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Updated: 38 min 19 sec ago

Georgia Republicans Show Party Is Not a Monolithic Group

1 hour 7 min ago

President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud have put doubt in the minds of many Republicans. One state that has seen recounts after the election is Georgia, a state that has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1992. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee shows the diversity of opinions among Republicans on the outcome of the presidential election.

Producer: Barry Unger. Camera: Joel Brewer, Michael Catron.

Human Rights Watch Accuses Azerbaijan of Abusing Armenian POWs

1 hour 25 min ago

Human Rights Watch accused Azerbaijani forces Wednesday of brutalizing some Armenian troops captured in the conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Acts of mistreatment were captured on video and circulated on social media over the past two months, HRW said.

The rights group said in a statement the videos show “Azerbaijani captors variously slapping, kicking and prodding Armenian POWs” and forcing them to “kiss the Azerbaijani flag,” praise Azerbaijan’s president, swear at Armenia’s prime minister “and declare that Nagorno-Karabakh is Azerbaijan.”

HRW official Hugh Williamson said humanitarian law requires that POWs be protected, and he called on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately end the inhumane treatment.

Ethnic Armenian soldiers sit in a military truck on a road during the withdrawal of troops from the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Nov. 19, 2020.

The number of POWs in custody is unknown but HRW, citing Armenian officials, estimated the number is in the “dozens.” Azerbaijan’s response to the HRW report was not immediately available.

The report acknowledged that some of the prisoners depicted in the videos have since communicated with their families and said they are being treated well, but it said there remain serious grounds for concern about their safety and well-being.

HRW also said Armenia has captured Azerbaijani troops and that it is investigating videos on social media that apparently show Azerbaijani POWs being abused.

Armenia signed a Russian-brokered deal with Azerbaijan on November 9 after six weeks of intense fighting.

The fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted September 27, marking the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region since a 1994 cease-fire.

The predominantly ethnic Armenian territory declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, sparking a war in which as many as 30,000 people died before a 1994 cease-fire was declared. That independence, however, is not internationally recognized.

China Joins Race to Mine Moon for Resources

1 hour 34 min ago

China’s space program celebrated a major accomplishment this week when its Chang’e 5 lunar probe mission safely landed on the moon. The landing Tuesday brought Beijing a step closer to becoming the third country in the world to retrieve geological samples from the moon, but more important, analysts say, is that China is accruing experience for more ambitious plans.

The goal of this mission is to extract 2 kilograms of sample from the moon’s northern Mons Rümker region and bring it back to the Earth. If the mission succeeds, China will join the U.S. and the former Soviet Union as the only countries to have collected lunar samples.

Analysts say the complexity of Chang'e 5’s unmanned exploration mission shows the great progress of China's space capabilities, and, if successful, will likely help Beijing realize future plans for manned moon landings and the construction of bases.

Namrata Goswami, an Indian defense expert and now a space policy and geopolitical scholar living in the U.S., told VOA that Chang'e 5 would allow China to advance “their understanding of rendezvous and docking, especially when they are planning on human landing.”

While reaching the moon remains a significant accomplishment for any space program, Beijing’s space program is still in its early stages and is still building experience.

“They're catching up to where the United States was in the 1960s,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and space security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The United States has already sent not just probes to the moon but humans and returned to the Earth and brought back samples of lunar rocks. So China is catching up in that respect, but they're still not where the United States is in terms of space technology. But it is nevertheless a competition for science.”

Between 1969 and 1972, the U.S. brought back a total of 382 kilograms of lunar soil through seven Apollo manned spacecraft missions, six of which succeeded. The former Soviet Union used unmanned probes to take 301 grams of moon soil samples between 1970 and 1976.

An image taken by the Chang'e 5 spacecraft after its landing on the moon is seen in this handout provided by China National Space Administration.

Lunar missions' importance

The early detection results of lunar resources have given people a lot of hope. For example, the current director of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, said last July that collecting rare-earth metals from the moon would be possible this century.

