Traveling Kenyan Music Producer Gives Hope to Rural Artists

A Kenyan music producer is taking his work to remote villages to record up-and-coming artists on location to offer something new and different for Kenya’s competitive music industry.Producer Presta George imagined how difficult it must be for village artists to get their songs on the radio, let alone become famous.And that’s where George found his calling – in the southwest town of Awendo.But the town of 16,000 people is not where he does most of his recordings.”I though it wise to bring these studios to the local people, so that at least they can compete, or they can sell their products,” George said.Every weekend George packs all the equipment he needs to record complete albums on location and in remote areas and hits the road.The country roads are inaccessible by car so, he travels by motorcycle – balancing instruments, a laptop, and recording equipment. From soloists to church choirs, this traveling producer’s goal is to find music that otherwise wouldn’t get distributed.In the remote village of Ko’molo Rume, George records the choir of the Obama Seventh-Day Adventist Church, named after the U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya.Choir leader Hockey Otieno says George helped them record four albums, which would not have been possible otherwise in their village of less than 1,000 people.  “This opportunity where we can get a studio where we are will make us air out the good talents that we have, which could not be heard at all,” Otieno said. Making his clients’ dreams a reality can come at a cost for George as many village artists cannot afford to pay for production.But George says it is worth the risk to discover up-and-coming talent that would otherwise get missed by Nairobi’s big production houses.Jackson Rakama, known by his stage name “Jegede,” is a Nairobi recording artist and music producer.”If you want to be successful in the music business, you have to move to Nairobi…unfortunately. So, the idea of moving studio is a very brilliant idea,” Rakama said. “You take the studio to the people so that they can get that quality. We should do more of that so that we can empower the local artists so that they can get access to the, you know, quality audios.”Kenya’s music industry insiders say success comes down to technology and the popularity of artists.George says he’s confident his travelling studio can get ahead of the competition.

Russia Registers Vaccine to Protect Animals from COVID-19

Russia says it registered the world’s first vaccine for animals against the COVID-19 virus on Wednesday — with government officials hailing an inoculation labeled ‘Carnivac-Cov’ as a victory in the global race to protect both animals and humans from further mutations of the coronavirus.“The clinical trials of Carnivac-Cov, which started last October, involved dogs, cats, Arctic foxes, minks, foxes and other animals,” said  Konstantin Savenkov, Deputy Head of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s agricultural watchdog agency, in a statement announcing the vaccine.“The results allow us to conclude that the vaccine is harmless and provides high immunity, in such as the animals who were tested developed antibodies to the coronavirus in 100% of cases,” added Savenkov.Savenkov added that the shot currently provided immunity of up to 6 months — and could be in production in the coming weeks.The Russian announcement came just a day after the World Health Organization issued a report exploring the origins of COVID-19 in China.  The WHO study offered no firm conclusions but suggested the most likely source lay in animals — specifically, a bat.The U.S. has expressed reservations about what some US officials believe are the Chinese government’s efforts to skew the report’s findings.Studies have repeatedly documented select cases of COVID-19 infecting both domesticated and captive animals around the globe — including common household pets such as cats and dogs, as well as farmed mink and several animals in zoos.Mutation fearsScientists have raised concerns that the virus could subsequently mutate to other host animals — and eventually circulate back to humans.Last November, Denmark ordered the mass extermination of 15 million mink after a mutated variation of COVID-19 was discovered on more than 200 farms in the region.Danish officials noted the measure was grim necessity after a dozen people were found have been infected by a mutated COVID-19 strain.Rosselkhoznadzor’s Savenkov said the new Russian vaccine was intended primarily to protect household pets and farmed captive animals important to the global economy — as well as the humans in contact with them.“People and animals we live together on one planet and both are in contact with a great number of infections,” said Tatiana Galkina, a lead researcher behind Carnivac-Cov in a promotional video released to Youtube.“Of course in the future, we’re not insured against new viral infections. Therefore science should keep advancing and be a step ahead,” added Galkina, while petting a purring cat.Another video released to social media shows officials administering the vaccine to a plump white mink at a Russian fur farm.В России зарегистрировали первую в мире вакцину для животных от коронавируса
Препарат получил название «Карнивак-Ков». Клинические испытания препарата провели на кошках, собаках, песцах, норках, и лисах. В Россельхознадзоре даже показали, как прививают на примере норок
— ФедералПресс (@FederalPress) March 31, 2021While the inoculation will face further peer review, Carnivac-Cov appears the latest example of Russia’s flexing its scientific muscle in the global race against the coronavirus pandemic.Last August, President Vladimir Putin claimed his nation was first to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 for humans with its Sputnik V inoculation. The announcement faced heavy skepticism for claiming a Russian victory before standard third phase trials had even begun.Subsequent international reviews later showed the Russian vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 90%.

