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Indigenous anti-dam activist killed in Honduras

Indigenous anti-dam activist killed in Honduras

A Honduran Indigenous activist who helped led a fight against the construction of a dam has been killed, authorities say

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:57 PM• 2 min read

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A Honduran Indigenous activist who helped led a fight against the construction of a dam has been killed, authorities said Monday.

National Police Inspector Juan Sabillón said one suspect had been detained in connection with the killing of activist Juan Carlos Cerros Escalante on Sunday.

Cerros Escalante, 41, was a member of Honduras’ Lenca Indigenous community. He was gunned down Sunday in front of a church in the town of Nueva Granada, in the Caribbean coast province of Cortes.

Betty Vásquez, the coordinator of the Santa Barbara Environmental Movement, said Cerros Escalante was killed in front of his children.

“We condemn the killing of yet another comrade and activist,” said Vásquez. “It is not conceivable, it is not right, that they criminalize people, persecute people and later kill them for defending the land. We consider this a political assassination.”

Cerros Escalante led a local group called “Communities United,” which was active in hamlets near the Rio Ulúa and which opposed the El Tornillito hydroelectric dam.

Sabillón said several potential suspects were under investigation and said the mastermind of the killing had been detained. He did not identify the suspect.

In 2020 alone, a dozen Indigenous rights and environmental activists were killed in Honduras.

On one weekend in December, two activists were killed.

Félix Vásquez, a longtime environmental activist from the Lenca Indigenous group, was shot by masked men in front of relatives at his home in Santiago de Puringla. A day later, Jose Adán Medina was found shot to death in a remote location in the community of El Volcán, also in western Honduras. Medina was a member of the Tolupan Indigenous group.

According to the rights group Global Witness, Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, with at least 120 killed between 2010 and 2017.

The most famous case was that of Bertha Cáceres, also a Lenca environmental activist, who was killed in March 2016 by gunmen burst into her home and shot her. Her murder captured global attention in part because she had been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. She fought for years against a dam project. Several men have been convicted in her murder.

Niger govt confirms 137 dead in village attacks near Mali

Niger govt confirms 137 dead in village attacks near Mali

Niger’s government says gunmen aboard motorcycles have attacked more villages in the border region with Mali, leaving at least 137 people dead

By DALATOU MAMANE Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:51 PM• 1 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article

NIAMEY, Niger — Gunmen aboard motorcycles have attacked a series of villages near Niger’s troubled border with Mali, leaving at least 137 people dead in the deadliest violence to strike the African country in recent memory, the government announced Monday.

Government spokesman Abdourahmane Zakaria confirmed the latest death toll, reading a government statement on national television’s Monday evening broadcast.

Less than a week ago, he read another grim announcement about attacks that ultimately killed at least 66 people.

Niger’s government: Village attacks kill at least 137 people in deadliest violence to hit country in years

Niger’s government: Village attacks kill at least 137 people in deadliest violence to hit country in years

Niger’s government: Village attacks kill at least 137 people in deadliest violence to hit country in years

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:48 PM• 1 min read

NIAMEY, Niger — Niger’s government: Village attacks kill at least 137 people in deadliest violence to hit country in years.

Puerto Rico awarded $900M to help boost island’s education

Puerto Rico awarded $900M to help boost island’s education

Puerto Rico has been granted access to more than $900 million in federal education funds shortly after reopening schools for the first time since the pandemic began

By DÁNICA COTO Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:35 PM• 2 min read

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s government on Monday was granted access to more than $900 million in federal education funds less than two weeks after reopening dozens of public and private schools for the first time since the pandemic began.

The $912 million is available immediately, but the U.S. Department of Education will work with Puerto Rico officials to identify how the money would be used to address the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students in the U.S. territory, according to a spokeswoman for Jenniffer González, the island’s congressional representative.

Further details, including whether the money could be used to buy things including computers or face masks, were not immediately available. Officials with Puerto Rico’s education department did not return a message for comment.

“Our students have been through too much,” said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi. “They deserve a semblance of normalcy.”

Pierluisi authorized the reopening of certain public and private schools this month to some students, but scarce attendance was reported amid fears of contagion as less than 100 of Puerto Rico’s 858 public schools reopened nearly two weeks ago for the first time in a year. For now, only kindergarteners, special education students and children in first, second, third and 12th grades are allowed to return to school. They attend in-person classes only twice a week and are dismissed before noon.

The release of federal education funds comes as Puerto Rico pursues a new relationship with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, with local officials hopeful that funding delays common under the former Trump administration will dissipate.

“The department understands the urgency to access vital federal education funds to meet the needs of Puerto Rican students who are experiencing compounded trauma,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

France summons Chinese envoy over “unacceptable” comments

France summons Chinese envoy over “unacceptable” comments

France’s Foreign Ministry has summoned China’s ambassador over recent comments that included alleged insults and threats toward lawmakers and a researcher

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:28 PM• 2 min read

PARIS — France’s Foreign Ministry said it has summoned China’s ambassador over “unacceptable” comments in recent days that included alleged insults and threats toward lawmakers and a researcher.

Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tweeted Monday that “comments of China’s Embassy and actions against elected officials, researchers and European diplomats are unacceptable.”

French authorities will “firmly reiterate the message” when meeting with Chinese Ambassador Lu Shaye, he added.

The Chinese Embassy in France called a Paris-based researcher, Antoine Bondaz, “a thug” on Twitter on Friday after Bondaz denounced China’s pressure on French lawmakers over an upcoming visit to Taiwan.

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhl, said in a statement that the embassy is required to “strictly respect” the rules for diplomatic relations.

The Foreign Ministry also protested China’s decision announced Monday to sanction several European nationals, including a French member of the European Parliament, Raphael Glucksmann.

China said the sanctions, which targeted other European Union lawmakers, researchers and diplomats, were in retaliation for sanctions the EU imposed on senior Chinese officials over human rights abuses in China’s far western Xinjiang region.

“It is not by attacking academic freedom, freedom of expression and fundamental democratic freedoms that China will respond to the legitimate concerns of the European Union,” the French ministry said.

Brazil economists call for tougher measures as cases ramp up

Brazil economists call for tougher measures as cases ramp up

Hundreds of Brazilian economists are urging the Brazilian government to speed up vaccination and adopt tougher restrictions to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:14 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article

RIO DE JANEIRO — Hundreds of Brazilian economists, including former finance ministers and central bank presidents, urged the Brazilian government in an open letter published on Monday to speed up vaccination and adopt tougher restrictions to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19.

The signatories of the letter decried the “devastating” economic and social situation in Latin America’s largest nation. They also attempted to debunk President Jair Bolsonaro’s assertion that lockdowns and restrictions would inflict greater hardship on the population than the disease.

“This recession, as well as its harmful social consequences, was caused by the pandemic and will not be overcome until the pandemic is controlled through competent action from the federal government,” the letter read. “It is urgent that the different levels of government prepare to implement an emergency lockdown.”

Brazil’s gross domestic product contracted 4.1% in 2020, the biggest annual recession in decades. The economists said the fall in activity alone cost Brazil a loss in tax collection of 6.9%, approximately 58 billion reais ($10.5 billion).

The nation had an average of 2,235 deaths a day last week – the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. So far, nearly 295,000 people have died, the second largest tally in the world after the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has fought against restrictions on the economy adopted by state governors and mayors. Just last week, the president sought to lift restrictions imposed in the Federal District, Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul via the Supreme Court, online news site G1 reported.

Kosovo’s new parliament elects new government

Kosovo’s new parliament elects new government

Kosovo’s parliament has approved a new government facing the challenges of the coronavirus as confirmed cases mount in the small Balkan country

By ZENEL ZHINIPOTOKU and LLAZAR SEMINI Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 8:12 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressFILE – In this Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021 file photo, Albin Kurti leader of Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in capital Pristina, Kosovo. Kosovo’s newly-elected parliament has approved the new government challenged by the management of the virus pandemic following recent surging numbers. In an extraordinary session after the first one held earlier Monday, March 22, 2021 the parliament voted 67 in favor and 30 against the new Cabinet presented by Prime Minister Albin Kurti. (AP Photo/ Visar Kryeziu, file)

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s parliament on Monday approved a new government facing the challenges of managing the coronavirus as confirmed cases mount in the small Balkan country.

