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Category: EU (page 1 of 185)

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Progress Toward Ending HIV/AIDS Epidemic Is Receding

A report issued on the eve of an international AIDS conference in Mexico finds progress in combating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic is receding.  The joint U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, warns the pace of progress in reducing new HIV infections is slowing because nations lack the political will needed to end this scourge. 

UNAIDS latest global update finds 1.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2018 and 770,000 died of AIDS-related illnesses.  The report finds more than 23 million people are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, but another 15 million are still not receiving this life-saving treatment.

UNAIDS Acting Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson says the report for the first time shows key populations and their sexual partners account for more than half of all new HIV infections.  She notes up to 54 percent of new infections is being spread by sex workers, drug users, men having sex with men, transgenders and prisoners.

She tells VOA these key populations suffer from stigma and discrimination.  Consequently, she says they are not being reached at the scale needed to stop transmission of HIV.

“The risk of those people being left behind and not being treated in a proper manner with access not only to rights, but also to treatment and care–if we cannot talk about that, we will not solve this.  We see in special regions then where this is extra-noticeable,” Carlsson said.

Carlsson says new infections have risen by 29 percent since 2010 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  During the same period, HIV infections have risen by 10 percent in the Middle-East and North Africa.

She says the global HIV/AIDS map shows a mixed picture.  She says some progress has been made in Western Europe and North America, though the number of new infections and deaths there remains unacceptably high.

As in the past, the report finds the majority of people living with HIV and new infections is in Eastern and Southern Africa.  However, it notes interventions in heavily-affected South Africa have succeeded in reducing HIV infections by 40 percent.

Carlsson warns efforts to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic will fail without adequate funding.  She says available resources to respond to AIDS has fallen by nearly $1 billion.  Furthermore, she notes the UNAIDS program is more than $7 billion short of the estimated $26.2 billion needed by 2020.

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Nearly 2 Million Cyclone Survivors in Mozambique at Risk of Severe Food Shortages

The World Food Program warns 1.9 million Mozambicans battered by two devastating cyclones earlier this year are at risk of severe food shortages without urgent international assistance. 

Hundreds of people were killed, tens of thousands made homeless and livelihoods lost when Cyclones Idai and Kenneth hit Mozambique with devastating force in March and April. The destructive power of the two storms has wreaked havoc on the country’s infrastructure and agriculture.

Many crops that were about to be harvested and farm infrastructure were destroyed.  The impact of these two disasters lingers on, threatening widespread hunger among survivors of these twin disasters.  

A man waits to receive food aid outside a camp for displaced survivors of cyclone Idai in Dombe, Mozambique, April 4, 2019.

World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel says more than 1.6 million people are suffering from acute food insecurity and the worst is yet to come.

“It is expected that the upcoming lean season it will be very difficult in Mozambique with just below 2 million people projected to be in crisis situation if there is no humanitarian intervention before,” Verhoosel said. “The lean season is the period from October this year until the next harvest season in March 2020.” 

Verhoosel says WFP is planning to assist more than 560,000 people every month through October in both cyclone and drought affected areas.  He says his agency hopes to scale up its humanitarian operation when the lean season kicks in in October.  

If the money is available, he says WFP will provide food rations to one-and-one quarter million people every month until March when the next harvest season begins.  He says WFP will need slightly more than $100 million to implement its recovery plan over the next six months.

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Iranian State Television Reports Seizure of Oil Tanker

Iranian state television said Thursday forces from the country’s Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil.

The report said the vessel was intercepted Sunday in a section of the Strait of Hormuz south of Iran’s Larak Island with 12 crew members on board.

It said the tanker was involved in smuggling one million liters of fuel, but did not give details about its country of origin.

The seizure comes after the Panamanian-flagged tanker MT Riah, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, disappeared from ship tracking maps in Iranian territorial waters on July 14.

The Revolutionary Guard said it received a distress call from the vessel, which was “later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,” a report said. It said Iranian smugglers intended to transport the fuel to foreign customers.