EU Commission Refers Poland to Europe’s Top Court Regarding Judiciary Independence

The European Commission announced Wednesday it is referring the Polish government to the European Court of Justice — Europe’s top court — for undermining the independence of that country’s judiciary through a reform law passed in 2019. The commission, the European Union’s executive arm, further asked the European court to impose interim measures to prevent the law from being enforced while the issue is considered. The Polish law in question, which went into effect in February 2020, prevents judges from referring questions of law to the European Court of Justice and creates a body — the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court — that rules over judges without regard to EU law. FILE – EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders speaks during a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 17, 2021.At a news conference in Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said the mere prospect of judges having to face a body whose independence is not guaranteed created a “chilling effect” for the judiciary and makes them subject to the ruling party of the government. The law also includes the lifting of immunity to bring criminal proceedings against judges, temporarily suspend them, and reduce their salaries. Reynders noted the commission had originally expressed its concern about the law last April, and Wednesday’s action “is a crucial step in the infringement procedure concerning the Polish law on the judiciary.” The commission took further steps regarding the law in October and December. On his Twitter account Wednesday, Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said the commission’s referral to the European Court of Justice “has no legal and factual justification. Regulation of the area related to the administration of justice belongs to the exclusive national domain.”

Why Diverse Children’s Books Matter to America’s Future

The United States is becoming an increasingly diverse country. With whites expected to account for less than 50-percent of the population by 2045, there’s a push to make books for children as diverse as the nation itself. As VOA’s Dora Mekouar reports, experts say the success level of future American adults could be at stake.Camera:  Griffin Harrington
Producer: Marcus Harton

Italian Naval Officer, Russian Detained on Spying Charges

Italian authorities said Wednesday they have arrested an Italian Navy captain on spying charges after he was allegedly caught giving classified documents to a Russian embassy official in exchange for money. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador, Sergey Razov, after the sting operation late Tuesday caught the two in what police said was a “clandestine operation” to exchange the goods. Italy’s Carabinieri paramilitary police said in a statement that the Italian official, who is a frigate captain, had been arrested. The Russian, a member of the Russian armed forces stationed at Moscow’s embassy to Italy, has been detained but his status is “under consideration” given his diplomatic position, the statement said. Italy’s special operations forces in Rome staged the operation “during a clandestine operation between the two, surprising them red-handed immediately after the handing over of classified documents by the Italian official in exchange for a sum of money,” the statement said. The Carabinieri said both were accused of “serious crimes concerning espionage and state security.” The Russian Embassy in Rome confirmed the detention of a diplomat who was part of the military attache’s office but wouldn’t comment on the incident. “In any case, we hope that it wouldn’t affect bilateral ties,” it said in a statement. 

Germany Limits Use of Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Because of Fears of Blood Clots 

Germany has limited the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to people 60 years of age and older due to concerns that it may be causing blood clots.   Federal and state health authorities cited nearly three-dozen cases of blood clots known as cerebral sinus vein thrombosis in its decision Tuesday, including nine deaths.  The country’s medical regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, says all but two of the cases involved women between the ages of 20 and 63.    The nationwide order was made after several local governments, including Berlin, Munich and the states of Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, had already decided to limit the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to older residents.   Health authorities say younger people who belong to a high-risk category for serious illness from COVID-19 can still get the vaccine, while people 60 and younger who have received the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot can still receive the second shot as planned. About 2.7 million Germans have been inoculated with the vaccine. The decision is likely to further slow down Germany’s already sluggish vaccination campaign, and marks another setback for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has had a troubled rollout across the world. Several European countries had briefly stopped use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because of similar reports of blood clots, until the  European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Union’s drug approval body, declared the vaccine as safe.German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Health Minister Jens Spahn brief the media after a virtual meeting with federal state governors at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, March 30, 2021.Germany’s decision came a day after Canada said it would stop offering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to people under age 55 because of concerns of serious blood clots, especially among younger women.   Also on Tuesday, the United States and 13 other nations issued a statement raising “shared concerns” about the newly released World Health Organization report on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19. The statement, released on the U.S. State Department website, as well as the other signatories, said it was essential to express concerns that the international expert study on the source of the virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples. The WHO formally released its report earlier Tuesday, saying while the report presents a comprehensive review of available data, “we have not yet found the source of the virus.”  The team reported difficulties in accessing raw data, among other issues, during its visit to the city of Wuhan, China earlier this year. The researchers also had been forced to wait days before receiving final permission by the Chinese government to enter Wuhan. The joint statement by the United States and others went on to say, “scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”  The nations expressed their concerns in the hope of laying “a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crisis.” Along with the United States, the statement was signed by the governments of Australia, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, and Slovenia. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday further study and more data are needed to confirm if the virus was spread to humans through the food chain or through wild or farmed animals.   Tedros said that while the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, the matter requires further investigation. WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek told reporters Tuesday that it is “perfectly possible” COVID-19 cases were circulating as far back as November or October 2019 around Wuhan, earlier than has been documented regarding the spread of the virus. 

