Monday, April 23, 2018

Ghana To Use Drone Technology For Essential Health Services - Bawumia

Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia via Ghanaweb



ACCRA (GHANAWEB)--The government will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with a health service provider this week that would enable the country to use drone technology to deliver blood supplies and essential medicines to remote communities by September, this year.

Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia made the announcement at the opening of the Annual Health Summit organised by the Ministry of Health, in Accra on Monday on the theme: ‘‘Achieving Universal Health Coverage-Using Innovative Approaches’’.

, ‘‘We don’t have to allow our mothers to die because we can’t have blood supplies and essential medicines sent to them,’’ Dr Bawumia said.

He said the system of delivering blood supplies and essential drugs was being implemented in some African countries including; Malawi and Rwanda.

The Vice President said the government was committed to the universal health coverage, noting that government had paid one billion out of the GHc1.2 billion health arrears inherited from the previous government.

Consequently, he said the government had also removed the 17.5 per cent VAT on all essential imported medicines to reduce the cost to medicines, while the abolished nursing trainees’ allowances had been re-instituted to enhance the training of health professionals for the country.

The five-day summit attracted critical health stakeholders and development partners, including; the World Health Organisation, United Nations Population Fund, Parliamentary Select Committee on Health and traditional authorities, to review the performance of the health sector and take decisions that would improve healthcare delivery.

Dr Bawumia said the Government, through the Ministry of Special Development Initiatives, had begun the process of procuring ambulances for all the 275 constituencies, which would become part of the national ambulance system to help in the delivery of quality health services.

He said under the Nation’s Builders Corps, which would be launched in May 1, this year, by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo about 10,000 Nurses and health Assistants would be recruited and given contracts up to three years to support the delivery of health services across the country.

Dr Bawumia said government was fashioning out innovative means to enhancing healthcare financing and expressed optimism that by June this year, it would come out with new financing approaches for sustainable healthcare financing in the country.

In that regard, he asked all identifiable health stakeholders to work towards achieving integrated and optimal health services for the people in consonance with the universal health coverage objectives.

He recalled his recent visit to the Silicon Valley in South Francisco, USA, which saw the IMB’s WATSON using artificial intelligence to analyse integrated database to improve health service delivery and enhanced the productivity of health providers.

He said that it ought to be the future of the country’s health diagnosis, noting it would be feasible if there was available data in the health sector.

Vice President Bawumia said an effective assessment of the health sector that would inform decision making relevant to the sector would require reliable, sustainable and cost-efficient health information systems.

Therefore, he said, the health sector was developing a system that would allow timely availability of reliable data for use at all levels of health service delivery.

‘‘I was informed that the system would make records of patients readily available and the database would be linked to all hospitals in the country making transactions at our hospitals paperless and seamless in patients diagnosis,’’ he said.

Dr Bawumia said maternal health indices were of major importance to any country because they were indicators of the country’s development, saying; ‘‘this is the reason why the government will continue to invest in maternal and child health programmes to minimise the risk of maternal mortality and child mortality from preventable childhood diseases’’.

Vice President Bawumia said although the preliminary results of the recently conducted maternal mortality surveys showed a substantial improvement in indices of health services the fact still remained that there were unacceptable high number of mothers and children in various health facilities across the country receiving treatment of various ailments and health complications.

He said the country’s health facilities should be places of comfort for mothers when they were in need of health services and not places of imminent danger and threat to their sacred lives.

Dr Bawumia told the gathering that government would review and strengthen health policies, which was aimed at improving access to mothers and children, while exemption policies such as free maternal health delivery, free access for children under 18 years for parents who maintained membership of the National Health Insurance Scheme.

He said providing inhibited access to mothers and children to basic healthcare was the nation’s inter-generational responsibility, saying; ‘‘we must not fail’’

Therefore, he said, it was crucial for any country that was determined to reducing maternal and child mortality to focus on mass skilled birth attendants and health personnel at the point of delivery.

He said the nation’s social policies and interventions must address the limited number of health personnel and logistics in the country’s health sector and, thus, expressed optimism that the conference would come up with recommendations to address health challenges in the country.

French MPs Adopt Immigration Bill





PARIS (AFP)--France's National Assembly has adopted a controversial immigration bill that speeds up the asylum process and accelerates deportations after a fierce debate that exposed divisions in President Emmanuel Macron's party.

After 61 hours of discussion, the legislation, which was slammed by the left as too tough and the right as too soft, was approved late Sunday by 228 votes in favour to 139 against.

Fourteen members of Macron's centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party were among the 24 MPs who abstained, and one dissident quit the LREM parliamentary group after joining the naysayers - a rare display of defiance in the usually on-message movement. Jean-Michel Clement, a former member of the Socialist Party who joined Macron's party last year, said he had voted with his "conscience". Opposition was strongest on the right, with the conservative Republicans and far-right National Front (FN) leading a failed charge for much tougher controls on immigration.

FN leader Marine Le Pen, who won 36 percent of the vote in last year's presidential election run-off, said the law would lead to a "flood of migration". But NGOs were also up in arms.

Within minutes of the vote Amnesty International France issued a statement warning that the "dangerous" legislation, which allows for failed asylum-seekers to be detained for up to 90 days, jeopardised migrants' rights.

The French migrant-support charity Cimade was also sharply critical of the draft law.

"So men, women and children can be locked up for three months without committing an offence. No government has ever gone so far on locking up foreigners," it tweeted.

But opinion polls show voters supporting stricter rules, which the government presented as necessary to check the rise of populists who are on the march across Europe.

On Saturday, far-right activists from various European countries blocked a key mountain pass on the border with Italy to try prevent migrants - mostly young men from west Africa - crossing.

France received a record 100,000 asylum applications last year, bucking the general trend in Europe where the number of asylum seekers halved between 2016 and 2017.

MPs spent the weekend haggling over more than 1,000 proposed amendments to the bill, which aims to both improve conditions for asylum-seekers by halving the waiting time for a response to six months, and get tougher with those deemed "economic" migrants.

Leftwing opponents lashed out at measures to keep asylum seekers in detention.

"Nothing justifies locking up a kid," said Socialist deputy Herve Saulignac.

Leftist critics had also complained about plans to cut the time within which asylum-claimers can appeal if rejected for refugee status from four weeks to two, saying they would not have enough time to defend their claim.

They also came out against a proposed "solidarity offence" targeting people who assist border-jumpers, like farmer Cedric Herrou, a farmer who was given a suspended sentence for helping migrants cross into France from Italy.

The government eventually agreed to exempt anyone providing struggling newcomers with food, accommodation, medical, linguistic, legal or social assistance.

Among the measures that received broad support on the centre and left were plans to help refugees better integrate, with more free French lessons and the right to work after being in France for six months.

Despite the fractious debate, the bill was never really in jeopardy, thanks to Macron's large parliamentary majority. It now moves to the Senate.

The horse-trading in the National Assembly came as Macron's reform of the public sector runs into stiff opposition from trade unions and students, who have conducted weeks of strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins.

Rail workers object to plans to strip new recruits of jobs-for-life and early retirement while students have occupied some universities over new requirements for admission to public universities.

The unions are gambling on the resistance swelling into a mass movement but opinion polls suggest the opposite is happening, with just 43 percent backing the strike in an Ifop survey released Sunday and train strikes starting to ease.

