Zimbabwe Rights Activists Oppose Calls for Lifting Sanctions

Zimbabwe rights activists are calling for Western sanctions against the country to remain in place, despite calls this week by the Southern African Development Community for them to be lifted.  Government supporters say the sanctions are hurting ordinary people.  But critics say it is the government’s policies, not sanctions, that are to blame for the poor economy, and that lifting sanctions would send the wrong message about the country’s human rights record.  Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare.



US Takes Aim at Deadly Chinese Fentanyl Networks

The US Treasury took action Wednesday to crack down on Chinese traffickers of deadly fentanyl, sanctioning producer-exporters and warning banks on financial schemes used to distribute the synthetic opioid behind thousands of US overdose deaths.

The Treasury identified Zheng Fujing, 36, and a company he controls, Qinsheng Pharmaceutical Technology, and a partner, Zheng Guanghua, as a major, Shanghai-based production fentanyl production and trafficking organization.

The Zheng drug trafficking organization, the Treasury said, produced and shipped hundreds of controlled substances, including fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

“Zheng created and maintained numerous websites to advertise and sell illegal drugs in more than 35 languages,” it said.

Moreover, it said, Zheng was producing counterfeit cancer pills that replace the active cancer-fighting ingredient with “dangerous synthetic drugs.”

Yan, meanwhile, produces and trafficks in synthetic opioids, cannabinoids, and cathinones, and amphetamine-like drug, the Treasury charged.

“Yan has tried to evade prosecution by modifying the chemical structure of his synthetic analogues based on his monitoring of legislation and law enforcement activities in the United States and China,” the Treasury said.

All three men have already been indicted in separate trafficking cases in the United States.

The Treasury’s designation of the three as “significant foreign narcotics traffickers” under the US Kingpin Act allows the Treasury to use more sanctions and controls to attack their networks.

The Treasury said it had also issued an advisory to banks and other financial institutions describing how synthetic opioid producers and traffickers operate in financial networks, with the aim of closing off their ability to produce and sell their drugs.

“We are making the financial sector aware of tactics and typologies behind illicit schemes to launder the proceeds of these fatal drug sales, including transactions using digital currency and foreign bank accounts,” said Kenneth Blanco, the head of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

The Treasury said both the Zheng and Yan groups used digital currencies like bitcoin for production operations and sales.



Hong Kong’s Evolving Protests: Voices From the Front Lines

On a recent sweltering Saturday, a day now reserved for protest in Hong Kong, a demonstrator named Wayne stepped past a row of plastic barricades, lifted a pair of binoculars and squinted.

Four hundred meters away, a line of riot police stood with full-length shields, batons and tear gas launchers.

It was a familiar sight for Wayne after more than two months on the front lines of Hong Kong’s turbulent pro-democracy demonstrations. Along with hard hats and homemade shields, face-offs with police have become part of the 33-year-old philosophy professor’s new normal.

The stories of Wayne and three other self-described “front line” protesters interviewed by The Associated Press provide insights into how what started as a largely peaceful movement against proposed changes to the city’s extradition law has morphed into a summer of tear gas and rubber bullets. They spoke on condition they be identified only by partial names because they feared arrest.

The movement has reached a moment of reckoning after protesters occupying Hong Kong’s airport last week held two mainland Chinese men captive, beating them because they believed the men were infiltrating their movement.

In the aftermath, pro-democracy lawmakers and fellow demonstrators — who have stood by the hard-liners even as they took more extreme steps — questioned whether the operation had gone too far.

It was the first crack in what has been astonishing unity across a wide range of protesters that has kept the movement going. It gave pause to the front-liners, who eased off the violence this past weekend, though they still believe their more disruptive tactics are necessary to get the government to answer the broader movement’s demands.

The demands grew from opposing legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited for trials in mainland China’s murky judicial system to pressing for democratic elections, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s resignation and an investigation into allegations of police brutality at the demonstrations.

