Iran’s president says his country should lead regional security in the strategic Persian Gulf.
Hassan Rouhani said Sunday Iran extends its “hand of friendship and brotherhood” toward cooperating with regional nations.
Rouhani also said the presence of foreign forces in the Gulf could cause problems for the world’s “energy security.”
The U.S. is sending more troops to the Gulf and leading a maritime coalition, which includes the U.K., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations, to secure the area’s waterways and vital oil trade routes.
The U.S. has alleged Iran is behind a series of attacks on the region’s energy infrastructure, as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers collapses. Iran denies the allegations.
Rouhani said he will offer a regional peace plan during his visit to the U.N. this week.
Tanzania is refusing to provide detailed information on suspected Ebola cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, a rare public rebuke as the region struggles to contain an outbreak declared a global health emergency.
Transparency and speed are key to combating the deadly hemorrhagic fever because the disease can spread rapidly. Contacts of any potentially infected person must be quarantined and the public warned to step up precautions like hand washing.
WHO said in a statement released late Saturday that it was made aware Sept. 10 of the death of a patient in Dar es Salaam, and unofficially told the next day that the person tested positive for Ebola. The woman had died Sept. 8.
“Identified contacts of the deceased were unofficially reported to be quarantined in various sites in the country,” the statement said.
WHO said it was unofficially told that Tanzania had two other possible Ebola cases. One had tested negative and there was no information on the other one.
Officially, the Tanzanian government said last weekend it had no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola. The government did not address the death of the woman directly and did not provide any further information.
Despite several requests, “clinical data, results of the investigations, possible contacts and potential laboratory tests performed … have not been communicated to WHO,” the U.N. health agency said. “The limited available official information from Tanzanian authorities represents a challenge.”
Authorities in east and central Africa have been on high alert for possible spill-overs of Ebola from the Democratic Republic of Congo where a year-long outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people.
Last week the U.S. health secretary, Alex Azar criticized Tanzania for its failure to share information on the possible outbreak. The next day he dispatched a senior U.S. health official to Tanzania.
Quick response works
Uganda, which neighbors Congo, has recorded several cases after sick patients crossed the border. A quick government response there prevented the disease from spreading.
The 34-year-old woman who died in Dar es Salaam had traveled to Uganda, according to a leaked internal WHO document circulated earlier this month. She showed signs of Ebola including headache, fever, rash, bloody diarrhea Aug. 10 and died Sept. 8.
Tanzania is heavily reliant on tourism and an outbreak of Ebola would likely lead to a dip in visitor numbers.
The WHO statement is not the first time international organizations have queried information from the government of President John Magufuli, nicknamed The Bulldozer for his pugnacious ruling style.
Earlier this year both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund contradicted the government’s economic growth figure for 2018.
Five brothers came to the US from Ukraine almost two decades ago in search of the American Dream — that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed in the United States. During those 20 years, they’ve had all kinds of jobs, from washing floors, to delivering mail to working at construction sites. But they had even bigger dreams, Khrystyna Shevchenko met with this unique family. Anna Rice narrates her story.
In 20 months, an anti-smoking group in Lebanon collected 240,000 cigarette butts from around a university campus. It did not take long to put those butts to good use, creating something unique to help clean up Beirut’s beaches. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi gets to the bottom of this story.
The Solomon Islands announced Saturday the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, becoming the second Pacific island nation in as many days to switch its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan.
The moves are part of a long-term effort by Beijing to undermine Taiwan’s recognition as an independent nation and come as a blow to its president, Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election in January. Both Beijing and Taipei claim to be the rightful government of China.
The Solomon Islands’ move had been expected after it severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan on Monday. The island nation of Kiribati announced on Friday that it was switching its recognition to China “in accordance with the best national interest for our country and people.”
The Solomons’ foreign minister also cited the national interest in announcing his country’s decision, saying the Solomons has “huge” development needs and that “we need a broader partnership with countries that also includes China.”
Both Beijing and Taipei have used development assistance to woo the support of small nations. The latest moves leave Taiwan with little more than a dozen countries plus the Vatican that recognize its independence.
The head of Ukraine’s state-owned oil company says Kyiv will remain able to supply Europe with natural gas from its subterranean storage units even if European Union-mediated talks don’t pan out.