Largest Oil Palm Mill In West Africa To Be Constructed In Maryland County




SIFCA CEO Alassane Doumbia meets with President George M. Weah. Image via the Liberian Observer



MONROVIA (LIBERIAN OBSERVER)--The Chairman of the SIFCA Group of Companies and owner of the Cavalla Rubber Corporation(CRC) and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP), Mr. Allasanne Doumbia has disclosed that work is already underway for the construction of what will be the largest oil palm mill in West Africa upon completion. According to Mr. Doumbia, the mill which will process 80 tons of fresh palm fruit daily is being constructed under a joint venture arrangement with the Golden Verroleum oil palm company.

The total cost of the project is put at US$34 million dollars and is expected to boost the country’s foreign exchange earnings from the export of palm oil. Mr. Doumbia was speaking over the weekend at payment ceremonies marking the final settlement of money owed to affected farmers of the Baraake area for the loss of their home structures. He expressed delight over the successful outcome of negotiations leading to the payment over the weekend and the start-up of the oil palm mill project.

“This morning, we met with His Excellency President George Manneh Weah. He told us how important agriculture is to him. He gave us his encouragement for our joint venture we are now preparing with GVL to build the biggest palm oil mill in the region. The project is well advanced, and the construction of the factory will soon start. I encourage all of you who have farm land to take advantage of this process”.

“The factory is a clear testimony of our confidence in Liberia. We will not want to put more money here if we didn’t know it will work. Long before the republics of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, our people lived and worked together and shared everything. There is no reason why we cannot emulate that now”.

Continuing he said, “currently, MOPP and CRC employ more than 2,000 people in full time jobs. Every month, we spend close to half a million dollars every month just in salary. You all know that the price of rubber has gone down massively in the past few years. The price of rubber in the world marked dropped significantly. In as much as this situation brought difficult financial times, we kept the work force and we paid the people the same salaries they were getting when things were good. That is how committed we are to the community”.

Elaborating further, Allasane Doumbia said “We support a scholarship program at Tubman University and as member of the Board, we insist that agriculture and research be emphasized. We have a very well-staffed clinic in Pleebo. We have and continue to invest in the out-grower program and we want to extend the process further, so that farmers, people who have land, can make some good income. We contribute to the social development fund in keeping with corporate responsibility. Sometimes, we even go further. Like today, the money we are giving you we do it behalf of the Government. The Government of Liberia was supposed to pay this amount but knowing the financial difficulties of the country, we are doing that for you”.

He said currently, palm fruit harvested in their concession area is taken across the border into La Cote d’Ivoire for processing noting that with the completion of the mill, all processing will be done in Liberia. He said workers are already being recruited to undergo training for the operation of the mill when completed, noting that a total of 300 workers will be required to man its operations. The proposed oil palm mill, the first of its kind in Liberia is expected to become operational later this year.

US Builds Drone Base In Niger, Crossroads Of Extremism Fight

A U.S. and Niger flag are raised side by side at the base camp for air forces and other personnel supporting the construction of Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the U.S. Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America's battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa's vast Sahel region. Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year.



AGADEZ, NIGER (AP) — On the scorching edge of the Sahara Desert, the U.S. Air Force is building a base for armed drones, the newest front in America's battle against the growing extremist threat in Africa's vast Sahel region.

Three hangars and the first layers of a runway command a sandy, barren field. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. The base, a few miles outside Agadez and built at the request of Niger's government, will eventually house fighter jets and MQ-9 drones transferred from the capital Niamey. The drones, with surveillance and added striking capabilities, will have a range enabling them to reach a number of West and North African countries.

Few knew of the American military's presence in this desperately poor, remote West African country until October, when an ambush by Islamic State group-linked extremists killed four U.S. soldiers and five Nigeriens.

The $110 million project is the largest troop labor construction project in U.S. history, according to Air Force officials. It will cost $15 million annually to operate. Citing security reasons, no official will say how many drones will be housed at the base or whether more U.S. personnel will be brought to the region. Already the U.S. military presence here is the second largest in Africa behind the sole permanent U.S. base on the continent, in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.

The drones at the base are expected to target several different al-Qaida and Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in countries throughout the Sahel, a sprawling region just south of the Sahara, including the area around Lake Chad, where the Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency has spread.

As the U.S. puts drones at the forefront of the fight against extremists, some worry that civilians will be mistaken for fighters. "We are afraid of falling back into the same situation as in Afghanistan, with many mistakes made by American soldiers who did not always know the difference between a wedding ceremony and a training of terrorist groups," said Amadou Roufai, a Nigerien administration official.

Civic leader Nouhou Mahamadou also expressed concerns. "The presence of foreign bases in general and American in particular is a serious surrender of our sovereignty and a serious attack on the morale of the Nigerien military," he said.

The number of U.S. military personnel in Niger has risen over the past few years from 100 to 800, the second largest concentration in Africa after the 4,000 in Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. About 500 personnel are working on the new air and drone base and the base camp is marked with an American and Nigerien flag.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are crucial in the fight against extremism, U.S. Africa Command spokeswoman Samantha Reho said. "The location in Agadez will improve U.S. Africa Command's capability to facilitate intelligence-sharing that better supports Niger and other partner nations, such as Nigeria, Chad, Mali and other neighbors in the region and will improve our capability to respond to regional security issues," Reho said.

The intelligence gathered by the drones can be used by Niger and other U.S. partners for prosecuting extremists, said Commander Brad Harbaugh, who is in charge of the new base. Some in Niger welcome the growing U.S. military presence in the face of a growing extremist threat in the region.

"Northern Mali has become a no man's land, southern Libya is an incubator for terrorists and northeastern Nigeria is fertile ground for Boko Haram's activities ... Can Niger alone ensure its own security? I think not. No country in the world can today alone fight terrorism," said Souleymane Abdourahmane, a restaurant promoter in the capital, Niamey.

Threats include al-Qaida-linked fighters in Mali and Burkina Faso, Islamic State group-affiliated fighters in Niger, Mali and Nigeria and the Nigeria-based Boko Haram. They take advantage of the vast region's widespread poverty and countries' often poorly equipped security forces.

Foreigners, including a German aid worker kidnapped this month in Niger, have been targeted as well. The U.S. military's use of armed drones comes as its special forces pull back from the front lines of the fight. The focus is changing to advising and assisting local partners higher up the chain of command, said U.S. Special Command Africa commander Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks.

Ibrahim Maiga, a Mali-based researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said more needs to be known about the U.S. military presence in the region. "The U.S. military footprint in the Sahel is difficult to grasp, just as it is not easy to assess its effectiveness," he said. "There isn't nearly enough information in the public space on this presence."

Mud homes line the barbed wire fence at the edge of the main airport in Agadez. Residents watch the U.S. forces come and go with curiosity. Shebu Issa, an assistant at a Quranic school, stood in one doorway as goats and children roamed the sandy roads.

"It's no big deal to us, they come and they don't bother us. We appreciate they want to help in the fight," he said. "We live a hard life, and don't make much money, so we hope maybe this will help us get more."

Associated Press writer Dalatou Mamane in Niamey, Niger contributed.

Follow Carley Petesch on Twitter at https://twitter.com/carleypetesch

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Israeli Minister Vows To Help Ethiopian Jews Move To Israel

Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked receives traditional clothes from members of Ethiopia's Jewish community, during a visit to a synagogue in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Sunday, April 22, 2018. Shaked visited the synagogue in a rare visit from the high office of Israel's government and her first trip to Africa.


ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (AP) — Israel's Justice minister vowed to help Ethiopia's Jews immigrate to Israel as soon as possible during a rare visit to Ethiopia. Ayelet Shaked visited the synagogue in Addis Ababa on Sunday.