The seizure comes amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, which began to escalate when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 deal with Iran and world powers last year and imposed stiff sanctions on Iran, including on its oil exports.

Iran has recently exceeded uranium production and enrichment limits in violation of the agreement in an effort to pressure Europe to offer more favorable terms to allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The U.S. has also deployed thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets to the Middle East.

Veiled attacks on oil tankers and Iran’s downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone have further fueled concerns of a military conflict in the Persian Gulf region.

An unnamed U.S. defense official told Associated Press earlier this week the U.S. “has suspicions” Iran seized the tanker MT Riah when it turned off its tracker.


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India Reschedules Launch of Lunar Probe for Next Week

India’s space agency says it will make a second attempt to launch an unmanned probe to the Moon’s south pole next Monday, July 22.

The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will take place exactly one week after its first attempt was aborted less than an hour before liftoff due to a “technical snag” on the giant Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket.

FILE – Indian Space Research Organization scientists work on various modules of lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 at ISRO Satellite Integration and Test Establishment (ISITE) in Bengaluru, India, June 12, 2019.

Chandrayaan, the Sanskrit word for “moon craft,” is designed for a soft landing on the far side of the moon and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.  

If the $140 million mission is successful, India will become just the fourth nation to pull off a soft landing of a spacecraft on the lunar surface, after the United States — which is observing the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission this week — Russia and China.


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Venezuelan Migrants Vulnerable to Exploitation, Abuse

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk of exploitation and abuse.  More than 4,600 people were surveyed in five Caribbean and Central American countries between July and December 2018.

The survey provides a snapshot of the hardships encountered by a fraction of the four million people who have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis over the past few years.   

One in five Venezuelans interviewed said they were forced to work under dire conditions without pay or were held against their will until they paid off a debt they incurred while escaping from Venezuela.  

Rosilyn Borland is an IOM senior regional migrant protection and assistance specialist based in Costa Rica.  On a telephone line from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, she tells VOA both men and women fall victim to traffickers who force them into abusive situations.

FILE – A Venezuelan migrant rests outside the Ecuadorean migrations office at the Rumichaca International Bridge, in the border between Tulcan, Ecuador, and Ipiales, Colombia on August 20, 2018.

“It is good to remember that these criminal networks, they focus on the vulnerabilities,” she said.  “So, those can be linked to your gender or they can be linked to other things.  So, often we see trafficking and exploitation of women linked to gender-based violence and inequalities that women face.  But also, men who are searching for a way to support their families… may also find themselves in situations of vulnerability.” 

Borland says many migrants and refugees face discrimination while in transit or in destination countries.  She says massive flows of people often bring out the worst tendencies in host communities.  

“Part of our reasons for asking these questions has to do with fighting against xenophobia and things that, unfortunately, sometimes happen when communities are hosting large numbers of people.  It is difficult.  It is a strain,” she said. 

Borland says it is important to regularize migrants in the host countries.   She says allowing migrants to work legally brings them out of the shadows so they can fight for their rights.  She says having legal status would make them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.  






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Bulgaria Detains Cybersecurity Employee in Tax Data Hacking

Bulgarian police have detained a suspect who is allegedly behind the hacking of the national revenue agency, an attack that leaked the personal and financial data of millions of Bulgarians and companies.

Police cybersecurity chief Yavor Kolev said Wednesday a 20-year-old Bulgarian employee of a cybersecurity company is suspected in the hacking.

The leak is the biggest in the Balkan nation so far. Local media say the details of some 5 million of the country’s 7 million people were stolen.

Kolev said the investigation is still ongoing and other people could have been involved.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the well-educated suspect was trying to prove his computer skills. Borissov added the suspect was a credit to Bulgaria’s education system but he should have been working for the state instead of causing harm.

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Man Who Rammed People by UK Parliament Guilty of Murder Bid

A driver whose car collided with several people before crashing outside Britain’s Parliament has been convicted of attempted murder.

Three people were injured when Salih Khater hit a pedestrian and cyclists before colliding with a security barrier guarded by police. The August 2018 incident came a year after London was hit by several deadly vehicle attacks, including one outside Parliament.

