International Edition 2330 EDT

International Edition delivers insight into world news through eye-witnesses, correspondent reports and analysis from experts and news makers. We also keep you in touch with social media, science and entertainment trends.

International Edition 1305 EDT

International Edition delivers insight into world news through eye-witnesses, correspondent reports and analysis from experts and news makers. We also keep you in touch with social media, science and entertainment trends.

USAID Chief to Visit Ethiopia to Press for Tigray Aid

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power will visit Ethiopia next week to press for humanitarian access into conflict-battered Tigray as fears of famine grow, it was announced Thursday.
Power will meet officials in Addis Ababa to “press for unimpeded humanitarian access to prevent famine in Tigray and meet urgent needs in other conflict-affected regions of the country,” USAID said in a statement.
Power will also travel to Sudan on her trip starting Saturday as Western powers seek to support the civilian-backed transitional government after decades of authoritarian rule, USAID said.
The United Nations has warned that food rations in the Tigrayan capital Mekele could run out this month if more aid is not allowed in.
All available routes into Tigray are impeded by restrictions or insecurity following an attack on a World Food Program convoy earlier this month.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, in November launched an offensive in Tigray in response to attacks by the region’s then ruling party against federal army camps.

The war took a stunning turn last month when the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front took back Mekele, with rebels then launching a new offensive.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described some of the violence in Tigray as “ethnic cleansing” and repeatedly pressed Abiy by telephone, voicing alarm despite the long, warm U.S. relationship with Ethiopia.
Power, a former journalist who held senior positions under former President Barack Obama, is known for her advocacy of humanitarian concerns and often reflects on the failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Power will also meet in Sudan with Ethiopian refugees who have fled the conflict and travel to Darfur — the parched western region where a 2003 campaign against the African ethnic minority was described as genocide by Washington.  
Sudan’s civilian prime minister, Abdulla Hamdok, has sought to end the vast nation’s myriad conflicts including in Darfur although renewed clashes have killed hundreds of people in recent months.  
Power will meet Hamdok as well as the military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who remains leader of Sudan’s transitional ruling body as Sudan prepares for elections in 2022.
Power will “explore how to expand USAID’s support for Sudan’s transition to a civilian-led democracy” and deliver a speech in Khartoum about the transition, the agency said.


China’s New Ambassador Arrives in US with Words of Optimism

China’s new ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, on Wednesday wished the United States victory against COVID-19 and said great potential awaited bilateral relations, striking an optimistic tone as he arrived at his new post amid deeply strained ties.

Qin’s arrival comes days after high-level talks in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and senior Chinese diplomats ended with both sides signaling that the other must make concessions for ties to improve.

Qin, 55, a vice foreign minister whose recent past portfolios have included European affairs and protocol, is replacing China’s longest serving ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, 68, who last month announced his departure after eight years in Washington.

“I firmly believe that the door of China-U.S. relations, which is already open, cannot and should not be closed,” Qin told reporters at his residence in the U.S. capital after arriving from the airport.

“The China-U.S. relationship has come to a new critical juncture, facing not only many difficulties and challenges, but also great opportunities and potential,” Qin said.

He said relations kept moving forward “despite twists and turns,” and added that the U.S. economy was improving under President Joe Biden’s leadership.

“I wish the country an early victory against the pandemic,” he added.

Qin, who did two stints as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson between 2006 and 2014, has earned a reputation for often pointed public defenses of his country’s positions.

Relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorated sharply under former President Donald Trump, and Biden has maintained pressure on China, stepping up sanctions on Chinese officials and vowing that the country won’t replace the United States as the world’s global leader on his watch.

China’s Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of cooperation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

The post of the U.S. ambassador to China has been vacant since October, when Republican Terry Branstad stepped down to help with Trump’s reelection campaign.

With many U.S. ambassador posts to allied countries still unfilled, Biden has yet to nominate a replacement for China, though former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns is considered a favorite candidate in foreign policy circles.  