US Olympics Committee Sets Rules for Protests at US Olympic Trials

Athletes competing in the U.S. Olympic trials can protest, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said Tuesday, including kneeling or raising a clenched fist on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem. In a detailed document, the USOPC outlined a wide range of ways athletes can advocate for racial and social justice but drew the line at what will be unacceptable, including wearing a hat or face mask with a hate symbol or hate speech on it. In an open letter sent to Team USA athletes, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said the organization “values the voices of athletes and believes that their right to advocate for racial and social justice as a positive force for change aligns with the fundamental values of equality that define Team USA and the Olympic and Paralympic movements.” FILE – United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland listens during a briefing with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Los Angeles 2028 organizers in Beverly Hills, Calif., Feb. 18, 2020.The USOPC made it clear that the guidelines are only meant for the U.S. Olympic trials and not the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to open on July 23. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its own guidelines with Rule 50 prohibiting protests and demonstrations. The USOPC said guidance for the Tokyo Games will be published separately in the coming months once the IOC issues its updated policies. Current IOC rules say, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The relaxing of rules is an about face for the USOPC which sanctioned two athletes for protesting police brutality and racial injustice during medal presentations at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima. Fencer Race Imboden knelt during the national anthem while hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist. The USOPC later placed both athletes on 12-month probations. Under new guidelines, these demonstrations will be acceptable. Athletes will also be allowed to wear a hat or mask with messages such as “Black Lives Matter” or “equality” or “justice” and use their voices outside trials venues in other forums such as social media and the press. 

US, 13 Other Nations Concerned About WHO COVID Origins Report

The United States and 13 other nations issued a statement Tuesday raising “shared concerns” about the newly released World Health Organization report on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The statement, released on the U.S. State Department website, as well as the other signatories, said it was essential to express concerns that the international expert study on the source of the virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.
The WHO formally released its report earlier Tuesday, saying while the report presents a comprehensive review of available data, “we have not yet found the source of the virus.”  The team reported difficulties in accessing raw data, among other issues, during its visit to the city of Wuhan, China, earlier this year.
The researchers also had been forced to wait days before receiving final permission by the Chinese government to enter Wuhan.
The joint statement by the U.S. and others went on to say, “scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”  The nations expressed their concerns in the hope of laying “a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises.”
Along with the U.S., the statement was signed by the governments of Australia, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, and Slovenia.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday further study and more data are needed to confirm if the virus was spread to humans through the food chain or through wild or farmed animals.  
Tedros said that while the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, the matter requires further investigation.
WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek told reporters Tuesday that it is “perfectly possible” COVID-19 cases were circulating as far back as November or October 2019 around Wuhan, earlier than has been documented regarding the spread of the virus.

Germany Extends COVID-19 Border Restrictions with Czech Republic

German officials said Wednesday the country will extend COVID-19-related border restrictions with the Czech Republic for another two weeks as they try to bring the third wave of coronavirus outbreaks under control.At a Berlin news conference, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the COVID-19 situation is still “not stable” in the Czech Republic and will ask border patrols to check anyone wishing to enter Germany from the nation to provide a negative test and then go into quarantine for 14 days.Seehofer said the situation in Austria’s Tyrol region has “improved considerably,” so he will be allowing border controls for that region to expire.  But he told reporters he has asked German border patrols to conduct random spot checks along all of Germany’s borders, including France, Denmark and Poland, over the next two weeks, particularly after the Easter holiday.The announcement comes as rules came into force making testing mandatory for all air travelers to Germany, regardless of whether they come from a risk area or an area with virus mutants.The tougher measures take effect as Germany struggles to slow a rise in coronavirus infections, driven by new, more contagious virus strains. Experts warn that the vaccination pace remains too slow to break a third wave of the pandemic.