Khater, a 30-year-old British citizen originally from Sudan, claimed he was looking for the Sudanese embassy to get a visa, got lost and panicked.
But prosecutor Alison Morgan said it was a “premeditated and deliberate” attack. She said Khater’s reason for the attack was unclear but the choice of target indicated a “terrorist motive.”

Jurors at London’s Central Criminal Court on Wednesday found Khater guilty. He will be sentenced in October.


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Codebreaker Alan Turing To Be Face of New British Banknote

Codebreaker and computing pioneer Alan Turing has been chosen as the face of Britain’s new 50 pound note, the Bank of England announced Monday.

Governor Mark Carney said Turing, who did ground-breaking work on computers and artificial intelligence, was “a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

During World War II Turing worked at the secret Bletchley Park code-breaking center, where he helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. He also developed the “Turing Test” to measure artificial intelligence.

After the war he was prosecuted for homosexuality, which was then illegal, and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died at age 41 in 1954 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Turing received a posthumous apology from the British government in 2009, and a royal pardon in 2013.

The U.K’s highest-denomination note is the last to be redesigned and switched from paper to more secure and durable polymer. The redesigned 10 pound and 20 pound notes feature author Jane Austen and artist J.M.W. Turner.

The Turing banknote will enter circulation in 2021. It includes a photo of the scientist, mathematical formulae and technical drawings, and a quote from Turing: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Former lawmaker John Leech, who led the campaign for a pardon, said he was “absolutely delighted” by the choice.

“I hope it will go some way to acknowledging his unprecedented contribution to society and science,” he said.

 “But more importantly I hope it will serve as a stark and rightfully painful reminder of what we lost in Turing, and what we risk when we allow that kind of hateful ideology to win.”


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Zuma Testifies at Corruption Probe

Former South African president Joseph Zuma is testifying at a judicial inquiry into corruption allegations against him during his time in office.

He told the panel Monday there is a conspiracy against him and that there is “a drive to remove me from the scene, a wish that I should disappear . . .”

The ex-South African leader said he has “been vilified” and has been a victim of “character assassination over 20 years.”

Raymond Zondo, the lead judge in the probe, said, “The commission is not mandated to prove any case against anybody, but is mandated to investigate and inquire into certain allegations.”  

Zuma was forced to resign from office last year by his African National Congress after being implicated in numerous corruption scandals, including using some $20 million in public funds for improvements at his private estate.







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Police Used Batons, Pepper Spray Against Protesters in Hong Kong

Anti-government protesters who fought running battles with police inside a Hong Kong shopping center were “rioters,” city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam said Monday.

Lam supported the actions of police force, saying that police and prosecutors will press charges following investigations.
Police used batons and pepper spray to disperse thousands of protesters who again took to the streets of a Hong Kong suburb Sunday to demand the complete withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China, as well as Lam’s resignation.

The protest in Sha Tin was peaceful through most of the day, but scuffles broke out between police and the demonstrators as the day came to an end. Some protesters ran into a luxurious shopping complex where the scuffles continued.

Riot police try to disperse protesters inside a mall in Sha Tin District in Hong Kong, July 14, 2019.

Riot police continued to use pepper spray and batons to clear protesters from the mall while demonstrators were seen using umbrellas and other make-shift weapons to fight police.

Protesters have begun taking their marches to farther-flung areas of Hong Kong in an effort to reach the wider population. Sha Tin is located in the New Territories close to the border with mainland China, and is popular with mainland visitors.

Organizers said 110,000 protesters took part, while police put the

Hong Kong has been the site of demonstrations for weeks.

The protests began because of the controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong criminal suspects to mainland China and other countries.

After several weeks of controversy and large, angry street protests, Lam said in June that the extradition bill is “dead.”

But the protests have continued. Some are demanding Lam’s resignation, others an investigation into complaints of police violence and some called for genuine elections.

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Harmful Bacteria and Cancer’s Worst Nightmare May Be a Microscopic Drill

A team of researchers across three universities is working on a cell-killing machine invisible to the naked eye.

