Russia Blocks Website of Jailed Opposition Leader Navalny

Russian officials have blocked access to the website of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny along with dozens of other websites run by allies of him. 

Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor said it blocked along with the other sites at the request of the prosecutor general. 

Included in the blocked sites is the website of Navalny’s top strategist, Leonid Volkov, along with the website for Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, and the site for the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union. 

The move comes ahead of September’s parliamentary elections, seen as a key part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to increase his support before a 2024 presidential election.  

Last month, a Russian court ruled that organizations linked to Navalny were “extremist,” barring them from operating and preventing people associated with them from running for public office.  

Navalny is Putin’s most prominent critic, and his organization has worked to expose corruption in Russia. 

He is currently serving a 2 1/2-year jail sentence for parole violations stemming from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which he says was politically motivated.  

Navalny has accused the Kremlin of trying to poison him with a nerve agent, an accusation the government denies. 

His arrest and jailing earlier this year sparked a wave of protests across Russia and have been condemned by Western nations. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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Only Tokyo Could Pull Off These Games? Not Everyone Agrees

Staging an Olympics during the worst pandemic in a century? There’s a widespread perception that it couldn’t happen in a better place than Japan.

A vibrant, open democracy with deep pockets, the host nation is known for its diligent execution of detail-laden, large-scale projects, its technological advances, its consensus-building and world-class infrastructure. All this, on paper, at least, gives the strong impression that Japan is one of the few places in the world that could even consider pulling off the high-stakes tightrope walk that the Tokyo Games represent.

Some in Japan aren’t buying it.

“No country should hold an Olympics during a pandemic to start with. And if you absolutely must, then a more authoritarian and high-tech China or Singapore would probably be able to control COVID better,” said Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The bureaucratic, technological, logistical and political contortions required to execute this unprecedented feat — a massively complicated, deeply scrutinized spectacle during a time of global turmoil, death and suffering — have put an unwelcome spotlight on the country.

Most of all, it has highlighted some embarrassing things: that much of Japan doesn’t want the Games, that the nation’s vaccine rollout was late and is only now expanding, and that many suspect the Games are being forced on the country because the International Olympic Committee needs the billions in media revenue.

The worry here isn’t that Tokyo’s organizers can’t get to the finish line without a major disaster. That seems possible, and would allow organizers to claim victory, of a kind.

The fear is that once the athletes and officials leave town, the nation that unwillingly sacrificed much for the cause of global sporting unity might be left the poorer for it, and not just in the tens of billions of dollars it has spent on the Games.

The Japanese public may see an already bad coronavirus situation become even worse; Olympics visitors here have carried fast-spreading variants of the virus into a nation that is only approaching 25% fully vaccinated.

The Tokyo Olympics are, in one sense, a way for visitors to test for themselves some of the common perceptions about Japan that have contributed to this image of the country as the right place to play host. The results, early on in these Games, are somewhat of a mixed bag.

On the plus side, consider the airport arrivals for the thousands of Olympics participants. They showcased Japan’s ability to harness intensely organized workflow skills and bring them to bear on a specific task — in this case, protection against COVID-19 that might be brought in by a swarm of outsiders.

From the moment visitors stepped from their aircraft at Narita International Airport, they were corralled — gently, cheerfully, but in no uncertain terms firmly — into lines, then guided across the deserted airport like second-graders heading to recess. Barriers, some with friendly signs attached, ensured they got documents checked, forehead temperatures measured, hands sanitized and saliva extracted.

Symmetrical layouts of chairs, each meticulously numbered, greeted travelers awaiting their COVID-19 test results and Olympic credentials were validated while they waited. The next steps — immigration, customs — were equally efficient, managing to be both crisp and restrictive, but also completely amiable. You emerged from the airport a bit dizzy from all the guidance and herding, but with ego largely unbruised.

But there have also been conspicuous failures.

After the opening ceremony ended, for example, hundreds of people in the stadium were crammed into a corrallike pen, forced to wait for hours with only a flimsy barricade separating them from curious Japanese onlookers, while dozens of empty buses idled in a line stretching for blocks, barely moving.