Vatican Banishes Retired Polish Archbishop Over Sex Allegations

The Vatican banished the former archbishop of Gdansk in Poland on Monday following an investigation into negligence over sex abuse allegations. The announcement came from the Vatican’s embassy in Warsaw. The investigation into Archbishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz, who retired last August, began in November of last year. “Acting on the basis of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law … the Holy See, as a result of formal notifications, conducted proceedings concerning the reported negligence of Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz in cases of sexual abuse committed by some clergy towards minors and other issues related to the management of the archdiocese,” said the apostolic nunciature. A statement from the apostolic nunciature said Glodz may not live in the territory of the archdiocese of Gdansk, nor may he attend religious celebrations or secular meetings there. In addition, Glodz will be paying a “suitable sum” to the Saint Joseph Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to victims of abuse. In 2019, priests in Gdansk accused Glodz of covering up cases of sexual abuse. At the time, Glodz denied any wrongdoing. Glodz was included in a report by people who said they were survivors of abuse. The report identified two dozen current and retired Polish bishops who have been accused of protecting predator priests. The report was delivered to Pope Francis on the evening of his 2019 global abuse prevention summit at the Vatican. Glodz could not be contacted for comment as his whereabouts were not known. The Gdansk archdiocese told Reuters it had received the decision but did not provide any further comment. 

Pandemic Apologies and Defiance: Europe’s Leaders Increasingly Rattled

European leaders are handling rising public frustration, economic distress and mounting coronavirus case numbers in different ways, with most showing the strain of dealing with a yearlong pandemic, say analysts and commentators, who add that the leaders seem to be rattled by a third wave of infections sweeping the continent.A defiant French President Emmanuel Macron defended his decision to avoid a lockdown as the infection rate climbed in January, telling reporters last week he had “no remorse” and would not acknowledge any failure for the deepening coronavirus crisis engulfing France.“There won’t be a mea culpa from me,” said Macron.In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel last week apologized to Germans for her initial decision — now rescinded — to lock the country down tight for Easter. She called the idea a mistake and apologized after a hastily arranged videoconference with the country’s 16 state governors.German Chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from lawmakers at German parliament Bundestag in Berlin, March 24, 2021.But she urged fellow Germans to be more optimistic and stop complaining about restrictions and vaccine delays.“You can’t get anywhere if there’s always a negative,” she said. “It is crucial whether the glass is half full or half empty.”Merkel has likened the third wave of rising coronavirus infections to “living in a new pandemic” and encouraged Germans to test themselves once a week with rapid tests provided by authorities.In France, medical directors from the Paris public health system warned in a statement to Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper that soaring infections are overwhelming the capital’s hospitals. As in Bergamo, Italy, a year ago, they say medical staff will soon have to choose which patients to treat.“We’re going straight into the wall,” said Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist in France. “We’re already saturated, and it’s become totally untenable. We can no longer take in non-COVID patients. It is completely mad,” she told French radio.France’s Health Ministry reported 37,014 new coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the country’s total number of infections to over 4.5 million. Over 94,000 people in the country have died from the virus.Medical staff work in the intensive care unit where COVID-19 patients are treated at Cambrai hospital, France, March 25, 2021.Across Europe, 20,000 people are dying per week, more than a year ago, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO has urged governments to get back to basics in their handling of the pandemic. Central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states are also being hit hard with cases, hospitalizations and deaths — among the highest in the world.Political repercussionsThe pandemic has claimed two political positions, as well. The coalition government in Italy headed by Giuseppe Conte collapsed last month amid a dispute about how to spend European Union recovery funds.On Sunday, embattled Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič announced his resignation to end a monthlong political crisis sparked by his decision to buy the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine to make up for a shortfall in vaccines distributed by the EU.Prime Minister Igor Matovic, front, announces the resignation of Health Minister Marek Krajci, left, in Bratislava, March 11, 2021.Matovič will switch places with current Finance Minister Eduard Heger, who will become the new prime minister of the fractious four-party coalition government.Under public pressure to get a grip on the crisis, some leaders appear to be increasingly nervous about the possible electoral repercussions from more lockdowns, deaths and likely more months of reduced economic activity, which means more bankruptcies.According to a pan-Europe opinion poll conducted for the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based NGO in partnership with European parliamentary groups, Europeans, especially in the East and center of the continent, are becoming increasingly gloomy about their economic prospects. Pessimism is especially pronounced among low-income Europeans.More than 40% of respondents from Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, Poland and Spain told pollsters they feel their financial situation will get worse. With the gloom mounting, governments appear to be lashing out, according to some commentators, with efforts being made to find scapegoats for the worsening crisis.A vendor waits outside her stall at a deserted market in Budapest, Hungary, March 25, 2021.British officials argue that the ongoing dispute between Britain and the EU over supplies to Europe of the AstraZeneca vaccine are part of an effort to shift blame. The EU claims it is not getting a fair share of doses, thanks to behind-the-scenes British shenanigans — an accusation London vehemently denies.The British media have also lambasted European leaders for what they say are false accusations, with Macron being seen as largely behind the distraction. “There is now a systematic attempt by his (Macron’s) entourage to blame the unfolding debacle on the British, trying to create a sense that everything would be on track were it not for the U.K.’s refusal to hand over AstraZeneca vaccines,” said British columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.Policy U-turns are coming thick and fast — another sign of political disarray, analysts say.Merkel on Sunday — just days after relenting on a tight Easter lockdown — blamed regional governments for failing to take the crisis seriously enough and for easing restrictions despite rapidly rising infection rates.She threatened to centralize Germany’s pandemic response and override regional powers, a move that would be legally and politically risky and would undermine traditional German federalism. 

