial reports.”These are important allegations that, if they’re verified, I can guarantee you the president will take strong action” he said. “We’ve been working for several months on options.”But other officials, when pressed, refused to elaborate on what might come next.”I won’t get ahead of the president on action. I also won’t get ahead of the intelligence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during a White House briefing, saying the intelligence remained unverified.And Trump himself on Wednesday continued to dismiss the alleged Russian plot as a hoax, first on Twitter and later during an interview with Fox Business News.“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020″We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” the president said.”The intelligence people, many of them didn’t believe it happened at all,” he added. “I think it’s a hoax based on the newspapers and the Democrats.”New media reports, however, are challenging that assertion.The Reuters news agency, citing four U.S. and European government sources, reported Wednesday that the U.S. had acquired fresh intelligence in recent weeks that lent credibility to the claims Russia was offering Taliban-linked militants bounties to attack U.S. and coalition troops.Current and former Taliban officials have also come forward, claiming that the bounty program was real.“Individual commanders have been receiving money and weapons from Russian intelligence,” Moulani Baghdadi, a Taliban commander from Ghazni, told Business Insider when asked about the bounties. “These are criminal groups that work alongside the mujahedeen and give us a bad reputation.”Mullah Manan Niazi, a onetime spokesman for former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, told The Daily Beast such a program would not be unusual.“The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on U.S. forces — and on ISIS forces ù in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present,” he said.U.S. defense and intelligence officials have long been concerned about Russian interference in Afghanistan, complaining repeatedly that Moscow has been providing the Taliban with weapons and training.A new Pentagon report released Wednesday, while making no mention of the alleged bounties, warned Russian involvement is growing.“Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter ISIS [Islamic State terror group] operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report said.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tried to downplay concerns.“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “The Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years. We have objected to it.”“When we see credible information that suggests that the Russians are putting American lives at risk, we’re responding in a way that is serious,” he added.Still, Democratic lawmakers Wednesday continued to express dissatisfaction and frustration with the Trump administration’s handling of the intelligence.“If true, these reports detail an astounding escalation by an already aggressive adversary and the President’s dereliction of his most sacred responsibility to protect the lives of the American people,” Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter demanding Pompeo testify before Congress.Other Democrats were even more critical.“If this does not count as treason, I don’t know what does,” Democratic Representative Seth Moulton said during a call with reporters Wednesday. “If the most junior officer in the United States military ignores an intelligence report delivered to him or her, as we know this intelligence report was delivered to the commander in chief, then that junior officer would absolutely be in prison.”Despite the lack of agreement on the intelligence about the alleged Russian plot to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack and kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials insist the threat was not taken lightly, and that precautions were put in place. And White House officials said there is no evidence any U.S. troops were harmed.”We always act in the best interest of our troops,” McEnany told reporters late Wednesday.“The Defense Department has said they do not know of any Americans that have been killed in relation to this unverified intelligence that’s currently being assessed,” she added.VOA’s Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this story. 

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Richmond Orders Removal of Confederate Statues on City Land

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on Wednesday ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues on city land, saying he was using his emergency powers to speed up the healing process for the former capital of the Confederacy amid weeks of protests over police brutality and racial injustice.Work crews began removing a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson early Wednesday afternoon. Flatbed trucks and other equipment were also spotted at several other Confederate monuments along Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.
Another famous statue on city land is that of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had previously ordered the most prominent statue along the avenue, that of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which sits on state land. The removal has been stalled pending the resolution of a lawsuit from at least two people who oppose its removal.The statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stands at the Manassas Battlefield Park in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). Jackson was a commander in the Battle of Manassas, which marked the first major land battle of the Civil War.Stoney said he was also moving quickly because protesters have already toppled several Confederate monuments and is concerned that people could be hurt trying to take down the gigantic statues.
“We have an urgent need to protect the public,” Stoney said in a statement.
Stoney’s move came on the day a new state law took effect granting control of the monuments to the city. The law outlines a removal process that would take at 60 days to unfold.
But during a City Council meeting Wednesday morning, Stoney balked as the council scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to formally vote on a resolution calling for the immediate removal of the statues.
“Today, I have the ability to do this through my emergency powers,” Stoney said. “I think we need to act today.”
About an hour later, work crews were spotted near the Jackson statue.
Videos posted on Twitter showed workers being lifted in a crane to the top of the statue and attempting to attach something to it.
During Wednesday’s meeting, city councilors expressed support for removing the statues, but several councilors said the council needed to follow the proper legal process.
Interim city attorney Haskell Brown said any claim that Stoney has the authority to remove the statues without following the state process would contradict legal advice he has previously given the council and administration.
Stoney and several city councilors said they were concerned that the statues have become a public safety hazard during weeks of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In Portsmouth, one man was seriously injured as protesters tried to pull down a Confederate statue. 

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With US Off EU’s Coronavirus Safe List, Parisians to Miss a Popular Visitor

After months of coronavirus restrictions, the European Union began reopening its borders to visitors Wednesday from 14 countries it considers safe. That list does not include the United States, where the virus is resurging in some states. Public health is at stake, but from Paris, the world’s most visited city, Lisa Bryant reports the travel ban also reflects widening transatlantic differences.

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Turkish President Calls for Tighter Social Media Controls

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he would tighten controls on social media, days after remarks were made on Twitter about his daughter and son-in-law.“Turkey is not a banana republic,” Erdogan said in a televised address to his party members. “We will snub those who snub this country’s executive and judicial bodies.”Erdogan’s eldest daughter, Esra Erdogan, and his son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak reportedly received what were called insulting tweets after the couple announced the birth of their fourth child on social media.Eleven of 19 Twitter users who allegedly insulted Erdogan’s family were detained, Turkish police said in a statement on Wednesday.“Do you understand now why we are against social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix?” Erdogan ask while addressing his party. “These platforms do not suit this nation. We want to shut down, control [them] by bringing [a bill] to parliament as soon as possible.”Rights groups have accused Erdogan of using the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to tighten controls on the media, with only a few independent publications continuing to report on the Turkish president’s handling of the pandemic.Turkey’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, called Twitter a “propaganda machine” after it recently suspended 7,340 accounts. Twitter said the accounts were “employing coordinated inauthentic activity” promoting favorable narratives to Erdogan and his party. 

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