Japan does have some obvious advantages over other democracies when it comes to hosting these Games, such as its economic might. As the world’s third-largest economy, after the United States and China, it was able to spend the billions needed to orchestrate these protean Games, with their mounting costs and changing demands.

Another advantage could be Japan’s well-deserved reputation for impeccable customer service. Few places in the world take as much pride in catering to visitors’ needs. It’s an open question, however, whether that real inclination toward hospitality will be tested by the extreme pressure.

A geopolitical imperative may be another big motivator. Japanese archrival China hosts next year’s Winter Games, and many nationalists here maintain that an Olympic failure is not an option amid the struggle with Beijing for influence in Asia. Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister, may also be hoping that a face-saving Games, which he can then declare successful, will help him retain power in fall elections.

And the potential holes in the argument that Japan is the perfect host nation for a pandemic Games?

Start, maybe, with leadership. It has never been clear who is in charge. Is it the city of Tokyo? The national government? The IOC? The Japanese Olympic Committee?

“This Olympics has been an all-Japan national project, but, as is often pointed out, nobody has a clear idea about who is the main organizer,” said Akio Yamaguchi, a crisis communications consultant at Tokyo-based AccessEast. “Uncertainty is the biggest risk.”

Japan has also faced a problem particular to democracies: a fierce, sometimes messy public debate about whether it was a good idea to hold the Games.

“After the postponement, we have never had a clear answer on how to host the Olympics. The focus was whether we can do it or not, instead of discussing why and how to do it,” said Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University.

“Japan is crucially bad at developing a ‘plan B.’ Japanese organizations are nearly incapable of drafting scenarios where something unexpected happens,” Ishizaka said. “There was very little planning that simulated the circumstances in 2021.”

Another possibly shaky foundation of outside confidence in Japan is its reputation as a technologically adept wonder of efficiency.

Arriving athletes and reporters “will probably realize that Japan is not as high-tech or as efficient as it has been often believed,” Nakano said. “More may then realize that it is the utter lack of accountability of the colluded political, business and media elites that ‘enabled’ Japan to hold the Olympics in spite of very negative public opinion — and quite possibly with considerable human sacrifice.”

The Tokyo Games are a Rorschach test of sorts, laying out for examination the many different ideas about Japan as Olympic host. For now, they raise more questions than they answer.

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Rights Chief Condemns Iran’s Violent Suppression of Water Shortage Protests

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is condemning the violent suppression by Iranian security forces of protesters demanding action to resolve chronic water shortages in Khuzestan province.

Peaceful protests took place last week in several cities across Khuzestan in southwestern Iran over water shortages and mismanagement.  Iranian security forces reacted by violently crushing the protests instead of addressing the longstanding water crisis.

Rights chief Michelle Bachelet is calling on the Iranian government to take urgent action to resolve the problem.  She is urging that action instead of using excessive force to stifle debate and keep the population in line.  

Her spokeswoman, Marta Hurtado, tells VOA the people of Khuzestan have legitimate grievances.  She says the only way they can express them and have the government take notice is through protests.

“The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the government’s attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect,” Hurtado said. “The High Commissioner said that she is extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention.”   

At least four people, including one minor, reportedly have been killed.  Monitors believe the number of killings is likely to be higher as protests have spread to at least 20 major towns and cities in Khuzestan over the past week.  Further protests reportedly have broken out in support elsewhere in Iran, including in the capital, Tehran, and in Lorestan province.

Khuzestan, a province of 5 million inhabitants, used to be the country’s main and most reliable source of water.  However, Hurtado says years of alleged mismanagement, including the diversion of water to other parts of the country and nationwide droughts, have depleted the region of its precious resource.

“That is why the situation is defined by the High Commissioner as catastrophic because it is not something that has happened overnight,” Hurtado said. “It has been building up for many years and the authorities have not been able to address it.  That is why we call the authorities for recognition of what is happening and to address it.”  

High Commissioner Bachelet says it is never too late to change tack.  She is calling on Iranian authorities to instruct their security forces to abide by international standards on the use of force.  And then, she says, the government should take immediate steps to mitigate the water crisis and put in place long-term sustainable policies.  

Iranian authorities so far have not responded to the appeals.