During a second extraordinary session, lawmakers voted 67-30 in favor of the Cabinet presented by Prime Minister Albin Kurti. The 17-member Cabinet includes six female ministers.

Kurti named the coronavirus pandemic as his top challenge and pledged to secure vaccines for 60% of Kosovo’s population this year. Kosovo is the only European country that has not started administering vaccines yet.

“The continuous anxiety of finding a job, paying the bills at the end of the month and up to securing food on the table has been heightened by the pandemic,” he said while presenting his government’s proposed program.

Reviving Kosovo’s economy, including beating back unemployment, as well as managing the coronavirus pandemic, organized crime and corruption remain top challenges for the new government.

Negotiations to normalize ties between Kosovo and neighboring Serbia stalled again last year, and reviving them don’t figure high on Kurti’s agenda despite international pressure.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces, which ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.

Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China don’t. Tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.

Kurti said that dialogue was the only way to resolve the issues with Serbia, adding that finding the 1,640 people who remain missing from the war would be his top priority in any talks.

Kurti also said that Kosovo “will raise a penal suit for Serbia’s crime of genocide at the International Court of Justice.”

“Without recognizing the reality of an independent Kosovo and Serbia accepting such a truth, there would be no normalization of the ties between our two peoples and two states,” he said.

Kurti reiterated Kosovo’s ambitions to join NATO and the European Union.

“The path toward integration into the EU could be challenging but there is no other alternative for Kosovo,” he said.

The EU, however, has made it clear that neither Kosovo nor Serbia can expect to become members until they resolve their rocky relationship.

A simple majority was needed to elect Kurti’s government, compared with the much harder task of electing the new president, which should happen by May and requires a two-thirds majority.

———

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Saudi Arabia offers cease-fire plan to Yemen rebels

Saudi Arabia offers cease-fire plan to Yemen rebels

Saudi Arabia has offered a cease-fire proposal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels that includes reopening their country’s main airport in the kingdom’s latest attempt to halt years of fighting in a war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis

By JON GAMBRELL and ISABEL DEBRE Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 7:44 PM• 6 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressFILE – In this Sept. 26, 2016 file photo, men are silhouetted against a large representation of the Yemeni flag as they attend a ceremony to mark the anniversary of North Yemen’s 1962 revolution in Sanaa, Yemen. On Monday, March 22, 2021, Saudi Arabia announced a plan to to offer Yemen’s Houthi rebels a cease-fire in the country’s yearslong war and allow a major airport to reopen in its capital. The Houthis offered no immediate comment to the proposal. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia on Monday offered a cease-fire proposal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels that includes reopening their country’s main airport, the kingdom’s latest attempt to halt years of fighting in a war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The move comes after the rebels stepped up a campaign of drone and missile attacks on the kingdom’s oil sites, briefly shaking global energy prices amid the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes as Riyadh tries to rehabilitate its image with the U.S. under President Joe Biden. Saudi Arabia has drawn internationally criticism for airstrikes killing civilians and embargoes exacerbating hunger in a nation on the brink of famine.

Whether the plan will take hold remains another question. A unilaterally declared Saudi cease-fire collapsed last year. Fighting rages around the crucial city of Marib and the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes as recently as Sunday targeting Yemen’s capital of Sanaa. A U.N. mission said another suspected airstrike hit a food-production company in the port city of Hodeida.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told journalists at a televised news conference in Riyadh. “It is up to the Houthis now. We are ready to go today. We hope we can have a cease-fire immediately, but the onus is on the Houthis.”

A senior Houthi official, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the rebels had been aware of the proposal and in direct communication with the Saudis, as well as interlocutors from Oman. However, he said the Saudis needed to do more to see a cease-fire implemented, something reiterated by others in the Iranian-backed rebel group.

Saudi Arabia said the plan would be presented both to the Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized government later Monday. Both would need to accept the plan for it to move forward, with any timeline likely to be set by U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the announcement, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

“There is no doubt that every effort must be made to end the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people, and the United Nations looks forward to continuing its work with the parties to achieve this goal,” Haq said.

He said Griffiths “has been working extensively with the parties to see what can be done to bring them together on the sort of proposals that he made in the Security Council. … So he will be in touch with the Houthis, as with all parties, to see whether we can go further on this.”

Saudi Arabia made two concessions to the Houthis in the plan, while not offering everything the rebels previously wanted. The first involves reopening Sanaa International Airport, a vital link for Yemen to the outside world that hasn’t seen regular commercial flights since 2015. Officials did not immediately identify what commercial routes they wanted to see resume.

The second would see taxes, customs and other fees generated by the Hodeida port while importing oil put into a joint account of Yemen’s Central Bank. That account would be accessible to the Houthis and Yemen’s recognized government to pay civil servants and fund other programs, officials said.

The Saudi government and the Yemeni government it backs have accused the Houthis of stealing those funds in the past. A report this year by a U.N. panel of experts said the Houthis “diverted” about $200 million from that fund.

“Only a small portion of the funds were used to pay salaries,” the report said.

Whether the Houthis accept the Saudi proposal remains in question. On Friday, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi proposed a nationwide cease-fire contingent upon Saudi Arabia reopening Sanaa’s airport to commercial flights and lifting restrictions on cargo shipments to Hodeida. The port handles most of the country’s vital imports. Both are long-standing demands of the Houthis, who swept into Sanaa from their northwestern strongholds in September 2014.

“There is nothing new about the Saudi initiative,” another senior Houthi official told the AP on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. “First, the airport and the port must both be opened.”

Prince Faisal criticized the Houthis for making “only more and more demands.”

“The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or … Iran’s interests first,” the prince said.

The Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 as the Houthis threatened to take Yemen’s port city of Aden and completely overrun the country’s internationally recognized government. The Saudis promised that the offensive — the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — would be over in short order.

Six years later, the fighting rages on. The war has killed some 130,000 people, including over 13,000 civilians slain in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Project. Tens of thousands of children have died of starvation and disease. The conflict also has turned into a regional conflict, with the Saudis using U.S.-made weaponry, and Iran linked to weapons used by the Houthis to target the kingdom.

Last week, Griffiths warned that “the war is back in full force.” Hundreds of fighters have been killed in the offensive on Marib, while other once-dormant front lines have seen renewed fighting. Saudi television channels repeatedly show black-and-white drone footage set to dramatic music of bombs dropping on suspected Houthi targets.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government praised the Saudi initiative as an effort to “ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.” But in a statement, its Foreign Affairs Ministry also warned that the Houthis had “met all previous initiatives with obstinacy and procrastination” and had “worked to deepen the humanitarian crisis.”

Since Biden took office, his administration reversed a decision by former President Donald Trump naming the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, allowing U.S. aid to flow into rebel-held territory. He also ended U.S. support for the Saudis in the war.

Biden sent the U.S. envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, to the region to negotiate a political settlement. Lenderking said earlier this month that the Houthis had an unspecified cease-fire proposal before them for a “number of days,” without elaborating. He reportedly met with Houthi officials while on a February trip to Oman, something the State Department has declined to acknowledge.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to the Saudi foreign minister about the war.

Blinken supports efforts “to end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a cease-fire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid,” the statement said.

—-

Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.