Indians Gather for Holi Celebrations as Virus Cases Surge

Hindus threw colored powder and sprayed water in massive Holi celebrations Monday despite many Indian states restricting gatherings to try to contain a coronavirus resurgence rippling across the country.  
Holi marks the advent of spring and is widely celebrated throughout Hindu-majority India. Most years, millions of people throw colored powder at each other in outdoor celebrations. But for the second consecutive year, people were encouraged to stay at home to avoid turning the festivities into superspreader events amid the latest virus surge.
India’s confirmed infections have exceeded 60,000 daily over the past week from a low of about 10,000 in February. On Monday, the health ministry reported 68,020 new cases, the sharpest daily rise since October last year. It took the nationwide tally to more than 12 million.
Daily deaths rose by 291 and the virus has so far killed 161,843 people in the country.
The latest surge is centered in the western state of Maharashtra where authorities have tightened travel restrictions and imposed night curfews. It is considering a strict lockdown.
Cases are also rising in the capital New Delhi and states of Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
The surge coincides with multi-stage state elections marked by large gatherings and roadshows, and the Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, celebrated in northern Haridwar city, where tens of thousands of Hindu devotees daily take a holy dip into the Ganges river.
Health experts worry that unchecked gatherings can lead to clusters, adding the situation can be controlled if vaccination is opened up for more people and COVID-19 protocols are strictly followed.
India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, has vaccinated around 60 million people, of which only 9 million have received both doses of vaccine so far.
However, more than 60 million doses manufactured in India have been exported abroad, prompting widespread criticism that domestic needs should be catered to first.
The government said last week that there would be no immediate increase in exports. It said vaccines will be given to everyone over 45 starting April 1.

Spain Looks at Human Trafficking Side of Prostitution 

Adebi works in the shadows on La Rambla, Barcelona’s famous boulevard. In normal times, she tries to attract tourists or locals who are out for a night out on the city. The 36-year-old has lived in Spain for 10 years but when she arrived in her adopted home from Nigeria, prostitution was hardly what she had in mind. “I wanted to come here and do domestic work, you know, send money back home. It has not been like that,” she told VOA. Adebi, who did not want to use her real name, is like many other women who have been tricked into prostitution by well-organized sex trafficking gangs, who demand that the women pay off a debt by selling themselves for sex. Prostitution has boomed in Spain since decriminalizing the practice in 1995. The country became known as the brothel of Europe after a 2011 United Nations report said it was the third biggest capital of the sex trade after Thailand and Puerto Rico. The sex trade is worth $25 billion per year and about 500,000 people work in unlicensed brothels, according to data from Eurostat, the European Union Statistics agency.  About 80% of these women are victims of sex traffickers, say Spanish National Police officials. New legislation Now, Spain’s leftist coalition government wants to ban prostitution by bringing in a new law that would attempt to penalize anyone profiting from the sex trade. “We are on the right path, which has to end in national legislation against prostitution and trafficking, which says that our sexuality is available to men that we are a commodity which is bought and sold,” said Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo last week. “There is trafficking because there is prostitution; if there is no prostitution there is no trafficking. We are abolitionists.” Prostitution occupies something of a legal limbo in Spain; selling yourself for sex is not illegal but profiting from it is. According to Spanish law, sex trafficking is when one person moves, detains or transports someone else for the purpose of profiting from their prostitution using fraud, force or coercion. Previous attempts to bring in a national law have floundered because political parties could not agree. Calvo has the support of the far-left Unidas Podemos party, the junior partner in the coalition government, but seeks to win over the opposition conservative People’s Party and regional parties. More harm than good? Nacho Pardo, a spokesman for the Committee to Support Sex Workers, CATS, believes banning prostitution will harm the very people it is designed to help. 
“This will not eradicate prostitution. It will not offer people working in prostitution and it will help the mafias in the same way as happened in the US when prohibited alcohol,” he told VOA in a telephone interview.  “I think it will be catastrophic.” CATS helps about 2,000 prostitutes in southeastern Spain each year, of which about 10% were victims of sex trafficking, says Pardo. He said many women, men and transsexuals from Africa and South America, became involved in the sex trade in Spain because sex traffickers insisted they pay off debts.  The traffickers demand payment for the cost of smuggling the sex workers and finding them work, but advocates say the alleged debts in reality amount to swindling and extortion.  Nigerian women form the largest group of Africans who operate in Spain, Pardo said. Romanians form the largest group of foreign prostitutes in Spain, followed by women from the Dominican Republic and Colombia. “Most feel deep shame about being involved in the sex trade,” he said. FILE – Women hold a giant banner reading ‘Abolition of prostitution’ during a demonstration to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Madrid on Nov. 25, 2019.Rocío Mora, who has been campaigning against sex trafficking for three decades, is the director of Apramp, which helps protect, help and reintegration women who are in prostitution. She says her team sees almost 300 women per day who are victims of sex trafficking. “Since 1985 we have been calling for abolition of prostitution. In a country which believes in the state of law, no person should be sold for their body,” she told VOA. “There is now a need for a comprehensive law that criminalizes those who profit from what is a form of violence against women.” Back on the streets of Barcelona, Adebi says all women were forced to have sex with clients, often under threat. She says some Nigerian women were told they had run up debts of up to $60,000 but despite plying their trade for years, they never worked it off. “Women are fined for being late, not looking good, buying cigarettes from a place which is not the sex club they are working in, anything,” she says. “That whole film with Richard Gere was a myth. There is no such thing as Pretty Woman.”  