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US Defense Secretary Heads to Southeast Asia

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is heading to Southeast Asia to unify allies concerned by China’s growing military abilities as the global coronavirus pandemic continues to cripple the region.

“It’ll be a really good visit,” Austin told reporters traveling with him to Alaska Friday ahead of his visit to Asia.

“We add value to the stability to the region, so my goal is to strengthen relationships,” he said.

Next week Austin will visit Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is the first trip to Southeast Asia by a top member of the Biden administration and Austin’s second trip to the Asia-Pacific region, which he referred to earlier in the week as the Pentagon’s “priority theater of operations.”

Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA the subregion is primed for U.S. engagement after “a general feeling” that “under the [former President Donald] Trump administration they didn’t pay that much attention to Southeast Asia.”

“And there has been some grumbling — media reports, think tankers have been writing, ‘Where the heck is the U.S.?’

“It’s seven months in [to the Biden administration] and they haven’t done anything yet,” Hiebert said.

Austin had planned to lead a large delegation in June to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, but the meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. He is scheduled to deliver a keynote address for IISS on July 27 during his coming visit to Singapore, which likely will touch on Austin’s stated pursuit of a “new vision of integrated deterrence” of Chinese aggression across the region.

China’s coast guard and maritime militia vessels have frequently harassed fishermen inside the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Chinese vessels also have pestered oil and gas developers off the coasts of Malaysia and Vietnam, hindering their energy development.

Austin told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday he plans to reaffirm America’s commitment to freedom of the seas, which runs counter to what he called “unhelpful and unfounded claims” made by China in the hotly contested South China Sea. 

“We don’t believe that any one country should be able to dictate the rules,” Austin said.

Last week, the USS Benfold destroyer sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands, located south of China and east of Vietnam, to challenge “unlawful restrictions on innocent passage” in a move known as a freedom of navigation operation, according to the Navy.

China claimed it “drove away” the U.S. warship, a claim the Navy immediately dismissed as “false.”

China, Taiwan and Vietnam each assert the islands are their territory and require either permission or advance notification before a military vessel passes near, which the U.S. did not give.

Other islands and atolls in the South China Sea are contested by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. China considers much of the resource-rich sea its territory — despite the territorial claims of other nations — and has created hundreds of hectares of artificial islands to bolster its territorial claims.

“It’s a dangerous place. Accidents could happen, that’s for sure,” Hiebert told VOA, adding that the expanded islands have enabled increased Chinese harassment and pressure.

The U.S. frequently conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to dispute China’s claims and to promote free passage through international waters that carry half the world’s merchant fleet tonnage, worth trillions of dollars each year.

The latest freedom of navigation operation earlier this month occurred on the fifth anniversary of an international court ruling in The Hague that held China had no historic title over the South China Sea.

Beijing has ignored the ruling.

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US Infrastructure Proposal May Move Forward Despite Senate Stall

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA senior diplomatic correspondent, Cindy Saine, and senior reporter for Marketplace, Nancy Marshall-Genzer, about growing congressional challenges on infrastructure, police reform, COVID-19 and the economy facing the Biden administration, the ramifications of a widespread cyber-attack on Microsoft allegedly conducted by China, controversial Israeli phone surveillance software allegedly misused amid a global hacking scandal, the Tokyo Olympics and global concern over the spreading of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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UN Experts: Africa Became Hardest Hit by Terrorism This Year

Africa became the region hardest hit by terrorism in the first half of 2021 as the Islamic State and al-Qaida extremist groups and their affiliates spread their influence, boasting gains in supporters and territory and inflicting the greatest casualties, U.N. experts said in a new report.

The panel of experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday that this is “especially true” in parts of West and East Africa where affiliates of both groups can also boast growing capabilities in fundraising and weapons, including the use of drones.

Several of the most successful affiliates of the Islamic State are in its central and west Africa province, and several of al-Qaida’s are in Somalia and the Sahel region, they said.

The experts said it’s “concerning” that these terrorist affiliates are spreading their influence and activities including across borders from Mali into Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger and Senegal as well as incursions from Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad and Niger in West Africa. In the east, the affiliates’ activities have spread from Somalia into Kenya and from Mozambique into Tanzania, they said.

