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Trump’s Retweets of Anti-Muslim Videos Spark Discussion of Safety of Americans Abroad

The State Department said it has ongoing conversations with the White House on issues concerning the safety of American diplomats abroad, hours after several media reported the department had warned that the president’s retweeting of several anti-Muslim videos could spark unrest in the Muslim world or put U.S. embassies at risk.

The White House, however, said the videos “elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism.”

When asked if the State Department warned the White House that the retweets might have repercussions, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told VOA Thursday in a briefing, “When it comes to specific conversations, you know all too well that I can’t comment on our sort of private internal conversations, but it wouldn’t be unusual for us to have those kinds of conversations about any matter in the world.”

“One of the things we will always say is the safety and security of our American personnel and of U.S. citizens abroad is our top concern,” Nauert said. “The State Department has continuous conversations with the White House and the National Security Council about anything that could affect any Americans’ safety and security abroad.”

​Retweeting unverified videos

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump retweeted three unverified videos that allegedly show Muslim acts of violence that were posted on Twitter by far-right British politician Jayda Fransen, deputy head of the anti-immigrant Britain First party.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that Trump was wrong to retweet unverified videos purporting to show a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches, a Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and an Islamist mob pushing a teenage boy off a roof and beating him to death.

But the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain is not changed, according to the State Department.

“Our relationship with many countries are stronger than a tweet,” said a senior State Department official.

Conversation starter

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s intention was to bring up important issues through social media platforms.

Sanders acknowledged Trump likely did not know these anti-Muslim videos came from far-right British politician Fransen.

“I think what he’s done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that’s extreme violence and extreme terrorism,” said Sanders, adding it’s “something the president feels strongly about” and the administration is “looking at the best ways to protect Americans” every day.

Foreign policy experts said Trump’s tweets speak volumes and reinforce the widespread international perception of anti-Muslim bigotry.

“I would assume that embassies in many already volatile areas will be reviewing security postures in preparation for protests and possible violence,” Laura Kennedy, former deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, told VOA on Thursday.

“Surely, any sensible foreign policy or security professional would be concerned about the potential consequences of such inflammatory rhetoric from such a high level ricocheting around the world,” Kennedy added.

Retired Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, former deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, told VOA that while Twitter can be tricky and it’s possible for individuals to make mistakes, President Trump’s tweets of anti-Muslim videos leave the international community confused.

“Withdraw the videos and let’s all move on,” Abercrombie-Winstanley said. “I don’t believe these videos should spark anti-America sentiment.”

A distraction?

Daniel Serwer, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said “the Islamophobic tweets” distracted press and public attention away from imminent national security issues, including North Korea’s success in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States, something President Trump had said would not happen.

British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch said he had raised concerns about anti-Muslim videos with the White House on Wednesday.

“British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which seeks to divide communities & erode decency, tolerance & respect. British Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding citizens,” Darroch said in a tweet.

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Report: Muslim Population in Europe Projected to Grow, Migration or Not

Even if European countries closed their borders to migrants and refugees, the percentage of Muslims on the continent would continue to rise over the next three decades, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

According to Pew’s data, Muslims made up 4.9 percent of Europe’s population in 2016, with an estimated 25.8 million people across 30 countries, up from 3.8 percent, or 19.5 million people, in 2010. The number of Muslim migrants arriving in Europe surged after 2014 to almost a half-million annually, largely the result of people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The countries covered in the study included the 28 European Union members, plus Norway and Switzerland.

​Three scenarios

The report considered three scenarios: zero migration between 2016 and 2050; medium migration, in which the flow of refugees stops but people continue to migrate for other reasons; and high migration, in which the record flow of migrants between 2014 and 2016 continues indefinitely with the same religious composition.

Under the first scenario, the population would continue to grow because Muslims are, on average, 13 years younger than other Europeans and also have a higher birthrate. The study projected Muslims could make up 7.4 percent of the European population by 2050, even with zero migration.

Under the medium migration scenario, Muslims could account for 11.2 percent of Europe’s population by 2050.

While under the high migration, the record flow of migrants who came to Europe between 2014 and 2016 would continue indefinitely, resulting in 75 million Muslims in Europe, or about 14 percent of the population by the middle of the century.

Still a minority religion

But even the scenario with the largest growth leaves the Muslim population considerably smaller than the populations of both Christians and people with no religion in Europe, according to the report.

