Author: Depoworld

US Ian Storm Death Toll Hits 51  

The death toll from Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, reached at least 51 Sunday as rescue workers continued to search for people trying to get out of their devastated communities, particularly in the hardest-hit waterfront communities in southwestern Florida.

The rescuers were “going house to house… to make sure everyone is accounted for,” Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show.

More than 800,000 customers were still without power in Florida, which bore the worst of the devastation. Ian made landfall Wednesday on the state’s southwestern coast along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Most of the deaths have been recorded in Lee County, which was not in the original path of the first forecasts for the storm’s trajectory. Eventually, Ian blew northeastward across Florida to the Atlantic Ocean side of the state and then veered northward, gathered new strength over the warm ocean water and made U.S. landfall a second time in South Carolina.

“This storm was really dangerous,” Criswell told “Fox News Sunday” in a separate interview. She said one lesson from the storm is that Americans “need to understand what their risk is” of where they choose to live, and that “flood insurance is your best bet” in protecting a family’s assets.

U.S. President Joe Biden will visit the island territory of Puerto Rico on Monday to assess damage there from Hurricane Fiona that also hit last month and then visit Florida on Wednesday.

In the coastal state of North Carolina, the governor’s office confirmed four deaths related to Ian there.

In Florida’s Lee County Saturday, rescuers and citizens in boats were still saving the last trapped inhabitants of the small island of Matlacha. Debris, abandoned vehicles and downed trees littered the pummeled hamlet’s main street and surroundings that are dotted by colorful wooden houses with corrugated metal roofs.

The community, home to about 800 people, was cut off from the mainland following damage to two bridges, and those who fled early were only just beginning to return home to survey the destruction.

Sitting in the shadow of a deserted Matlacha house, Chip Farrar told AFP that “nobody’s telling us what to do, nobody’s telling us where to go.”

“The evacuation orders came in very late,” the 43-year-old said. “But most people that are still here wouldn’t have left anyway. It’s a very blue-collar place. And most people don’t have anywhere to go, which is the biggest issue.”

CoreLogic, a firm that specializes in property analysis, said wind-related losses for residential and commercial properties in Florida could cost insurers up to $32 billion, while flooding losses could reach $15 billion.

“This is the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992,” CoreLogic’s Tom Larsen said.

Sixteen migrants were missing from a boat that sank during the hurricane, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two people were found dead and nine others rescued, including four Cubans who swam to shore in the Florida Keys.

Some material in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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Greece Says It’s Open to Talks with Turkey Once Provocations End

Greece wants to have a constructive dialogue with Turkey based on international law but its Aegean neighbor must halt its unprecedented escalation of provocations, the Greek foreign minister said Sunday.

The two countries — North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes — have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea and a divided Cyprus.

“It is up to Turkey to choose if it will come to such a dialogue or not, but the basic ingredient must be a de-escalation,” Nikos Dendias told the Proto Thema newspaper in an interview.

Last month, the European Union voiced concern over statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing Greece, an EU member, of occupying demilitarized islands in the Aegean and saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came.

“The one responsible for a de-escalation is the one causing the escalation, which is Turkey,” Dendias said.

He blamed Ankara for increased provocations with a rhetoric of false and legally baseless claims, “even personal insults.”

Turkey has sharply increased its overflights and violations of Greek airspace, Dendias told the paper, adding that its behavior seems to be serving a “revisionist narrative” that it promotes consistently.

He said Turkish claims that Greece cannot be an equal interlocutor diplomatically, politically and militarily violates the basic rule of foreign relations – the principle of equality among nations.

“It is an insulting approach that ranks various countries as more or less equal,” Dendias said.

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Pope Calls on Putin to Stop ‘Spiral of Violence’ in Ukraine 

Pope Francis has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “this spiral of violence and death” over the war in Ukraine.

Francis’s remarks, made on Sunday in his weekly public prayer on St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, were some of the strongest he has made since the February 24 invasion.

“My appeal is addressed first of all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop, also for the love of his people, this spiral of violence and death,” Francis said.

“On the other hand, saddened by the immense suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression suffered, I direct an equally confident appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to serious peace proposals,” he said.

The Roman Catholic leader also decried the growing risk of nuclear war, calling it “absurd.”

“I deeply regret the serious situation that has arisen in recent days, with further actions contrary to the principles of international law,” he said. “In fact, it increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences worldwide.”