Nigerian Companies Use Charcoal Substitutes to Reduce Deforestation

Some Nigerian companies are using coconut and palm shells to make charcoal briquettes in an effort to slow ongoing deforestation. Nigeria banned charcoal exports after a World Bank report showed the country lost nearly half its forest cover in just a decade. Timothy Obiezu reports from Kuje, Nigeria.

Camera: Emeka Gibson 

Biden Accuses Russia of Already Interfering in 2022 Election

Russia is already interfering in next year’s midterm U.S. elections, President Joe Biden said Tuesday in a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  

Referencing the day’s classified briefing prepared by the intelligence community for him, Biden said: “Look at what Russia’s doing already about the 2022 election and misinformation.” 

Such actions by Moscow are a “pure violation of our sovereignty,” the president said, without elaborating, in remarks to about 120 representatives of the U.S. intelligence community who gathered in northern Virginia at the ODNI headquarters.  

Biden’s public reference to something contained in that day’s top secret Presidential Daily Brief is certain to raise some eyebrows.  

“He’s the president. He can declassify anything he wants to whenever he wants to,” said Emily Harding, deputy director and senior fellow with the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

“And I’m not sure it’s going to be a shock to anybody that Russia is looking at disinformation for the 2022 election. I think it is a really good reminder, though, that Russia continues to do this and that nothing has dissuaded them yet,” she said. 

The president also had an ominous prediction about the escalating cyberattacks targeting the United States that his administration has blamed on state-backed hackers in China and those operating with impunity in Russia.    

Biden said he believes it is growing more likely the United States could “end up in a real shooting war with a major power,” as the consequence of a cyber breach.  

Such cyber capabilities of U.S. adversaries are “increasing exponentially,” according to the president.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed much on Biden’s mind during his remarks to the intelligence community.  

Putin has “nuclear weapons, oil wells and nothing else,” Biden said, adding that the Russian leader knows he is in real trouble economically, “which makes him even more dangerous.”  

Biden also praised the U.S. intelligence community for its superiority over its counterpart in Moscow.  

Putin “knows that you’re better than his team. And it bothers the hell out of him,” Biden said.  

“I can see the wheels in Moscow turning to respond to that one,” Harding told VOA.  

Biden referred to both Russia and China as “possibly mortal competitors down the road.”  

In his remarks, the U.S. president said that Chinese President Xi Jinping “is deadly earnest about becoming the most powerful military force in the world, as well as the largest and most prominent economy in the world” by the mid-2040s.  

Biden made several cryptic references to hypersonic weapons of adversaries. But he stopped himself once in midsentence after saying, “I don’t know, we probably have some people who aren’t totally cleared” in the room. In fact, a group of White House reporters was present, and a television camera was recording the speech on behalf of the media.  

The president also appealed to his intelligence team, which is composed of elements from 17 different agencies, “to give it to me straight. I’m not looking for pablum … and when you’re not sure, say you’re not sure.”  

Biden said he “can’t make the decisions I need to make if I’m not getting the best unvarnished, unbiased judgments you can give. I’m not looking to hear nice things. I’m looking to hear what you think to be the truth.”  

Those words are “a big deal. That’s the thing that he probably most needed to say” to this particular audience, according to Harding.  

Biden stressed that the intelligence agencies should not be swayed by which political party holds power in Congress or the White House. He said it is “so vital that you are and should be totally free of any political pressure or partisan influence.”  

Biden vowed that while he is president he will not try to “affect or alter your judgments about what you think the situation we face is. I’ll never politicize the work you do. You have my word on that. It’s too important for our country.”  

The appearance by the 46th U.S. president was intended, in part, to demonstrate a different relationship with the intelligence community than experienced by his predecessor, Donald Trump.  

“I think you can all make the inherent contrast,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the previous day.  

Trump’s attitude toward the intelligence community publicly soured after he sided with Putin’s denial of the U.S. government’s conclusion that the Kremlin had meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Trump, a Republican, narrowly defeated Democratic Party challenger Hillary Clinton in that election.  

Four US Police Officers Grippingly Describe January 6 Attack on US Capitol

Four U.S. police officers told a congressional investigating committee in tearful, gripping detail on Tuesday how an angry mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump rampaged into the U.S. Capitol last January 6 in a futile attempt to block certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in last November’s presidential election.

