Separatists in Cameroon’s restive English-speaking regions have freed a prominent Catholic archbishop they kidnapped Tuesday.
Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua says he was abducted by separatist fighters in a locality called Njinikejem while on a trip to preach peace in regions where a separatist war has raged for the past two years.
“The road was blocked,” he said. “I stood there for sometime, some boys came in and said, ‘No, you cannot go, you should go back.’ They gave me the number of a certain general [commander of separatist fighters]. They called and said, ‘Let me talk to him.’ He said, ‘No, you cannot pass, it has been blocked.’ I came down, I removed the barrier and I passed. The boys came, about 5 or 6 of them very aggressively shouting, ‘Who do you think you are,’ mishandled my driver. ‘No, we are taking you to our camp.'”
Esua says he was taken to the bush with four of his companions. He says they were not physically assaulted while in captivity.
The archbishop says he told the hundreds of youths and the man who called himself the general commanding separatist forces in the area that they should stop killing, maiming and abducting people whom they say they are trying to liberate.
“I told them, ‘You are making people to suffer.’ I said we cannot achieve anything good with evil. Thou shall not kill, thou shall not make other people to suffer. People whom you pretend to be fighting for are suffering. I told them a lot about education. Get the schools open,” he said.
Esua says they listened to him, and replied that they were fighting to save their land and people. He says he was asked to leave after more than 13 hours in captivity; he did not say if a ransom was paid for his release.
It was not the first time clergy have been abducted by the English-speaking separatists, who want to break away from Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.
The Catholic Church says dozens of its nuns and priests have been kidnapped and released. Many believe the church paid to secure their release, an allegation the church denies.
Security analyst Eugene Ongbwa, a consultant with Cameroon’s NGO Ecumenical Service For Peace, says the separatists have not been killing priests because the Catholic Church has preached against abuses by the government, and has called on the central government to listen to the fighters.
When the crisis began, separatist fighters kidnapped and killed missionaries and foreign workers to put pressure on the international community to force the government of Cameroon to grant their requests, Ongbwa said, adding that separatists seem to have dropped that option. The archbishop’s life may have been spared because he has been neutral, though vocal, about the need for the government to listen to the separatists, Ongbwa said.
The Catholic Church says at least nine clergy members have been killed, including American-born Charles Wesco, who died in Bamenda in crossfire with separatist fighters, and Kenyan-born Cosmas Omboto Ondari, who was shot in the southwestern town of Mamfe in a crossfire incident last November.
Kenyan activists are celebrating after a Chinese-backed plan to build East Africa’s first coal-fired power plant near the World Heritage site island town of Lamu has again been halted.Ruud Elmendorp reports from Lamu on the continuing controversy.
Another 10 Democratic U.S. presidential contenders will debate Thursday night, including a larger number of leading candidates, following a spirited Wednesday night debate in the first major event of the 2020 election campaign.
Thursday’s participants include former Vice President Joe Biden and other top-tier possible choices, including Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of the Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana; along with six others.
All twenty Democratic presidential hopefuls hope to oust Republican President Donald Trump after a single term in the White House.
The immediate focus Wednesday was on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive lawmaker from the northeastern state of Massachusetts who national surveys show has edged closer to Biden as a Democratic favorite to oppose Trump in the election set for Nov. 3, 2020.
She told a live audience in Miami, Florida, and millions more watching on national television, “I want to return government to the people.” She added, referring to major corporations, “What’s been missing is courage, courage in Washington to take on the giants. I have the courage to go after them.”
Later, Warren said she supports a government-run health care system that could end the private insurance-based health care now used in the U.S. Some Democratic candidates and most Republicans, including Trump, oppose such a change as costly and a mistake for the country.
But Warren, a former Harvard law professor, said, “Health care is a basic human right and I will fight for basic human rights.”
Even with Warren’s strong performance in the two-hour debate, the other candidates had their moments to control it in their attempt to gain a foothold in the unprecedentedly large field of 25 Democratic candidates.
Former U.S. housing chief Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and other contenders called for major changes in U.S. immigration policies, voicing numerous objections to the way Trump has tried to block Central American migrants from entering the U.S. to seek asylum.