The protesters on the front lines are the ones who throw bricks at police and put traffic cones over active tear gas canisters to contain the fumes. They have broken into and trashed the legislature’s chambers, blocked a major tunnel under Hong Kong’s harbor, besieged and pelted police headquarters with eggs and halted rush-hour subways by blocking the train doors from closing.

To Lam, these are “violent rioters” bent on destroying the city’s economy. To China’s ruling Communist Party, their actions are “the first signs of terrorism.”

To these most die-hard protesters, there’s no turning back.

“The situation has evolved into a war in Hong Kong society,” said Tin, a 23-year-old front-line demonstrator. “It’s the protesters versus the police.”

When Hong Kong’s youth banded together for this summer’s protests, they established a few rules: They would not have clear leaders, protecting individuals from becoming symbols or scapegoats. And they would stick together, no matter their methods.

The peaceful protesters would not disavow the more extreme, sometimes violent tactics of the front-liners, who would distract the police long enough for others to escape arrest.

These were lessons learned from 2014, when the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement fizzled after more than two months without winning any concessions. Many involved feel internal divisions partly led to defeat.

Chong, a 24-year-old front-liner, said everyone’s opinion is heard and considered, and they decide on the right path together. But no decision is absolute: The demonstrators have pledged to not impede actions they may disagree with.

Two massive marches roused Chong and others who had given up on political change after the failure of Occupy Central, also dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.

On consecutive weekends in June, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the extradition bill. It struck at fears that China is eroding civil rights that Hong Kong residents enjoy under the “one country, two systems” framework.

“I didn’t think I would ever do this again,” said Chong, who quit his job as an environmental consultant to devote himself to the protests. “But this time, society is waking up.”

On June 12, three days after the first march, protesters blocked the legislature and took over nearby streets, preventing the resumption of debate on the extradition bill. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Lam suspended the bill indefinitely the day before the second march, but it didn’t mollify the protesters, who turned out in even greater numbers.

As their demands expanded, Lam offered dialogue but showed no signs of giving ground.

That’s when hard-liners like Chong and Wayne became convinced that peaceful protest might not be enough.

They blocked roads with makeshift barricades and besieged the Chinese government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, defacing the national seal over its entrance. Week after week, they clashed with police, who became an object of their anger. Every round of tear gas only seemed to deepen their conviction that the government did not care.

“We’ve had numerous peaceful protests that garnered no response whatsoever from the government,” said J.C., a 27-year-old hairstylist who quit his job in July. “Escalating our actions is both natural and necessary.”

Then came the “white shirt” attack. On July 21, dozens of men beat people indiscriminately with wooden poles and steel rods in a commuter rail station as protesters returned home, injuring 44. They wore white clothing in contrast to the protesters’ trademark black.

A slow police response led to accusations they colluded with the thugs. Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said resources were stretched because of the protests.

Many saw the attack as proof police prioritized catching demonstrators — around 700 have been arrested so far — over more violent criminals. That view has been reinforced by other images, including police firing tear gas at close range and a woman who reportedly lost vision in one eye after being hit by a beanbag round shot by police.

Each accusation of police brutality emboldens the hard-core protesters to use greater violence. Gasoline bombs and other flaming objects have become their projectiles of choice, and police stations are now their main target.

In this cauldron of growing rage, the protesters set their sights on Hong Kong’s airport.

Hundreds of flights were canceled over two consecutive nights last week as protesters packed the main terminal, blocking access to check-in counters and immigration.

While the major disruption of one of the world’s busiest airports got global attention, it was the vigilante attacks on two Chinese men that troubled the movement.

In a written apology the following day, a group of unidentified protesters said recent events had fueled a “paranoia and rage” that put them on a “hair trigger.” During the prior weekend’s demonstrations, people dressed like protesters had been caught on video making arrests, and police acknowledged use of decoy officers.

At the airport, the protesters were looking for undercover agents in their ranks. Twice they thought they found them.