Massive Ship Blocking Suez Canal Freed

Officials with the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said Monday the massive container ship that had been blocking the canal has been freed and is making its way down the waterway.Video from the scene shows the 400-meter ship, the Ever Given, moving down the canal, with tugboats on its side and at its stern. Numerous ship horns could be heard blowing, signaling the end of the crisis.  The ship became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds on March 23, halting shipping traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.Suez CanalEgypt was eager to resume traffic along the Suez Canal, which brings in between $5 billion and $6 billion in revenue each year. According to a study by German insurer Allianz, each day of the blockage in the canal could cost global trade between $6 billion and $10 billion.Some maritime firms responded to the delays by deciding to divert ships around the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of the African continent.After further dredging and excavation over the weekend, efforts by rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage worked to free the ship using tug boats in the early hours of Monday, two marine and shipping sources said.

Czech Billionaire Kellner Among Alaska Crash Victims

A helicopter headed to the U.S. state of Alaska for a skiing trip crashed on Saturday killing the pilot and four others, according to authorities. Among the five people who died in the late Saturday helicopter crash is 56-year-old Czech Republic’s richest man, billionaire Petr Kellner.  Kellner’s company, financial and telecommunications firm PPF Group, confirmed his death Monday. “We announce with the deepest grief that, in a helicopter accident in Alaska mountains on Saturday, March 27, the founder and majority owner of the PPF group, Mr Petr Kellner, died tragically,” PPF said in a statement. Alaska police said Benjamin Larochaix, also of the Czech Republic, and Alaskans Sean McMannany and Zachary Russel were killed in the crash. One other person was hospitalized. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, which happened near Knik Glacier in Alaska’s backcountry. A spokeswoman for Tordrillo Mountain Lodge said that three of the passengers were guests and two were guides. The lodge advertises itself as a base for wilderness adventures, including heli-skiing. 

Aladdin’s Cave of Goods Stranded in Suez Logjam

An Aladdin’s cave of goods, from IKEA furnishings to tens of thousands of livestock, is stuck in a maritime traffic jam caused by the Suez Canal blockage.  More than 360 vessels have been stranded in the Mediterranean to the north and in the Red Sea to the south as well as in holding zones since giant container ship MV Ever Given was wedged diagonally Tuesday across the Suez, a lifeline for world trade.Industry experts have estimated the total value of goods marooned at sea at between $3 billion and $9.6 billion. Suez Blockage Sets Shipping Rates Racing, Oil And Gas Tankers Diverted Suspension of traffic through narrow channel linking Europe and Asia has deepened problems for shipping lines About 1.74 million barrels of oil a day is normally shipped through the canal, but 80% of Gulf exports to Europe pass through the Sumed pipeline that crosses Egypt, according to Paola Rodriguez Masiu of Rystad Energy.According to MarineTraffic, about 100 ships laden with oil or refined products were in holding areas Sunday.Crude prices shot up Wednesday in response to the Suez blockage before dropping the next day.Sanctions-hit Syria, however, on Saturday announced a new round of fuel rationing after the hold-up delayed a shipment of oil products from ally Iran.Apart from goods, about 130,000 head of livestock on 11 ships sent from Romania have also been held up.”My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons,” Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for NGO Animals International, told British newspaper The Guardian.Egypt, for its part, has sent fodder and three teams of vets to examine livestock stuck at sea, some bound for Jordan.Sweden’s IKEA said it has 110 containers on the stricken Ever Given and other ships in the pileup.”The blockage of the Suez Canal is an additional constraint to an already challenging and volatile situation for global supply chains brought on by the pandemic,” an IKEA spokesperson said.The Van Rees Group, based in Rotterdam, said 80 containers of tea were trapped at sea on 15 vessels and said there could be chaos for the company as supplies dried up.Dave Hinton, owner of a timber company in northwest England, said he had a consignment of French oak stuck on a ship.The oak had been sent from France for reprocessing into veneered flooring in China and was on its way back to a customer in Britain, Hinton said.”I’ve spoken to my customer and told him the bad news that his floor was blocking the Suez Canal. He didn’t believe me, he thought I was pulling his leg,” he told BBC radio Friday.Shipping giants such as Denmark’s Maersk have rerouted ships to the longer journey around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding at least seven days to the travel time.Even if the Ever Given were dislodged, Maersk estimated Saturday it would take between three and six days for the stranded ships to pass through the canal.The company said that 32 Maersk and partner vessels would be directly affected by the end of the weekend, with 15 rerouted, and the numbers could increase unless the canal was reopened.According to Lloyd’s List, up to 90% of the affected cargo is not insured against delays.