The pope’s comments came two days after Putin gave a fiery Kremlin speech in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

In the September 30 speech, Putin also made veiled threats about using nuclear weapons in the conflict, echoing earlier remarks in which he warned the West “this is not a bluff.”

The Kremlin had no immediate reaction to the pope’s comments.

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Ian’s Catastrophic Impact and Trail of Destruction in Southwest Florida

As Florida reels from the effects of Hurricane Ian, the staggering damage and death toll from the powerful storm reveal the level of devastation. Residents of hard-hit Lee County recount the horrors of the hurricane. VOA Turkish’s Begum Donmez Ersoz has this report. Camera: Tezcan Taskiran

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US Supreme Court Set to Start Potentially Tumultuous Term

Fresh off an unusually rocky term in which it ended the constitutional right to abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court is embarking on another potentially tumultuous calendar of consequential cases.

The new term opens Monday, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joining her eight colleagues as the first Black woman to sit on the bench.

But the period will likely be remembered for more than Jackson’s historic debut. Tackling issues such as voting rights and affirmative action, the new term features some high-profile cases that will likely be decided along ideological lines.

“On things that matter most, get ready for a lot of 6-3s,” Irving Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute and a professor at Georgetown Law Center, said at a recent press event.

The high court’s decision to overturn its 1973 abortion ruling known as Roe v. Wade followed an unprecedented leak of the draft majority opinion that sparked weeks of protests.

Last term featured several other 6-3 rulings, including one that held that Americans have a right to carry firearms outside the home for self-defense.

But not every case will likely result in a conservative-majority opinion this term, Gornstein said.

He noted that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the court’s three liberals last term to produce at least five 5-4 cases.

Kavanaugh, one of former President Donald Trump’s three nominees on the court, has developed a penchant for writing concurring opinions that “declare the limits of right-side majority decisions,” Gornstein said.

“This is Justice Kavanaugh’s court,” Gornstein said.

The Supreme Court hears 60-70 cases a year out of the more than 7,000 petitions it receives. To date, it has agreed to review 27 cases during the upcoming term.

Here is a look at five major cases.

Two voting rights cases

The two voting rights cases, Merrill v. Milligan and Moore v. Harper, involve controversial plans by state legislatures to redraw their congressional maps and may have wide-reaching implications for how elections are conducted.

Merrill v. Milligan

Merrill v. Milligan is about the Southern state of Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan created after the 2020 census.

For decades, Alabama’s seven-member congressional delegation has included only one African American. But with the state’s growing Black population, civil rights advocates say Alabama should have at least two.

Arguing that the redistricting map packs Alabama’s Black residents largely into a single congressional district, a group of voters and rights advocates challenged the plan in federal court.

A three-judge panel agreed that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race or color.

The judicial panel ordered a new map. But the U.S. Supreme Court overrode the ruling, agreeing to review the case during its 2022-23 term while keeping the contested congressional map in place.

Alabama says it seeks a race-neutral redistricting process. But voting rights advocates say that keeping the state’s redistricting plan in place will undermine minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.

Moore v. Harper

The second case, Moore v. Harper, involves North Carolina’s new congressional map and carries potentially even greater consequences for how federal elections are run.

It centers on a controversial legal doctrine known as the “independent state legislature theory,” which holds that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near total authority to regulate federal elections.

Enter the North Carolina Legislature.

After the state gained an extra congressional seat because of the 2020 census, the GOP-controlled Legislature drew a map that would give Republican candidates a 10-4 advantage, even though the state’s voters are evenly split between Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Voting rights advocates, suspecting illegal partisan gerrymandering, went to state court.

The state Supreme Court, with four Democrats and three Republicans, voted along party lines to declare the map in violation of the state constitution and ordered a new draft.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state Legislature’s motion to stay the state court ruling but agreed to hear the case. As a result, the court-drawn map will remain in effect during the midterm elections.

The case will be among the most closely watched of the upcoming term, and not only because of its long-term implications.

Voting rights advocates say a broad ruling in the case would give state legislatures near total authority to enact voter suppression laws and otherwise affect the outcome of elections.

Hashim Mooppan, a former counselor to the solicitor general during the Trump administration, said the fear that the case could spell “the end of democracy” is overblown.

Both sides in the case have presented the Supreme Court with “a menu of options,” and it’s far from clear whether the justices will adopt the most extreme version, Mooppan said at the Georgetown court preview.

But even if the justices adopt the “broadest possible theory,” state legislatures would not be able to “override the result of the election after they happen,” he said.

Legal challenges to affirmative action

Two cases — Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, and Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina — present legal challenges to affirmative action.