"These programs that will eventually reunite Ethiopian Jews with their families in Israel are not generally easy," said Shaked to the group gathered in the synagogue. "But I will try everything within my power to work with relevant offices to make this happen in the shortest time possible," she said.

Shaked, on what is reported to be her first official visit to Africa, said she came to find out more about the situation of Ethiopia's estimated 8,000 remaining Jews. Members of the Ethiopian Jews who attended the meeting told her that they want to move to Israel, where many family members moved years ago. They said they want "aliya," the Hebrew term for the immigration of Jews in other parts of the world to Israel.

"We know aliyah for Jews that are descendants in other countries happened so swiftly that sometimes even their dogs were also included as they moved to Israel. Are we less important than these dogs?" asked Meles Sidisto, the community head of Ethiopia's Jews in Addis Ababa.

In an emotional speech, Sidisto reaffirmed that members of Ethiopia's Jewish population plan to stage a mass hunger strike should Israel fail to reunite them with their families soon. "We are unhappy here. We have had enough here. If our situation is not resolved in a very short time, we will hold a momentous mass hunger strike that will help us present our voice to Israel and the world," he said.

The Ethiopian Jews met with Shaked in the small hall decorated with Israeli flags and scriptures. Some said they have been separated for decades from close family members who moved to Israel. Tigabu Worku, one of the synagogue's most active members, read a letter to Shaked in which he complained that he has been separated from his family for years.

"I have been torn from my younger sisters Leah and Sarah for 18 years," said Tigabu. "Eighteen years I have missed them. Eighteen years I have waited to see their faces that I no longer remember." Ethiopia's Falashmuras are believed to be descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel. Ethiopia's Jewish people mainly live in the Amhara and Tigray provinces.

Thousands of Falashmuras moved to Israel following the Law of Return in April 1975 and most of those who remain in Ethiopia have been separated for well over a decards from family members who moved to Israel.

About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today, a small minority in a country of over 8 million. Their assimilation hasn't been smooth, with many arriving without a modern education and then falling into unemployment and poverty.

Although many of those remaining in Ethiopia are practicing Jews, Israel doesn't consider them Jewish, meaning they are not automatically eligible to immigrate under its "law of return," which grants automatic citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent. Instead, the government must OK their arrival.

Ethiopian community members have been permitted to immigrate over the last two decades in limited bursts that have left hundreds of families torn apart.

Former Students Recall 1968 Protests That Shut Down Columbia

Part of some estimated 300 students at Columbia University gather around Hamilton Hall on the campus in New York. Fifty years ago students occupied five buildings at the university and shut down the Ivy League campus in a protest over the school's ties to a military think tank and what protesters saw as racism toward Columbia's Harlem neighbors. More than 700 protesters were arrested and more than 130 were injured when police retook the occupied buildings, during what was part of a year of global turmoil.


NEW YORK (AP) — Fifty years ago Monday, Columbia University students angry about racism and the Vietnam War began a rebellion that fed a sense the country was in turmoil. Starting at noon on April 23, 1968, student militants occupied Hamilton Hall, the main classroom building, and took a dean hostage for 24 hours. They stormed into the office of the university's president, ransacked files and smoked his cigars.

Over the next few days, hundreds of students would seize a total of five campus buildings. The occupation attracted global attention. Black militant leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown visited the protesters. China's Chairman Mao Zedong sent a telegram.

Then, early on April 30, a thousand police officers swept in and cleared out the rebels. "In the club swinging, fist fighting, pushing and kneeing that marked the violent subjugation," The Associated Press reported at the time. One hundred students and 15 police officers were injured. Police made 700 arrests.

The protests were part of a year of global tumult that included Vietnam's Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and mass demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

As Columbia prepares to observe the anniversary, some people who lived through the occupations see parallels with today's young activists, such as survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

"When Parkland happened and I saw particularly the young women speaking angrily and passionately about what had happened and what had to change, I just heard my own voice," said Nancy Biberman, who was a student at Barnard, the women's college affiliated with Columbia.

Recollections of others who were there: A RACIAL DIVIDE Two grievances sparked the protests: Columbia's ties to the Institute for Defense Analyses, a weapons research outfit, and a university plan to build a gym in a city park that would have separate doors for Columbia students and for the surrounding African-American community.

Black and white students began protesting together. But soon, black leaders at Hamilton Hall asked their white counterparts to leave and occupy their own building. Raymond Brown, a leader of the Students' Afro-American Society, said the black students had grown weary of their white counterparts' revolutionary rhetoric.

"We were aware from day one that this was a demonstration and not a revolution," said Brown, now a lawyer. Carolyn Eisenberg, then a graduate student in history, was among the white protesters asked to leave.

"I think people were kind of shocked and disoriented," Eisenberg said. "The moment when black students said 'We want you guys to leave' didn't feel that great. But the animus toward Columbia University was so dominant that that kind of took over."

DISSENT AT THE BARRICADES

 Karla Spurlock-Evans, then a freshman at Barnard, went to Hamilton Hall to hear a band called the Soul Syndicate and stayed for the occupation. "Being in that building, sensing the power of what can come when people who have a common goal that is righteous come together with goodwill and good intentions and love showed me that real change can be accomplished," said Spurlock-Evans, now dean of multicultural affairs at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

But support for the occupiers wasn't universal. Vaud Massarsky was a leader of a student group opposed to the protests called the Majority Coalition. "The press has ignored the great apathetic mass that was there to get a degree," said Massarsky, now a management consultant and author of detective stories.

The Majority Coalition tried to lay siege to Low Library by forming a cordon around it, preventing food deliveries. But even Massarsky was shocked by the violence of the police response. "On all sides, we were horrified," he said.

REVOLT PUT DOWN

 Hilton Obenzinger, who was among the students occupying the library, remembers standing on the ledge that surrounds the building and catching food that supporters threw. "We all kind of bonded together into what we called the Low Library Commune," said Obenzinger, now a writer and lecturer at Stanford University.

Obenzinger said the occupiers tried to keep the building clean as they prepared to meet police. The black students in Hamilton were arrested peacefully and loaded into vans. But at the other buildings, police wielded batons and flashlights.

"I have a very vivid memory of one cop sauntering up to one of the women and battering her head," Obenzinger said. "He just kept slamming into her. Everybody got beat up, some much worse than others."

AFTERMATH 

The school reopened in May. "The consequences for most people were nil. A few people were suspended, not many," said Michael Rosenthal, a former English Department instructor. Carol Berkin, a doctoral student, was horrified when her oral exams were postponed but then joined the protests.

When her exams finally took place, her academic adviser Richard Morris, a fierce opponent of the protests, was there to grill her. So was historian James Shenton, a protest supporter with his arm in a cast thanks to the police.

The two professors glared at each other. "I don't think they even noticed what I had to say," said Berkin, now a college professor. Grayson Kirk, then Columbia's president, died in 1997. A handful of the Columbia radicals later joined the militant Weathermen faction. One died in an explosion at a bomb-making den. Mark Rudd, the most visible leader of the 1968 protests, went underground.

Rudd, now living in New Mexico, declined to be interviewed.


student protester at Columbia University is forcibly removed from the campus by plainclothes New York City police after they entered buildings occupied by the students, and ejected those participating in the sit-ins. Fifty years ago, more than 700 protesters were arrested and more than 130 were injured when police retook the occupied buildings, during what was part of a year of global turmoil.

Iran Detains Ex-Prosecutor Convicted In 2009 Torture Case

Tehran former prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, speaks to the media at a news conference in Tehran, Iran. Iran's official judicial news agency is reporting that police have arrested the former Tehran prosecutor who faces a two-year prison sentence over the death of prisoners following the country's 2009 protests.


TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iranian police have arrested a former prosecutor known as the "torturer of Tehran," who faces a two-year jail term over the death of prisoners following protests in 2009, Iranian media reported on Sunday.

The official website of the judiciary, Mizanonline.com, said former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi has been arrested, without elaborating. The semi-official Tasnim news agency said police detained Mortazavi in a villa in northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea.

Mortazavi was sentenced to prison by an appeals court in December. That court found him guilty of "aiding and abetting" the torture and deaths of protesters arrested after the disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Since that court decision, Mortazavi apparently couldn't be found by authorities. "They could not find him despite the arrest warrant," judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi said last week. After the reports of his disappearance, wanted posters printed by activists began appearing around Tehran.

Mortazavi's wife and lawyer denied he was missing, but said he intends to appeal the ruling. His lawyer could not be immediately reached Sunday. Canada has blamed Mortazavi for the death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. Iranian reformists accused Mortazavi of trying to stage a cover-up because it was he who reported that Kazemi had died of a stroke.

A government committee probing her death later found that she had died of a fractured skull and a brain hemorrhage from a blow to the head. No charges were filed against Mortazavi. He is detested by those pushing for social and political reforms and critics have dubbed him the "butcher of the press," and the "torturer of Tehran." He was behind the closure of some 120 newspapers and the jailing of many journalists and political activists over the past decade.

Road To N. Korea's Denuclearization Is Littered With Failure

The cooling tower of the Nyongbyon nuclear complex is demolished in Nyongbyon, also known as Yongbyon, North Korea. Bill Clinton offered oil and reactors. George W. Bush mixed threats and aid. Barack Obama stopped trying after a rocket launch. While Seoul and Washington welcomed Pyongyang’s declaration on Saturday, April 21, 2018, to suspend further intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site, the past is littered with failure. A decades-long cycle of crises, stalemates and broken promises gave North Korea the room to build up a legitimate arsenal that now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and developmental ICBMs. The North’s latest announcement stopped well short of suggesting it has any intention of giving that up. South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday, April 27, 2018, to kick off a new round of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang.




SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — Bill Clinton offered oil and reactors. George W. Bush mixed threats and aid. Barack Obama stopped trying after a rocket launch. While Seoul and Washington welcomed Pyongyang's declaration on Saturday to suspend further intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site, the past is littered with failure.

A decades-long cycle of crises, stalemates and broken promises gave North Korea the room to build up a legitimate arsenal that now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and developmental ICBMs. The North's latest announcement stopped well short of suggesting it has any intention of giving that up.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday to kick off a new round of high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang. The inter-Korean summit could set up more substantial discussions between Kim and President Donald Trump, who said he plans to meet the despot he previously called "Little Rocket Man" in May or June.

A look at previous negotiations with North Korea and how the currently planned talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington took shape:

1994

The Clinton administration in October 1994 reached a major nuclear agreement with Pyongyang, ending months of war fears triggered by North Korea's threat to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and convert its stockpile of nuclear fuel into bombs.

Under the "Agreed Framework," North Korea halted construction of two reactors the United States believed were for nuclear weapons production in return for two alternative nuclear power reactors that could be used to provide electricity but not bomb fuel, and 500,000 metric tons of fuel oil annually for the North.

The deal was tested quickly. North Korea complained about delayed oil shipments and construction of the reactors, which were never delivered. The United States criticized the North's pursuit of ballistic missile capability, demonstrated in the launch of a two-stage rocket over Japan in 1998.

The Agreed Framework further lost political support in Washington with the inauguration of Bush, who in his first State of the Union address in January 2002 grouped North Korea with Iran and Iraq as parts of an "axis of evil."

The deal collapsed for good months later after U.S. officials confronted North Korea over a clandestine nuclear program using enriched uranium. Washington stopped the oil shipments and Pyongyang restarted its nuclear weapons program.

2005

Responding to Washington's toughened stance, North Korea announced in 2003 it obtained a nuclear device and would withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty.

This brought the United States back to the negotiating table with the North and the six-party talks also involving South Korea, China, Japan and Russia began in Beijing in August 2003.

After months of fiery negotiations, North Korea accepted a deal in September 2005 to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security, economic and energy benefits.

But the agreement was shaky from the start as it came just days after the U.S. Treasury Department ordered American banks to sever relations with a Macau bank accused of helping North Korea to launder money from drug trafficking and other illicit activities, which hampered Pyongyang's international financial transactions.

Disagreements between Washington and Pyongyang over the financial punishment of Banco Delta Asia temporarily derailed the six-nation talks. In October 2006, the North went on to conduct its first nuclear test detonation.

2007

North Korea agreed to resume the disarmament talks a few weeks after the nuclear test. In February 2007, the United States and the four other nations reached an agreement to provide North Korea with an aid package worth about $400 million in return for the North disabling its nuclear facilities and re-allowing international inspectors into the country.

North Korea demolished the cooling tower at its Nyongbyon reactor site in June 2008. But in September, the North declared it will resume reprocessing plutonium, complaining that Washington wasn't fulfilling its promise to remove the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Bush administration removed North Korea from the list in October after the country agreed to continue disabling its nuclear plant. However, a final attempt by Bush to complete an agreement to fully dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program collapsed in December when the North refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods.

The six-nation talks have stalled since then. The North conducted its second nuclear test in May 2009, months after Obama took office.

2012

Months after taking power following the death of his father, current North Korean leader Kim reached a deal with the Obama administration in February 2012 to suspend nuclear weapons and missile tests and uranium enrichment and to also allow international inspectors to monitor its nuclear activities in exchange for U.S. food aid.

The United States killed the deal in April when the North launched a long-range rocket it claimed was built for delivering satellites. The failed launch was seen by the outside world as a prohibited test of ballistic missile technology.

The North criticized the United States of "overreacting" and launched another long-range rocket in December it said successfully delivered a satellite into space.

In 2013, Kim announced that his government would pursue a national "byungjin" policy aimed at simultaneously seeking nuclear development and economic growth. This was seen as a clean break from the North's previous stance that mainly used the nuclear program as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from foreign governments, rather than for immediate military purposes.

2018

North Korea's abrupt diplomatic outreach in recent months comes after a flurry of weapons tests that marked 2017, including the underground detonation of an alleged thermonuclear warhead and three launches of developmental ICBMs designed to strike the U.S. mainland.

Inter-Korean dialogue resumed after Kim in his New Year's speech proposed talks with the South to reduce animosities and for the North to participate in February's Winter Olympics in Pyongchang. North Korea sent hundreds of people to the games, including Kim's sister, who expressed her brother's desire to meet with Moon for a summit. South Korean officials later brokered a potential summit between Kim and Trump.

While South Korean and U.S. officials have said Kim is likely trying to save his broken economy from heavy sanctions, some analysts see him as entering the negotiations from a position of strength after having declared his nuclear force as complete in November last year.

Seoul has said Kim expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the peninsula and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.

Some experts say Kim's nuclear program is now too advanced to realistically expect a roll back to near zero.

"Kim will not offer CVID at the door," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University who's advising Moon on his summit with Kim. He was referring to an abbreviation for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of the North's nuclear weapons program.

"Everything depends on whether Trump can accept a deal that puts out the 'early fire' — taking away the North's ICBMs and freezing and closing its known nuclear and missile production facilities — and leave the rest for future negotiations," Koh said.