“We must not criminalize desperation” of migrants to reach the U.S., said Castro, who frequently began his answers in Spanish before repeating them in English. He said this week’s photo of an El Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter drowning in the Rio Grande River on the southern U.S. border with Mexico “is heart-breaking…and should piss us all off.”
Warren was also joined on the debate stage by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas and five others as they parried each other’s policy planks and aimed verbal shots at Trump and his 29-month White House tenure. “Immigrants do not diminish America,” Klobuchar said at one point in a rejoinder to Trump, even as she added that some border restrictions must be kept to stop human traffickers.
For many Americans, it was the first chance to size up many of the Democratic presidential candidates, to see whether they might like any of them as an alternative to Trump, the country’s surprise winner in the 2016 election.
The crowd in Miami, a Democratic stronghold in a state Trump won in the 2016 election, cheered raucously at verbal swipes at Trump, with Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee perhaps drawing the biggest response when he contended that Trump was the world’s biggest security threat to the U.S., while the other candidates gave more traditional answers to the same question, naming Russia, China, and global warming.
The Democrats are staging a dozen debates over the coming months, well ahead of the first Democratic election contest to eventually pick the party’s presidential nominee: caucus voting in the Midwest farm state of Iowa in the dead of winter next February.
The unwieldy field of candidates, in addition to another five that did not meet the Democratic National Committee’s minimal political standards to merit a spot in the debates, all sense they might have a chance to unseat Trump.
Democratic voters, however, so far seem uncertain of what they are looking for in their party standard-bearer — someone who best represents their political views on such contentious issues as health care, abortion, foreign policy, immigration, taxes and more, or possibly a candidate who has one overriding quality: the best chance of defeating Trump.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to address the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border with more than $4 billion in supplemental funds and new requirements for the care of detained migrants, especially children.
The 84-8 vote came amid renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration’s treatment of minors in its custody and amid widespread revulsion over the deaths of a father and daughter from El Salvador who perished trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States.
“There is no longer any question that the situation along our southern border is a full-blown humanitarian and security crisis,” Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said, adding that there was “no excuse” for delay in addressing the situation.
“Inaction is simply not an option for those who care about alleviating the suffering of desperate children and families seeking refuge in the United States,” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said.
The Republican-led Senate approved the bill after voting down a House version that also boosted funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies stretched to the breaking point by border arrivals totaling more than 100,000 a month, the highest numbers recorded in more than a decade.
Although broadly similar, the Senate version is less extensive in regulating the care of detained children. Unlike the House version, it provides $145 million for the Pentagon to assist in border operations.
To reach President Donald Trump’s desk, the Senate bill would need to pass the House. Hpwever, majority-Democrats in the House have signaled they want changes to the bill. As a result, a bicameral committee is expected to be formed to try to hammer out a version that can pass both chambers. Time for swift action is growing short, as Congress will be in recess next week for America’s Independence Day holiday.
Speaking with reporters before departing the White House, Trump hailed legislative movement on border funding.
“I believe the House is going to be getting together with the Senate. Hopefully, they can get something done,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, the president once again blamed Democrats for the border crisis, tweeting: “The Democrats should change the Loopholes and Asylum Laws so lives will be saved at our Southern Border. They said it was not a crisis at the Border, that it was all just manufactured.’ Now they admit that I was right – But they must do something about it. Fix the Laws NOW!”
On the Senate floor, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fired back.
“We can do something about this [crisis] if the president would stop playing the political game of blame, blame, blame,” Schumer said. “Mr. President, you are the president of the United States. You are head of the executive branch. You control what’s happening at the border.”
Schumer spoke alongside a blown-up photo, widely distributed by news organizations, of the drowned Salvadoran father and daughter, as reaction poured in across Capitol Hill and beyond.
“I don’t want to see another picture like that on the U.S. border,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said. “I hope that picture alone will catalyze this Congress, this Senate … to do something.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has faced renewed criticism on Capitol Hill after news reports emerged earlier this week of squalid living conditions at a CBP facility in Texas that houses detained migrant children.
A Senate panel on Wednesday pressed administration officials on the subject.
“What are you doing to actually make sure that children are getting the care and the sanitary conditions and the food that they need?” New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan asked.
The Border Patrol’s chief of law enforcement operations, Brian Hastings, responded that detention facilities are being upgraded with shower facilities and increased medical care. He added that more funds are being devoted to basic supplies, such as diapers and baby formula.