Muslim immigrants have been a politically sensitive topic in Europe following the influx of newcomers between 2014 and 2016. Some countries have seen backlashes that have included populist parties campaigning on anti-Islamic messages.

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British Fury as Trump Retweets Extreme Right Group’s Videos

British lawmakers have reacted with anger after U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted videos posted by an extreme right-wing anti-Muslim group. The tweets, originally posted by the deputy leader of the group Britain First, appear to show acts of violence carried out by Muslims, although doubt has been cast on the reliability of at least one of the videos. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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France’s Macron to Give Saudi Arabia Extremist List

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would draw up a list of extremist organizations to convey to Saudi Arabia after its crown prince pledged to cut their funding.

Saudi Arabia finances groups overseen by the Mecca-based Muslim World League, which for decades was charged with spreading the strict Wahhabi school of Islam around the world.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to modernize the kingdom and cleave to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

“He never did it publicly, but when I went to Riyadh (this  month), he made a commitment, such that we could give him a list and he would cut the financing,” Macron said during an interview with France 24 television.

“I believe him, but I will follow up. Trust is built on results,” Macron added.

The crown prince has already taken some steps to loosen Saudi Arabia’s ultra-strict social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious morality police, permitting public concerts and announcing plans to allow women to drive next year.

The head of the Muslim World League told Reuters last week that his focus now was aimed at annihilating extremist ideology.

“We must wipe out this extremist thinking through the work we do. We need to annihilate religious severity and extremism which is the entry point to terrorism,” Mohammed al-Issa said in an interview.

Macron, speaking from Abidjan, said he had also sought commitments to cut financing of extremist groups from Qatar, Iran and Turkey.

The French leader will make a quick trip to Doha on Dec. 7, where he will discuss regional ties and could sign military and transport deals, including the sale of 12 more Rafale fighter jets.

Qatar has improved its ties with Iran since Saudi Arabia and other Arab states boycotted it over alleged ties to Islamist groups and its relations with Tehran.

Macron said he still intended to travel to Iran next year, but wanted to ensure there was a discussion and strategic accord over its ballistic missile program and its destabilization activities in several regional countries.

 

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Speculation Rising About Royal Title for Meghan Markle

With a royal wedding in the works, speculation is rising about the title that will be bestowed on Meghan Markle when she marries Prince Harry in the spring.

Will the American actress be a British princess? The answer is: sort of.

Markle’s future noble ranking partly depends on what titles Queen Elizabeth II gives her and Harry on their May wedding day.

Markle, 36, will not formally be known as Princess Meghan because she is not of royal birth. However, she will become Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of Wales when she marries Harry, whose proper first name is Henry.

The speculation is that the queen will make Harry a duke, like his brother William, and Markle a duchess when they wed at Windsor Castle. In that case, Markle would properly be known as a duchess, not a princess.

“It’s wrong to call a royal duchess `princess’ unless she’s already a princess,” royal historian Hugo Vickers said. “But they can do what they like. I’m sure the press will call her Princess Meghan. I just hope they don’t abbreviate it to Princess Megs.”

Many royal observers think the queen will make the newlyweds the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, one of the few remaining “dukedoms” that is available.

In that case, Markle would become Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.

That is similar to what happened to Kate Middleton when she married Prince William in 2011. The queen made the couple the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The situation can become quite confusing, in part because Britain’s scrappy tabloid press helps shape how people are known.

Harry’s mother, Diana, was widely known as Princess Diana, but that was never her formal title. She was the Princess of Wales by virtue of her eventually unsuccessful marriage to Charles, the Prince of Wales.

When Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair told a grieving nation she had been “the people’s princess,” an unofficial designation that struck a chord.

“We always talk of Princess Diana, but that was never her title,” Majesty magazine Managing Editor Joe Little said.

Little said Markle would “technically” remain a princess by marriage — even if she becomes a duchess — because Harry will still be a prince.

“But in everyday use, it won’t be part of her title,” he said.

That could change if the queen decides at some point to upgrade Markle’s title — and Kate’s title for that matter — and officially make the two commoners “Princess Meghan” and “Princess Catherine.”

“We won’t have a Princess Meghan unless they decide it’s the 21st century and they can change the rules,” said Little. “But given that the queen is a traditionalist, I think that’s unlikely.”