"There could be tons and tons of platinum group metals on the moon, rare-earth metals, which are tremendously valuable on the Earth,” Bridenstine told CNBC in an interview.

Harrison said some of the metal resources that exist on the moon could become materials for future human space bases, “either structures on the moon itself for habitation or for other science missions,” as well as “structures in space around the Earth.”

Some rare-earth metals are considered strategically important because they are an integral part of the manufacturing of electronic devices, electric vehicle batteries and military equipment. Currently, more than 80% of U.S. rare-earth imports come from China.

Analysts say moon mining is not feasible in the near future, but recent observations confirming the presence of water on the moon may help promote further exploration of space.

“Probably the most important material to look for on the lunar surface initially is going to be water ice,” Harrison said, “because you can turn that water into rocket fuel to power missions back to the Earth or to other places in space, and also use it to support life on the lunar surface.”

With very low gravity levels, launching rockets from the moon will be more energy-efficient than from the Earth.

FILE - An image of Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen inside a building at the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in Hainan province, China, Nov. 23, 2020.

Another lunar resource of potential development value is helium-3, which can be used for nuclear fusion fuel. Helium-3 is scarce on the Earth. Early lunar exploration estimates put the moon's shallow helium-3 content at millions of tons.

Goswami said, “The fusion is the future because if you want to travel from the Earth to Mars in a very limited time, the helium-3 that is there on the moon is going to form a part of that extracted mineral that is going to be turned to support nuclear fusion.”

Although China is still behind the U.S. in the space competition, experts believe that China's lunar exploration project is making steady progress and could evolve into a space force with strategic military uses.

Goswami said that if a country acquires the capability to use space weapons in lunar orbit, it will provide a superior military strategic advantage.

“If you are in lunar orbit from a military scenario perspective, you can look down on the geosynchronous orbit satellite and even at times blind or disable them,” she said.

Return to moon

President Donald Trump said last year that he hoped NASA would send U.S. astronauts to the moon again by 2024. It is unclear whether President-elect Joe Biden will continue to support a moon landing.

American space analysts suggest that the Biden administration could redirect NASA's research to Earth observations, to focus on issues such as climate change, and that it isn't a question of whether a U.S. return to the will be delayed, but how long.

“If it's more than just a few years of delay, that could handicap the program in the long run by causing it to stall, lose support and lead to cascading delays for years to come, in which case China very well could have time to press forward with its crew mission to the moon and put humans on the moon before the United States is able to return,” Harrison said. “But if the Biden administration sticks to the program and only proposes a delay of one or two years, then I think that the program is likely to build up momentum and be more likely to succeed.”

China has drawn up an initial plan for landing on the moon and building a lunar base. It is making 2030 a goal for manned moon landings and planning to build a basic lunar research station between 2021 and 2030, as well as an integrated, human-friendly lunar base between 2036 and 2045.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

VOA Newscasts (2 Minute)

1 hour 43 min ago

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ILO: COVID-19 Drives Wages Down and Increases Inequality

2 hours 36 min ago

The International Labor Organization says wages plunged during the first six months of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with women and lower paid workers among the biggest losers.  Its report is based on data from 30 major economies in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.

A survey of 28 European countries finds that without wage subsidies, women would have lost 8.1 percent of their wages in the second quarter of this year compared to 5.4 percent for men.  The data indicates 50 percent of those in lower-skilled jobs would have lost more than 17 percent of their wages without subsidies.

The International Labor Organization says the unequal impact of the pandemic on wage earners in wealthy societies is relevant to developing countries, where workers in the formal sectors have been particularly hard hit.

Despite the bleak picture, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said there is some positive news.

“We estimate that the wage subsidies, which have been introduced in many countries have compensated for 40 percent of the total wage bill lost…and because wage subsidies are more likely to benefit low-paid workers, it is also likely that these policies have helped to mitigate the upward trend in inequality,” he said.

ILO economists warn the COVID-19 crisis is likely to greatly increase poverty and inequality. World Bank figures indicate the number of people falling into extreme poverty because of the pandemic could be between 88 and 115 million.