It is more than 16 months until the next U.S. presidential election in late 2020, but 20 Democratic presidential contenders are set to debate each other Wednesday and Thursday nights to give Democratic voters a first look at whom they might want to pick as the party’s nominee to try to oust Republican President Donald Trump.
Ten of the Democratic candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the current front-runners for the party nomination; Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas, are set to spar tonight for two hours. They will appear before a live audience in Miami, with millions more watching on national television.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader for the nomination in national surveys, is joining other top-tier possible choices on the debate stage Thursday night, including Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of the Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana; along with six others.
The unwieldy field of candidates, in addition to another five that did not meet the Democratic National Committee’s minimal political standards to merit a spot in the debates, all sense they might have a chance to unseat Trump after a single term in the White House.
Political issues, electability
Democratic voters, however, so far seem uncertain of what they are looking for in their party standard-bearer in the Nov. 3, 2020, election — someone who best represents their political views on such contentious issues as health care, abortion, foreign policy, immigration, taxes and more, or possibly a candidate who has one overriding quality: the best chance of defeating Trump.
On the streets of Miami, Florida voter Dawn Schonwetter looked forward to the Democratic debates and stressed the importance of the state in the upcoming presidential election.
“We’re a big state. We have a lot of electoral votes, so I think it is a major battleground state – that makes it very exciting here for us at election time,” she said.
Another Florida voter, Republican-turned-progressive Democrat Eduardo De La Vega, said he intends to choose the candidate with the best plans for health care and education.
“This is why I’m here – to see who is the right person. It’s going to be really exciting because if a Democrat wins the state, it’s over for the Republicans,” he said.
Trump, as he left Washington for the Group of 20 economic meetings in Japan, said he would watch the Wednesday debate from Air Force One and taunted Biden — who won’t be on the stage until Thursday.
“It just seems very boring, but I’m going to watch it,” he told Fox News.
“Biden is a lost soul,” Trump claimed. “He doesn’t know where he is.”
A key unknown ahead of the debates is whether the Democratic challengers will spend more of their time attacking each other for their differences over policy issues or chiefly aim their political barbs at Trump.
Crowded Democratic Presidential Field Ready for First Debate video player.
Already, some of the Democrats are trying to diminish Biden’s nomination chances, attacking him for his recent recollection that 40 years ago when he was a young U.S. senator, he had working relationships in the Senate with segregationists adamantly opposed to the equality of blacks and whites.
Although the candidates have been campaigning for months in the early states where Democrats next year will hold presidential party nominating contests — including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — for millions of Americans watching on television, it will be their first chance to size up the candidates and see whether they find someone they might favor over Trump.
Despite a robust U.S. economy — a normal election-year barometer favoring an incumbent U.S. president’s re-election — Trump is by no means a shoo-in for a second four-year term.
Polling shows the one-time New York real estate magnate, a surprise winner in 2016, has yet to win over many voters beyond the hard core of populist and Republican voters that has supported him through his 29-month presidency. More voters than not, surveys repeatedly show, disapprove of his performance in office.
U.S. political pundits dismissed Trump’s chances of a victory three years ago, but he could win again.
At the moment, however, surveys show several Democrats leading the 73-year-old Trump. Biden, who is 76 and was President Barack Obama’s two-term vice president, holds the biggest edge of more than 10 percentage points over Trump. But polls this far ahead of the election are not necessarily predictive and may be just a snapshot of a moment in time.
In all, a dozen Democratic presidential debates are planned between now and the first months of 2020, although the number of candidates appearing in them will diminish over time as contenders drop out for lack of voter support and campaign funds. The first voting in Democratic primaries and caucuses to decide the presidential nomination starts February 3 in the Midwest farm state of Iowa.
All of the Democratic presidential candidates, to one degree or another, have staked out positions on key issues they think are important to reshape policy debates in Washington, while at the same time attacking Trump for his views about domestic issues and international relations during his unprecedented presidency.
The Democrats running for the U.S. presidency have broadly adopted a much more expansive liberal role for the federal government than either the more conservative Trump or Republicans who control the Senate. Democrats, in philosophical political agreement with many of their presidential candidates, took control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 congressional elections.