A ruling against Harvard and UNC, some legal experts warn, could spell the end of affirmative action, a policy that American colleges and universities have followed for more than half a century to boost admissions of minority students.

Americans are divided over affirmative action. Proponents say the policy has promoted campus diversity by providing opportunities for disadvantaged students. Opponents say it gives preferential treatment to Black, Hispanic and other minorities at the expense of white and Asian applicants, undermining the goal of a “color blind” society.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, a group headed by conservative legal activist and affirmative action opponent Edward Jay Blum, sued Harvard and UNC, accusing the former of discriminating against Asian applicants and the latter of disfavoring white students.

In their defense, Harvard and UNC said race is one of many factors they consider in student admissions, citing previous Supreme Court decisions over the past two decades reaffirming the practice.

Lower courts sided with the two universities. But Students for Fair Admissions appealed to the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a 2003 ruling that upheld the use of race in college admissions for the benefit of diversity.

The court could choose to uphold or restrict affirmative action rather than outlaw it. But with a conservative supermajority of six justices in control, the judicial tides appear to have turned against the policy, experts say.

“If you were just trying to count noses, I think you would think that there are more votes to be skeptical of these programs now than ever before,” said Roman Martinez, a Supreme Court litigator at Latham & Watkins said at Georgetown.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the American Constitution Society earlier this month, Deborah Archer, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, and that ending affirming action would make “the system less equitable.”

Right to refuse service

The question of whether a business owner can refuse service to a customer based on the vendor’s religious beliefs returns to the high court with a new case out of Colorado.

In 2018, the court considered the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Siding with the baker, the court found that the so-called public accommodations law itself violated his right to freedom of religion, but it shied away from ruling on the larger question of whether forcing the baker to design a cake would violate his free speech rights.

With the new case, the justices will weigh in on that issue.

The case was brought by Lorie Smith, the owner of a Colorado graphic design company called 303 Creative LLC, who says she wants to build wedding websites for couples of the opposite sex but not for same-sex couples because she’s opposed to gay marriage for religious reasons.

She wants to post a message on her website explaining her opposition to designing wedding sites for same-sex couples. But because of Colorado law, she has been unable to do so.

Smith sought an exemption from the law in federal court on the grounds that it would force her to “speak messages” that violated her deeply held beliefs.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case during the new term but limited the review to her free-speech claim.

Colorado says the case is not about free speech but rather about whether a business can refuse service based on a customer’s race or other protected characteristics.

But with the conservative Supreme Court increasingly siding with religious groups in recent years, the state is unlikely to encounter a sympathetic court, experts say.

“The court is expanding both its understanding of what speech is and its protection of it,” Kent Greenfield, a Boston College law professor, said during the American Constitution Society event.

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Archives: Records from Trump White House Staffers Remain Missing

The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over.

The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite an ongoing effort by staff, electronic communications between certain unidentified White House officials were still not in their custody.

“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” Debra Steidel Wall, the acting U.S. archivist, wrote in a letter to Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat.

The letter went on to specify that the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about how to move forward and recover “the records unlawfully removed.”

It has been widely reported that officials in President Donald Trump’s White House used non-official electronic messaging accounts throughout his four years in office. The Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved, requires staff to copy or forward those messages into their official electronic messaging accounts.

The agency says that while it has been able to obtain these records from some former officials, a number remain outstanding. The Justice Department has already pursued records from one former Trump official, Peter Navarro, who prosecutors accused of using at least one “non-official” email account — a ProtonMail account — to send and receive emails while he worked as the president’s trade adviser.

The legal action in August came just weeks after Navarro was indicted on criminal charges after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a monthslong back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump’s handling of records.

The letter on Friday also comes nearly two months after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Lawyers for Trump had provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.

Maloney and other Democratic lawmakers on the panel have been seeking a briefing from the National Archives but haven’t received one due to the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.

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Latvia Prime Minister Wins Election

The center-right New Unity party of Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins won Saturday’s election, according to provisional results, with its 19% of the vote putting him in a position to head another coalition government.

The results — with 91% of districts counted — mean Latvia should remain a leading voice alongside its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in pushing the European Union for a decisive stance against Russia.

Karins’ party was again the party with the most support following the election. Members of the current coalition were on track to receive 42 seats in the 100-seat parliament, so Karins needs to draft additional allies to stay as a prime minister.

As many as nine parties won sufficient votes to gain seats in parliament.

After a campaign dominated by security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Karins told Reuters he will be working to craft a coalition of like-minded parties.