US Vows ‘Consequences’ for Russian Actions

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says there will be “costs and consequences” for Russia for its allegedly malign activities against the United States.“We will take the steps necessary to defend our interests” at the time of the U.S.’s choosing, Blinken said in a CNN interview that aired Sunday but was taped last week as he completed talks with other NATO diplomats in Brussels.He said there was “a shared commitment” among Western allies to be “clear-eyed” about Moscow’s actions and hold the Kremlin accountable.The top U.S. diplomat said officials “are in the process” of considering what sanctions or actions Washington plans to take against Moscow, and in consultation with other NATO countries.“We are stronger when we can do it in a coordinated way,” he said.While the U.S. and Russia agreed quickly to extend a nuclear arms control deal that was set to expire shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden assumed power, the U.S. is blaming Russia for other actions, including allegedly placing a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, meddling in the November election that Biden won and hacking into U.S. computer systems.Blinken’s remarks in the CNN interview echoed those of Biden, who has taken a tougher stance against Russia than that of his predecessor, Donald Trump.In an interview on ABC News two weeks ago, Biden said he considers Russian President Vladimir Putin to be a “killer.”Biden said in the interview, “The price he’s going to pay, well, you’ll see shortly,” while adding that he, Biden, wants to be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time, and there are places where it’s in our mutual interest to work together.”“That’s why I renewed the (arms reduction) agreement with them. That occurred while he’s doing this,” he said, apparently referencing Putin’s election interference efforts. “But that’s overwhelming, in the interest of humanity, that we diminish the prospect of a nuclear exchange.” Russia has denied meddling in the U.S. election and orchestrating the cyber hack that used U.S. tech company SolarWinds to penetrate U.S. government networks. In addition, it has rebuffed reports it offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan or tried to poison Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. A U.S. intelligence analysis concluded that Putin likely directed a campaign to try to help Trump win a second four-year term in the White House.It is not clear what actions Biden could be considering against Russia; but he could invoke any of several penalties, including freezing the U.S. assets of any entities found to have directly or indirectly interfered in a U.S. election or engaged in “cyber-enabled” activities from abroad that threaten U.S. national security.In addition, a 1991 law allows the U.S. president to bar U.S. banks from lending to a country that used chemical weapons, such as is alleged in the Navalny case.

Pope Leads Scaled-down Palm Sunday Service

Pope Francis led Palm Sunday services in an almost empty St. Peter’s Basilica because of coronavirus restrictions for the second consecutive year and he urged people to be close to the poor and suffering.   In pre-COVID times, Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week and leads to Easter, tens of thousands of people would pack St. Peter’s Square holding olive branches and intricately weaved palm fronds in an outdoor ceremony.  Instead, only about 120 members of the faithful participated in Sunday’s Mass, joining the pope and about 30 cardinals in a secondary wing of the huge basilica.  Italy is in the midst of another national lockdown, which is due to end after Easter. The Vatican, a sovereign city-state surrounded by Rome, has applied similar measures.  Nearly everyone who took part in the Mass, except the pope and the choir, wore masks.   The Vatican re-created the traditional Palm Sunday service, albeit on a much smaller scale, with the 84-year-old pope and the cardinals processing to the altar holding palm fronds.  Palm Sunday commemorates the day the gospels say Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed by the people, only to be crucified five days later.  During the Mass, the pope had a pronounced limp. He suffers from sciatica, which causes pain in his legs when it flares up.  In his homily during the Mass, televised and streamed worldwide, Francis encouraged people to keep their faith from growing dull from habit and to let themselves be amazed by God and by good.  “With the grace of amazement we come to realize that in welcoming the dismissed and discarded, in drawing close to those ill-treated by life, we are loving Jesus. For that is where he is: in the least of our brothers and sisters, in the rejected and discarded,” he said.  The remainder of the pope’s Holy Week services – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter next Sunday, also will take place with a limited number of participants. Italy has registered 107,636 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain. 