The Democratic presidential candidates do have policy differences among themselves and often have emphasized a variety of issues they think might help them connect with voters when there is such a large field of candidates.
Warren and Sanders, neck and neck in second place behind Biden in nomination surveys, are both pushing for far-reaching changes to the country’s economic policies to help middle-class families, paid for with higher taxes on wealthy people. Warren wants new taxes on people with more than $50 million in assets, while Sanders called this week for wiping out all $1.6 trillion in student college debt.
O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, has called for a $5 trillion plan to combat climate change, an issue that resonates with many Democrats after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Senators Booker and Klobuchar have advanced more moderate proposals on several issues in hopes of capturing the mass of voters not willing to go as far to the left politically as some of the other Democrats have.
Biden, to a large degree, has stayed above the fray of debate over policy issues, preferring to present himself as the voice of American stability, a correction to Trump’s unpredictable, tweet-filled presidency.
Mocking Trump’s long-standing political slogan, “Make America Great Again,” Biden recently told voters, “Let’s make America America again.”
But appearing on the same stage with other Democrats may force him to explain and account for his four decades as a Washington political figure and twice-failed presidential campaigns.
The other candidates debating Wednesday include Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney.
Thursday’s list of candidates also includes New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and self-help author Marianne Williamson.
A powerful explosion on Wednesday rocked a town in northeast Syria, local sources told VOA.
The car bomb attack, which took place on a main street near the center of Tabqa, wounded at least two security personnel and one civilian, the sources said.
“There are definitely more casualties, but we don’t have any details yet as local security forces have blocked the entire area,” a Tabqa-based aid worker who requested anonymity for security reasons told VOA.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State terror group has carried out similar attacks in the past against U.S.-backed forces in the town and elsewhere in northeast Syria.
Taken by SDF
Tabqa, which is administratively part of Raqqa province, was under IS rule from 2014 until 2017, when U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took control of the town.
“The city has been secured since we liberated it from [IS] terrorists,” an SDF commander, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told VOA. “But these occasional incidents are expected as [IS] still has sleeper cells throughout the region.”
SDF officials said they had arrested members of IS-affiliated sleeper cells in two northern Syrian cities this week.
“Counterterrorism units arrested five members of Daesh’s sleeper cells in two separate successful raids in Raqqa and Manbij countryside,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said Wednesday in a tweet, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Earlier this week, IS took responsibility for a motorcycle explosion that wounded at least five civilians in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northeast Syria.
In late March, the SDF declared victory over IS in its last stronghold in eastern Syria. But some experts charge that the group continues to pose a major threat to local forces in the war-torn country.
“IS will remain a threat in Syria as long as there is no political stability in Syria,” said Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows IS activities in the country.
“It’s true that they don’t hold territory anymore, but IS has proven time and time again that it can wage attacks from within communities it once ruled,” he told VOA.
Since 2011, Syria has been devastated by a multilayered civil war that has led to the rise of several terror groups, including IS and al-Qaida.
This week, political directors of the U.S.-led coalition against IS convened in Paris to discuss stabilization efforts in Syria and Iraq after the military defeat of the terror group.
Islamic State’s “territorial defeat does not represent the terrorist group’s eradication or the end of the terrorist threat it poses,” the coalition said in a statement Tuesday.
“While it continues to inspire terrorist attacks through active propaganda efforts, [IS] has also proved its resilience and adaptability, continuing to conduct lethal attacks,” the statement added. “It has used its active cells in the region to attack our partners and the civilian populations both in Iraq and in Syria where we have recently seen an increase of [IS] attacks in the Levant.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday reversed a move to loosen gun control laws by presidential decree, in a strategic retreat after lawmakers pushed back on one of the far-right leader’s key campaign promises.
In May, Bolsonaro signed decrees easing restrictions on importing and carrying guns and buying ammunition, which needed congressional approval to become permanent law. After the Senate rejected a decree last week, Bolsonaro decided on Tuesday to revoke it and reconsider his strategy.
The former army captain vowed last year to crack down on crime and ease access to guns, rolling back decades of arms control efforts as many Brazilians clamored for a dramatic response to rising violent crime.
Bolsonaro’s reversal on Tuesday, published in a late edition of the government’s official gazette, contradicted comments made just hours earlier by his spokesman OtÃ¡vio RÃªgo Barros that the
president would not revoke the guns decree.
