Author Archive: Economist

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

U.S. scientists are predicting an area in the Gulf of Mexico known as “the dead zone”  to grow to a near record size in coming months. The area – where there is low or no oxygen – is expected to increase to nearly 20,300 square kilometers. The dead zone is believed to be caused by nutrient pollution from human activity and can kill fish and other marine life. That is especially worrying to watermen who make a living fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from the coastal city of Port Arthur.

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Retired US Admiral Joe Sestak Announces Democratic Run for White House

Another Democrat has entered the 2020 race for the White House.

Retired Navy admiral and former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak announced his candidacy Sunday on his website.

He introduced himself to voters by telling them “I wore the cloth of the nation for over 31 years in peace and war, from the Vietnam and Cold War eras to Afghanistan and Iran and the emergence of China.”

He said he postponed announcing his candidacy to care for a daughter ill with brain cancer.

Sestak was also part of former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s national security team, holds a doctorate in government from Harvard, and unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate twice.

He embraces many positions popular with liberals, including abortion rights, gun control, and backs the nuclear deal with Iran.

Sestak is the 24th Democrat to officially announce a challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020, with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren leading the polls so far.

 

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Sudan’s Protesters Accept Roadmap for Civilian Rule

Sudan’s protest movement accepted an Ethiopian roadmap for a civilian-led transitional government, a spokesman said on Sunday, after a months-long standoff with the country’s military rulers — who did not immediately commit to the plan.

Ethiopia has led diplomatic efforts to bring the protest and military leaders back to the negotiating table, after a crackdown against the pro-democracy movement led to a collapse in talks. According to protest organizers, security forces killed at least 128 people across the country, after they violently dispersed the sit-in demonstration outside the military’s headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, earlier this month. Authorities have offered a lower death toll of 61, including three from the security forces.

Yet it appeared that protest leaders, represented by the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, were open to the Ethiopian initiative as a way out of the political impasse.

Ahmed Rabie, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals’ Association which is part of the FDFC, told The Associated Press that the proposal included a leadership council with eight civilian and seven military members, with a rotating chairmanship. All the civilians would come from the FDFC, except for one independent and “neutral” appointee, he said.

According to a copy of the proposal obtained by the AP, the military would chair the council in the first 18 months, and the FDFC the second half of the transition.

Rabie said that the roadmap would build on previous agreements with the military. These include a three-year transition period, a protester-appointed Cabinet and a FDFC-majority legislative body.

Rabie added that protest leaders would also discuss with the Ethiopian envoy, Mahmoud Dirir, the possibility of establishing an “independent” Sudanese investigation. Previously, the FDFC had said it would only resume talks with the military if it agreed to the formation of an international commission to investigate the killings of protesters.

The ruling military council has so far rejected the idea of an international probe, and says it has started its own investigation, in parallel with that of the state prosecutor.

The FDCF said Saturday said their approval of the Ethiopian plan “pushes all the parties to bear their responsibilities” to find a peaceful solution.

It urged the military council to accept the plan “in order to move the situation in Sudan” forward.

At a press conference at the Ethiopian embassy, the FDFC said it was demanding trust-building measures from the military. These included concerns about the investigation into violence, restoring severed internet connectivity, and ordering the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces — widely blamed for attacks against protesters — back to their barracks.

The spokesman for the military council, Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, confirmed at a news conference that the council had received a proposal from the Ethiopian envoy, and another one from the African Union envoy to Sudan, Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt.

“The council asked for a combined initiative to study and discuss the details,” Kabashi said. This joint proposal should be received by Monday, he said.

Kabashi also defended Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying that both countries, along with Egypt, “have provided unconditional support” to the Sudanese people.

Egypt has voiced its support for the military council, pressing the African Union not to suspend Sudan’s activities in the regional block. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pledged $3 billion in aid to shore up its economy.

Sudanese activists fear that the three countries are pushing the military to cling to power rather than help with democratic change, given that the three Arab states are ruled by autocrats who have clamped down political freedoms in their own countries.

A member of the military council, Yasser al-Atta, suggested that it had doubts about the protest leaders ability to govern.

He addressed protest leaders saying that “you should include other political forces” or it would be difficult to rule.

“We want them to rule and lead the transitional period, but can this be done?” He added.

Meanwhile, the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, said on Sunday he canceled a decree demanding that the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur hand over its premises as part of its withdrawal.

Burhan also issued a new decree that says the U.N. facilities when handed over are to be used for civilian purposes in Darfur.