Ryder notes 90 percent of the ILO’s 187 member states have some form of minimum wage. That, he said, can serve to lessen the impact of the pandemic on workers.

“Our report suggests that adequate minimum wages have significant potential to reduce both inequality and poverty. Our studies show that they could reduce household income inequality by as much as 10 percent at the national level. In addition, minimum wages can also play an important role in creating a recovery that is human centered,” he said.

ILO chief Ryder notes the pandemic has rendered an unprecedented blow to the world at work.  He said he expects the aftermath will be long-lasting, turbulent and full of uncertainty.

He said government subsidies and interventions will be reduced over time, putting downward pressure on wages. He said there must be an appropriate and balanced approach to wages in the recovery process to stop a resurgence of poverty and prevent a further widening of existing inequality. And last, but not least, to keep the economy moving.

 

Uganda’s Wine Demands End to Interference in His Presidential Campaign

2 hours 42 min ago

Presidential candidate Bobi Wine filed a complaint with Uganda's election commission after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Tuesday at his supporters, sending at least five to the hospital.

In a three-hour closed-door meeting Wednesday with the commission, Wine, a singer-turned-politician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said he had to briefly halt his campaign because of police attacks on him and his supporters.

The meeting was held under heavy security, with police and military personnel surrounding the commission offices.

Wine said he went to the Electoral Commission because it had been silent since police arrested him last month, just after he entered the presidential race.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Wine shared photos of what he said were police and soldiers brutalizing his supporters.

“These are the people that are being shot dead by the police and the military and some goons, that move around with guns but in plain clothes," he said. "These are the scenes of our campaign meetings marred with violence, tear gas and live bullets.”

A man peers through the shattered windscreen of the car of Ugandan pop star and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, in Jinja, near Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 1, 2020.

Wine said he made several requests to the Electoral Commission.

"We wanted to tell the Electoral Commission that the police and the military are trying to kill us," he said. "We have tasked them to take charge or resign. We’ve asked them to prevail over the police and the military — to tell them to keep out of this election, especially the military. We have asked them to ask the police to stop blocking the roads for us.”

Authorities have accused Wine and his party of violating COVID-19 restrictions with large gatherings.

Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama said Wednesday that every candidate must commit to complying with and abiding by the measures put in place by the commission to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Regarding the violence, Byabakama said, “We have also committed to ensuring that the heightened environment is mitigated. And one of those ways is for both parties to take responsibility. Therefore, I do not see why security will have to come in with a strong hand in order to enforce these guidelines when the people are compliant.”

Wine is scheduled to resume his campaign Thursday in eastern Uganda. He is one of 10 candidates challenging longtime President Yoweri Museveni in the January 14 election.

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Even Trump-Appointed Judges Balk at President’s Efforts to Overturn Election

3 hours 2 min ago

Federal judge Stephanos Bibas pulled no punches when he issued a scathing opinion last Saturday rejecting the Trump campaign’s latest attempt to overturn the outcome of the November 3 presidential election.

“Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so,” Bibas wrote in a 21-page ruling dismissing a lawsuit that sought to stop the certification of Pennsylvania's voting results. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.” 

This was among the latest repudiations of President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the election he lost to former Vice President Joe Biden was rigged and that millions of votes were illegally cast or discounted.   

In the month since the election, Trump and his allies have filed more than three dozen lawsuits, mostly in state courts, with judges ruling against them in all but one minor case.  

FILE - Election workers, right, verify ballots as recount observers, left, watch during a Milwaukee hand recount of presidential votes at the Wisconsin Center, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 20, 2020.

But Bibas, 51, is not just another judge on another court. He is a Trump appointee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, with jurisdiction over Pennsylvania and two other states. A former member of the conservative Federalist Society, Bibas was appointed in 2017, one of 53 appellate judges the president has put on the federal bench since he took office, more than any other president since Jimmy Carter.   

Bibas is not the only Republican-appointed federal judge to dismiss Trump’s claims of rampant voting fraud and tabulation irregularities. Steven Grimberg of the Northern District of Georgia and several other Republican-appointed judges, have ruled against the president.   