Follow Kim Tong-hyung on Twitter at @KimTongHyung.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Why Nigeria Can’t Win A Disease Threatening 97% Of Its Population




Image via Premium Times



ABUJA, NIGERIA (PREMIUM TIMES)--Malaria continues to be a major public health problem in 97 countries and territories in the tropics and subtropics.

Globally, approximately 214 million cases of malaria occur annually and 3.3 billion people in 106 countries are at risk of being infected. Approximately 438,000 deaths were attributed to malaria alone in 2015, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 90 per cent of all malaria deaths occur.

As a critical target of the Millennium Development Goals, in 2005, the World Health Assembly established a goal of reducing malaria cases and deaths by 75 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

Hence, over the past decade, there has been renewed interest in research and innovations in diagnostic methods, drugs and vaccines, and the development of control measures to eradicate malaria.

As a result, between 2000 and 2013, the incidence rates of malaria fell by 30 per cent globally, and by 34 per cent in Africa.

Malaria is one the endemic disease which has killed 400,000 babies and claimed so many pregnant women's lives.

In Nigeria

Nigeria suffers the world's greatest malaria burden, with approximately 51 million cases and 207,000 deaths reported annually (approximately 30 per cent of the total malaria burden in Africa), while 97 per cent of the total population (approximately 173 million) is at risk of infection.

Moreover, malaria accounts for 60 per cent of outpatient visits to hospitals and led to approximately 11 per cent maternal mortality and 30 per cent child mortality, especially among children less than five years.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum, and the mosquitoes Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles funestus, Anopheles arabiensis, and Anopheles moucheti are the major vectors that cause year-round transmission. Artemether-lumefantrine (AL) or artesunate + amodiaquine (AS + AQ) is the treatment regime adopted in 2004.

This devastating disease affects the country's economic productivity, resulting in an estimated monetary loss of approximately N132 billion (~700 million USD), in treatment costs, prevention, and other indirect costs.

Since 2008, the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) in Nigeria has adopted a specific plan, the goal of which is to reduce 50 per cent of the malaria burden by 2013 by achieving at least 80 per cent coverage of long-lasting impregnated mosquito nets (LLINs), together with other measures, such as 20 per cent of houses in targeted areas receiving indoor residual spraying (IRS), and treatment with two doses of intermittent preventative therapy (IPT) for pregnant women who visit antenatal care clinics.

Due to these measures, the percentage of households with at least one LLIN increased to over 70 per cent by 2010, compared to only 5 per cent in 2008.

Level of coverage still a challenge

However, the way a country finances its health care system is a critical determinant for reaching Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

This is so because it determines whether the health services that are available are affordable to those that need them. In Nigeria, the health sector is financed through different sources and mechanisms.

The difference in the proportionate contribution from these stated sources determine the extent to which such health sector will go in achieving successful health care financing system. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, achieving the correct blend of these sources remains a challenge.

As Nigeria celebrates the World Malaria Day 2018, with the theme "Ready to beat malaria" the coverage of malaria in Nigeria is still far behind.

World Malaria Day is an international observance commemorated every year on April 25 and recognises global efforts to control malaria.

Nigeria has 34,173 health facilities nationwide which include 30,098 primary health centres, 3,992 secondary facilities, and 83 tertiary facilities. The private sector constitute 33 per cent of all facilities in Nigeria, yet there is still a hole in our malaria coverage

Huge funds deployed over the years

Nigeria has benefited from support from various partners for malaria control. Currently, the largest funding partners are the Global Fund, the U.S. Government, and United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID).

Other key partners include the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the WHO. There is also corporate sector support for malaria control including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Dangote Foundation, and telecommunication companies. The Global Business Coalition through the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa is galvanising corporate efforts to support resource mobilisation as well as to leverage the strength of this sector.

In 2014, Nigeria had three approved grants for malaria from the Global Fund, the latter two designating the NMEP as the Principal Recipient. In March 2015 the country and the Global Fund signed the New Funding Model (NFM) grant totaling to over $400 million for two years.

The approved grant for Nigeria under the NFM was $400,253,346 to cover the period of February 2015 to December 31, 2016. The fund was managed by the NMEP ($308,577,343) and the Society for Family Health ($91,676,003) as Principal Recipients.

As of the end of January 2016, $279,554,526 was committed to support various malaria activities, including procurement of malaria commodities. The Global Fund included a requirement that the Nigeria Government to provide $22.5 million as counterpart financing for ITNs; however, the counterpart finance is yet to be provided.

The current Global Fund agreement, signed in 2014, originally required the Nigerian Government to provide $45.7 million in counterpart funding for net distribution. When the Government failed to provide those funds, during grant extension negotiations in 2017, the Global Fund agreed to halve the amount required to $22.5 million.

To date, the government has not provided this amount. The current Global Fund grant ended in December 2017, and unless Nigeria government funds are provided prior to that grant expiration, counterpart funding requirements will not have been met.

As of April, 2017, a non-costed extension was granted for the Nigeria malaria grant, as well as a one-year grant with a new Principal Recipient, Catholic Relief Services, to implement long-lasting insecticidal net (LLIN) replacement mass campaigns in six states and continue implementation of the other malaria program activities through December, 2017.

The extension and one-year CRS grant will maintain the scope and scale of essential malaria services in 2017 and will be funded through reinvestment of unspent funds within the current grant.

In terms of activities, the Global Fund grant supports scale-up of prevention and case management activities in line with the NMSP 2014-2020. The key interventions are to attain universal coverage of ITNs through mass campaigns and continuous distribution channels.

About 10 states were included in the project and Kogi, with a prevalence of malaria in children of under five years of age of 5 per cent, was replaced with Plateau State with the parasite in children under five years of age of 36 per cent. Support to Kogi State was phased out in 2017. The projected population of the 11 states to receive PMI (President's Malaria Initiative) support in 2019 is 57.8 million.

The PMI is a U.S. Government initiative designed to cut malaria deaths in half in target countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was announced on June 30, 2005, when President Bush pledged to increase U.S. funding of malaria prevention and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa by more than $1.2 billion over 5 years (FY2006-FY2010).

A recent additional resource for the states is the Saving One Million Lives Initiative (SOML) Program-for-Results (PforR) Project. The objective of this US$500 million World Bank-funded project is to increase the utilisation and quality of high impact reproductive, child health, and nutrition interventions. Still, external funding does not cover all technical assistance and implementation support needs for all health facilities within these 11 states.

Roll Back Malaria

Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership was launched in 1998 by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank.

Its goal was to provide a coordinated global approach to fighting malaria.The RBM Partnership is the global framework for implementing coordinated action against malaria. It mobilises resources for action and forges consensus among partners.

The Partnership is made up of more than 500 partners, including countries where malaria is endemic, their bilateral and multilateral development partners, the private sector, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, foundations, and research and academic institutions. The Global Malaria Action Plan defines two stages of malaria control: first, scaling-up for impact (SUFI) of preventive and therapeutic interventions, and then sustaining control over time.

Coverage and Implementation

Nigeria began implementation of Presidential Malaria Initiative (PMI) in the fiscal year (FY) 2011. PMI began with support to three states (Cross River, Nasarawa, and Zamfara).

In 2012, PMI expanded to six more states (Bauchi, Benue, Ebonyi, Kogi, Oyo, and Sokoto), and in 2013, added two more states (Akwa Ibom and Kebbi) for a total of 11 states.

A strategy review meeting held in April 2016 revisited the states for PMI support. States were selected based on malaria disease burden, coverage, presence of other donors, strength of state leadership, and security.