Israeli election seen as referendum on divisive Netanyahu

Israeli election seen as referendum on divisive Netanyahu

Israelis vote Tuesday in their fourth parliamentary election in just two years

By JOSEF FEDERMAN Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 7:31 PM• 7 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressAn election campaign billboard for the Likud party that shows a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, is defaced with Hebrew that reads, “go home,” in Ramat Gan, Israel, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday for what will be the fourth parliamentary election in just two years. Once again, the race boils down to a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Over the years, Netanyahu has developed a reputation as a political magician and master manipulator capable of surviving any crisis. With witnesses set to take the stand against him next month, Netanyahu is hoping for another miracle that could deliver a friendlier parliament willing to grant him immunity or freeze his trial. Opponents portray him as a serial liar who has caused two years of political paralysis by putting his political survival and legal troubles ahead of the country’s interests.

In Israel, people vote for parties, not individual candidates. Netanyahu’s Likud is again poised to emerge as the largest individual party. But since no party has ever won a 61-seat parliamentary majority on its own, political alliances must be formed to create a governing coalition. If the opinion polls prove accurate, Netanyahu would have a clearer path to building a government than the array of rivals that have little in common beyond their animosity toward him.

Here is a look at the key factors that could determine whether Netanyahu or any of his challengers can clinch that elusive 61-seat majority.

———

‘VACCINE NATION’:

Opponents have accused Netanyahu of bungling the management of the pandemic over the past year. A series of lockdowns hit the economy hard, thousands of businesses failed and unemployment remains in double digits. Many also have bitter memories of Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies flouting lockdown rules and point to the country’s more than 6,000 COVID-19 deaths.

With the economy coming back to life, Netanyahu is hoping the growing sense of normalcy will make voters forget the difficulties of the past year. This may explain that while polls show a majority of Israelis want Netanyahu replaced, he also is seen as best-suited to be prime minister.

“In people’s minds, first and foremost when you go into an election, is the identity of the prime minister,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “In many ways, this works in Netanyahu’s favor because it’s unclear who the opponent is.”

———

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

Opinion polls have indicated that some 15% of voters remain undecided. Tuesday’s election will hinge not only on who these voters support, but whether they choose to vote at all.

Analysts expect turnout to be lower than the 71% level of the most recent election a year ago, in part because of continued concerns about the coronavirus along with general voter fatigue. Israel is providing special accommodations, including separate booths and mobile ballot stations, to allow people who are sick or in quarantine to vote.

But more important than overall turnout will be voter participation in key sectors. Netanyahu’s religious and nationalist allies tend to have highly motivated voters. Arab voters, disappointed with the disintegration of the Arab “Joint List” bloc, are expected to stay home in larger numbers this time around. Voters in the more liberal and secular areas around Tel Aviv also tend to have lower rates of participation. Netanyahu could benefit if these trends materialize.

———

ON THE EDGES

This election could well hinge on the showing of a few small parties. In order to enter the Knesset, or parliament, a party must receive at least 3.25% of the vote, giving them a minimum of four seats in the 120-seat body.

Pollster Camil Fuchs said four small parties are hovering near the threshold. Of these, the dovish Meretz party and the centrist Blue and White are “much more in danger” of not getting enough support, according to recent polls, he said. Both are opposed to Netanyahu.

The Religious Zionist party, a small pro-Netanyahu faction that includes openly racist and homophobic candidates, appears to be gaining strength. If one of the anti-Netanyahu parties fails to get in, a strong showing by the Religious Zionists put Netanyahu over the top.

———

THE KINGMAKERS

Despite the tight race, neither Netanyahu and his religious and hardline allies, nor the anti-Netanyahu bloc, led by Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, are expected to capture a majority of seats on their own.

That sets the stage for former Netanyahu aide Naftali Bennett to emerge as the decisive voice in coalition building. Bennett’s Yamina party supports the same hard-line ideology as the Likud. But the two men have a notoriously strained relationship, and Bennett has refused to commit to either side.

Given their similar world views, Bennett, who has served as Netanyahu’s education and defense minister, appears to be better suited to join Netanyahu than the anti-Netanyahu bloc, which ranges from dovish Arab parties to former Netanyahu allies who have had bitter personal breakups with him. Still, if offered the chance to be prime minister, Bennett could side with Netanyahu’s opponents.

Some polls have forecast both sides falling short of a coalition even with Bennett’s support. That could create the unlikely scenario of a small Islamic party led by Arab lawmaker Mansour Abbas as kingmaker — or simply forcing a fifth election.

———

MISSING IN ACTION

In the previous three elections, Netanyahu boasted of his close alliance with then-President Donald Trump, posting massive billboards on highways and high-rises showing the men together. With Joe Biden now occupying the White House, Netanyahu has barely mentioned the new president, whose administration has given him a cool reception.

Likewise, there has been almost no mention of the Palestinians, reflecting the years-long freeze in substantive peace efforts. Biden has indicated he will soon re-engage with the Palestinians. That could make it difficult for the next Israeli leader to ignore the issue — or Biden.

US officials to hold talks in Mexico on migration

US officials to hold talks in Mexico on migration

Top U.S. advisers on border and immigration issues will meet with Mexican officials on Tuesday to discuss migration and development in Central America

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 7:31 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressMexican immigration agents stop people who crossed the Suchiate River, the natural border between Guatemala and Mexico, to see their identification documents as they enforce limits on all but essential travel near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Monday, March 22, 2021. Agents are forcing those with permission to enter Mexico for work or a visit to use the official border crossing bridge, and those who do not are being returned to Guatemala. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s director for North American affairs, said the talks will focus on the two countries “joint efforts for secure, safe and regulated migration,” and plans to provide economic development in southern Mexico and Central America so people won’t come under pressure to migrate.

The White House said Gonzalez will then go on to Guatemala, to “meet with Guatemalan government officials, as well as representatives from civil society and non-government organizations to address root causes of migration in the region and build a more hopeful future in the region.”

Also among the U.S. officials is Ricardo Zúñiga, who was named Monday as Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — three of the countries sending the most migrants to the United States.

The State Department said Zuñiga will “coordinate closely with the National Security Council staff on the administration’s comprehensive efforts to stem irregular migration to the United States and implement President Biden’s multi-year, $4 billion to address root causes of migration in Central America.”

Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials. There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168% and 63%, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center.

U.S. border patrol officials had encountered more than 29,000 unaccompanied minors since Oct. 1, nearly the same number of youths taken into custody for all of the previous budget year, according to administration officials.

Mexico did not explain why the measure was announced now, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, but it came on the same day the U.S. confirmed it will send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Mexico.

Officials say migrant traffickers are encouraging people to make the trip by claiming the U.S. border is open to migrants, while Biden administration officials have stressed that the border is not open.

Mexico has cooperated with U.S. efforts to stem the flow, while stressing that the problem can only be solved by addressing the root problems of poverty and joblessness that lead many to migrate. Mexico has proposed massive investment to promote economic development in those areas.

Pakistan transfers man acquitted in US reporter’s killing

Pakistan transfers man acquitted in US reporter’s killing

Police say a Pakistani-British man who was on death row for 18 years before his acquittal in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl has been transferred to a government safe house for security reasons

By BABAR DOGAR Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 7:17 PM• 2 min read

LAHORE, Pakistan — A Pakistani-British man who was on death row for 18 years before his acquittal in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl was transferred Monday to a government safe house for security reasons, police said.

Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh was handed over to the Punjab Counter-Terrorism department amid tight security, a senior police officer Suhail Sukhera told The Associated Press.

Sheikh was moved to his home city of Lahore from the southern port city of Karachi. Sukhera provided no further details and only said Sheikh was being kept at a well-guarded place.

Sheikh was acquitted by the Sindh High Court in April 2020 and since then Pearl’s family and Pakistan’s government have been fighting a legal battle to overturn the acquittal. Washington has also expressed its concern over the acquittal of Sheikh.

Sheikh has been in custody despite his acquittal under a special law allowing the government to detain people deemed a security risk.

The transfer comes more than a month after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Sheikh moved to a safe house from a special jail cell for inmates sentenced to death.

Authorities say Sheikh will not be allowed to leave the safe house.