The target for ending the U.N. mission is June 30, 2020.

 

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Experts: Xi-Kim Talks Without Denuclearization Road Map Are Just Talk

Chinese President Xi Jinping may have encouraged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to renew talks with the U.S. during his recent visit to Pyongyang, but without a concrete road map for denuclearization, diplomacy is meaningless, experts say.

“The international community hopes that North Korea and the United States can talk and for the talks to get results,” Xi told Kim on Thursday, according to Chinese media.

Xi left Pyongyang early Friday afternoon. It was the first visit by a Chinese president in 14 years.

Pyongyang’s denuclearization talks with Washington have been stalled ever since the Hanoi summit in February, which was cut short without producing any deals.

‘Didn’t get a positive response’

According to Chinese media, Kim told Xi that North Korea took many positive steps to reduce tensions but “didn’t get a positive response from the relevant side,” referring to the U.S.

Kim added, “North Korea is willing to exercise patience and, at the same time, hopes the relevant side can meet North Korea halfway, seek a solution that accords with both side’s reasonable concerns, and promote results for the talks process of the peninsula issue.”

Evans Revere, acting assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, said Xi’s meeting with Kim could have helped Pyongyang reconsider resuming its talks with Washington.

“There have been signs that North Korea may be preparing to reengage diplomatically,” Revere said. “And the Xi-Kim summit is the latest indication that Pyongyang is exploring what benefits renewed diplomacy might bring.”

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said he received a “beautiful letter” from Kim and took an optimistic stance on the possibility of future talks.

Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the letter signifies that “Kim still values the relationship with Trump.” He added, “Trump is keeping the door open to denuclearization talks, and Kim is keeping the door open to the prospect of American affirmation of North Korea as a nuclear state.”

North Korea’s internal policy document used in training its top military officials in November, which VOA obtained over the weekend, indicated Kim’s aspiration for the country is to be accepted as a nuclear state.

Xi’s visit to Pyongyang came ahead of next week’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka, where Xi is expected to meet with Trump on the sideline of the summit, which is being hosted by Japan.

‘Trying to … restart things’

Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, said, “China is trying to kind of restart things.”

He continued, “[Xi] could potentially carry a message from Kim to Trump when he meets Trump later next week and guidance about how to get the negotiations restarted.”

Experts, however, caution Washington against holding talks with Pyongyang without narrowing their gaps over denuclearization.

Revere said, “Diplomacy toward what end?” He continued, “There are no signs that Pyongyang has modified the position that it took at Hanoi summit, where it rejected a common definition of denuclearization with the United States and refused to agree to a timetable and road map to achieve denuclearization.”

At the Hanoi summit, Kim demanded Trump lift sanctions while offering a partial denuclearization of dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility. Trump, instead, asked Kim to denuclearize completely in exchange for lifting the sanctions.

North Korea’s concept of denuclearization envisions the U.S. removing its nuclear umbrella and troops from the Korean Peninsula while the U.S. understanding is for North Korea to undertake a fully verified dismantlement of all of its nuclear facilities and weapons.

No interest in dismantling

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said, “I see no evidence that Kim is interested in dismantling all of his nuclear program.”

Gause said Xi could have told Kim to put more on the table other than dismantling the Yongbyon, while Kim most likely asked Xi to push for sanctions relief in return.

Manning said, “Xi will push Trump to ease sanctions and offer a way to break the stalemate.”

Revere said, however, while Kim could have pressed Xi “for help in removing international sanctions,” Xi would not have agreed “in the absence of concrete North Korean steps toward denuclearization.”

Further, he added, “Beijing will be mindful of the need not to undermine international solidarity and pressure on North Korea by providing open-ended assistance on North Korea.”

Bruce Klingner, the former CIA deputy division chief for Korea and current senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said, “The ball is in North Korea’s court to take tangible, significant steps toward denuclearization before it gets yet more benefits.”

Snyder said, “The essential condition for a third summit is that both leaders work out an understanding in advance that does not repeat the failure of the second summit.” He continued, “The stakes will be higher because there will be no walking away.”

Other than showing support toward denuclearization talks, Xi’s visit to Pyongyang was, according to Revere, “a mixture of symbolism, largely rhetorical assurance of support by China to North Korea, and a reminder that China intends to remain a key player in diplomacy with North Korea.”

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Saudis: Yemeni Rebel Attack on Saudi Airport Kills 1, Wounds 7

A Yemeni Houthi rebel attack on an airport in southern Saudi Arabia has killed one civilian and wounded seven others, the Saudi-led military coalition said Sunday.