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Women Leaders Tackle Gender Equality at Iceland Summit

Over 400 women political leaders from around the world met in Iceland on Wednesday for an annual summit aimed at promoting gender equality inside and outside of the political sphere.

 

The summit sponsored by the Women Political Leaders Global Forum comes amid the sexual misconduct scandal that has rocked the world of politics, as well as the entertainment and media industries.

 

In Iceland, often regarded as a champion of gender equality, hundreds of women in politics have signed a pledge against sexual harassment and urged male colleagues to change their behavior.

 

Former Iceland president Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the world’s first elected woman president, said the brave accounts given in recent weeks would improve the work environments for women in politics.

 

“This will change the attitude of both women and men,” she said in a rare interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “Women will be more confident discussing with men, and men more careful.”

 

Finnbogadottir became the world’s first elected female president in 1980 after she defeated three male candidates. Women account for 7 percent of world heads of state now.

 

Globally, the average share of women in national parliaments has risen slightly and stands at 23 percent

 

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who until recently led the United Nations Development Program, said work-related sexual misconduct of the kinds recently made public contributes to a lack of women in leadership positions.

 

“That kind of behavior, which is now deemed widely unacceptable, has been one of the barriers to women getting ahead,” Clark said. “Lots of sectors – parliaments, film industries and others – are having to face their past and say, ‘We are going to do it better.’”

 

‘We can do it!’

Clark said the conference was a rallying cry to show younger women that success is possible if they join the team and help others up that ladder.

 

The theme of the summit in Iceland’s capital – “We can do it!” – refers to the country’s success achieving gender equality.

 

Iceland has for nine years running been ranked by the World Economic Forum as having the smallest gender gap – an index measured by life expectancy, educational opportunities and other factors in addition to pay.

 

The World Economic Forum’s most recent index, issued this month, concluded that men’s earnings were rising faster than women’s. Under current trends, it will take 217 years for women’s incomes to match those of men, according to the forum’s report.  

 

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who chairs the Council of Women World Leaders, said the trend was worrying.

 

“This shows that even with the economy recovering – and better economic development in the world overall – the pay gap is increasing instead of diminishing.”

 

At Wednesday’s opening ceremony, Finnbogadottir, 87, received an honorary award and addressed the large gathering of female decision-makers.

 

The scene was in sharp contrast to her inauguration as Iceland’s president 37 years ago, when she stood in front of a crowd dominated by men wearing tuxedos. Of the 150 officials attending the ceremony, only two were women.

 

“Gender equality has changed tremendously in Iceland since then but we still got some ways to go,” she said.

 

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British Lawmakers React with Fury to Trump Tweets

British lawmakers reacted angrily Wednesday to President Donald Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos initially posted by a far-right British leader who’s been convicted of hate speech.

Several lawmakers called on Prime Minister Theresa May to cancel a “working visit” by the president scheduled for next year.

“He is no ally or friend of ours,” said Labour lawmaker David Lammy, adding that the U.S. president is not welcome in Britain.

Prime Minister May’s spokesman said Trump was “wrong” to retweet the videos. “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents — decency, tolerance and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this,” he said.

Even normally pro-Trump British politicians criticized Trump for sharing three Twitter posts by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right anti-immigrant group Britain First, which calls for a return of “traditional British values” and an end to “Islamization.”

Trump’s retweets came Wednesday morning with the first unverified video claiming to show Muslim migrants beating up a Dutch boy on crutches.

Moments later the president shared a second video, also initially posted by Fransen, which claimed to show a Muslim destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary.

A third post carried the message: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”

Fransen and Britain First

Fransen has had several run-ins with police for hate speech, as have other leaders of Britain First who have been accused of religious harassment and incitement. Earlier this month, Fransen was found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment after she verbally abused a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab.

Fransen was charged in September with religiously aggravated harassment along with Britain First’s leader, Paul Goldings, for the distribution of inflammatory leaflets in the southern English town of Canterbury. Fransen is awaiting trial. In December, she is due in court in Northern Ireland to face charges of using threatening and abusive language during a speech she made at an anti-terrorism protest in Belfast.

Britain First’s ideology is thought to have inspired the assassin of British lawmaker Jo Cox. Thomas Mair, Cox’s killer, shouted “Britain first” just before slaying her during the Brexit referendum campaign last year. At his trial, no formal link was found between Mair and the group Britain First, which was founded in 2011 by former members of the British National Party. The group claims to have 6,000 members and has almost two million “likes” on its Facebook page.