One of “the most troubling events” of early 2021 was the local Islamic State affiliate’s storming and brief holding of Mozambique’s strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province near the border with Tanzania “before withdrawing with spoils, positioning it for future raids in the area,” the panel said.

Overall, the experts said, COVID-19 continued to affect terrorist activity and both the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, and al-Qaida “continued to gloat over the harm done by the coronavirus disease pandemic to their enemies, but were unable to develop a more persuasive narrative.”

“While ISIL contemplated weaponizing the virus, member states detected no concrete plans to implement the idea,” the panel said.

In Europe and other non-conflict zones, lockdowns and border closures brought on by COVID-19 slowed the movement and gathering of people “while increasing the risk of online radicalization,” it said.

The experts warned that attacks “may have been planned in various locations” during the pandemic “that will be executed when restrictions ease.”

The panel said that in Iraq and Syria, “the core conflict zone for ISIL,” the extremist group’s activities have evolved into “an entrenched insurgency, exploiting weaknesses in local security to find safe havens, and targeting forces engaged in counter-ISIL operations.”

Despite heavy counter-terrorism pressures from Iraqi forces, the experts said Islamic State attacks in Baghdad in January and April “underscored the group’s resilience.”

In Syria’s rebel-held northwest Idlib province, the experts said groups aligned with al-Qaida continue to dominate the area, with “terrorist fighters” numbering more than 10,000.

“Although there has been only limited relocation of foreign fighters from the region to other conflict zones, member states are concerned about the possibility of such movement, in particular to Afghanistan, should the environment there become more hospitable to ISIL or groups aligned with al-Qaida,” the panel said.

In central, south and southeast Asia, the experts said Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates continue to operate “notwithstanding key leadership losses in some cases and sustained pressure from security forces.”

The experts said the status of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri “is unknown,” and if he is alive several unnamed member states “assess that he is ailing, leading to an acute leadership challenge for al-Qaida.” 

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China’s Xi Visits Tibet Amid Rising Controls Over Religion

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made a rare visit to Tibet as authorities tighten controls over the Himalayan region’s traditional Buddhist culture, accompanied by an accelerated drive for economic development and modernized infrastructure.

State media reported Friday that Xi visited sites in the capital Lhasa, including the Drepung Monastery, Barkhor Street and the public square at the base of the Potala Palace that was home to the Dalai Lamas, Tibet’s traditional spiritual and temporal leaders.

Xi’s visit was previously unannounced publicly and it wasn’t clear whether he had already returned to Beijing.

China has in recent years stepped up controls over Buddhist monasteries and expanded education in the Chinese rather than Tibetan language. Critics of such policies are routinely detained and can receive long prison terms, especially if they have been convicted of association with the 86-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since fleeing Tibet during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

China doesn’t recognize the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile based in the hillside town of Dharmsala, and accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China.

Meanwhile, domestic tourism has expanded massively in the region during Xi’s nine years in office and new airports, rail lines and highways constructed.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said that while in Lhasa on Thursday, Xi sought to “learn about the work on ethnic and religious affairs, the conservation of the ancient city, as well as the inheritance and protection of Tibetan culture.”

A day earlier, he visited the city of city of Nyingchi to inspect ecological preservation work on the basin of the Yarlung Zangbo River, the upper course of the Brahmaputra, on which China is building a controversial dam.

He also visited a bridge and inspected a project to build a railway from southwestern China’s Sichuan province to Tibet before riding Tibet’s first electrified rail line from Nyingchi to Lhasa, which went into service last month.

Xi’s visit may be timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the 17 Point Agreement, which firmly established Chinese control over Tibet, which many Tibetans say had been effectively independent for most of its history. The Dalai Lama says he was forced into signing the document and has since repudiated it.

It also comes amid deteriorating relations between China and India, which share a lengthy but disputed border with Tibet.

Deadly encounters last year between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed high-altitude border dramatically altered the already fraught relationship between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

That appears to have prompted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wish the Dalai Lama well on his birthday this month on Twitter and said he also spoke to him by phone. That was the first time Modi has publicly confirmed speaking with the Dalai Lama since becoming prime minister in 2014.