Coalition officials say the parking lot at the Abha airport, which services a resort, was hit. It gave no other details including whether it was struck by a missile or a drone.

The Houthi rebels say they flew drones over the Abha and Jizan airports, but the Saudis did not confirm Jizan was also targeted.

A Houthi missile struck Abha last week, wounding 26. Human Rights Watch condemned the attack as a possible “war crime” and the Saudis promised to take “stern action.”

The Saudi coalition is helping the Yemeni government try to push the Iranian-backed Houthis out of the capital, Sana’a.

While Iran admits support for the Houthis, it denies Saudi allegations of arming the rebels.

A diplomatic quartet made up of Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and United States issued a statement Sunday condemning the Houthi attacks on the airports and what it calls Iranian “destabilizing activity” in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The statement demands Houthis end all restrictions on food and emergency aid deliveries in Yemen and allow the World Food Program to get back to work.

While the quartet’s statement makes no mention of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen, which have killed thousands of civilians, it urges all parties to accelerate implementation of the December ceasefire agreement. The statement says the quartet remains committed to the peace process and Security Council resolutions concerning Yemen.

The Saudi coalition and rebels agreed at Stockholm in December to a military withdrawal from southern Yemen, including the key ports of Hodeidah, Ras Issa, and Saleef.

While the rebels have started pulling back from the ports, the Saudis say they will not do so until the U.N. can verify the Houthis have fully kept their side of the bargain.

The Houthis accuse the coalition of stepping up airstrikes on their positions in northern Yemen, prompting retaliatory airstrikes on Saudi territory.

 

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Ruling Party Candidate Concedes Defeat in Istanbul Re-Vote

The ruling party candidate in the re-run of Istanbul’s mayoral election, Binali Yildirim, has conceded defeat to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.

Sunday’s vote was held because election authorities controversially annulled Imamoglu’s initial historic election victory in March on a technicality after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan disputed the defeat of his candidate.

Electoral authorities rejected Erdogan’s AKP Party’s claims of voting fraud, but ordered a revote on the grounds a number election officials were ineligible. The opposition condemned the decision and claimed the Sunday vote is now more than just about who runs the city.

In a sign of the importance of Sunday’s election, voting was brisk from the moment the Kadikoy district ballot station opened, in a city where people traditionally vote late.  Early heavy voting  was reported across the city.

“The election is very important for Turkey, this will change the face of Turkey,” said retiree Cengiz Demir, one of the first to vote in Kadikoy district. “We have to return to democratic settings. Maybe more than a majority have had enough of one man rule,” he added.

One man rule is a reference to President Erdogan who many of his opponents accuse of undermining democracy and turning Turkey into an authoritarian state.

“In the name of our Turkey, in the name of our Istanbul, we are going through a very important election,” Imamoglu said to hundreds of supporters after voting. “This is not only about the Istanbul metropolitan, municipal election but at the same time a day for the repair the damage of this unlawful process imposed on our nation for the sake of democracy in Turkey.”

Observers say Imamoglu’s strategy of avoiding polarizing politics and pledging inclusivity has been key to turning his CHP party’s fortunes around in the city.

“I have so many hopes for Turkey,” said Ayse, a teacher who only wanted to be identified by her first name, “Imamoglu is the only person who can make the change. Before I was so pessimistic.”

The importance of Sunday’s election has seen hundreds of thousands of people cut short their vacations to vote. The city’s airports and roads were full the night before the polls opened.

“This is so important,” said Deniz Tas speaking after voting, “I have traveled 12 hours on the road to vote and to right this injustice that has been done.”

Istanbul is Erdogan’s home city and has been his power-base for 25 years, since his rise to power started as the city’s mayor. The city accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and nearly half the taxation, and the mayorship is widely seen as Turkey’s most important political prize after the presidency.

Underscoring the importance of the vote,  Erdogan has again put his political prestige on the line, campaigning heavily for Yildirm in the run-up to the election.  Erdogan too claims democracy is at stake, repeatedly accusing the opposition of voter manipulation. Observers say a second defeat for Erdogan could have significant consequences, damaging his reputation of electoral invincibility empowering opponents both in and outside his party.

In what was a bitter campaign Yildirim appeared conciliatory. “If we’ve ever made any wrongdoing to any rival or brother in Istanbul, I would like to ask for their forgiveness and blessing,” he said after casting his vote.