“We are fully confident that Ukraine can maintain gas supply … at least during the first quarter of 2020,” Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev said Friday at a public event in Brussels.
On Thursday, Russia and Ukraine held their third round of ministerial-level talks in Brussels about the transit of Russian natural gas to Europe, where all parties hoped to negotiate a new long-term agreement on gas flows before the current deal expires January 1.
Ukrainian energy authorities are worried Moscow could stop supplies through Ukraine when the current contract expires, possibly limiting gas deliveries to Europe in winter.
Although EU Energy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said “a certain sense of urgency was really present in the room” throughout Thursday’s talks, no formal commitments were made.
According to Sefcovic, all parties agreed that a future contract would be based on EU law, and that the unbundling of Ukraine’s Naftogaz gas transport operations should be completed, which would create a separate entity to handle the transit of gas through Ukraine.
He also said all parties agreed to resume ministerial-level talks before the end of October, and those representatives from companies involved in the contract development would continue negotiating the details of Thursday’s general agreement.
On Friday, however, CEO Kobolyev said that even if talks fail, Naftogaz’s 19.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas currently held in underground storage will remain in play, and that Ukraine has signed at least one deal for reverse flows from Europe.
It was also reported Friday that Naftogaz is already seeking to recover any losses from maintaining the transit network if the deadline arrives without a deal.
“We are looking for full recovery of all relevant costs, including recovery of residual value of Ukraine’s gas transmission system,” Kobolyev was quoted as saying by Reuters on Friday.
“We are not disclosing a number here. But the number is quite high.”
Nord Stream 2, TurkStream, and litigation
This week’s talks follow a Sept. 10 decision by the top European Union court in Luxembourg to reimpose limits on gas flows via the Opal pipeline, a spur that connects Germany with the Nord Stream pipeline system operated by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.
Gazprom is pushing to complete the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipeline projects in 2020, after which it would no longer depend upon Ukraine’s pipelines for transit. Ukraine’s loss of roughly $3 billion gas-transit fees — about 3% of national GDP — would be a substantial blow to the Ukrainian economy.
Naftogaz announced in July 2018 that it had submitted a claim to the Stockholm arbitration court demanding compensation of up to $14 billion for the loss of gas-transit system value if Gazprom refuses to sign a contract by the deadline.
Ukraine, however, is ready to recall this claim if Russia signs a contract agreeing to continue transporting gas through its territory after January 1.
In February 2018, the Stockholm arbitration tribunal awarded $4.63 billion in compensation to Naftogaz; Gazprom still owes Naftogaz $2.56 billion plus interest on this amount.
In recent months, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin adopted a conciliatory tone, saying Russia was ready to keep up transit via Ukraine if Naftogaz is willing to recall the legal claims.
Edward Chow, senior associate in the Energy and National Security Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the Ukrainian delegation should resist forfeiting their legal wins to reach the deal.
Litigation and contract negotiations, he said, “should be kept as separate as possible” and that “whenever the final judgment comes, Gazprom should honor that judgment.”
In 2006 and 2009, disagreements between the two nations cut natural gas supplies to Western Europe in the middle of winter, leaving many without heat.
Some analysts say an interruption in gas flows to Europe this winter “might damage the reputation of Gazprom permanently.”
“Europe is already going through an examination of what role fossil fuels should play in the energy future. The gas seemed like a good bridging fuel between carbon-emitting fossil fuels and renewables,” Chow said. “However, it does not have to be that way. So, if Gazprom wants to maintain market share in Europe, it should not want a supply interruption.”
Margarita Assenova, an energy expert with the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, says although Ukraine has substantial natural gas reserves, other countries would be especially vulnerable to an interruption.
“The most vulnerable countries to gas interruptions from Russia are Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,” she told VOA. “They don’t have sufficient gas storage facilities, and they don’t have alternative suppliers.
“Russia depends on sales to Europe more than Europe depends on buying Russian gas,” she added, explaining that this fact gives Ukraine an upper hand in ongoing negotiations.
“Russia supplies about one-third of the gas that Europe consumes, but Russia sells 99% of its gas to Europe,” she said. “So, who is going to lose more if Europe turns to other sources?”