The first man ran away from protesters who asked why he was taking photos of them. Protesters descended on him, bound his wrists with plastic ties and interrogated him for at least two hours. His ordeal ended only when medics wrested him away on a stretcher.

The second man was wearing a yellow “press” vest used by Hong Kong journalists but refused to show his credentials. In his backpack, protesters found a blue “Safeguard HK” T-shirt worn at rallies to support police.

A small group of protesters repeatedly beat him, poured water on his head and called him “mainland trash.” He turned out to be a reporter for China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper.

Footage of the mob violence inflamed anti-protester sentiment in China, where the reporter became a martyr. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy lawmakers said it was something that “will not and should not happen again.”

Within the movement, some apologized for becoming easily agitated and overreacting. Others questioned whether provocateurs had incited the violence.

Through it all, the front liners called for unity. They pointed to the injuries sustained on their side and the rioting charges that could lock them up for 10 years.

On the night of the airport beating, Wayne couldn’t get through the crowd to see what was happening, but he understood how the attackers felt.

“I would have done the same thing,” he said. “It’s not rational, but I would have kicked him or punched him at least once or twice.”



Scores of Civilians Killed, Injured in Libyan Oasis Town

The United Nations reports the small oasis town of Murzuq in southwestern Libya has suffered one of the largest losses of civilian life this month since civil war broke out in 2011 following the overthrow of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Escalating violence reportedly has killed at least 90 civilians and injured more than 200 in the small oasis town of Murzuq this month.  OCHA, the U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reports airstrikes by planes and drones, indiscriminate rocket attacks and shelling, as well as ground fighting have increased the casualty count on all sides of the fighting.  

Additionally, the U.N. migration agency reports nearly 9,500 people have been displaced within the town municipality.  OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke, told VOA people are fleeing from one area to another to get out of the way of aerial and drone attacks.

“They are, of course, terrified that if they move, they will be perceived as affiliated to one side or the other and may be targeted.  So, that is why our call really is for those doing the fighting to allow people to leave if they so wish so they can reach a place where they can be assisted and, of course, to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Laerke said.

Murzuq is a casualty of the increasingly bitter and lethal fighting between two main armed political factions in Libya.  The self-styled Libyan National Army led by renegade General Khalifa Haftar raised the fighting to a higher level when his forces moved to seize the capital Tripoli in April.  That is where the Government of National Accord, which is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate government of Libya, is based.

Laerke said Murzuq, a town of fewer than 13,000 people, is facing a humanitarian crisis.  He said people desperately need medical supplies, food, water and sanitation, tents, blankets and hygiene kits.

However, he said aid agencies have limited access to people displaced in the town.  He said active fighting, as well as damaged roads and roadblocks, are making it almost impossible to assist the civilians trapped there.

He added that it was easier to reach those who have taken refuge in the few centers for displaced people on the outskirts of the town.  U.N. aid agencies are appealing to the warring parties for unimpeded access to all victims of this manmade humanitarian disaster.

 



Italian PM Conte to Resign After League Party Pulls Backing

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation Tuesday, blaming his decision to end his 14-month-old populist government on his rebellious and politically ambitious deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

Conte told the Senate that the surprise move earlier this month by Salvini’s right-wing League party to seek a no-confidence vote against the coalition was forcing him to “interrupt” what he contended was a productive government. He said that government reflected the results of Italy’s 2018 election and aimed to “interpret the desires of citizens who in their vote expressed a desire for change.”
 
The coalition included two rivals, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and Salvini’s euroskeptic, anti-migrant right-wing League party.
 
Conte said he will go later Tuesday to tender his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. As head of state, Mattarella could ask Conte to stay on and find an alternative majority in Parliament. That is considered an unlikely scenario, however, given the long-festering acrimony among the coalition’s partners and the deep divisions in the opposition Democrats, who would be a potential partner.
 