Pearl disappeared on Jan. 23, 2002, in Karachi where he was investigating links between Pakistani militant groups and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “shoe bomber.” Reid had attempted to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes. Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi, during which he was kidnapped.

Pearl’s body was discovered in a shallow grave soon after a video of his beheading was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. The Pentagon in 2007 released a transcript in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, said he had killed Pearl.

Eritrea says EU sanctions on security agency are ‘malicious’

Eritrea says EU sanctions on security agency are ‘malicious’

Eritrean authorities have described European Union sanctions targeting a security agency as “malicious” and charged the EU with having “ulterior motives.”

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 6:59 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article

KAMPALA, Uganda — Eritrean authorities described European Union sanctions targeting a security agency Monday as “malicious” and charged the EU with having “ulterior motives.”

Eritrea was one of three African nations subject to EU sanctions announced Monday for alleged human rights violations, including killings and enforced disappearances. The others are Libya and South Sudan.

The Eritrea sanctions target the National Security Office, including its leader, Maj. Gen. Abraha Kassa. In its official journal, the EU said, “The National Security Office is responsible for serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture committed by its agents.”

The EU’s new sanctions system is similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, Obama-era legislation that authorized the government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

Eritrea, one of the world’s most secretive countries, in response called the sanctions offensive.

“The EU has no legal or moral prerogative for its decision and has merely invoked trumped-up charges to harass Eritrea for other ulterior motives,” said a statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Soldiers from Eritrea are reportedly helping Ethiopian government forces in the Tigray war, which started in November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the region after an attack there on federal military facilities. Fighting persists in the region’s rural areas even as Ethiopian authorities insist the situation om Tigray is returning to normal.

The U.S. has urged Eritrean troops “to come out” of Tigray, where abuses include reported massacres, rapes, and enforced disappearances. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken characterized some of the atrocities in western Tigray as equal to “ethnic cleansing.” Ethiopia said the allegation was unfounded.

Mexican rights agency appeals against pre-trial detention

Mexican rights agency appeals against pre-trial detention

Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission has taken a rare stance against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, by asking courts to overturn his expansion of mandatory pre-trial detention for a host of charges

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 6:30 PM• 2 min read

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s governmental National Human Rights Commission took a rare stance against one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reforms Monday by asking the Supreme Court to overturn his expansion of mandatory pre-trial detention for a host of charges.

The commission said the appeal seeks to block the measure approved in February, because it violates the Constitutional guarantees of due process and the presumption of innocence.

The commission noted the reforms take away judges’ discretion in applying measures like house arrest, electronic monitoring or bail, and requires they send people to prison before evidence against them is even examined.

López Obrador has been hostile to outside regulators like the commission, and he appointed a person widely perceived as a weak figure to preside over it. The commission has very rarely challenged the administration.

Mexico had been moving away from denying bail and provisional release except in the most serious cases, like homicide, until López Obrador took office in late 2018. López Obrador argued that corrupt politicians and gangs that stole fuel from government pipelines were quickly being released on bail, and pledged to end the practice.

López Obrador sponsored a bill that expanded mandatory pre-trial detention to more than a dozen crimes, including burglary, electoral crimes, freight theft and weapons possession.

Cabinet talks in Lebanon break down, heralding more collapse

Cabinet talks in Lebanon break down, heralding more collapse

Talks between Lebanon’s president and prime minister-designate on the formation of a new Cabinet have collapsed amid hardening positions on both sides

By ZEINA KARAM Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 6:25 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressIn this photo released by Lebanese government, Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March. 22, 2021. Talks on the formation of a new Cabinet in Lebanon collapsed Monday, heralding more economic and financial collapse for the small Arab country. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

BEIRUT — Protesters blocked some roads in the Lebanese capital with burning tires Monday after talks on the formation of a new Cabinet broke down, heralding more economic and financial collapse for the small Arab country.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri made the announcement following a short meeting with President Michel Aoun — a last-ditch effort at repairing a rift that has impeded formation of a government tasked with halting the country’s rapid economic collapse. Hariri placed the blame squarely on Aoun for the months-long delay, accusing him of insisting on acquiring veto power for his allies in the new government.

Hariri, who was tasked by Aoun to form a Cabinet five months ago after he was named by a majority of lawmakers, is seeking to form a Cabinet of technocrats, or non-partisan specialists, while Aoun has asked for an expanded Cabinet of at least 20 ministers. Meanwhile, the country has been adrift with only a caretaker government in charge as it slides further into an economic abyss.

Speaking with reporters at the presidential palace, Hariri said Aoun had sent him a proposed list of Cabinet ministers, with veto power given to his alliance, asking him to simply sign off on the names. He said he rejected that request as unconstitutional and returned the list.

“The prime minister-designate’s job is not to fill in lists from anyone, and it is not the job of the president to form a government,” Hariri said.

Aoun’s office strongly denied the claim that the president sent Hariri a list with names, suggesting that it was clear Hariri did not wish to form a government for reasons that have nothing to do with its make-up. According to the constitution, the president can suggest names to the prime minister-designate, who is ultimately responsible for forming a Cabinet.

Aoun was elected to a six-year term by parliament in 2016 after Lebanon had been nearly two years without a president. He is an ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Hariri, who has worked closely with Hezbollah before, is locked in a power struggle with Aoun’s political party and is under pressure to exclude Hezbollah from a future Cabinet.

The public spat comes days before Aoun had called on Hariri to form a government quickly or step aside, to which Hariri suggested that Aoun himself should step down. The rhetoric illustrated how dangerously intractable the political crisis in the country is even as it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

There is no legal avenue for the President to fire the prime minister- designate, who was chosen to the post by a majority of lawmakers. It is not clear what would break the stalemate, which many fear could translate into violence on the street as tensions come to a boil.

The Lebanese pound fell against the dollar on the black market Monday after the Aoun-Hariri meeting failed to produce a breakthrough. Small groups of protesters used garbage containers to block several main roads in Beirut. Outside the central bank in the capital’s Hamra street, protesters set fire to trash in containers and knocked them over to block the street.

The economic and financial crisis roiling Lebanon is the gravest threat to its stability since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

The country’s local currency has been in a free fall since late 2019, losing over 90% of its value. The government defaulted on its foreign debt last year and nearly half the population has been pushed into poverty and unemployment.

Prices of basic goods have increased and inflation has soared. Banks have imposed informal controls on people’s savings, and the Central Bank’s foreign reserves have shrunk in a country dependent on imports.

The outgoing government resigned last August, following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

Turkish lira plummets after Erdogan fires central bank chief

Turkish lira plummets after Erdogan fires central bank chief

The Turkish currency has plummeted against the U.S. dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired the central bank governor over the weekend for hiking interest rates

By SUZAN FRASER AND DAVID McHUGH Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 6:14 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressA vendor offering Turkish flags for sale walks past a currency exchange shop, at an open market Istanbul, Monday, March 22, 2021. The Turkish currency plummeted against the U.S. dollar on Monday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired the central bank governor over the weekend for hiking interest rates. The lira was trading at around 7.9 against the dollar — nearly 10% down from Friday’s close. Erdogan, who advocates keeping interest rates low to tame inflation, unexpectedly fired Naci Agbal with a decree on Saturday, just four months after he took office. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish currency plummeted against the U.S. dollar on Monday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired his third central bank head in less than two years, raising concerns about a possible return to the unconventional monetary policy favored by the Turkish president as the country struggles with persistent inflation and currency instability.

Over the weekend, Erdogan dismissed Naci Agbal, who had shored up the lira currency and investor confidence with a strong dose of higher interest rates since being appointed in November.

Agbal was replaced by Sahap Kavcioglu, a banking professor who has argued for lower rates. Kavcioglu’s stance is in line with Erdogan’s stated preferences, but in contradiction to the usual economic thinking.

Typically, higher interest rates shore up a currency and help combat inflation. Erdogan has argued the contrary, that high rates cause inflation.