In 2016 2.7 billion US dollars was invested in malaria control and elimination, 74 per cent of the investment in 2016 was invested in some countries in Africa which are endemic of the disease larger percentage goes to the Sub-Sahara Africa where Nigeria is at the frontline.

Data shows that 76 per cent Nigerians lives in high transmission areas and 24 per cent in low transmission areas.

The Nigeria Malaria Indicator Survey of 2014-2020 objective is to achieve universal coverage with Insecticide Treated Net (ITN).

Universal coverage on malaria elimination is defined as one ITN for every two persons. PMI's goal is to support the NMEP in achieving and maintaining its targets for ITN coverage and use, especially in PMI-supported states.

PMI supports free mass ITN campaigns every three years and strengthening continuous distribution channels that include antenatal care (ANC) and immunisation clinics, schools, and community-based distributions where feasible and cost-effective.

Since 2010, PMI has procured a total of 40.7 million ITNs for mass campaigns and continuous distribution, and distributed over 60 million ITNs, including over 24 million ITNs procured by other partners. From December 2013 to May 2017, the NMEP and its partners says it distributed 60.8 million ITNs through mass campaigns in 23 states, including over 26 million ITNs in all the 11 PMI-supported states of Sokoto, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Cross River, Ebonyi, Zamfara, Benue, Akwa Ibom, Oyo and Kogi.

Data from two Nigeria Malaria Indicator Surveys (NMIS) show ownership of at least one ITN in a household increased substantially from 8 per cent in 2010 to 69 per cent nationally in 2015. The average number of ITNs per household doubled from 0.8 to 1.6 (2015 NMIS). Eight of the 11 PMI supported states had higher ownership of at least one ITN per household than the national average.

An expert speaks

Ladipo Olabode Taiwo, a public health practioner scores the Federal Govenrment low on disbursement of funds to tackle the ailment and also on accurate data gathering on it.

"There has not been any concise figure/amount released by Nigerian government for the funding of malaria elimination in the country," he said.

He also explained that the states that are not under the PMI coverage for malaria are taken care of by Global Fund.

He spoke about the "poor health financing been practiced by the Nigerian Government".

"If not for PMI, Global fund and other NGOs who have supported the country in the health sector, the country health sector would be nothing to talk about.

He said malaria data collection in Nigeria is not 100 per cent accurate, or "representative of what is happening".

"The reason is that most of the data are collect at the 'lower level', and the states has just 24 hours to check the data and validate them, and most states do not have a data bank with the Federal Ministry of Health."

He however said there is a decline in the cases of malaria in Nigeria, "as a result of the management which was set up by the National Malaria Elimination Program".

"The year world malaria day is an avenue to orientate and educate the citizens that malaria is curable and preventable, so that every body will be ready to beat malaria," Mr Taiwo added.

New Lynching Memorial Offers Chance To Remember, Heal

Josephine Bolling McCall poses with a photo of her father, lynching victim Elmore Bolling, at her home in Montgomery, Ala. Bolling is among thousands of lynching victims remembered at the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, erected with donations by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative. The memorial and an accompanying museum, which aim to tell the story of racial oppression in the United States, open April 26.


MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA. (AP) — Elmore Bolling defied the odds against black men and built several successful businesses during the harsh era of Jim Crow segregation in the South. He had more money than a lot of whites, which his descendants believe was all it took to get him lynched in 1947.

He was shot to death by a white neighbor, according to news accounts at the time, and the shooter was never prosecuted. But Bolling's name is now listed among thousands on a new memorial for victims of hate-inspired lynchings that terrorized generations of U.S. blacks. Daughter Josephine Bolling McCall is anxious to see the monument, located about 20 miles from where her father was killed in rural Lowndes County.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening Thursday, is a project of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. The organization says the combined museum and memorial will be the nation's first site to document racial inequality in America from slavery through Jim Crow to the issues of today.

"In the American South, we don't talk about slavery. We don't have monuments and memorials that confront the legacy of lynching. We haven't really confronted the difficulties of segregation. And because of that, I think we are still burdened by that history," said EJI executive director Bryan Stevenson.

The site includes a memorial to the victims of 4,400 "terror lynchings" of black people in 800 U.S. counties from 1877 through 1950. All but about 300 were in the South, and prosecutions were rare in any of the cases. Stevenson said they emphasized the lynching era because he believes it's an aspect of the nation's racial history that's discussed the least.

"Most people In this country can't name a single African-American who was lynched between 1877 and 1950 even though thousands of African Americans were subjected to this violence," Stevenson said. The organization said a common theme ran through the slayings, which it differentiates from extrajudicial killings in places that simply lacked courts: A desire to impose fear on minorities and maintain strict white control. Some lynchings drew huge crowds and were even photographed, yet authorities routinely ruled they were committed by "persons unknown."

McCall, 75, said her father's killing still hangs over her family. The memorial could help heal individual families and the nation by acknowledging the painful legacy of racial murders, she said. "It's important that the people to whom the injustices have been given are actually being recognized and at least some measure — some measure — of relief is sought through discussion," said McCall.

Combined, the memorial and an accompanying museum a few miles away at the Equal Justice Initiative headquarters tell a story spanning slavery, racial segregation, violence and today's era of swollen prison populations. With nearly 7 million people behind bars or on parole or probation nationwide - a disproportionate number of them minorities - the NAACP says blacks are incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites.

E.M. Beck, who studied lynching for 30 years and has written books on the subject, said the memorial might actually understate the scope of lynching even though it lists thousands of victims. "I think it's an underestimate because the number and amount of violence in early Reconstruction in the 1870s will probably never be known. There was just an incredible amount of violence taking place during that period of time," said Beck, sociology professor emeritus at the University of Georgia.

The memorial's design evokes the image of a racist hanging, featuring scores of dark metal columns suspended in the air from above. The rectangular structures, some of which lie flat on the ground and resemble graves, include the names of counties where lynchings occurred, plus dates and the names of the victims. The goal is for individual counties to claim the columns on the ground and erect their own memorials.

Not all lynchings were by hanging. The Equal Justice Initiative says it scoured old newspapers, archives and court documents to find the stories of victims who were gunned down, drowned, beaten and burned alive. The monument is a memorial to all of them, with room for names to be added as additional victims are identified.

The monument's April 26 opening will be marked by a two-day summit focusing on racial and social justice, to be followed by an April 27 concert featuring top acts including Common, Usher, the Dave Matthews Band and The Roots.

McCall plans to view the memorial with her five living siblings. She says they suffered more than she did, since she was only 5 when their father was slain. A newspaper account from the time said the 39-year-old Bolling, who owned a store and trucking company and farmed, was shot seven times on a road near his store by a white man, Clarke Luckie, who claimed Bolling had insulted his wife during a phone call.

McCall, who researched the slaying extensively for a book about her father, said it's more likely that Luckie, a stockyard employee, resented her father, who had thousands of dollars in the bank, three tractor-trailer rigs and employed about 40 people.

"He was jealous and he filled him with bullets," she said. Luckie was arrested, but a grand jury issued no indictment and no one was ever prosecuted. McCall believes the white people who controlled the county at the time purposely covered for the killer, who died decades ago.

One of Alabama's oldest black congregations, Old Ship A.M.E. Zion Church, sits across the street from the memorial. Its pastor plans to offer prayer and conversation to help visitors who are shaken by the experience of visiting the site.

Church members have mixed feelings about the memorial, she said. They want to acknowledge and honor the past, McFadden said, but some are wondering how they'll personally react to visiting the memorial the first time.