Judicial independence 

To skeptics who view judges as little more than politicians in robes prone to issuing politically motivated opinions, the notion that a Trump-appointed judge would weigh against the president’s interests may be hard to fathom.   

But that is a misconception, said Joseph R. Grodin, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court. Despite the country’s deep political and ideological divisions, “judicial independence is alive and well,” he said in an interview with VOA.  

Grodin said most judges simply follow the law and decide cases on their merits, so it was no surprise that Bibas found the evidence-free Trump lawsuit without merit.  

Jonathan Turley, a conservative law professor at George Washington University, noted that federal judges are given life tenures designed to protect them from political influence.  

“The federal courts have worked precisely as designed in the last four years, but particularly in the last four weeks,” he said. “Federal judges, including Trump appointees, have consistently ruled against the president’s challenges to the election. They have stated that the president has not submitted sufficient evidence to justify the type of sweeping relief that he has requested.”  

FILE - A canvas observer photographs Lehigh County provisional ballots during vote counting in Allentown, Pennsylvania, November 6, 2020.

Republican-appointed judges did not always side with the Democrats on important election issues throughout the 2020 campaign cycle, particularly regarding mail-in voting during the pandemic, a concept Trump and Republicans vigorously attacked as prone to corruption. 

In the months leading up to the general election, while a number of federal district courts upheld efforts by states to accommodate voting by mail, Trump-appointed appellate judges often cast the deciding vote to block them, according to Josh Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky.   

Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department official and a professor at Loyola Law School, said that while Trump’s appointments have made the federal judiciary clearly more conservative, courts have been acting as they were designed to perform.   

“That hasn't changed in the post-election period, and there's no reason to expect that it would,” Levitt said.   

Levitt said the courts have afforded the Trump campaign and other Republican plaintiffs ample opportunity to make their case that the election was marred by widespread fraud.  

"And at every stage, the litigants have failed to come forward with any reliable evidence that anything improper happened," Levitt said in an interview with VOA.   

FILE - The Maricopa County Elections Department officials conduct a post-election logic and accuracy test for the general election as observers watch the test, November 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bibas’ opinion on behalf of the 3rd Circuit came in response to a major lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign on November 9, two days after Biden was declared the presidential winner after securing Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.   

The 89-page lawsuit asked a federal district court to stop Pennsylvania from certifying the election, alleging the state had created “an illegal two-tiered voting system” with the widespread use of voting by mail during the pandemic. 

After the Pennsylvania ruling, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and campaign senior legal adviser, Jenna Ellis, issued a statement on the 3rd Circuit’s opinion. 

“The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud,” they wrote. “We are very thankful to have had the opportunity to present proof and the facts to the PA state legislature. On to SCOTUS!” 

While publicly making wild claims about election fraud, Giuliani offered no evidence and admitted in court on November 18 that "this is not a fraud case." Three days later, Judge Matthew W. Brann of Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a Republican appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, tossed out the lawsuit, saying it lacked merit and was rife with “speculative accusations.”  

“In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state,” Brann, like Bibas, a former member of the Federalist Society, wrote in a 37-page opinion. “Our people, laws and institutions demand more.” The 3rd Circuit then upheld the decision.   

In two other cases in Pennsylvania, federal judges appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush denied a GOP effort to stop vote counting in Philadelphia and a separate attempt to throw out "cured" or corrected mail-in ballots. 

FILE - Ghana Goodwin-Dye signals to motorists participating in a drive-by rally to certify the presidential election results near the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, November 14, 2020.

And in Georgia, another state Trump lost, Grimberg, who was appointed by Trump in 2019, threw out a lawsuit seeking to stop the certification of the state’s election results.  

“To interfere with the result of an election that has already concluded would be unprecedented and harm the public in countless ways,” he wrote. “Granting injunctive relief here would breed confusion, undermine the public’s trust in the election, and potentially disenfranchise over one million Georgia voters.” 

Supreme Court 

While Trump wants the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his cause, experts say the high court is all but certain to shun a case that has been repeatedly dismissed by the lower courts.   