The market selloff in the lira and Turkish stocks reflect investor fears that interest rates are headed lower, said Maya Senussi, senior economist at Oxford Economics. She wrote in a research note that the Turkish central bank leadership “has been removed once too often, leaving the bank with no credibility” and that a surprise rate hike Thursday, “which we took as a good omen, appears to have overstepped President Erdogan’s tolerance limits.”

Higher rates, while they support the currency and battle inflation, can constrain economic growth by raising the cost of borrowing for companies. Despite currency difficulties since mid-2018, Turkey was one of the few countries to post economic growth during 2020, thanks to government stimulus, tax breaks and cheap credit from state-owned banks.

Growth in recent years, however, has been fueled by foreign credit and government stimulus, leaving the economy vulnerable, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The lira was trading Monday at around 7.9 against the dollar — nearly 10% down from Friday’s close. It had been weaker earlier Monday at 8.4 per dollar but recovered some of it losses after Finance Minister Lutfi Elvan assured markets that Turkey was committed to free market rules and to a liberal currency exchange regime. The currency has fallen from levels around 4 to the dollar since April 2018.

Agbal, a respected former finance minister, was brought in to lead the central bank after the Turkish lira hit record lows and inflation soared. In his months in office, Agbal had hiked the benchmark rate a total of 8.75 percentage points, working to rebuild the credibility of the central bank after it was damaged by years of unorthodox policies. Agbal’s most recent hike of 2 percentage points on Thursday took the rate to 19%, which was higher than analysts expected. The bank said tight monetary policy would be maintained until inflation, which has hit 15.61%, was brought under control.

Kavcioglu is a banking professor and a columnist at a pro-government newspaper, where he has argued for low interest rates. He previously was a lawmaker in Erdogan’s ruling party.

Ratings agency Moody’s said that the decision “increases the risk of renewed pressure on the exchange rate. The surprise move is also further evidence of the complete lack of policy predictability in Turkey and confirms our view of serious institutional weakening in the country over the past several years.”

Lawyer clears Scotland’s leader of misleading lawmakers

Lawyer clears Scotland’s leader of misleading lawmakers

A senior lawyer says Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not mislead lawmakers or act improperly over sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor

By JILL LAWLESS Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 6:01 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressFILE – In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during a ‘Scotland’s European Future after Brexit’ event at the European Policy Center in Brussels. Sturgeon did not mislead lawmakers or act improperly over sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor, a senior lawyer said Monday, March 22, 2021 in his report into a scandal that is roiling Scottish politics. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool, File)

LONDON — Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon didn’t mislead lawmakers or act improperly over sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor, a senior lawyer said Monday in his report into a scandal that has roiled Scottish politics.

James Hamilton, a former chief prosecutor in Ireland who advises the Scottish government, concluded that Sturgeon didn’t breach the code of conduct for government ministers. Sturgeon would have faced intense pressure to resign if she was found to have broken the ministerial code.

Sturgeon welcomed the lawyer’s findings, calling them “official, definitive and independent.”

“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest,” she said.

Sturgeon has accused the opposition members of the committee of voting on party lines rather than on the evidence.

The political and personal feud has pitted Sturgeon against her former friend and mentor Salmond, and is wracking Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party.

In 2019, Salmond was charged with sexual assault and attempted rape after allegations by nine women who had worked with him as first minister or for the party. He was acquitted by a criminal court in 2020, and claims the allegations made by several women were part of a conspiracy to wreck his political career.

Scotland’s highest civil court ruled in 2019 that the government acted unlawfully in its investigation of the claims against Salmond, and awarded him more than 500,000 pounds ($695,000) in legal expenses.

Hamilton’s findings are unlikely to silence all the questions about the Salmond case. His inquiry had a narrow focus, looking at whether Sturgeon told the truth about when she learned of the allegations, and whether she “attempted to influence the conduct of the investigation” into the harassment complaints.

“There is undoubtedly scope for political criticism of the manner in which Scottish government handled Mr. Salmond’s proceedings,” Hamilton said in his report. “That is not a matter for me to express any view upon.”

The political drama in Edinburgh could have major implications for the future of Scotland and the U.K.

Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum was billed at the time as a once-in-a-generation decision. But the Scottish National Party says Brexit has fundamentally changed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will. A majority of Scottish voters backed “remain” in the U.K.’s 2016 EU membership referendum. The U.K. as a whole voted narrowly to leave the bloc.

UN official: Airstrikes on NW Syria border area worrying

UN official: Airstrikes on NW Syria border area worrying

A U.N. official says airstrikes in northwest Syria near the Turkish border that killed a person and set afire trucks used to distribute aid targeted areas considered the safest in the rebel-held region

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article9:43

ABC News’ Ian Pannell looks back at the origins and impact of 10 years of deadly conflict in Syria.The Associated Press

The strikes on several locations a day earlier angered Turkey, prompting it to place its troops on high alert. Turkey’s Defense Ministry said it asked Russia to secure an immediate halt to the attacks.

The U.S. condemned the attacks and called for a nationwide cease-fire. In a statement Monday, it said the strikes near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey had put access to much needed assistance at risk.

The area along the border with Turkey in rebel-held northwestern Syria had been considered one of the safest spots in the conflict-stricken region, and had attracted aid groups who located their offices and warehouses there.

The rebel-held enclave divided between Idlib and Aleppo provinces is home to more than 2.7 million displaced people, mostly living in camps and temporary shelters, many having escaped repeated rounds of military offensives and fighting.

“Many of the camps are in that area, about a million people in camps around that area. They are highly vulnerable when airstrikes and shelling happen,” Cutts told The Associated Press. “It is also the area where many of the humanitarian organizations have offices and warehouses. They put their warehouses and offices there thinking that was the safest part of Idlib. So when that starts coming under attack that is extremely worrying.”

Turkey and Russia support rival parties in Syria’s 10-year conflict. The countries reached a cease-fire deal last March that stopped a Russian-backed government offensive on Idlib, in the last major rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria.

Opposition activists claimed that Russian warplanes carried out the attacks near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey late Sunday, hours after government artillery shells hit a major hospital in Atareb, another rebel-controlled town. Six patients, including a 10-year-old child, were killed. Medical staff were wounded, forcing the facility to shut its doors.

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing is the main point from which international aid is brought to rebel-held parts of northwest Syria.

The crossing “remains the only UN-authorized humanitarian border crossing in Syria and remains the most efficient and effective way to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance” every month to residents of the area, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Cutts called the attack on the hospital “really horrific,” adding that the same facility came under attack years before, forcing it to go underground to continue to operate.

Idlib-based journalist Salwa Abdul-Rahman said one of the strikes hit an area near the town of Sarmada, setting afire trucks used by aid workers to distribute assistance.

“The targeted locations were civilian with no military presence,” she said.

One person was killed in the strikes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets.

The civil defense said the strikes also targeted a cement factory.

An AP video from the area showed about a dozen trucks on fire as civil defense members sprayed them with water.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry blamed Syrian government forces for the attack, saying it left several people wounded.

Cutts said the year-old cease-fire has held in some parts but not everywhere, saying that shelling in some areas has happened every day.

UK unveils plan for smaller, more high-tech armed forces

UK unveils plan for smaller, more high-tech armed forces

Britain plans to cut the size of its army and boost spending on drones, robots and a new “cyber force” under defense plans announced by the government on Monday

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:37 PM• 2 min readThe Associated PressBritain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks, during a visit to BAE Systems at Warton Aerodrome in Lancashire, England, Monday, March 22, 2021 to mark the publication of the Integrated Review and the Defence White Paper. (Christopher Furlong/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON — Britain plans to cut the size of its army and boost spending on drones, robots and a new “cyber force” under defense plans announced by the government on Monday.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the British Army would shrink from 76,500 soldiers to 72,500 by 2025. He said the army hadn’t been at its “established strength” of 82,500 for several years.