"It's something that needs to be talked about, that people need to explore. But it's also something that has the potential to shake people to the core," said Rev. Kathy Thomas McFadden.

This story corrects that concert will be held April 27, not April 26.

Friday, April 20, 2018

North Korea Says It Has Suspended Nuclear, Missile Testing

Provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea said Saturday, April 21, 2018, it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the country is making the move to shift its national focus and improve its economy. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North's announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal.

The North rather expressed confidence about its nuclear force, which leader Kim Jong Un declared as complete in November after a slew of weapons tests that included the underground detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of three intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Some analysts believe Kim is entering the negotiations from a position of strength and is unlikely to accept a significant cut of his arsenal or go significantly beyond freezing a nuclear program. South Korean and U.S. officials have said Kim is likely trying to save his broken economy from heavy sanctions.

After the announcement Saturday about testing, President Donald Trump tweeted, "This is very good news for North Korea and the World" and "big progress!" He also said he's looking forward to his upcoming summit with Kim.

South Korea's presidential office welcomed North Korea's announcement as "meaningful progress" toward the denuclearization of the peninsula. Presidential official Yoon Young-chan said in a statement that the North's decision brightens the prospects for successful talks between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the country is making the move to shift its national focus and improve its economy. The North also vowed to actively engage with regional neighbors and the international community to secure peace on the peninsula and create an "optimal international environment" to build its economy.

The announcement came days before Kim is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a border truce village for a rare summit aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang. A separate meeting between Kim and Trump is anticipated in May or June.

The North's decisions were made in a meeting of the ruling party's full Central Committee, which had convened to discuss a "new stage" of policies. The Korean Workers' Party Central Committee declared a "great victory" in the country's official "byungjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear development.

The committee unanimously adopted a resolution that called for concentrating national efforts to achieve a strong socialist economy and "groundbreaking improvements in people's lives." "To secure transparency on the suspension of nuclear tests, we will close the republic's northern nuclear test site," the party's resolution said.

The official news agency quoted Kim as saying during the meeting: "Nuclear development has proceeded scientifically and in due order and the development of the delivery strike means also proceeded scientifically and verified the completion of nuclear weapons.

"We no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles and because of this, the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." Seoul says Kim has expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons. But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its troops from the peninsula.

South Korean scientists have questioned whether the North could continue conducting underground nuclear detonations at its mountainous test site in Kilju in the northeast due to a series of earthquakes that were likely triggered by the activity, suggesting it's too unstable for further bomb tests.

At the height of Pyongyang's standoff with Washington and Seoul last year, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters the country could conduct an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

In Court, Dems Allege Conspiracy Between Trump Camp, Russia

President Donald Trump listens during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club, in Palm Beach, Fla. The Democratic National Committee on Friday sued President Donald Trump's campaign, Trump's son, his son-in-law, the Russian Federation and WikiLeaks. The Democrats accuse the defendants of conspiring to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election after breaking into DNC computers and stealing tens of thousands of emails and documents.



NEW YORK (AP) — The Democratic Party sued Donald Trump's presidential campaign, Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump's son and son-in-law Friday, accusing them of an intricate conspiracy to undercut Democrats in the 2016 election by stealing tens of thousands of emails and documents.

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court seeks unspecified damages and an order to prevent further interference with computer systems of the Democratic National Committee. "During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump's campaign," DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement. He called it an "act of unprecedented treachery."

The Democrats accuse Trump and his associates of trading on pre-existing relationships with Russian oligarchs tied to President Vladimir Putin and of collaborating with Russia as it worked to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The president has said repeatedly there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. On Friday, his campaign scorned the lawsuit as "frivolous" and predicted it would be quickly dismissed. "This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian collusion claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional and nearly insolvent Democratic Party," Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

He said the campaign would seek to turn the tables on the Democrats, using the legal discovery process to try to pry documents from the DNC including any related to a dossier detailing allegations of links between Trump and Russia. The dossier — a collection of memos — was written by an ex-British spy whose work was funded by Clinton and the DNC.

Trump himself tweeted that the DNC lawsuit could be "very good news," saying his campaign "will now counter for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI" as well as Hillary Clinton's emails.

Trump's tweet also referred to "the Wendy Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man." He appeared to be referring to former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and reports of an IT specialist who once worked for some House Democrats. Wendy Wasserstein was a playwright whose dramas included the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Heidi Chronicles."

Requests for comment from the Russian Embassy in Washington were not immediately returned. The Democrats' lawsuit doesn't reveal new details in the sprawling storyline of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives working on behalf of the Kremlin.

Instead it knits many of the threads that have emerged in public over the past two years to paint a picture of an alleged conspiracy between the Trump campaign, the Kremlin and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The DNC says the "brazen attack on American democracy" began with a cyberattack on DNC computers and phone systems in 2015, allowing the extraction of tens of thousands of documents and emails. WikiLeaks then blasted out many of the documents on July 22, 2016, shortly before Clinton was to be nominated -- upsetting the Democrats' national convention.

That added up to a "campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency," the DNC lawyers write in the lawsuit.

That conspiracy violated the laws of the U.S., Virginia and the District of Columbia, the lawsuit says, and "under the laws of this nation, Russia and its co-conspirators must answer for these actions."

The DNC accuses Donald Trump Jr. of secretly communicating with WikiLeaks, and blames the president, too, saying he praised the illegal dissemination of DNC documents throughout fall 2016, making it a central theme of his speeches and rallies.

The DNC also fingers Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner as a co-conspirator for his role overseeing the Trump campaign's digital operation. WikiLeaks responded to the lawsuit caustically. "DNC already has a moribund publicity lawsuit which the press has become bored of--hence the need to refile it as a 'new' suit before mid-terms," the group said in a tweet. "As an accurate publisher of newsworthy information @WikiLeaks is constitutionally protected from such suits."

Assange, avoiding detention, remains in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed charges against multiple former Trump campaign aides stemming from his federal Russia probe. But Mueller has directly accused only former Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos of trying to work with Russian operatives to support the Trump campaign.

Mueller also has indicted 13 Russian individuals working for the Internet Research Agency accused of running an elaborate scheme to meddle in the U.S. elections. The indictment alleges one of Putin's close allies, Yevgeny Prigozhin, oversaw the effort.

The hacking of the DNC has long been a sore spot for Democrats across the board since Clinton's stunning loss in November 2016. The hack and subsequent release of the emails hit the party just before it formally nominated Clinton, and the emails remained a major issue through Election Day.

Wasserman Schultz lost her job as party chairwoman just hours before the nominating convention after emails were released showing the DNC appearing to favor Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primaries. The emails ripped open fresh wounds and formed a rallying cry for Sanders supporters hoping for a last-minute chance to deny the Clinton the nomination in Philadelphia.

Wasserman Schultz confronted then-FBI Director James Comey a few months later, in January 2017 during a private briefing at the Capitol, accusing him of helping throw the election to Trump because of his handling of the Clinton email investigation. DNC staffers at the time accused the FBI of not doing enough immediately after the hack was discovered in 2015 to alert them to the problem.

Democrats have similarly been critical of President Barack Obama for not doing enough in 2016 to fight back against Russia. Obama expelled Russian diplomats and shuttered diplomatic compounds in December 2016.

This is the second time in recent history that the DNC has sued a Republican president. The Democrats sued Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President in 1973, following the break-in at the DNC's Watergate Hotel headquarters.