“I am convinced that we will be able find such a solution,” he said early Sunday.

“First and foremost on everyone’s minds is how we all get through the winter, not only in Latvia but throughout the EU, and that we all remain united behind Ukraine, and do not waiver in the face of difficulties for us,” said Karins.

The first Latvian head of government to serve through a full four-year term, Karins, a 57-year-old dual U.S. and Latvian citizen, has benefited from his Moscow policy, which included restricting the entry of Russian citizens traveling from Russia and Belarus.

“I see no chance that any government in Latvia will stop supporting Ukraine — this is not a view of a small group of politicians, this is the view of our society,” said Karins.

But his victory could widen a rift between the country’s Latvian majority and its Russian-speaking minority over their place in society, amid widespread national anger over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

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Bosnia Heads to Polls as Ethnic Tensions Dominate Vote

Bosnians headed to the polls Sunday to vote in general elections following a campaign season marked by threats of secession, political infighting, and fears of future turmoil as ethnic tensions in the country grow.

Voters are casting ballots in a dizzying number of contests, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a string of local races.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (5:00 GMT).

Nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan country, Bosnia continues to be burdened by its ethnic divisions.

The Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created by the 1995 Dayton Agreement that succeeded in ending the conflict in the 1990s, but largely failed in providing a framework for the country’s political development.

Bosnia remains partitioned between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation connected by a weak central government.

In the war’s wake, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s divisions in a bid to maintain power.

“I hope for nothing. I vote because that is the only thing I can do as an individual,” said Amra Besic, a 57-year-old economist, as she cast her ballot in Sarajevo.

Coalition clash

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the country has been torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy and electoral reforms.

The country’s Muslim Bosniaks will also face a choice of voting for a disparate, 11-party coalition that is trying to unseat the rule of the mainstream SDA.

The SDA is led by Bakir Izetbegovic — the son of the first president of independent Bosnia — and has largely dominated the political scene in the country for decades.

Many voters say that the lack of young candidates offering fresh ideas has left them largely uninspired on the eve of the elections.

“Most of the candidates that are running are the ones we have been watching for the last twenty years,” said Sara Djogic, a 21-year-old philosophy student in the capital, Sarajevo.

“There are not many who offer something new,” she added.

With little to no polling data available, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties that have dominated the post-war political scene are likely to win many of the races.

The leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Milorad Dodik, is seeking his third term as the president of the RS, after completing a stint in the tripartite presidency.

For the past year, Dodik has been stoking tensions with his frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions, earning him fresh sanctions from the U.S. in January.

Dodik’s primary challenger Jelena Trivic has vowed to crack down on corruption in the RS if elected.

“Our revenge will be the law,” Trivic said ahead of the polls.

Fears of turmoil

For the country’s Catholic Croats, political turmoil has also been brewing.

Ahead of the election, many Croats have been demanding electoral reforms with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest.

Their grievances are steeped in the vast numerical advantage held by Bosniaks in the Muslim-Croat federation, which has allowed Muslim voters to hold de-facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for the creation of a new mechanism to allow the community to choose their own representatives to the presidency and upper house.

The move, however, has been fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

With threats of fresh boycotts, fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties that view him as a Bosniak proxy — is reelected.

The ever-present threats and vitriol have led some to skip the polling booth Sunday.

“I do not expect anything new after these elections. Everything will be the same,” said Mira Sladojevic, a pensioner in her 70s in Sarajevo.

“I haven’t voted for a long time,” she added.

The first wave of preliminary results is expected several hours after the polls close at 7 p.m. (19:00 GMT).

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Hurricane Ian Death Toll Tops 40

The death toll from Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the United States, soared above 40 Saturday, as President Joe Biden heads to Florida later in the week to survey the devastation.

Shocked Florida communities were only just beginning to face the full scale of the destruction, with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods and along the state’s southwest coast.

Homes, restaurants and businesses were ripped apart when Ian roared ashore as a powerful Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday.

The confirmed number of storm-related deaths rose to 44 statewide, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission said late Saturday, but reports of additional fatalities were still emerging county by county — pointing to a far higher final toll.

Hard-hit Lee County alone recorded 35 deaths, according to its sheriff, while U.S. media including NBC and CBS tallied more than 70 deaths either directly or indirectly related to the storm.

In the coastal state of North Carolina, the governor’s office confirmed four deaths related to Ian there.

Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit Florida on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted, but the couple will first head to Puerto Rico on Monday to survey the destruction from a different storm, Hurricane Fiona, which struck the U.S. territory last month.