In a statement, the advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet called Xi’s visit “an indication of how high Tibet continues to figure in Chinese policy considerations.”

The way in which the visit was organized and the “complete absence of any immediate state media coverage of the visit indicate that Tibet continues to be a sensitive issue and that the Chinese authorities do not have confidence in their legitimacy among the Tibetan people,” the group based in Washington, D.C., said.

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US Training of Foreign Militaries to Continue Despite Haiti Assassination

The United States will not reconsider the type of training it provides to foreign military members despite finding that seven of the 25 individuals arrested in the assassination of Haiti’s president were at one time trained by the U.S.

As VOA first reported, U.S. defense officials last week said that the seven received U.S. military training, both in the U.S. and in Colombia, between 2001 and 2015, when they were part of the Colombian military.

But Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday there was nothing to tie that training to the alleged participation in the plot that killed Haitian President Jovenel Moise earlier this month.

“We know that these seven individuals got nothing certainly related, at all, or that one could extrapolate, as leading to or encouraging of what happened in Haiti,” Kirby told reporters during a press gaggle.

“I know of no plans right now as a result of what happened in Haiti for us to reconsider or to change this very valuable, ethical leadership training that we continue to provide to partners in the Western Hemisphere and to partners around the world,” he added.

While some of the training took place in Colombia, Pentagon officials say some of the Colombian nationals were trained at seminars in Washington. Some also took courses at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), based at Fort Benning in the southern U.S. state of Georgia.

WHINSEC, established in January 2001, replaced the School of the Americas, which came under heavy criticism in the early to mid-1990s after its graduates were implicated in human rights violations, including murders and disappearances, in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Honduras and Panama.

In an interview with VOA in April, WHINSEC Commandant Colonel John Dee Suggs said the new school was designed with a focus on human rights and ethics.

“There is a pretty rigorous review of people and their human rights history,” Suggs told VOA. “We will only train people who have the same human rights values that we have, who have the same democratic values that we have.”

“We’re not shooting anybody. We’re not teaching anybody to … go into a house and take these folks down,” he added.

Pentagon officials told VOA this week that the Colombians who trained at WHINSEC took courses in cadet leadership, professional development, counter-drug operations and small unit leader training.

“All WHINSEC courses include human rights and ethics training,” one official added.

Pentagon and State Department officials have previously said they are continuing to review their records to determine whether any other suspects received training from the U.S.

Haitian President Moise was shot and killed in the predawn hours of July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince.

Earlier this week, Haiti sworn in a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, as part of an attempt to stabilize the country following Moise’s death.

Haitian authorities say they are continuing to investigate Moise’s assassination.

Officials have accused Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian doctor with ties to Florida, as being the plot’s mastermind.

Some information from AFP was used in this report.


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Hong Kong Police Arrest Another Apple Daily Editor Under Security Law

A former senior editor of Hong Kong’s shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was arrested by national security police on Wednesday morning. 

A police source told AFP that former executive editor-in-chief Lam Man-chung had been detained.  

In a statement, police said they had arrested a 51-year-old former newspaper editor for “collusion with foreign forces,” a national security crime.  

Lam is the ninth employee of Apple Daily arrested under a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last year after huge and often violent democracy protests. 

Apple Daily, an unapologetic backer of the democracy movement, put out its last edition last month after its top leadership was arrested and its assets frozen under the security law. 

Lam was the editor who oversaw that final edition, ending the paper’s 26-year run. 

Authorities said Apple Daily’s reporting and editorials backed calls for international sanctions against China, a political stance that has been criminalized by the new security law. 

The tabloid’s owner Jimmy Lai, 73, is currently in prison and has been charged with collusion alongside two other executives who have been denied bail. 

They face up to life in prison if convicted.  

Among the others arrested, but currently not charged, are two of the paper’s leading editorial writers, including one who was detained at Hong Kong’s airport as he tried to leave the city. 

The paper’s sudden demise was a stark warning to all media outlets on the reach of a new national security law in a city that once billed itself as a beacon of press freedom in the region. 

Last week the Hong Kong Journalists Association said media freedoms were “in tatters” as China remolds the once outspoken business hub in its own authoritarian image. 