The murdered lawmaker’s widower, Brendan Cox, also responded Wednesday to the Trump retweets, tweeting back: “Trump has legitimized the far-right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences and the president should be ashamed of himself.”

Politicians, Muslims react

Consequences were immediately apparent on the floor of the House of Commons. “I hope our government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump. They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society,” said Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Labour lawmaker Stephen Doughty questioned government ministers on the floor of the House of Commons over the tweets, other lawmakers, including Conservatives, could be heard interjecting and calling them “absolutely disgraceful.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, a former government minister, urged the ruling Conservatives to condemn the “significant and serious” posts, saying, “the woman in question has already been convicted of hate crime in this country.” She added that Trump had given her a “huge platform.” Several lawmakers called for Trump’s planned 2018 invitation to visit to be withdrawn.

Among them was Chuka Umunna, an opposition lawmaker. “At some point, you’ve got to draw a line,” he said.

British Muslim groups joined the criticism of the U.S. president. A Muslim Council of Britain spokesperson said: “It is outrageous that the president of the USA is sharing anti-Muslim content from a renowned far-right extremist group in the UK. We hope our prime minister and home secretary will distance ourselves from Mr. Trump and his comments, and will reiterate the government’s abhorrence to all forms of extremism.”

Dilemma for May

While the backlash grew, Britain First supporters celebrated the presidential retweets. Fransen herself tweeted: “God bless you Trump! God bless America!”, signing off with the abbreviation OCS, meaning Onward Christian Soldiers.

Some British populists who are normally supportive of Trump question the wisdom of the retweets. Paul Joseph Watson, a Britain-based editor of the far-right conspiracy website Infowars, said: “Yeah, someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics.”

Steven Wolfe, a British lawmaker in the European Parliament, was highly critical of the president’s sharing of the Britain First videos, but said Trump should still visit Britain next year as it would provide an opportunity for “people to talk some sense to him about immigration and culture.”

For Prime Minister May, the retweets pose a dilemma. She has been critical of Trump publicly before for his tweets, notably in connection with terror attacks in Britain. But at the same time, her government is desperate to make progress in talks on a free trade deal with the U.S. to help make up for the economic impact of Brexit.

Opinion polls have consistently shown disapproval for a Trump visit. Last month, British and U.S. officials revealed that a scaled-down “working” trip was being planned for next year, most likely January, that would not include the U.S. president meeting the queen or staying at Buckingham Palace.

Shortly after his inauguration, Theresa May invited Trump for a state visit to Britain. But lawmakers from across the political spectrum criticized the invitation, including John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, who announced he would oppose Trump being allowed to make an address to the British Parliament. Amid an unprecedented backlash among lawmakers and the threat of mass protests, the trip was delayed.

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Pope Francis Meeting With Aung San Suu Kyi

Pope Francis is meeting Tuesday with Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a day after the country’s military chief said he told the pontiff that there is “no religious discrimination” in Myanmar.

The United Nations and the United States have accused Myanmar’s military of “ethnic cleansing” in violence against Rohingya Muslims, and Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has faced criticism for her response to the crisis.

“We can’t say whether it has happened or not,” she said last week when asked about rights abuses. “As a responsibility of the government, we have to make sure that it won’t happen.”

Pope Francis met with the military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, on Monday as he began his trip to the southeast Asian country to discuss the violence in Rakhine state that has caused over 620,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

“Myanmar has no religious discrimination at all,” Min Aung Hlaing said in a Facebook post by his office. “Likewise our military too… (it) performs for the peace and stability of the country.”

After the 15 minute meeting, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the two “discussed the great responsibility of authorities of the country in this time of transition” before exchanging gifts.

Thousands of Myanmar’s nearly 700,000 Catholics traveled to greet the Pope as he landed in Yangon, and more than 150,000 have registered to attend a Mass he will hold on Wednesday, according to Catholic Myanmar Church spokesman Mariano Soe Naing.

​Myanmar’s Catholic Church has publicly urged Francis to avoid using the term “Rohingya,” which is shunned by many locally because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has called the Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country his “brothers and sisters,” speaking out against violence in the troubled Rakhine state.

Burke didn’t say if Francis used the term in his meeting with the general.

The pontiff’s schedule does not include a visit to a refugee camp, but he is expected to meet with a small group of Rohingya in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

In recent weeks, Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled violence in Rakhine state, according to officials from both countries.