Or, after sounding out party chiefs in consultations expected to start as soon as Wednesday, Mattarella could come to the conclusion that another political leader or a non-partisan figure could cobble together a viable government. That government’s pressing task would be to lead the country at least for the next few months, when Italy must make painful budget cuts to keep in line with European Union financial regulations.
 
Failing that, Mattarella could immediately dissolve Parliament, 3{ years ahead of schedule, as Salvini has been clamoring for. Pulling the plug on Parliament sets the stage for a general election as early as late October, right smack in the middle of delicate budget maneuvers that will be closely monitored in Brussels.
 
Conte, a lawyer with no political experience, is nominally non-partisan, although he was the clear choice of the 5-Stars when the government was formed.
 
The premier scathingly quoted Salvini’s own recent demands for an early election so he could gain “full powers” by grabbing the premiership. Conte blasted Salvini for showing “grave contempt for Parliament” and putting Italy at risk for a “dizzying spiral of political and financial instability” in the months ahead by creating an unnecessary crisis that collapses a working government.
 
Salvini, who sat next to Conte, smirking at times as the premier spoke, began the Senate debate by saying, defiantly, “I’d do it all again.”
 
Pressing for a new election as soon as possible, Salvini, who as interior minister has led a crackdown on migrants, said: “I don’t fear Italians’ judgment.”
 
In the European Parliament election three months ago in Italy, as well as in current opinion polls, Salvini’s League party has soared in popularity to be the No. 1 political force among Italians.

 

 



Census Figures Show Economic Gap Narrows with Citizenship

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that citizenship appears to narrow the economic gap between the foreign-born and native-born in the United States.

The 2018 figures released Monday offer a view of immigrants’ education, wealth, and the jobs they work in. They also look at differences between naturalized immigrants and those who aren’t citizens.
 
Their release come as the U.S. is engaged in one of the fiercest debates in decades about the role of immigration.
 
Stopping the flow of immigrants into the U.S. has been a priority of the Trump administration, which has proposed denying green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid and fought to put a citizenship question on the decennial Census questionnaire.
 
Monday’s figures show naturalized immigrants had a slightly smaller median income than the native-born.

    

 



US Scraps West Bank Conference over Palestinian Protests

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests.  
 
The Palestinians cut all ties with the U.S. after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, and view the Trump administration as unfairly biased following a series of actions seen as hostile to their aspirations for an independent state.

The embassy had organized a conference this week to bring together alumni of U.S. educational and cultural programs, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who received permission from Israel to attend. The territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007.

The Palestinian leadership viewed the conference as an attempt to circumvent its boycott of the U.S. administration.

“We are aware of recent statements regarding a planned event for alumni of U.S. educational and cultural programs,” the U.S. Embassy said. “In order to avoid the Palestinian participants being put in a difficult situation, we have decided to postpone the event for now.”
 
It said this and other events “are designed to create opportunities for exchange and dialogue between Americans and Palestinians at the grassroots level.”

“This event in particular is intended to give alumni of all ages and backgrounds from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to network with each other and to engage in leadership and capacity building activities,” it said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. The Trump administration is at work on a long-awaited peace plan, but has not endorsed a two-state solution to the conflict. The Palestinians have already dismissed the plan, saying it is certain to be slanted toward Israel.
 
Representatives of several Palestinian factions held a press conference Monday at the hotel where the meeting was to have taken place.

Spokesman Isam Baker told The Associated Press that the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group, had reached out to the hotel management and the invitees asking them to boycott the meeting.

“Most of the invitees and the hotel administration agreed with us that the invitation has political implications and it is not innocent,” he said.
“The U.S. administration, which has cut off all aid to our people, shut down our office in Washington and placed huge pressure on our leadership to accept a pro-Israel political plan will not do any good for our people” he said. “Therefore, we are boycotting any activities it organizes.”

The U.S. cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians last year, gutting several long-running programs .

A statement released Sunday by the “national and Islamic forces of the Ramallah governorate” said they were determined to thwart the conference, calling it an attempt to “break the will of the Palestinian people.” It said they planned to organize a “mass popular event to prevent this activity by all available means,” calling for a sit-in and marches.