 Some AKP supporters expressed similar sentiments. “Re-vote happens in other countries, too, the voting can be repeated,” said a woman who didn’t want to be named.  “It is very normal that we have a repeat as well. The candidate who deserves it should win. The person with experience will win. Also, for us, Binali Yildirim has the experience to run Istanbul.”

 Both the leading candidates mobilizing thousands of lawyers and monitors to scrutinize the vote, claiming to defend democracy, Istanbul is bracing itself for a tense election.

 

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Istanbul Again Votes for Mayor in Test for Turkish Democracy

Millions of Istanbul residents voted Sunday in a re-run of a mayoral election that has become a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and a test of Turkey’s ailing democracy.

In the initial March 31 vote, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate secured a narrow victory over Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) in Turkey’s largest city, a rare electoral defeat for the president.

But after weeks of AKP appeals, Turkey’s High Election Board in May annulled the vote citing irregularities. The opposition called the decision a coup against democracy, which has raised the stakes for round two.

“It is really ridiculous that the election is being re-run. It was an election won fair and square,” said Asim Solak, 50, who said he was voting for the opposition candidate in the CHP stronghold of Tesvikiye. “It is clear who canceled the election. We hope this election re-run will be a big lesson for them,” he said.

Win Istanbul, win Turkey

Polling stations across Istanbul opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), with 10.56 million people registered to vote in a city that makes up nearly a fifth of Turkey’s 82 million population.

Voting ends at 5 p.m. Results will be announced in the evening.

Erdogan has repeated his line that “whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.” A second loss in the city, where in the 1990s he served as mayor, would be embarrassing for Erdogan and could weaken what until recently seemed to be his iron grip on power.

Major changes possible

Turkey’s economy is in recession and the United States, its NATO ally, has threatened sanctions if Erdogan goes ahead with plans to install Russian missile defenses.

A second AKP loss could also shed further light into what CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu said was the misspending of billions of lira at the Istanbul municipality, which has a budget of around $4 billion.

“If Imamoglu wins again, there’s going to be a chain of serious changes in Turkish politics,” journalist and writer Murat Yetkin said.

“It will be interpreted as the beginning of a decline for AKP and for Erdogan as well,” he said, noting that the president himself had called the local elections “a matter of survival.”

Another Imamoglu win could eventually trigger a national election earlier than 2023 as scheduled, a cabinet reshuffle, and even a potential adjustment in foreign policy, Yetkin added.

To narrow the roughly 13,000-vote gap in March, the AKP re-calibrated its message recently to court Kurdish voters, who make up about 15% of voters in the city of 15 million.

Courting the Kurds

The campaign received a twist when jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan urged the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to stay neutral in the vote. The HDP, which backs Imamoglu, accused Erdogan of trying to divide Kurds.

Having campaigned hard ahead of the March vote, a strategy that many within AKP believe has backfired, Erdogan initially kept a low-profile this month. But last week he returned to his combative campaigning and targeted Imamoglu directly, including threatening him with legal action, raising questions over whether the AKP would accept a second defeat.
 

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Sources: US Struck Iranian Military Computers This Week

U.S. military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems Thursday as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, U.S. officials said Saturday.

Two officials told The Associated Press that the strikes were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation.

The cyberattacks, a contingency plan developed over weeks amid escalating tensions, disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said. Two of the officials said the attacks, which specifically targeted Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps computer system, were provided as options after two oil tankers were attacked earlier this month.

The IRGC, which was designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration earlier this year, is a branch of the Iranian military.

The action by U.S. Cyber Command was a demonstration of the U.S.’s increasingly mature cyber military capabilities and its more aggressive cyber strategy under the Trump administration. Over the last year, U.S. officials have focused on persistently engaging with adversaries in cyberspace and undertaking more offensive operations.

There was no immediate reaction Sunday morning in Iran to the U.S. claims. Iran has hardened and disconnected much of its infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the late 2000s.

Tensions have escalated between the two countries ever since the U.S. withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and began a policy of “maximum pressure.” Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions. Tensions spiked this past week after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone, an incident that nearly led to a U.S. military strike against Iran on Thursday evening.

The cyberattacks are the latest chapter in the U.S. and Iran’s ongoing cyber operations targeting the other. Yahoo News first reported the cyber strike.

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Technology Helps People who are Visually Impaired to ‘See’ Art

Museums across the United States are striving to be more accessible to everyone. That includes touchable versions of photographs and paintings for people who may not be able to see them. At a recent expo by the American Alliance of Museums in New Orleans, new technology was used to help the visually impaired “see” art and pictures. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us more.

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