In Florida’s Lee County on Saturday, rescuers and ordinary citizens in boats were still saving the last trapped inhabitants of the small island of Matlacha. Debris, abandoned vehicles and downed trees littered the pummeled hamlet’s main street and surroundings that are dotted by colorful wooden houses with corrugated roofs.

The community, home to about 800 people, was cut off from the mainland following damage to two bridges, and those who fled early were only just beginning to return home to survey the destruction.

Sitting in the shadow of a deserted Matlacha house, Chip Farrar told AFP that “nobody’s telling us what to do, nobody’s telling us where to go.”

“The evacuation orders came in very late,” the 43-year-old said. “But most people that are still here wouldn’t have left anyway. It’s a very blue-collar place. And most people don’t have anywhere to go, which is the biggest issue.”

Sixteen migrants were missing from a boat that sank during the hurricane, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two people were found dead, and nine others rescued, including four Cubans who swam to shore in the Florida Keys.

More than 900,000 customers remained without power in Florida on Saturday night, hampering efforts by those who evacuated to return to their homes to take stock of what they lost.

In Fort Myers Beach, a town on the Gulf of Mexico coast which took the brunt of the storm, Pete Belinda said his home was “just flipped upside down, soaking wet, full of mud.”

Ian barreled over Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean before making U.S. landfall again, this time on the South Carolina coast Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 140 kph.

It was later downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, and it was dissipating over Virginia late Saturday.

More than 45,000 people remained without power across North Carolina and Virginia, tracking website poweroutage.us said Saturday.

CoreLogic, a firm that specializes in property analysis, said wind-related losses for residential and commercial properties in Florida could cost insurers up to $32 billion, while flooding losses could reach $15 billion.

“This is the costliest Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew made landfall in 1992,” CoreLogic’s Tom Larsen said.

Rescues continue

As of Saturday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said more than 1,100 rescues had been made across Florida.

DeSantis reported that hundreds of rescue personnel were going door-to-door “up and down the coastline.”

Many Floridians evacuated ahead of the storm, but thousands chose to shelter in place and ride it out.

Two hard-hit barrier islands near Fort Myers — Pine Island and Sanibel Island — were cut off after the storm damaged causeways to the mainland.

Aerial photos and video show breathtaking destruction in Sanibel and elsewhere.

A handful of restaurants and bars reopened in Fort Myers, giving an illusion of normalcy amid downed trees and shattered storefronts.

Before pummeling Florida, Ian plunged all of Cuba into darkness after downing the island’s power network.

Electricity was gradually returning, mainly in Havana, but many homes remain without power.

A new storm in the Pacific, Hurricane Orlene, intensified to Category 2 strength off the Mexican coast, where it was forecast to make landfall in the coming days.

Human-induced climate change is resulting in more severe weather events across the globe, scientists say.

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EU Leaders to Discuss Infrastructure Following Incidents on Russian Pipelines

European Union leaders will discuss the security of crucial infrastructure when they meet in Prague next week following damage to the Nord Stream pipelines that many in the West have said was caused by sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines is a threat to the EU,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet Saturday after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Brussels.

“We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” he wrote.

The leaders of EU member states leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Friday.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met with Frederiksen in Brussels “to address the sabotage” on the pipelines, he said on Twitter.

“NATO allies will continue our close cooperation on resilience [and the] protection of critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg wrote.

NATO earlier voiced “deep concern” over the damage sustained by the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, calling the incidents “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

Three leaks — two in the Danish zone and one in the Swedish zone — were discovered last week in the two major Russian underwater pipelines designed to ship natural gas to Germany, while Sweden on Thursday said its coast guard had found a fourth leak.

On Saturday, a Nord Stream 2 pipeline spokesperson told Agence France-Presse the pipeline is no longer leaking under the Baltic Sea because an equilibrium has been reached between the gas and water pressure. Information on the status of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline leak, which was significantly larger, was not immediately available, AFP reported.

The incidents come amid rising tensions between Europe and Russia over the war in Ukraine.

While both NATO and the European Union say the leaks were caused by sabotage, they have so far refrained from directly pinning the blame on Russia.

Some material for this article came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and dpa. 

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Iran Allows US Citizen Out of Prison Temporarily

Siamak Namazi, an Iranian American imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years on espionage-related charges rejected by Washington as baseless, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week furlough, officials said Saturday.