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Billionaire Bezos Makes Successful Suborbital Trip

Space company Blue Origin and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos rocketed to space Tuesday, with the world’s oldest and youngest people to ever fly in space in tow.  Bezos’ flight follows last week’s suborbital jaunt by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson. The two billionaires are further ushering in an era of space tourism and exploration. VOA’s Laurel Bowman has our story.

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Ethiopian Police Reject Claims of Arbitrary Tigrayan Arrests

Ethiopian police have confirmed the arrest of hundreds of ethnic Tigrayans in the capital Addis Ababa in recent weeks. The police said they were supporting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which authorities banned after the Tigray conflict broke out in November. But rights group Amnesty International says dozens were detained because of their ethnicity.

Addis Ababa Police Commissioner Getu Argaw confirmed on Saturday that authorities had arrested over 300 Tigrayans.

But speaking on the state-run Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation, Getu denied the Tigrayans were arrested because of their ethnicity.

Getu said the arrests were made after thorough investigations found the suspects were supporting the TPLF, which authorities banned as a terrorist group in May over the conflict in Tigray region.

Getu said their arrests targeted only individuals who were supporting the ousted terrorist group. The arrests were not due to their ethnicity, said Getu, adding that suspects from other ethnic groups who were involved in supporting that terrorist group were also arrested. 

Getu said illegal weapons and ammunition were seized from some of the suspects.

He was responding to a call Friday by rights group Amnesty International for Ethiopian authorities to end arbitrary detentions of Tigrayans without due process.

Amnesty said the sweeping arrests appeared to be ethnically motivated.

The rights group said while some of those arrested were released on bail, while hundreds of others were still being detained and their relatives kept in the dark.

Fisseha Tekle is Amnesty International’s human rights researcher for Ethiopia.

Tekle told VOA the families of those arrested do not know where they are being kept, they have not appeared in court, and this should stop. If they are involved in criminal activities they should appear before court, said Tekle, and their family should have the right to visit them, and they should also get an attorney.

The arrests come as the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region appears to be expanding.

A spokesman for neighboring Afar region on Monday said Tigrayan fighters attacked Afar forces on Saturday and that clashes continued over the weekend.

The TPLF has also vowed to regain territory seized by Amhara forces loyal to the federal government.

The conflict dates back to last November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed government forces to oust the TPLF from power in Tigray.

Ethiopian authorities announced a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray on June 28 as Tigrayan forces re-took the regional capital, Mekelle, from federal troops.

But with each passing day, it looks less likely the cease-fire is going to hold.

Some  information for this report came from Reuters.

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England Lifts COVID Restrictions 

Monday is Freedom Day in England. The day has received the moniker because all social restrictions, like mask wearing and maintaining social distancing, that have been imposed to fight against COVID-19 have been lifted.  

The reversal of the restrictions happens amid a rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations in England, largely driven by the delta variant of the virus.


Freedom Day is also happening as Sajid Javid, Britan’s health minister, is self-isolating because he tested positive for COVID. The National Health Service notified British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the finance minister that they had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID. 

People who have been notified by the NHS of an exposure are expected to self-isolate. Johnson and Sunak, however, were expecting to participate in a pilot program that would have allowed them to work at Downing Street but decided against it after a public uproar.  

“Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business,” Sunak posted on Twitter, “I recognize that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” 

In Thailand, protesters demonstrating against the government’s handling of the COVID outbreak clashed with police Sunday in Bangkok, the capital. The protests in the capital and in other locations around the country were in defiance of a ban on public gatherings of more than five people that was recently announced by the government.  

U.S. teenaged tennis sensation Coco Gauff has tested positive for COVID and will not be part of the Tokyo Olympics. The 17-year-old athlete posted on Twitter that “It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future.” It was not immediately clear if Gauff had been vaccinated. The Olympic games were canceled last year, but the Olympic committee’s decision to continue with the games this year has received much criticism as the world continues to grapple with the handling of the COVID pandemic.  

190.4 million global COVID cases and more than 4 million deaths from the virus were recorded worldwide early Monday, according to the coronavirus resource center of Johns Hopkins University. The center’s data shows that over 3.6 billion vaccines have been administered so far.  

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