domains, hosting, seo, apps & news

Indian toxic alcohol brew kills at least 34

Mumbai, India — A batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has killed at least 34 people with more than 100 others rushed to hospital, Tamil Nadu state officials told reporters Thursday.

The deadly mix of locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, chief minister M.K. Stalin said, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Stalin said arrests have been made over the deaths and warned such crimes “ruin society and will be suppressed with an iron fist,” according to a statement from his office.

Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries.

In order to increase its potency the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.

In the Tamil Nadu case, more than 100 people were hospitalized according to M.S. Prasanth, top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, quoted by Indian media.

State governor R.N. Ravi was “deeply shocked” at the deaths, adding that “many more victims are in serious condition battling for (their) lives,” writing on social media platform X.

Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.

Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.

Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.

Fossil fuel use, emissions hit records in 2023, report says

LONDON — Global fossil fuel consumption and energy emissions hit all-time highs in 2023, even as fossil fuels’ share of the global energy mix decreased slightly on the year, the industry’s Statistical Review of World Energy report said on Thursday.

Growing demand for fossil fuel despite the scaling up of renewables could be a sticking point for the transition to lower carbon energy as global temperature increases reach 1.5C (2.7F), the threshold beyond which scientists say impacts such as temperature rise, drought and flooding will become more extreme.

“We hope that this report will help governments, world leaders and analysts move forward, clear-eyed about the challenge that lies ahead,” Romain Debarre of consultancy Kearney said.

Last year was the first full year of rerouted Russian energy flows away from the West following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and also the first full year without major movement restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall global primary energy consumption hit an all-time high of 620 Exajoules, the report said. (An Exajoule is equal to 1018 joules.) Emissions exceeded 40 metric gigatons of CO2 for the first time, the report said.

“In a year where we have seen the contribution of renewables reaching a new record high, ever increasing global energy demand means the share coming from fossil fuels has remained virtually unchanged,” Simon Virley of consultancy KPMG said.

The report recorded shifting trends in fossil fuel use in different regions. In Europe, for example, the fossil fuel share of energy fell below 70% for the first time since the industrial revolution.

“In advanced economies, we observe signs of demand for fossil fuels peaking, contrasting with economies in the Global South for whom economic development and improvements in quality of life continue to drive fossil growth,” Energy Institute Chief Executive Nick Wayth said.

The Energy Institute, together with consultancies KPMG and Kearney, has published the annual report since 2023. They took over from BP last year, which had authored the report, a benchmark for energy professionals, since the 1950s.

Fossil fuel accounted for almost all demand growth in India in 2023, the report said, while in China fossil fuel use rose 6% to a new high.

But China also accounted for over half of global additions in renewable energy generation last year.

“China adding more renewables than the rest of the world put together is remarkable,” KPMG’s Virley told reporters.

Abortion looms in US presidential election 2 years after key ruling

Two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. Now, abortion looms as a major issue in this year’s elections. VOA’s senior Washington correspondent Carolyn Presutti looks at how the issue is charging the presidential campaign.

Russian involvement in China’s moon exploration divides space research camps

Washington — China aims to mark a new milestone in space exploration next week when its Chang’e-6 probe is expected to return to Earth from the far side of the moon with rock and soil samples.

Scientists involved in the project say the probe is likely to bring back a “treasure trove” of material that will shed light on the differences between the front and back of Earth’s satellite.

James Head is an American planetary scientist and professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University.  He has 15 years of experience in cooperating with the Chinese scientific community and participated in the research for the Chang’e-6 lunar landing.

He told VOA in a video interview that the samples brought back by Chang’e-6 from the far side of the moon will be “a treasure chest of fragments of materials, all of which are going to tell us something about why the moon is different on the near side and the far side. It’s just amazing.”

“It’s going to be an international treasure trove of information for space planetary scientists,” he added.

The strength of China’s space science and technology, demonstrated by the Chang’e series of lunar exploration projects, has also attracted the participation of other countries.

The European Space Agency, France, Italy, and Pakistan responded to the “Chang’e-6 Mission International Payload Cooperation Opportunity Announcement” released by the China National Space Administration in 2019.

They were selected to carry out exploration on the lunar surface and lunar orbit.

Head said, “Not every country has the ability to launch rockets to the moon. So, if you can use your capability, then that’s a big deal for international relationships for the countries — essentially the way they’re perceived in the world.”