Eddie Murphy Inducted into NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame 

Eddie Murphy was inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame at the organization’s show that highlighted works by entertainers and athletes of color.   After Murphy accepted his induction award Saturday night, the actor-comedian said he was “very moved” by the honor. He was presented the award by his longtime friend and “Coming 2 America” co-star Arsenio Hall.   “I’ve been making movies for 40 years now … 40 years. This is the perfect thing to commemorate that and be brought into the hall of fame,” he said. “Thank you very much. I’m very moved.”   Murphy went on to send a message to Hall about his famous red leather suit from his 1983 stand-up special “Delirious.”   “My red suit was not that tight Arsenio,” Murphy said. “I get a lot of cracks about that red suit. When I was rocking that red suit, that [expletive] was fly.”   The hall of fame induction is bestowed on an individual who is viewed as a pioneer in their respective field and whose influence shaped the “profession for generations to come.”   Previous inductees include Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Ray Charles and Sidney Poitier. The most recent honorees to be inducted were Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Paris Barclay in 2014.   Murphy began his career as a stand-up comic while as a teenager and eventually joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” He starred in the box office hit “48 Hours” and made his mark in a slew of films such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Coming to America,” “The Nutty Professor,” “Dr. Dolittle” and “Dolemite Is My Name.” His latest film “Coming 2 America” was released on Amazon this month.   The awards ceremony virtually aired live on BET. It was also simulcast on CBS, MTV, VH1, MTV2, BET HER and LOGO.   “Black-ish” star and comedian Anthony Anderson hosted the show for the eighth consecutive year.   The late Chadwick Boseman won best actor in a motion picture for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The actor, who also starred in the blockbuster Marvel film “Black Panther,” died at 43 last year after he privately battled colon cancer.   “As always, he would give all honor and glory to the most high God,” said the teary-eyed Simone Ledward Boseman, the actor’s wife, who accepted the award on his behalf. “He would thank his mom and dad. And he would give honor to his ancestors as we now honor him. Thank you, NAACP, for always giving him his flowers. He was an uncommon artist and an even more uncommon person.”   Boseman spoke about how commonly Black people have been diagnosed with or died from colon cancer. She urged Black people over the age of 45 to get screened.   “Don’t put it off any longer,” she said. “Please, get screened. This disease is beatable if you catch it in its early stages. So, you don’t have any time to waste, even if you don’t have any family history. If you think nothing is wrong, and younger than 45, please be proactive about your health. Know the signs. Know your body. Listen to your body.”   LeBron James received the President’s Award for his public service achievements. He thanked the NAACP for recognizing his efforts beyond the basketball court.   The Los Angeles Lakers superstar was recognized for his efforts through his LeBron James Family Foundation and his I PROMISE School, a co-curricular educational initiative. Last year, he launched More Than a Vote — a coalition of Black athletes and artists — that is dedicated to educating and protecting Black voters.   James ventured into the entertainment realm with The SpringHill Company, which unites three companies he co-founded with Maverick Carter including athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED, film and television production company SpringHill Entertainment and The Robot Company, the brand and culture consultancy.   “This award is so much more than myself,” James said. “I’m here receiving it, but this dives into everything that I’m a part of.”   DJ D-Nice took home entertainer of the year in a competitive category against big names such as Regina King, Tyler Perry, Viola Davis and Trevor Noah.   During the pandemic’s early stage, D-Nice created a virtual remedy for anyone dealing with the lockdown blues. He hosted Homeschool at Club Quarantine on his Instagram Live, where he spun popular tunes on the turntables at his home. An array of celebrities tuned in: Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg popped in for a listen.   “It’s been an honor to provide entertainment and inspiration during one of the darkest times we’ve experienced,” D-Nice said.   Michelle Obama presented Stacey Abrams with the first Social Justice Impact award. Abrams was honored for being a political force and her voting rights work that helped turn Georgia into a swing state.   Abrams paid homage to her parents for her upbringing.   “They taught me and my five siblings that having nothing was not an excuse for doing nothing,” she said. “Instead, they showed us by word and deed to use our faith as a shield to protect the defenseless, to use our voices to call out injustices, and to use our education and our time to solve the problems that others turn away from.”   Viola Davis took home best actress for her film and television roles in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”