But the U.N. refugee agency spokesperson said conditions there are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns.

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Bulgarian, Macedonian Orthodox Churches Edge Closer Despite Thorny History

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has taken a step towards possible eventual recognition of Macedonia’s Orthodox Church, a rapprochement that echoes a warming of relations between the governments of the two Balkan neighbors.

However, the move is unlikely to be welcomed by other Orthodox Churches such as those of Serbia and Greece, in a region where religious identity is often closely tied up with nationalist passions and politics.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church was formed when the country was part of communist Yugoslavia but has never been recognized by other Orthodox churches due to a long-standing dispute over its independence from the Serbian Orthodox Church, with which it was previously formally united.

This month, however, the Macedonian Church sent an official request to Bulgaria’s 1,100-year-old Orthodox Church asking it to become its symbolic “mother” church. Bulgaria has close linguistic, cultural and historic ties with Macedonia.

In a statement on Monday the Bulgarian Orthodox Church said that “aware of its sacred duty… (it was) taking all necessary steps to establish the canonical status of the Macedonian Church.”

“We must accept the outstretched hand of Macedonia,” Bulgaria’s Orthodox Patriarch Neofit said. “This is the least (we can do) because they are our brothers.”

The move comes three months after the prime ministers of Bulgaria and Macedonia signed a friendship treaty in a move designed to end years of diplomatic wrangling and boost Macedonia’s European integration.

Consultations

The Bulgarian Church’s Holy Synod, its top executive body, will consult with other Eastern Orthodox churches, including those of Russia and Greece and Serbia, before announcing its final decision, it said.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian denomination worldwide with more than 250 million members, but unlike the Roman Catholic Church it has no supreme leader comparable to the Pope but instead is composed mainly of de facto national churches, each led by a patriarch.

There was no immediate response on Monday from the Orthodox Church in Serbia, Greece or elsewhere to the Bulgarian move, but they are unlikely to be positive.

Greece is locked in a long-running dispute with Macedonia over the country’s name, which is also the name of a northern Greek province, and Athens has blocked the Skopje government’s attempts to join the European Union and NATO.

Russia’s Orthodox Church, by far the biggest worldwide, is unlikely to do anything that might compromise Moscow’s strong ties with Serbia. Moscow is also opposed to Macedonia’s plans to join NATO and the EU.

But Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church could unilaterally recognize Macedonia’s Church, a move sure to cheer Bulgarian nationalists.

“The Bulgarian Church must recognize the Macedonian (Church),” Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov, co-leader of the United Patriots party, a junior partner in the center-right coalition government in Sofia, said on Monday.

“The two brotherly churches speak without a translator and use the same church books,” he added, alluding to the close linguistic links.

Bulgarian nationalists regard the Macedonian language as a dialect of Bulgarian.

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Britain’s Prince Harry, US Actress Meghan Markle Officially Engaged

Britain’s Prince Harry is officially engaged to American actress Meghan Markle.

Harry’s father, Prince Charles, made the announcement in a statement Monday.

“His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms. Meghan Markle.”

The statement said the wedding will take place in Spring 2018 and “Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course.”

The couple became engaged in London earlier this month, according to the statement.

Harry “informed The Queen and other close members of his family,” the announcement said, and “. . . also sought and received the blessing of Ms. Markle’s parents.”

An official announcement had been expected after Markle said in a recent interview in Vanity Fair about her relationship with Harry:  “We’re a couple. We’re in love.”

Markle’s parents also released a statement, saying “We are incredibly happy for Meghan and Harry. Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents.”

Markle’s parents, Thomas Markle and Doris Ragland, are divorced.

Markle is best-known for her work in the television drama Suits.

She is a Global Ambassador for World Vision Canada, which campaigns for better education, food and healthcare for children around the world. As well as her humanitarian work, she is known for campaigning for gender equality.

She was married briefly in 2011 to film producer Trevor Engelson, but they split two years later.

The prince and the actress made their first public appearance in September at the Invictus Games in Toronto, a sports event for wounded veterans.

Last year, Harry, who is fifth in line to the throne, issued a statement decrying the media coverage of his girlfriend, condemning the “outright racism and sexism of social media trolls and web article comments,” as well as the racial stereotypes used in some newspapers.

Markle is bi-racial. Her father is white. Her mother is black.