Bolsonaro also sent a new bill to Congress on Tuesday that aims to loosen restrictions on the possession of arms in rural areas, Senate President Davi Alcolumbre wrote on his Twitter
U.S. sanctions on Cuba are deterring American firms from exploring its telecommunications sector even as Washington seeks to expand internet access on the Communist-run island, according to the final report of a U.S. government task force released on Tuesday.
Chinese companies dominate Cuba’s telecoms sector, a status quo “worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese Internet infrastructure providers,” the report said.
Cuba’s government protested the U.S. State Department’s creation of a Cuba Internet Task Force last year as “foreign interference.” It remains unclear how open it would be to U.S. investment in the strategic telecoms sector.
“U.S. companies informed the subcommittees they are often deterred from entering the market due to uncertainty caused by frequent changes to U.S. regulations concerning Cuba,” according to the task force, convened last year by the State Department.
U.S. presidents have successively tightened and loosened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba imposed in the years after its 1959 revolution.
Former President Barack Obama created a loophole for U.S. telecommunications companies to provide certain services to Cuba. His successor, Donald Trump, maintained the loophole but tightened the broader sanctions, worsening the overall business climate.
Banks are increasingly reluctant to process payments originating in Cuba. Some telecoms firms surveyed by the task force said that was putting them off offering key services and products in the country.
The task force advised the U.S. government to clear up the regulatory uncertainty and seek feedback on how to improve telecoms firms’ ability to invest.
Until 2013, the internet was largely available to the public in Cuba only at tourist hotels amid the U.S. embargo, lack of cash and concerns over the free flow of information.
The government has increased web access in recent years, installing a fiber-optic cable to Venezuela and introducing cyber cafes, Wi-Fi hot spots and mobile internet.
Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA signed a deal earlier this year with Alphabet’s Google on increasing connectivity, but the two have not publicly agreed on any significant investments.
Denmark on Wednesday became the third Nordic country this year to form a leftist government after Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen finalized terms for a one-party minority government, making her the country’s youngest-ever prime minister.
While the new left-leaning government is unlikely to fundamentally change Denmark’s economic policy, Frederiksen, 41, has promised to increase welfare spending after years of austerity.
A bloc of five left-leaning opposition parties led by Frederiksen’s Social Democratic Party won a majority in a June 5 election, prompting center-right leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen to resign as prime minister.
“It is with great pleasure I can announce that after three weeks of negotiations, we have a majority to form a new government,” she said.
Ageing populations have prompted Nordic governments to chip away at the cradle-to-grave welfare state, but the June 5 election showed clear support among Danish voters for leftist parties. It also dealt a blow to right-wing nationalists, who lost more than half of their votes compared with 2015.
While the leftist opposition bloc received a convincing majority, support for the Social Democratic Party declined slightly compared with the 2015 vote. But it remained the country’s biggest party.
Despite differences among left-leaning parties over issues such as welfare and immigration, Frederiksen got their backing to form a one-party minority government, a common arrangement inDenmark.
Frederiksen’s Social Democrats will have to rely on the Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance and the Social-Liberal Party – formerly headed by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – to pass laws in the 179-seat parliament.
The four parties agreed to soften some tough measures on immigration, including abandoning a plan by the previous government to hold foreign criminals on a tiny island.
The parties also said they agreed on a plan to allow more foreign labor, on further measures to eliminate rising inequality and on a plan to create a binding law on the reduction of emissions.
Following spending cuts by successive governments to reduce the public deficit, which has resulted in an erosion of traditional welfare services, the Social Democrats campaigned for an increase in spending and making businesses and the wealthy pay more toward welfare through higher taxes.
Many Danes, who like counterparts in other Nordic states pay some of the highest taxes in the world to underpin their welfare system, worry that further austerity will erode the universal healthcare, education and elderly services long seen as a given.
Economists have said there is some room within the country’s sound public finances to increase spending.
In Finland and Sweden, the Social Democratic parties formed governments earlier this year.
A Kenyan ice hockey team, the only one in East Africa, has hosted an exhibition tournament with teams made up by foreign diplomats. The Kenya Ice Lions hope to bring more attention to the sport and its bid to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Sarah Kimani reports from Nairobi.