Turley said Republicans have raised legitimate concerns about voting irregularities but that Trump’s “reckless rhetoric” about fraud has undermined his legal prospects before the high court.    

“I cannot imagine a worse approach to seeking relief before the United States Supreme Court,” Turley said.  

Even if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, it is far from certain that the justices will rule in Trump’s favor. Turley noted that two of Trump’s three Supreme Court picks — Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — have voted against Trump and his administration on key issues.  

With his court losses mounting, Trump appears increasingly resigned to the fact that he may not be able to get the Supreme Court to rule in his favor.   

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4 hours 13 min ago

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4 hours 38 min ago

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Nigeria Soldiers Detain VOA Hausa Journalist for 5 Hours    

5 hours 6 min ago

A journalist for VOA’s Hausa language service was detained for five hours Saturday while on assignment near Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  

Grace Alheri Abdu was in Oyigbo, a town near the Rivers State capital Port Harcourt, to cover a story about protests in Nigeria and to speak with business owners and families affected by violence.  

On her way back, she passed a police station that protesters had burned down. Abdu introduced herself to an officer there, and says she had her microphone and ID, showing she was a journalist.  

But when she walked past the building to take photographs, a second soldier stopped her and demanded to know who she was and where she was going.  

Abdu said the soldier knocked her phone to the ground, took away her microphone and threatened her. A group of about 10 soldiers detained and threatened to beat her, accusing her of being “enemies of the country.” 

Army spokesperson Col. Sagir Musa referred VOA to his deputy for comment. The deputy did not respond to calls and a text message Wednesday. VOA did not receive a response to an email requesting comment, sent to an address listed on the army’s social media platforms. 

A person who witnessed the incident sent an account of what he saw to a contact at the West African Journalist Association and asked them to contact the U.S. Embassy, to try to get help for the journalist.  

In his account, which was later shared with VOA, the person said he saw the journalist walk toward soldiers in a tent, to ask their permission, and then proceed to take photos. “Suddenly the soldiers rushed her and seized her phone. They were cursing and insulting her,” his account said. VOA has not named the person because he feared retaliation. 

Abdu says the soldiers took her to where they were stationed outside the burned police station. “Most of them looked high on something,” she said, and all were armed.   

The journalist was held for five hours before being released without formal arrest or charge. She says soldiers accused her of lying and asked her to delete the images on her phone.    

At one point, a commandant said Abdu would be released after she agreed to write a letter of apology. Abdu refused, saying, “I’m not apologizing for something I haven’t done.” 

Eventually, Abdu was released and one of the soldiers flagged down a delivery driver to take her to her hotel. Later that night, some of the soldiers called and asked her not to tell anyone about what happened because they could get in trouble.  

Abdu, who is usually based in Washington, D.C., was in Nigeria to cover protests against police violence.  

Being detained by military was a first for Abdu, but she says the experience gave her the opportunity to speak with Nigerians about their lives. 

VOA Hausa journalist Grace Alheri Abdu stands next to a bakery delivery van on Nov. 28. A delivery driver named only as Peter, drove the journalist to Port Harcourt in Nigeria after Abdu was detained by soldiers. (VOA Housa)

“Riding with the delivery man offered me a rare opportunity to get a more deeper insight into the daily life and struggle of people like Mr. Peter, which I wouldn’t have heard in my two-day stay in Port Harcourt,” she told VOA. “The delivery van became a classroom for both of us.” 

Abdu added, “My interaction with some of the military officers while under their custody made me sympathetic to their working conditions. My time with the delivery driver was priceless.”  

It’s not uncommon for journalists at VOA or other networks under the U.S. Agency for Global Media to face intimidation or arrest. The reporters can face risks daily, and some are harassed or imprisoned for their work. 

Elez Biberaj, acting director of VOA, said, “This incident is a reminder of the risks Voice of America journalists face in covering news in hostile environments. We will continue to aggressively cover the situation in Nigeria and in other trouble spots to bring fair and accurate stories to our audiences around the world.” 

 

 

 

Up Front

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