Wallace said the military would no longer be “overstretched and underequipped” and that new investment in equipment, infrastructure and technology “marks a shift from mass mobilization to information age speed, readiness and relevance for confronting the threats of the future.”

Wallace said the armed forces “will no longer be held as a force of last resort, but become more present and active around the world.”

Britain is the second-biggest military spender in NATO, after the United States. In November the government announced a 16.5 billion-pound ($23 billion) increase in defense spending over the next four years, focusing on the future battlefields of space and cyber rather than traditional resources such as army troops.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that the reforms would give the military “the kit now that they will need to make themselves all the more useful, all the more, I’m afraid, lethal, and effective around the world.”

“Therefore, all the more valuable to our allies, and all the more deterring to our foes.”

EU, US, UK, Canada target China officials over Uyghur abuses

EU, US, UK, Canada target China officials over Uyghur abuses

The European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States have launched coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights abuses in China’s far western Xinjiang region

By LORNE COOK Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:37 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article3:04

Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States on Monday launched coordinated sanctions against officials in China over human rights abuses in the far western Xinjiang region, provoking swift retaliation from Beijing.

The EU targeted four senior officials in Xinjiang. The sanctions involve a freeze on the officials’ assets and a ban on them traveling in the bloc. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.

The 27-nation bloc also froze the assets of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which it describes as a “state-owned economic and paramilitary organization” that runs Xinjiang and controls its economy.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the measures were part of “intensive diplomacy” by the U.K, the United States, Canada and the 27-nation EU to force action amid mounting evidence about serious rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim people.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that “a united transatlantic response sends a strong signal to those who violate or abuse international human rights, and we will take further actions in coordination with likeminded partners.”

“We will continue to stand with our allies around the world in calling for an immediate end to the PRC’s crimes and for justice for the many victims,” Blinken said.

China responded immediately to the EU’s move, slapping sanctions on 10 European individuals and four institutions that it said had damaged China’s interests and “maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”

Initially, China denied the existence of camps for detaining Uyghurs in Xinjiang but has since described them as centers to provide job training and to reeducate those exposed to radical jihadi thinking. Officials deny all charges of human rights abuses there.

Xinjiang had been a hotbed of anti-government violence, but Beijing claims its massive security crackdown brought peace in recent years.

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the EU sanctions as “based on nothing but lies and disinformation” as it issued its own retaliatory measures.

The ministry announced sanctions against 10 individuals and four institutions, saying that they and their family members would be barred from entering mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao and cut off from financial dealings with those areas.

Among those targeted was Adrian Zenz, a U.S.-based German scholar who has publicized abuses against minority groups in China’s regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. China has said companies and individuals have petitioned to sue Zenz, but it wasn’t clear who the plaintiffs were or how they would pursue legal action across borders.

Others targeted for sanctions include five members of the European Parliament: Reinhard Butikofer, Michael Gahler, Raphael Glucksmann, Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Miriam Lexmann.

The ministry did not say what measures would be taken against the organizations. They were listed as the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union, where the 27 national envoys decide foreign and security policy; the EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights; the German-based Mercator Institute for China Studies; and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation in Denmark.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting of foreign ministers, expressed dismay at China’s reaction and said the EU’s sanctions respect the “highest standards of rule of law.”

“Rather than change its policies and address our legitimate concerns, China has again turned a blind eye, and these measures are regrettable and unacceptable,” Borrell said.

“There will be no change in European Union determination to defend human rights and to respond to serious violations and abuses,” he added, and described the coordination between the EU, Britain, Canada and the U.S. as “perfect.”

The new EU sanction system is similar to the Magnitsky Act — Obama-era legislation that authorizes the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.

As part of Monday’s move, the EU also imposed sanctions over repression in North Korea, “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Libya, torture and repression against LGBTI people and political opponents in Chechnya in Russia, and torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings in South Sudan and Eritrea,” a statement said.

Those targeted in Libya were Mohammed Khalifa al-Kani, leader of Libya’s notorious al-Kaniyat militia, and his brother Abderrahim al-Kani, a member of the same militia. Both are accused of committing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances between 2015 and June 2020 in the town of Tarhuna, which they had controlled for years.

Since their escape from Tarhuna last summer following a military defeat, dozens of mass graves have been discovered and attributed to al-Kaniyat militiamen. Last year, the U.S Treasury targeted al-Kaniyat and its leader over the same alleged crimes.

———

Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, and Noha ElHennawy in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

Saudi oil giant Aramco reports 30% drop in payments to state

Saudi oil giant Aramco reports 30% drop in payments to state

Saudi Arabia’s state-backed oil giant Aramco says it paid the Saudi government 30% less in 2020

By ISABEL DEBRE Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:26 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe Associated PressIn this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, engineers walk in front of an oil separator at a Saudi Aramco processing facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s state-backed oil giant Aramco announced Sunday, March 21, 2021, that its 2020 profits fell sharply in 2020 to $49 billion, a big drop that came as the coronavirus pandemic roiled global energy markets. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Saudi Arabian Oil Co, the kingdom’s largest taxpayer, transferred $110 billion to the government in 2020 in dividends, royalties and income taxes, down from nearly $159 billion the year before. The kingdom plans to spend $263 billion in 2021, according to its budget, showing the significance of Aramco’s payments to state coffers.

Despite its steep 2020 losses, Aramco stuck to its promise to pay $75 billion in dividends to shareholders for the year, unlike other major oil companies that cut payouts to preserve cash flow. Nearly all of the dividend money goes to the Saudi government, which owns more than 98% of the company. Seeking a cash infusion, the company has taken on a ballooning amount of debt, its financial report shows. Aramco’s net debt to equity ratio more than doubled — from 26% in 2019 to 55% in 2020.

Aramco’s profits fell some 44% to $49 billion last year, amid turmoil in global energy markets unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic. As virus-induced lockdowns slashed oil demand, the price of international benchmark Brent crude plummeted to all-time lows in April of last year.

In a call with financial analysts on Monday, President and CEO Amin H. Nasser said he expected oil prices to roar back in the second half of the year, noting the “strong pickup in demand” already sweeping China and East Asia.

Buoyed by optimism about COVID-19 vaccines and a return to global trade and travel, the price of oil started to claw its way back to over $60 a barrel last month, with Brent trading at over $64 on Monday. Crude prices even briefly climbed above $70 earlier this month, following a drone attack on Aramco’s largest export facility, Ras Tanura, the latest in a series of assaults on the company’s facilities claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

In recent months, even as prices rebounded, Aramco has tightly restrained production under a continuing agreement with other members of the OPEC cartel and its allies, known as OPEC+. The cuts have supported energy markets as vaccination campaigns sputter and the virus still races around the world.

That may change in the coming year, however.

“Aramco is in a unique position to surge production should the global oil demand recovery accelerate,” Bank of America said. “A potential significant upside to production could follow in 2022” after the expiration of the OPEC+ agreement, it added.

Aramco was listed on the local Tadawul exchange in 2019 in the largest valuation for an initial public offering. It traded at 35.55 riyal ($9.48) a share on Monday.

The kingdom’s fiscal deficit hit $79 billion in 2020, or 12% of gross domestic product, far surpassing previous estimates. The budget deficit has widened each year since oil prices dropped in 2014, prompting the government to borrow heavily and accelerate its shift away from oil largess. In response, the government has cut back some subsidies, tripled the value-added tax to 15% and accelerated its search for non-oil revenue.

Mexico worried by killings of politicians

Mexico worried by killings of politicians

Mexican officials condemned the weekend killing of a would-be candidate for mayor in a small town in the southern state of Oaxaca

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:24 PM• 1 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article0:45

Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology is open to residents and visitors after eight months of lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.ABCNews.com

MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials condemned the weekend killing of a would-be candidate for mayor in a small town in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Ivonne Gallegos Carreño was planning to run for mayor in the small town of Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca before she was gunned down in her car on Saturday.