After Thursday’s talks in Brussels, the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Aleksandr Novak and Oleksiy Orzhe, said both sides had agreed to meet again by the end of October.
Protesters burned a Chinese flag and police fired pepper spray during a march Saturday in an outlying district of Hong Kong in renewed clashes over anti-government grievances.
Police accused protesters of spraying water at officers during the march by several thousand people in Tuen Mun in Hong Kong’s northwest. Reporters saw at least one person arrested.
The event was relatively small compared with previous demonstrations that have taken place every weekend since June. The protests started with opposition to a proposed extradition law and have expanded to include demands for greater democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
The events are an embarrassment for China’s ruling Communist Party ahead of Oct. 1 celebrations of its 70th anniversary in power. Hong Kong’s government has announced it has canceled a fireworks display that day, citing concern for public safety.
Protesters in Tuen Mun marched about 2 kilometers (1 1/2 miles) from a playground to a government office building. Many were dressed in black and carried umbrellas, a symbol of their movement.
Protesters chanted, “Reclaim Hong Kong!” and “Revolution of our times!”
Most were peaceful but some took down a Chinese flag outside a government office and set fire to it. Government broadcaster RTHK said some damaged fire hoses in the Tuen Mun light rail station.
Organizers announced the event, due to last two hours, was ending after one hour due to the chaotic scene at the station.
An organizer quoted by RTHK, Michael Mo, complained that police escalated tensions by sending armed anti-riot officers.
That will “only escalate tension between protesters and police,” Mo was quoted as saying.
Elsewhere, scuffles were reported as government supporters heeded a call by a pro-Beijing member of the Hong Kong legislature to tear down protest posters at subway stations.
Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has agreed to withdraw the extradition bill. But protesters are pressing other demands, including an independent investigation of complaints about police violence during earlier demonstrations.
Protesters complain Beijing and Lam’s government are eroding the “high degree of autonomy” and Western-style civil liberties promised to the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.
The protests have begun to weigh on Hong Kong’s economy, which already was slowing due to cooling global consumer demand. The Hong Kong airport said passenger traffic fell in August and business is off at hotels and retailers.
Police refused permission for Saturday’s march but an appeal tribunal overturned that decision. The panel on Friday gave permission for a two-hour event that it said had to end at 5 p.m.
Protesters in Tuen Mun also complained about a group of women from mainland China who sing in a local park. Residents say they are too loud and accuse some of asking for money or engaging in prostitution.
Those complaints prompted a similar march in July.
Also Saturday, there were brief scuffles as government supporters tore down protest posters at several subway stops, according to RTHK.
The campaign to tear down protest materials was initiated by a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature, Junius Ho.
Near the subway station in the Tsuen Wan neighborhood, a woman who was tearing down posters threw a bag at a reporter and a man shoved a cameraman, RTHK reported. It said there was pushing and shoving between the two sides at stations in Yuen Long and Lok Fu.
Ho made an appearance in the Shau Kei Wan neighborhood but residents shouted at him and told him to leave, RTHK said.
Ho initially called for protest signs to be torn down in all 18 of Hong Kong’s districts but he said Friday that would be reduced to clearing up trash from streets due to “safety concerns.”
On Wednesday, the Hong Kong Jockey Club canceled a horse race after protesters suggested targeting the club because a horse owned by Ho was due to run.
Later Saturday, some protesters planned to go to another district, Yuen Long, where a group of men with sticks hit protesters and subway passengers in a July 21 incident that caused controversy in Hong Kong.
Dozens of demonstrators were arrested at yellow vest protests in Paris on Saturday as more than 7,000 police were deployed to quell any violence by the movement and its radical, anarchist “black blocs.”
There were also fears that the demonstrators could try to infiltrate a march against climate change in the French capital.
The yellow vest movement erupted 10 months ago and blindsided President Emmanuel Macron, whom protesters accused of being out of touch with the needs of ordinary French people.
Their weekly demonstrations prompted Macron to loosen the state’s purse strings to the tune of nearly 17 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners, but tapered off over the summer.
However, it remains to be seen whether the movement will regain the momentum of the winter and early spring, when the protests often descended into violent clashes with security forces, especially in Paris.
Several hundred protesters were in the streets of the French capital around 11am (0900 GMT) on Saturday.