The officers – two on the U.S. Capitol Police force and two with the Washington city police department — said they feared for their lives as about 800 rioters stormed past outmanned law enforcement authorities, taunted them with racial and political epithets, fought hand-to-hand with police, sprayed chemical irritants at them and grabbed for their shields and sidearms.

Their testimony came on the first day of public hearings on the deadly mayhem more than six months ago, the worst attack in more than two centuries on the U.S. Capitol, often seen as the symbol of U.S. democracy. Seven Democratic members of the House of Representatives and two Republican lawmakers on a select committee listened raptly to the testimony– along with a national television audience. 

During the three and a half hour hearing, U.S. Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell testified, “The rioters called me a ‘traitor,’ a ‘disgrace,’ and shouted that I (an Army veteran and police officer) should be ‘executed.’”

“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battlefield,” Gonell said. “We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process.”

Gonell said at one point he was crushed by the onslaught of rioters.

“I thought, “This is how I’m going to die,’” he said.

Washington police officer Michael Fanone told lawmakers, “I was grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country. I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm.”

“I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser,” he recalled. “I’m sure I was screaming but I don’t think I could hear even my own voice.”

In the months since the chaos at the Capitol, numerous Republicans, in attempting to exonerate Trump’s admonition to his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the vote showing he had lost to Biden, have minimized the violence at the Capitol. One lawmaker said the 800 who entered the Capitol were much like tourists, while some Republicans voted against honoring police for protecting the Capitol.  

Republican leaders have maintained that the riot is being adequately investigated by law enforcement agencies and other congressional committees, arguing that the latest investigation is simply a political exercise designed to cast the Republican Party in a poor light ahead of mid-term elections next year.

Pounding his hand on the witness table, Fanone exclaimed, “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”

Washington police officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed between a door to the House floor and a door frame, said one rioter shouted at him, “You will die on your knees!”

He said police were unable to hold the line against the surge of protesters. He said one rioter “put his thumb in my eye and tried to gouge it out.”

As he was pinned in the doorway, Hodges said, “I screamed for help” and “thankfully, more and more police” came to his rescue.

U.S. Capitol policeman Harry Dunn, who is Black, said the rioters unleashed vile racial epithets at him after an exchange in which he acknowledged having voted for Biden.

“I’m still hurting from what happened that day,” Dunn said. He asked for a moment of silence to remember fellow officer Brian Sicknick, who helped defend the Capitol on January 6, but died of natural causes a day later.

One rioter was shot dead by a Capitol policeman during the mayhem, three rioters died of medical emergencies and two other police officers committed suicide in the ensuing days. More than 500 of the rioters have been charged with an array of criminal offenses.

Dunn said the memories of January 6 are “still not over for me, physically and emotionally,” and that he is undergoing psychological therapy.

But he had a last thought for the protesters: “You all tried to thwart democracy that day and you failed.”

Senate Republicans blocked creation of a bipartisan investigative commission to consider why and how the deadly chaos of January 6 unfolded.

Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who heads the Democratic-controlled chamber, appointed the nine members of the House select committee, including two vocal Republican Trump critics, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, over the objection of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy had named five Republicans to the panel, but Pelosi, as was her prerogative, rejected two staunch Trump supporter –, Congressmen Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana — as biased against the investigation. McCarthy then withdrew his other three appointments.  

As he opened the hearing, the chairman of the panel, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said, “Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. … Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie,” that Trump was defrauded out of a second four-year term in the White House.

Trump, to this day, makes unfounded claims that he, not Biden, was the legitimate winner.

McCarthy on Monday derided Cheney’s and Kinzinger’s participation on the Democratic-led investigative panel, calling them “Pelosi Republicans.” 

But Cheney, the daughter of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, rebuffed the claim that the investigation was pointless.

“If those responsible are not held accountable,” she said at the outset of the hearing, “and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic.”

In the weeks ahead, the investigative panel could subpoena numerous witnesses, possibly including Trump, to testify about what they knew ahead of the confrontation and as it was unfolding.

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.