Separately, his father and former United Nations official Baquer Namazi, who was also convicted on charges of “collaboration with a hostile government,” has been allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Dujarric said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is grateful that, following his appeals to the President of the Islamic Republic or Iran . . . Baquer Namaze has been permitted to leave.”

It was unclear if the moves might be a step toward Siamak’s full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other U.S. citizens detained in Iran.

Soon after news of Siamak’s furlough broke, Iran’s Nournews said an unnamed regional nation had mediated between Tehran and Washington for the “simultaneous release of prisoners.”

The semi-official news agency also reported that “billions of dollars of Iran’s frozen assets because of the U.S. sanctions will be released soon.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We were deeply gratified to learn from the U.N. Secretary-General today that Iran has lifted the travel ban imposed on Baquer Namazi.”

The department was grateful that Siamak Namazi, “has been granted a humanitarian furlough in order to be with his father,” Price said in a release.

It was unclear what motivated Tehran’s decisions on both men. Neither the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran nor the Iranian mission to the U.N. immediately responded to requests for comment.

Iran is grappling with the biggest show of opposition to its clerical authorities since 2019 with dozens of people killed in unrest across the country ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iranian Kurdistan, in police custody.

Baquer Namazi, 85, was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.

His son Siamak, 51, has been held in Evin prison since 2015 and was convicted of the same charge as his father in 2016. The U.S. government has described the charges against both as baseless.

“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” lawyer Jared Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment and was on a one-week renewable furlough.

“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.

Iranian Americans, whose U.S. citizenship is not recognized by Tehran, are often pawns between the two nations, now at odds over whether to revive a fraying 2015 pact under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

In addition to the Namazis, other U.S. citizens detained in Iran include environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British nationality, and businessman Emad Shargi, 58. A separate State Department spokesperson said the United States is working to bring those two home as well as Siamak Namazi.

Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, said the Namazis should never have been imprisoned.

“The Islamic Republic deserves no credit for temporarily releasing hostages that never deserved to spend a single day in prison,” Sadjadpour said.

Price thanked U.S. allies and partners who worked to help the Namazis, including the U.N. Secretary-General, Switzerland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the United Kingdom.

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Danes: Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Seems to Have Stopped Leaking

The Danish Energy Agency says one of two ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea appears to have stopped leaking natural gas.

The agency said on Twitter on Saturday that it had been informed by the company operating the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pressure appears to have stabilized in the pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany.

“This indicates that the leaking of gas in this pipeline has ceased,” the Danish Energy Agency said.

Undersea blasts that damaged the Nord Stream I and 2 pipelines this week have led to huge methane leaks. Nordic investigators said the blasts have involved several hundred pounds of explosives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday accused the West of sabotaging the Russia-built pipelines, a charge vehemently denied by the United States and its allies.

The U.S.-Russia clashes continued later at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York called by Russia on the pipelines attacks and as Norwegian researchers published a map projecting that a huge plume of methane from the damaged pipelines will travel over large swaths of the Nordic region.

Speaking Friday in Moscow, Putin claimed that “Anglo-Saxons” in the West have turned from imposing sanctions on Russia to “terror attacks,” sabotaging the pipelines in what he described as an attempt to “destroy the European energy infrastructure.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed Putin’s pipeline claims as outlandish.

“It was a deliberate act of sabotage. And now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies. We will work with our allies to get to the bottom (of) precisely what happened,” Biden promised. “Just don’t listen to what Putin’s saying. What he’s saying we know is not true.”

U.S. officials said the Putin claim was trying to shift attention from his annexation Friday of parts of Ukraine.

“We’re not going to let Russia’s disinformation distract us or the world from its transparently fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Friday.

European nations, which have been reeling under soaring energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have noted that it is Russia, not Europe, that benefits from chaos in the energy markets and spiking prices for energy.

The U.S. has long opposed to the two pipelines and had repeatedly urged Germany to halt them, saying they increased Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and decreased its security. Since the war in Ukraine began in February, Russia has cut back supplies of natural gas sent to Europe to heat homes, generate electricity and run factories. European leaders have accused Putin of using “energy blackmail” to divide them in their strong support for Ukraine.

The attacks on the pipelines have prompted energy companies and European governments to beef up security around energy infrastructure.

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Venezuela Releases 7 Jailed Americans; US Frees 2 Prisoners

In a rare softening of hostile relations, the White House said Saturday that Venezuela freed seven Americans imprisoned in the South American country and the United States released two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on drug smuggling convictions. 

The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, is the largest trade of detained citizens ever carried out by the Biden administration. 