The consultancy firm Etellekt said in a report that killings have come mainly in violence-plagued states like Veracruz, on the Gulf coast, and Guerrero, on the Pacific. But isolated killings have occurred in a half-dozen other states.

Mexico’s National Women’s Institute said in a statement that “violence against women cannot be allowed or tolerated in a democratic system.”

Republic of Congo candidate Kolelas dies of COVID-19

Republic of Congo candidate Kolelas dies of COVID-19

A spokesman says Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, the top opposition candidate in Republic of Congo’s presidential election who was hospitalized with COVID-19, has died

By LOUIS OKAMBA Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 5:21 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article3:04

Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press

The 61-year-old politician had been flown to France for further treatment on Sunday but died shortly after landing in Paris, aides said.

He was last seen in a video circulating Saturday on social media in which he told supporters he was “fighting death.”

Spokesman Justin Nzoloufoua confirmed his death Monday to The Associated Press, and said efforts were underway to repatriate Kolelas’ body to Brazzaville.

Sassou N’Guesso said Monday that Sunday’s vote had taken place without incident.

“I can therefore say that democracy is working in our country,” said the president, who won with 60% of ballots cast last time.

Kolelas had skipped his final campaign event on Friday after telling some reporters a day earlier that he feared he had malaria. A video circulating on social media Saturday showed Kolelas wearing an oxygen mask and with a blood pressure cuff on his arm as he lay in a hospital bed.

“My dear compatriots, I am in trouble. I am fighting death,” the candidate says in a weak-sounding voice after removing his oxygen mask. “However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing.”

The opposition figure has been particularly critical of the incumbent leader in recent days, declaring that Republic of Congo had become “a police state.”

Sassou N’Guesso is the third-longest serving president in Africa, ruling from 1979-1992 and then again since 1997 in this nation often overshadowed by its vast neighbor Congo.

Republic of Congo, with a population of about 5.4 million people, has had fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 134 confirmed deaths.

———

Associated Press journalists Jerome Delay in Johannesburg and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

Greece orders private doctors to join COVID-19 battle

Greece orders private doctors to join COVID-19 battle

Greece’s health minister is requisitioning the services of private sector doctors from certain specialties in the wider Athens region to help fight a renewed surge in coronavirus infections that is straining hospitals to their limits

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 4:44 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this article3:04

Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press

In an announcement released Monday, Vassilis Kikilias said that despite repeated appeals for private doctors to volunteer to help in the public sector, very few came forward. Therefore, the minister said, he was ordering specialists in pathology, pneumonology and general medicine to help.

Kikilias had said Friday he would requisition private sector doctors unless at least 200 volunteered within 48 hours. Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said Monday that only 61 doctors had stepped forward voluntarily.

“It was the last measure, if you will, in the context of the emergency plan prepared by the Health Ministry, and it was decided that it was now necessary to mobilize private doctors as part of this great struggle, this national effort, after all the opportunities for voluntary participation were exhausted,” Peloni said.

Greece has been experiencing a renewed surge of COVID-19 despite lockdown-related measures being in force since early November, with dozens of daily deaths recorded, as well as increasing numbers of patients hospitalized in intensive care units. About 500 people are hospitalized each day across the country with COVID-19, health authorities say, with 200 of them being in the wider Athens region.

Despite the rising numbers, authorities have announced a slight relaxation of lockdown measures, with hairdressers, nail salons and open-air archaeological sites reopening as of Monday. Amateur fishing, which had also been banned, is also being allowed for those living in coastal areas, as access to the sea is allowed only on foot or bicycle.

Authorities said Monday that close to 1.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in the country, with nearly 1 million people receiving at least one jab.

———

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Germany: Theology professors blast Vatican gay union stance

Germany: Theology professors blast Vatican gay union stance

More than 230 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and other countries where German is spoken have signed a statement protesting the Vatican’s recent pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions

ByThe Associated PressMarch 22, 2021, 4:38 PM• 2 min read

The statement issued Monday declared that last week’s text “is marked by a paternalistic air of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people and their life plans.”

“We distance ourselves firmly from this position,” it added. “We believe that the life and love of same-sex couples are not worth less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”

The document released a week ago by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”

The congregation’s note distinguished between blessing same-sex unions and the Catholic Church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld. The document argued that such unions are not part of God’s plan and that any sacramental recognition of them could be confused with marriage.

It pleased conservatives and disheartened advocates for LGBT Catholics. The German church has been at the forefront of opening discussion on hot-button issues such the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Verzuz Next Lineup Announced With Some Planned Rematches

Verzuz is teasing a legendary clash which will see the Isley Brothers take on the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire, along with a Method Man and Redman match and a mystery re-match they say will be announced in the future.

The announcement was made after the epic showdown on Saturday night between the Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Ghostface Killah take place. The Verzuz features guest appearances from Cappadonna, Masta Killa, and Inspectah Deck. There was great reception of the anticipated episode by fans and viewers who reveled in the music of yesteryear.

Verzuz, which was started by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland and became a popular form of entertainment following the closing down of the entertainment industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic, recently sold the franchise to Thriller Network. Now, the clashes are coming the way of fans, as announced by the Instagram page of the franchise, which teased a line-up that includes a mother’s day special as well as a ladies night clash.

“We’re just getting started. We got so much on the way and can’t wait to reveal the rest, but for now… The Isley Brothers vs Earth, Wind & Fire | April 4th Redman vs Method Man | “How High” 4/20 Special Watch on [Verzuz TV] or [Triller]. Try to guess the other ones!!” the network said.

Fans took to the internet to guess the upcoming matches as they mused who would make a good match and named match-ups like Eve vs. Lil Kim and Lil Kim vs. Foxy Brown.

Other guesses included Teddy Riley v Babyface for the Re-match, Pharrell v. Missy Elliott, and Silk V Jodeci for Ladies Night.

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Vybz Kartel Details First Time Being Booed On Stage In 1991, Drops “X-Rated” Album

Even Vybz Kartel gets a taste of the tough Jamaican live music audience.

Vybz Kartel has often been viewed as one of Jamaica’s most prolific and talented songwriters. For years, he has been able to consistently release chart-topping singles, many of which have made their way onto various Billboard charts. Despite the fact that he has been imprisoned since 2011, the artiste known as the “Worl’Boss” continues to outperform his competitors.

On Friday, March 19, Kartel gave his fans a treat when he released a mini-album titled X-Rated. The new album was released under the Short Boss Muzik and Vybz Kartel Muzik labels and features nine tracks, which is an assortment of music and interludes from the dancehall artist.

Vybz Kartel has long regarded himself as the holder of an “alien brain,” solely based on his musical abilities. He has now revealed the specific time and place he was possessed with his celestial abilities on “Solid Boo,” a track from the new album. As the title states, the interlude speaks of a time the deejay’s courage and persistence was put to the test when he was ridiculed while on stage. The “booing” incident took place in the early 1990s when what many now define as one of the best eras of the dancehall was starting to take root.

At the time, a teenage Vybz Kartel, who went by the name Addi Banton, resided in the hot and tormented community of Waterford, Portmore. As Kartel explains in his signature baritone voice mixed with a slight taste of mischief, he and a friend had snuck out of their homes to attend a stage show. Being confident in his deejaying skills, the young Kartel took to the stage and deejayed, “Di gyal bruk out like ah big dutty sore, lawd! She f*** down di whole a Portmore.”

Sadly, the biting lyrics were not well received as he had hoped, and what followed next was a resounding “Boooooooooo.” Vybz Kartel further explained that the MC made matters worse when he implied that he and his lyrical partner had not only made a mockery of himself but the craft on a whole. “Jah know star dem yute yah make the deejay ting look haad.”