“We want to be bacteria’s worst nightmare,” said James Tour, T.T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University in Houston. He is also a professor of materials science and nanoengineering, and computer science.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose one of the biggest threats to global health, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers at Rice University, Durham University in Britain and North Carolina State University may have discovered a way to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Harmful Bacteria’s Worst Nightmare May Be a Microscopic Drill video player.

Harmful Bacteria’s Worst Nightmare May Be a Microscopic Drill

They’re experimenting with tiny, manmade nanomachines that can drill into a cell, killing it. The machines are single molecule motors that can spin at about 3 million rotations a second when a blue light shines on them. As they spin, they drill into the cell. Harmful bacteria cannot mutate to overcome this type of weapon, Tour said.

“We may have found something that the cell could never build a resistance to,” he added.

The nanomachines are so small that about 50,0000 of them can fit across the diameter of a human hair. In comparison, only about 50 cells can take up that amount of space.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not the only enemies this weapon can fight.

Cancer killer

The nanomachines can drill into cancer cells, causing the cells’ nucleus to disintegrate into fragments.

“We’ve tried four different types, and every cancer cell that it touches is toast,” said Tour, whose team tested the nanomachines on a couple strains of human breast cancer cells, cancerous skin cells and pancreatic cancer cells.

The way it works is that a peptide, also a molecule that consists of amino acids, is added to the nanomotor. That peptide recognizes specific cells and binds the nanomachine to that cell so that only cancer cells, not healthy cells, are targeted. A blue light activates the machine.

“Generally, it’s not just one nanomachine, it’s 50, and each cell is going to get 50 holes drilled in it generally,” Tour said.

The nanomachines can fight cancerous cells in the mouth, upper and lower gastrointestinal tracts and bladder “wherever you can get a scope in, a light, apply it right there, and use the light” to activate the motors, Tour said.

It would only take a few minutes to kill cancerous cells with nanomachines, in contrast to days or longer using radiation or chemotherapy, Tour said.

Sculpt away fat

In another application, nanomachines could be used to sculpt away fat cells when applied onto the skin through a gel.

“You just take a bright light and just pass it over and these start attacking the adipocytes, which are the fat cells and blow those open,” Tour said.

Next steps

Researchers have only worked with nanomachines in a lab, so using this method in a clinical setting is still some time off. Later this year, researchers will start testing nanomachines on staphylococcus bacteria skin infections on live rodents.

One challenge scientists will have to overcome as nanomachine research progresses is how to get the blue light deep into the body if the motors are to fight bacteria or tumor cells that are well below the skin’s surface.

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UN: Nicaragua Continues to Repress and Harass Opponents

A report submitted to the UN human rights council this week accuses Nicaragua of continuing to repress, threaten and harass human rights defenders and other opponents one year after the government’s violent crackdown on nationwide demonstrations.

More than 300 people were killed, 2000 injured, and hundreds arbitrarily arrested during last year’s violent repression of peaceful nationwide protests.  More than 70,000 people also fled into exile to escape the heavy-hand of the Nicaraguan government.  

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, says peaceful protests and dissent continue to be repressed in Nicaragua.   She says more than 440 imprisoned protestors have been released, but more than 80 remain in custody under severe conditions.

“Our Office has received allegations that some of them were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by correction officers. . . . We are deeply concerned that human rights defenders and community leaders continue to be targets of attacks, of threats, harassment and constant surveillance,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore says people are deprived of the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the media.  She says journalists and other media workers are threatened, harassed and censored.  She notes two prominent journalists were detained for more than five months under terrorism charges.

She urges the government of President Daniel Ortega to engage in a genuine and meaningful dialogue to address people’s legitimate demands for justice and reparation.

Nicaragua’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Carlos Ernesto Morales Davila dismisses the charges as ill-founded.  He says human rights defenders are not persecuted.  They can freely promote and defend human rights.  However, he accuses some of these groups of perverting their cause and engaging in destructive activities.

He says they are trying to destroy the constitutional order of the country and to undermine the work of the government to restore peace and reconciliation.

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