“These individuals will soon be reunited with their families and back in the arms of their loved ones where they belong,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home” the seven men, whom the president cited by name. “We celebrate that seven families will be whole once more.” 

The White House said Biden had spoken with the families and that the men were in stable health and have been offered a range of support services, including medical care. 

Maduro’s government said in a statement that it was releasing the American citizens as a humanitarian gesture. It praised the diplomacy that resulted in the freeing of the two “unjustly imprisoned” Venezuelans imprisoned in the United States and said it “hopes for the preservation of peace and harmony with all the nations of our region and the world.” 

The exchange amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. The deal follows months of back-channel diplomacy by Washington’s top hostage negotiator and other U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices. 

The transfer took place in a country between the U.S. and Venezuela after the men in the deal arrived in separate planes, the Biden administration said. 

Those freed include five employees of Houston-based Citgo — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela right before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were hauled away by masked security agents who busted into a Caracas conference room. 

“I can’t believe it,” said Vadell’s daughter, Cristina, when contacted in Houston by The Associated Press. Holding back tears of joy on her 31st birthday, she said: “This is the best birthday present ever. I’m just so happy.” 

Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges, and Florida man, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January. 

The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo — nephews of “First Combatant” Cilia Flores, as Maduro has called his wife. The men were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and immediately taken to New York to face trial. They were convicted the following year in a highly charged case that cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of Maduro’s administration. 

Both men were granted clemency by Biden before the release. 

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to bring home the roughly 60 Americans it believes are held hostage abroad or wrongfully detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus is on Russia, where the U.S. has so far tried unsuccessfully to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela has been holding the largest contingent of Americans suspected of being used as bargaining chips. 

At least four other Americans remain detained in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in a slapdash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia. 

“To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained — know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” Biden said in his statement. 

His administration did not release another prisoner long sought by Maduro: Alex Saab, an insider businessman who Venezuela considers a diplomat and U.S. prosecutors a corrupt regime enabler. Saab fought extradition from Cape Verde, where he was arrested last year during a stopover en route to Iran and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning off millions in state contracts. 

The oil executives were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to between eight years and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason,” and Venezuela’s supreme court upheld their long sentences earlier this year. The men have all pleaded not guilty and the State Department has regarded them — and the two other Americans freed Saturday — as wrongfully detained. 

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Bosnia Goes to the Polls as Ethnic Divisions Grow

With ethnic divisions growing deeper, Bosnia will hold general elections Sunday amid secession threats and fears of fresh political turmoil nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan nation. 

The country is torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy, while Muslim Bosniaks calling for a more egalitarian state appear to be chasing little more than a pipedream.  

For more than two decades, the impoverished Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system born out of the 1995 Dayton Agreement.

And while the accords may have succeeded in ending the war in the 1990s, the country has withered amid political paralysis ever since.

Analysts have warned that Bosnia is sinking ever deeper into troubled waters with divisions along ethnic lines appearing to grow even further on the eve of elections. 

“Bosnia-Herzegovina is experiencing the most serious political crisis since the signing of the peace agreement,” Ranko Mavrak, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told AFP. 

“The ethnic divisions are so deep that they are now a real danger to Bosnia’s survival and its integrity,” he added.

Bosnia is divided between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation linked by a weak central government.

With Bosnia’s three main groups rarely mixing in the wake of the war, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s fault lines in a bid to maintain power, driving hundreds of thousands abroad in search of better opportunities. 

“It’s a beautiful, rich country and we could move forward with even a minimum of understanding,” said Salko Hasanefendic, 70, a business owner from Sarajevo. 

“If we raise our children today in such a nationalist context, we can only expect to have new nationalists in 40 years,” he told AFP.

Amid the gloom, voters will cast ballots in a dizzying array of contests Sunday, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a raft of local races in the two separate entities. 

With little to no polling data to rely on, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties are likely to dominate many of the contests, including longtime Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the presidency of the RS.

For months, Dodik has been stoking tensions amid frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions.  

“This situation is like two brothers who don’t like each other,” Rajko, a retiree and Dodik supporter who did disclose his surname, told AFP before a recent campaign rally.

“It is better that they do not live together,” he added, echoing a common refrain said by Dodik.

Amid the calls for secession, there are many who appear happy to see their Serb countrymen leave.

“Dodik and those like him can go to another country that they find more beautiful,” said Bosnia’s former co-president Bakir Izetbegovic during a recent rally.