It’s not often that one hears about the great Vybz Kartel not owning any stage that he steps onto. This is due to the fact that the man now regarded as Di Teacha became a student of criticism that very night. The argument he got into with his dad upon his return from the event at 4 o’clock in the morning was not enough to deter him from writing ten songs that very same day. Hereby marks the beginning of the Vybz Kartel millions around the world have now come to love, fear, admire, and most of all, respect. The story also brings across a very profound message to a project titled X-Rated.

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Vybz Kartel still had a host of hurdles to skip over before he was able to be regarded as the King of Dancehall. His connections with Bounty Killer, one of Jamaica’s greatest musical products, provided Kartel with an outlet for his creativity before his name was known by the masses.

Penning songs for Bounty Killer and other members of the “Warlord” led Alliance was a common practice for the “Unstoppable” singer. In turn, Killer brought that much-coveted spotlight to Vybz Kartel and the other acts under his wing. The relationship between Killer and Kartel would later go sideways, leading the latter to form his own musical outfit, Portmore Empire.

Kartel would go on to also spearhead much of the writing in the camp during the group’s heyday, which resulted in Empire becoming one of the hottest collections of artists in dancehall. The likes of Jah Vinci, Popcaan, NotNice, Lisa Hyper, Rvssian, Spice, and numerous other entertainers and producers have all benefitted from Vybz Kartel’s pen game, and they continue to heap praises onto him to this day.

Elevation Worship – Million Little Miracles (Live) Lyrics

[Verse 1]
All my life
I’ve been carried by grace
Don’t ask me how
Cause I can’t explain
It’s nothing short of a miracle, I’m here

[Verse 2]
I’ve got some blessings
That I don’t deserve
I’ve got some scars
But that’s how you learn
It’s nothing short of a miracle, I’m here

[Pre-Chorus 1]
I think it over and
It doesn’t add up
I know it comes from above

[Chorus]
I got miracles on miracles
A million little miracles
Miracles on miracles
Count your miracles
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

[Verse 3]
You held me steady
So I wouldn’t give up
You opened doors that
Nobody can shut
I hope I never get over what You’ve done

[Verse 4]
I wanna live
With an open heart
I wanna live
Like I know who You are
I hope I never get over what You’ve done

[Pre-Chorus 2]
It’s not coincidence
And it’s not luck
I know it comes from above

[Chorus]
I got miracles on miracles
A million little miracles
Miracles on miracles
Count your miracles
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all
I got miracles on miracles
A million little miracles
Miracles on miracles
Count your miracles
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

[Bridge]
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
I can’t even
I can’t even count them all
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

[Chorus]
I got miracles on miracles
A million little miracles
Miracles on miracles
Count your miracles…

I got miracles on miracles
A million little miracles
Miracles on miracles
Count your miracles
1-2-3-4
I can’t even count them all

(Note: The lyrics for Million Little Miracles aren’t final. And they will be official when the album releases on April 30.)

Lost Frequencies – Rise Lyrics

[Intro]
Ooh
Ooh
Ooh

[Verse 1]
It’s been a hard year, feelin’ the weight now
All of the hurt, all of the dirt, all of the shame now
Nothin’ but closed doors, not gonna break down
(I rise)
See, doubt is a strong drug, it gets in your bloodstream
You lose your hope, you lose your soul, you lose the whole thing
And I fought my whole life to know it won’t break me
(I rise)

[Chorus]
Ain’t no way, no way I’m stoppin’ now
Gonna make my way right through the clouds
I rise
I rise
I’ma grit my teeth and bear the pain
Gonna climb this mountain once again
I rise
I rise

[Pre-Drop]
I rise
I rise

[Drop]
I rise
I rise

[Verse 2]
I’m feelin’ stronger, stronger than I’ve been
I weather the storm, weather the rain, I am the lightnin’ (Lightnin’)
Don’t need a shelter, I’m done with the hidin’
(I rise)

[Chorus]
Ain’t no way, no way I’m stoppin’ now
Gonna make my way right through the clouds
I rise
I rise
I’ma grit my teeth and bear the pain
Gonna climb this mountain once again
I rise
I rise

[Pre-Drop]
I rise
I rise

[Drop]
I rise
I rise

Rise Against – Nowhere Generation Lyrics

[Chorus]
We are the nowhere generation
We are the kids that no one wants
We are a credible threat to the rules you set
A cause to be alarmed
We are not the names that we’ve been given
We speak a language you don’t know
We are the nowhere Generation
The nowhere gеneration
Oh-oh-uh-oh

[Verse 1]
And one day
All the walls will comе down
All the doors will open
All the roads will lead home
But right now
We are spiraling down
And the longer we wait
The further we go

[Pre-Chorus 1]
I know we’re slipping through the cracks now
No place left on your map now to call home

[Chorus]
We are the nowhere generation
We are the kids that no one wants
We are a credible threat to the rules you set
A cause to be alarmed
We are not the names that we’ve been given
We speak a language you don’t know
We are the nowhere Generation
The nowhere generation
Oh-oh-uh-oh

[Verse 2]
And for your sweat you’ll be rewarded
They told us every day
There’s a land of milk and honey
And it’s not that far away
But the finish line kept movin’
And the promises wore thin
And the smoke on the horizon
Was the burning promised land

[Pre-Chorus 2]
In this place you’ll still be somewhere
But they sold it out from under us
Our voices all ignored

[Chorus]
We are the nowhere generation
We are the kids that no one wants
We are a credible threat to the rules you set
A cause to be alarmed
We are not the names that we’ve been given
We speak a language you don’t know
We are the nowhere Generation
The nowhere generation
Oh-oh-uh-oh

[Bridge]
And yet we climb these burning ladders
Still we raise for them the hammers
Swinging low
“And what exactly are we after?”, they will ask
And we will answer

[Chorus]
We are the nowhere generation
We are the kids that no one wants
We are a credible threat to the rules you set
A cause to be alarmed
We are not the names that we’ve been given
We speak a language you don’t know
We are the nowhere generation
Oh-oh-uh-oh
(We are the nowhere generation)
Oh-oh-uh-oh
(We are the nowhere generation)
We are the nowhere generation
We are the nowhere generation
The nowhere generation

Young Dolph – Yeeh Yeeh Lyrics

[Intro]
Yeah, yeah
(Let the band play)
Skrrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt, skrrt

[Verse 1]
Don’t know how I made it home last night, everything a blur (Damn)
Hallucinating, can’t remember shit, drunk too much syrup (Damn)
Doin’ one-thirty down Bellevue, fucked ’round and scraped the curb (Woah)
My finger on the trigger (Why?), ’cause I got bad nerves (Okay)
She say she a bartender (What else?), but she just love to twerk
She say can I be her dinner? And she love chocolate dessert
I buy cars likе they bicycles, don’t make your nеxt car a hearse
Can’t nobody count faster than me, I’m a motherfuckin’ nerd
I stand on top of shit, I stamp that, that’s my motherfuckin’ word
Hit my blunt, then take a sip, hit the blunt ‘gain, and then I swerve
Got so high, I bought a parrot, woke and forgot I had a bird (Hold up)

[Chorus]
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah

[Verse 2]
I been super lit since a jit, that’s why you can’t tell me shit (Naw)
I can’t trust nobody, I mean nobody, and I can’t love no bitch (Never)
Dolph about his money, hell yeah, he don’t play that (Play that)
My son went to school today in the back of the Maybach (For real, though)
I don’t pass my blunts, I roll one up, then I’ma face that (Yeah)
Hit him where it hurt and smash his bitch and tell him take that (It’s Dolph)
Come through in a different foreign every time, I know they hate that (It’s Dolph)
You love savin’ these hoes, don’t you, pussy? Where your cape at? (Yeah, yeah), hah
Gucci North Face boots (Uh), tall nigga in a coupe (Uh)
Bust the Richard down blue (Uh), fuck you, you, and you (Yeah)
Shots fired out the roof (Fah, fah)
Fake friends become worse enemies and that’s between me and you (Ayy)
Yeah, yeah

[Chorus]
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Yeah, yeah