The youth wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party also called for a boycott. It vowed to “exercise all forms of legal and popular pressure to express rejection of this conference being held on occupied Palestinian land.” It also called for an “apology” from the hotel.



Ugandan Coach Scouts Major League Baseball Talent in Africa

In Uganda, a coach’s passion for baseball is getting schools to embrace America’s favorite pastime.  But a lack of government support means baseball in Uganda is heavily dependent on donations.  Halima Athumani reports from Kampala.



Merkel: We’re prepared for Any Brexit Outcome

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that she would meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday evening to discuss Britain’s planned departure from the European Union, adding that Berlin was also prepared for a disorderly Brexit.

Johnson is seeking to persuade European Union leaders to
reopen Brexit talks or face the prospect of its second-largest
member leaving abruptly on Oct. 31 with no deal in place to
mitigate the economic shock — a move that businesses expect
would cause major disruption.

“We are glad of every visit, and you have to talk, and you
have to find good solutions,” Merkel said during a panel
discussion at the Chancellery.

“We are prepared for any outcome, we can say that, even if
we do not get an agreement. But at all events I will make an
effort to find solutions — up until the last day of
negotiations,” she added.

“I think it’s always better to leave with an agreement than
without one. But if that’s not possible, we’ll be prepared for
the alternative as well.”

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Johnson would
tell Merkel that the British parliament could not stop Brexit.

 



Hong Kong Protests Enter 11th Week With Large but Peaceful Rally

Protesters rallied in Hong Kong again on Sunday, as anti-government demonstrations, now in their 11th week, continue.  Mike O’Sullivan reports that the protests were first sparked by an extradition bill, but are now broadly aimed at maintaining Hong’s Kong’s special status within China.

 

 



Seized Iranian Tanker Expected to Leave Gibraltar

Last update: 1:45 p. m.

Iran said its seized oil tanker was expected to leave Gibraltar on Sunday after authorities there rejected a U.S. bid to detain it, but it was unclear where the ship might be headed next.

“The vessel is expected to leave tonight,” envoy Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter, adding that two engineering teams had been flown to Gibraltar to assist in its departure.

Tehran said it was ready to dispatch its naval fleet to escort the ship, loaded with 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil worth $130 million, but Iran gave no indication where it would set sail for.

The ship, called the Grace 1 but now renamed by Iran as Adrian Darya 1, was seized July 4 by Gibraltar, an overseas British territory, because authorities there believed the crude oil was headed to Syria, an Iran ally, in violation of European Union sanctions. Originally, the ship was flying under a Panamanian flag but after it was renamed, a red, white and green Iranian flag was hoisted over the ship.

In this July 21, 2019 photo, an aerial view shows a speedboat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moving around the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

The ship’s seizure was one of several related incidents in recent weeks triggering increased tensions between Tehran and Western nations. Later in July, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Persian Gulf and is still impounding it.

The United States and Iran have shot down each other’s unmanned drones, and Western countries have accused Tehran of carrying out other attacks on ships in the Gulf, where a fifth of the world’s oil production passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

The incidents stem at least in part from U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal last year from the 2015 international nuclear agreement aimed at restraining Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Trump then reimposed debilitating sanctions, which have hobbled the Iranian economy.

Gibraltar authorities on Thursday decided to release the Iranian tanker, saying they had received written assurances from Tehran that the crude oil would not be shipped to Syria.

On Friday, the U.S. government won a court order in Washington authorizing the seizure of the ship, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million. The U.S. contended that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, listed as a terrorist group by Washington, was making the illegal shipment to Syria in violation of the U.S. sanctions against Iran.

But Gibraltar said Sunday it “is unable to seek an order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required” by the United States.

The Gibraltar government said the European Union sanction “against Iran — which is applicable in Gibraltar — is much narrower than that applicable in the U.S.”