Izetbegovic— the son of the first president of independent Bosnia—is running for a third term as the country’s Bosniak president but is facing stiff competition from 46-year-old history professor Denis Becirovic.  

Backed by 11 opposition parties, Becirovic is vowing to fight for a “pro-European and united” Bosnia.

To add to the growing divide, many of the country’s Catholic Croats have been pleading for greater autonomy or electoral reforms during the run-up to the polls, with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest for months.

Thanks to their vast numerical advantage in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosniaks hold de facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for a mechanism to allow the community to appoint their own representatives to the presidency and upper house — a move fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

Fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties — is reelected following repeated threats by nationalists, who say they are prepared to widen boycotts at government institutions.

“At the moment, there is no sign the situation will stabilize in Bosnia,” said Mavrak, the analyst. “There is no indication at the moment that it is possible to reach a compromise.” 

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Bosnia Goes to the Polls as Ethnic Divisions Grow

With ethnic divisions growing deeper, Bosnia will hold general elections Sunday amid secession threats and fears of fresh political turmoil nearly three decades after war ravaged the Balkan nation. 

The country is torn between secessionist Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats demanding greater autonomy, while Muslim Bosniaks calling for a more egalitarian state appear to be chasing little more than a pipedream.  

For more than two decades, the impoverished Balkan state has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system born out of the 1995 Dayton Agreement.

And while the accords may have succeeded in ending the war in the 1990s, the country has withered amid political paralysis ever since.

Analysts have warned that Bosnia is sinking ever deeper into troubled waters with divisions along ethnic lines appearing to grow even further on the eve of elections. 

“Bosnia-Herzegovina is experiencing the most serious political crisis since the signing of the peace agreement,” Ranko Mavrak, a Sarajevo-based political analyst, told AFP. 

“The ethnic divisions are so deep that they are now a real danger to Bosnia’s survival and its integrity,” he added.

Bosnia is divided between a Serb entity — the Republika Srpska (RS) — and a Muslim-Croat federation linked by a weak central government.

With Bosnia’s three main groups rarely mixing in the wake of the war, ethnic political parties have long exploited the country’s fault lines in a bid to maintain power, driving hundreds of thousands abroad in search of better opportunities. 

“It’s a beautiful, rich country and we could move forward with even a minimum of understanding,” said Salko Hasanefendic, 70, a business owner from Sarajevo. 

“If we raise our children today in such a nationalist context, we can only expect to have new nationalists in 40 years,” he told AFP.

Amid the gloom, voters will cast ballots in a dizzying array of contests Sunday, including for the three members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, the deputies of the central parliament and a raft of local races in the two separate entities. 

With little to no polling data to rely on, analysts say incumbents and nationalist parties are likely to dominate many of the contests, including longtime Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is running for the presidency of the RS.

For months, Dodik has been stoking tensions amid frequent calls for Bosnia’s Serbs to separate even further from the country’s central institutions.  

“This situation is like two brothers who don’t like each other,” Rajko, a retiree and Dodik supporter who did disclose his surname, told AFP before a recent campaign rally.

“It is better that they do not live together,” he added, echoing a common refrain said by Dodik.

Amid the calls for secession, there are many who appear happy to see their Serb countrymen leave.

“Dodik and those like him can go to another country that they find more beautiful,” said Bosnia’s former co-president Bakir Izetbegovic during a recent rally.

Izetbegovic— the son of the first president of independent Bosnia—is running for a third term as the country’s Bosniak president but is facing stiff competition from 46-year-old history professor Denis Becirovic.  

Backed by 11 opposition parties, Becirovic is vowing to fight for a “pro-European and united” Bosnia.

To add to the growing divide, many of the country’s Catholic Croats have been pleading for greater autonomy or electoral reforms during the run-up to the polls, with the leading nationalist party HDZ threatening to boycott the contest for months.

Thanks to their vast numerical advantage in the Muslim-Croat federation, Bosniaks hold de facto control over who can be elected to lead the Croats at the presidential level.

HDZ and other Croat parties have been calling for a mechanism to allow the community to appoint their own representatives to the presidency and upper house — a move fiercely opposed by the federation’s ruling Bosniak party.

Fears are growing of potential turmoil after the polls if the incumbent Croat co-president Zeljko Komsic — who is widely reviled by all Croat parties — is reelected following repeated threats by nationalists, who say they are prepared to widen boycotts at government institutions.

“At the moment, there is no sign the situation will stabilize in Bosnia,” said Mavrak, the analyst. “There is no indication at the moment that it is possible to reach a compromise.” 

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