By then police had arrested 39 of them, police headquarters said, adding that some protesters had been found to carry hammers or petrol canisters.
Macron on Friday called for “calm”, saying that while “it’s good that people express themselves”, they should not disrupt a climate protest and cultural events also due to go ahead on Saturday.
The number of police deployed for Saturday’s rallies are on a par with the peak of the yellow vest protests in December and March.
Key yellow-vest figure Jerome Rodrigues has billed Saturday’s protest as “a revelatory demonstration”, claiming “many people are going to come to Paris”.
But officials have again outlawed protests on the Champs-Elysees and other areas in the heart of the capital, where previously protesters had ransacked and set fire to luxury shops and restaurants.
Some demonstrators in January even used a forklift truck to break down the doors of a government ministry.
The police have also been criticized for being heavy-handed in clashes with hardcore anti-capitalist “black bloc” groups blamed for much of the violence that has accompanied the demonstrations.
Saturday coincides with the annual European Heritage Days weekend, when public and private buildings normally off-limits to the public are open to visitors.
After attracting 282,000 people nationwide on the first day of protests last November, yellow-vest protest participation had fallen sharply by the spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.
Macron said in an interview with Time magazine published Thursday that the movement had been “very good for me” as it had made him listen and communicate better.
“My challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning,” the president said.
President Donald Trump irritably defended himself Friday against an intelligence whistleblower’s complaint, including an allegation of wrongdoing in a reported private conversation Trump had with a foreign leader.
The complaint, which the administration has refused to let Congress see, is “serious” and “urgent,” the government’s intelligence watchdog said. But Trump dismissed the matter, insisting he did nothing wrong.
He declared Friday that the complaint was made by a “partisan whistleblower,” though he later said he did not know the identity of the person. He chided reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.”
“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.”
Some of the whistleblower’s allegations appear to center on Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and was granted anonymity.
Trump, who sat in the Oval Office with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The president responded “I really don’t know” but continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.”
Intelligence director’s role
The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.
It also plunged the Trump administration into an extraordinary showdown with Congress over access to the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as lawmakers press their oversight of the executive branch.
The administration has kept Congress from even learning what exactly the whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership. A lawmaker said the complaint was “based on a series of events.”
The inspector general appeared before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.
The chairman of the House committee said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was “disturbing.” Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters it’s also “deeply disturbing” that the White House appears to know more about the whistleblower’s complaint than its intended recipient — Congress.
The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Schiff, who said he was prepared to go to court to force the administration to open up about the complaint, said he was worried the president’s actions will have a “chilling effect” on other whistleblowers.
House Democrats are fighting the administration separately for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. Democrats are also looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s re-election effort by investigating the activities of potential rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelensky, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.” But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine.
During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. Giuliani initially said, “No, actually, I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.”
‘On my own’
Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions.
“I did what I did on my own,” Giuliani said. “I told him about it afterward.”
Later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.”
Giuliani’s efforts have sparked anger among Democrats who have claimed that Trump, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, may have asked for foreign assistance in his upcoming re-election bid.
Among the materials Democrats have sought is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. The call took place one day after Mueller’s faltering testimony to Congress effectively ended the threat his probe posed to the White House.
Schiff said he, too, could not confirm whether newspaper reports were accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the committee released Thursday said it was an “urgent” matter of “serious or flagrant abuse” that must be shared with lawmakers.
The letters also made it clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress, a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.
Trump named Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence director last month, after the departure of Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of Sue Gordon, a career professional who held the No. 2 position.
Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.
Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”
The inspector general said he requested authorization to at the very least disclose the “general subject matter” to the committee but had not been allowed to do so.
Two reporters for the U.S.-based Bloomberg news agency have appeared in court accused of trying to undermine Turkey’s economic stability with a story they wrote on last year’s currency crisis.
The trial against Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalinkilic opened in Istanbul on Friday. Thirty-six others have also been charged for their social media comments on the story written in August 2018, increasing concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.
The trial is part of a fierce crackdown on journalists and media outlets. The Turkish Journalists Syndicate says at least 126 journalists or media workers are currently in prison.
Karakaya and Yalinkilic face up to five-year jail terms if convicted.
Bloomberg has condemned the prosecution and defended the pair, saying they reported “fairly and accurately on newsworthy events.”