__ Associated Press reporter Chad Day contributed to this report from Washington. LoBianco reported from Washington.

Dems To Black Activists: Trump Is 'The Darkness'

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during the ninth annual Women in the World Summit, Friday, April 13, 2018, in New York.



NEW YORK (AP) — One after another, the speakers attacked President Trump's policies as discriminatory, his rhetoric as hateful and his motivations as bigoted. The fiery rhetoric, from nearly a half dozen Democrats who may seek the White House in 2020, came as hundreds of African-Americans gathered in New York City on Friday to contemplate the first year of the Trump presidency and to begin sizing up his possible replacement.

Trump "is what the darkness looks like," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. "He is what the darkness sounds like." Yet Cory Booker, one of just two black Democratic senators, cautioned his party against adopting the same divisive language about Trump that he uses against his political adversaries.

"I am tired of people allowing someone who preaches hate to turn us into haters, someone who spews darkness to make us go dark, someone who's trying to divide make us attack other people," Booker declared, later suggesting that poor voting rates among African Americans led to Trump's 2016 victory.

"We did it to ourselves," he said. Neither Gillibrand nor Booker has declared their intentions for the 2020 presidential contest, which is barely a thought for most voters. Yet they are considered likely candidates in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field that lines up to take on Trump.

Friday's program also featured 2020 prospects Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network hosted the event, referred to the Democratic senators as "presidential candidates."

"None of them have announced," Sharpton explained. "They're on what we call a temperature tour. They're trying to test the temperature to see if they should announce." The ambitious Democrats are eager to connect with the black community, which plays a critical role in the presidential primary process on the Democratic side. In 2016, Sanders struggled to defeat Hillary Clinton in the party's nomination fight partly because of his weak relationship with black voters.

He and others worked Friday to improve the relationship going forward. And Trump, who has embraced xenophobia, if not racism at times, made for an easy target. "The pendulum is swinging backward," Harris, the party's only other African-American senator, warned after highlighting the progress made by the civil rights movement over the last five decades.

Sanders described Trump as "perhaps the worst president in the history of our country." "The worst thing that he is doing is trying to divide this great country up based on the color of our skin or the country that we come from or our religion or our sexual orientation," Sanders said and later added a pointed message at the White House: "Mr. Trump, we are not going backward toward bigotry. We are going forward toward justice."

Beyond rhetoric, most of the speakers charged that the president has adopted and promoted discriminatory policies on education, criminal justice, the economy and housing. Warren noted, for example, that studies consistently find that black families have a harder time getting mortgages; and when minorities obtain mortgages, they often pay more for them than white people.

The Census Bureau reported at the end of last year that the homeownership rate among white people was 73 percent. Among black Americans, it was just 42 percent. "I know I haven't personally experienced the struggles of African-American families, but I am here to say that no one can ignore what is happening in this country," Warren said.

She added, "All our fights are interconnected." White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the Democrats' attacks, noting black unemployment has reached a record high under Trump's leadership, while he has paid special attention to historically black colleges and universities and promoted "school choice" programs that would expand options for parents in bad school districts.

"They should focus more on policies that actually help people instead of grandstanding speeches to attack the president," Sanders said.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

First clues emerge about Cuba's future under new president

Cuba's new president Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, and former president Raul Castro, salutes, after Diaz-Canel was elected as the island nation's new president, at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 19, 2018. Castro left the presidency after 12 years in office when the National Assembly approved Diaz-Canel's nomination as the candidate for the top government position. (Alexandre Meneghini/Pool via AP)


HAVANA (AP) — Miguel Diaz-Canel has been the presumptive next president of Cuba since 2013, when Raul Castro named the laconic former provincial official to the important post of first vice president and lauded him as "neither a novice nor an improviser," high praise in a system dedicated to continuity over all.

Castro said nothing about how a young civilian from outside his family could lead the socialist nation that he and his older brother Fidel created from scratch and ruled with total control for nearly 60 years.

Exiles in Miami said Diaz-Canel would be a figurehead for continued Castro dominance. Cubans on the island speculated about a weak president sharing power with the head of the communist party, or maybe a newly created post of prime minister. No one who knew was talking. And no one who was talking knew.

The first clues to the mystery of Cuba's future power structure were revealed Thursday when Raul Castro handed the presidency to Diaz-Canel, who took office shortly after 9 a.m. when the 604-member National Assembly said 603 of its members had approved the 57-year-old as the sole official candidate for the top government position.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother. Diaz-Canel said he would retain Castro's Cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

"I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country," Diaz-Canel said. "Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism."

Perhaps more importantly, Castro's 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear plan for a president whom Castro seemed to envision as the heir to near-total control of the country's political system, which in turn dominates virtually every aspect of life in Cuba. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country's ultimate authority, also for two five-year terms, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

"From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution," Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

State media struck a similar valedictory tone. The evening newscast played black-and-white footage of Castro as a young revolutionary, with the soundtrack of "The Last Mambi" a song that bids farewell to Castro as a public figure and was written by Raul Torres, a singer who composed a similar homage to Fidel Castro after the revolutionary leader's death in 2016.

The plan laid out by Raul Castro on Thursday would leave Diaz-Canel as the dominant figure in Cuban politics until 2031. "The same thing we're doing with him, he'll have to do with his successor," Castro said. "When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he'll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn't have them already, or his great-grandchildren."

Diaz-Canel pledged that his priority would be preserving Cuba's communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people. "There's no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle," Diaz-Canel said.

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and Communist Party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy's most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

"The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model," Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island's economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month.

"I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity," said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. "I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things."

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn't expect much from Diaz-Canel. "It's a cosmetic change," said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros' 1959 revolution. "The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba."

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba's private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world's fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro's moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island's infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba's patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro's inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba's structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro's founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

"I want the country to advance," said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. "We already have a plan laid out." At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens "had no real power to affect the outcome" of what she called the "undemocratic transition" that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won't rest until Cuba "has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!" Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent.

International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

Kushner Cos. Subpoenaed By Feds After AP Report

resident Donald Trump's White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner speaks during the Saban Forum 2017 in Washington. The Kushner Cos. confirmed Thursday, April 19, 2018, it was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors for information related to an Associated Press report that the company filed dozens of false documents about its buildings in New York City. The AP report covered a three-year period when the real estate company was run by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law who is now a senior adviser. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)


NEW YORK (AP) — The Kushner Cos. confirmed Thursday it was subpoenaed by federal prosecutors for information related to an Associated Press report that the company filed dozens of false documents about its buildings in New York City.

The real estate company issued a statement saying it has "nothing to hide and is cooperating fully with all legitimate requests for information, including this subpoena." The statement said the federal subpoena came last month, just a day after the AP reported the Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city stating it had zero rent-regulated tenants in buildings across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds. The AP report covered a three-year period when the real estate company was run by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law who is now a senior adviser.

Tenant advocates say such false filings allow landlords to avoid heightened city oversight designed to keep lower-paying, rent-regulated tenants from being harassed during construction and pressured to leave, freeing up apartments for higher-paying residents.

Kushner Cos. told the AP at the time of its report that the company outsources preparation of construction permit applications and fixes any mistakes immediately. Records show the company did file some amended documents, often more than a year later.

The AP report, based on work by nonprofit watchdog Housing Rights Initiative, has sparked an inquiry by the New York state attorney general's office and a city council investigation. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn had subpoenaed housing paperwork from the company. The office declined to comment to the AP

The Brooklyn attorney's office also has reportedly subpoenaed the Kushner Cos. over a visa-for-investment program to raise money from Chinese investors for its real estate projects.