The mission, which comes 55 years after the U.S. first sent humans to the moon, has attracted the attention and participation of European and American scientists.  However, it also comes at a time when geopolitical tensions are pulling Russia and China closer together to counter Western democracies.  Analysts worry that our lunar exploration and space research are quickly being divided into two camps as well.

As China makes significant progress in its lunar program, it is also actively courting other countries to form a parallel alliance with the U.S.-led lunar exploration program.

China and Russia have been planning to cooperate in building the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) since 2021. On June 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law approving the cooperation agreement signed by Russia and China last year on the joint construction of the ILRS.

Countries currently participating in the ILRS initiative also include Venezuela, Pakistan, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Nicaragua and a university in the United Arab Emirates.

Namrata Goswami, lecturer in space policy and international relations at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, told VOA, “They’re (China is) actually changing the narrative to tell nations that want to collaborate with them, that their station is like a strategic high ground, and nations that actually collaborate with China will benefit from this particular focus, which is space resource utilization, and they have stated that officially now.”

The Chinese government has said it adheres to the peaceful use of space, but Western analysts have questioned China’s motives for developing the moon.

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA in an email, “China tends to have a more mercantilist view of the moon that aligns with its authoritarian form of government, which is in stark contrast to the open, transparent, and free market approach of the United States and its partners.”

China has even proposed establishing an Earth-Moon space economic zone and has drawn up a roadmap for it with an annual “total output value of more than US$10 trillion” by around 2050.

Harrison said, “China’s main partner for its lunar research base is Russia, and they have managed to attract a handful of other nations to join them, most of which have no significant space capabilities or financial resources to contribute.”

In contrast, NASA and the U.S. State Department jointly launched the Artemis Accords in 2020, reaching a multilateral arrangement with more than 30 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, stipulating the principles of civil exploration and cooperation among the contracting parties in outer space.

Neither China nor Russia have joined the agreement initiated by the U.S. Dmitry Rogozin, former head of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, even said that the Artemis Accords were “illegal” and not in compliance with international law.

“You do see a very clear strategic alignment structure forming, also very long-term clear ambitions as to what each coalition is hoping to do,” said Goswami.

Experts say the lunar exploration race of China and Russia versus the U.S. is about more than just resource extraction.

Harrison said, “This is really about setting precedent for how space commerce will be conducted and establishing norms of behavior for activities on the moon. A key component of this race is building international partnerships with shared values and a shared understanding of how the lunar economy should work for the benefit of all. In this respect, China has fallen behind the United States and the free world.”

For the European Space Agency, the Chang’e-6 may be their last lunar exploration experiment in cooperation with China, according to an interview posted on the website SpaceNews.

“For the moment there are no decisions to continue the cooperation on the Chang’e-7 or -8,” Karl Bergquist, ESA’s international relations administrator, he told SpaceNews.

China plans its next lunar probes in the Chang’e series around 2026 and from 2028.

Bergquist also told SpaceNews the ESA will not be involved in the China-led ILRS.

“ESA will not cooperate on ILRS as this is a Sino-Russian initiative and space cooperation with Russia is at present under embargo,” he said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the European Union, together with the U.S., has imposed embargoes and sanctions on several Russian industries, including a technical embargo on the Russian space industry. The European Space Agency has also terminated its planned lunar exploration project with Russia.

Meanwhile, China has stepped-up its space cooperation with Russia, including allowing Moscow Power Engineering Institute to open a branch at its newest spaceport on southern Hainan Island.

Europe and China’s space technology cooperation will continue at least until the Chang’e-6 probe lands back on Earth. The ESA is offering ground support for the return flight from its Maspalomas space station in Gran Canaria island in Spain.

The probe is scheduled to land at a site in Inner Mongolia around June 25.  

India, US to strengthen high technology cooperation 

New Delhi — Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his third term in office, India and the United States agreed to strengthen cooperation in high technology areas during a visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to New Delhi.

Sullivan met Modi, the Indian foreign minister and his Indian counterpart during the visit that reaffirmed both countries will pursue closer ties.

“India is committed to further strengthen the India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership for global good,” Modi wrote on X after meeting Sullivan on Monday.

The main focus of Sullivan’s visit was to hold discussion with Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on a landmark initiative launched by the two countries in January last year to collaborate more closely in high-technology areas including defense, semiconductors, 5G wireless networks and artificial intelligence.

The initiative, launched with an eye to countering China, marks a significant push in tightening the strategic partnership between the two countries.

“The visit by Sullivan in the early days of Modi’s new administration signals that the U.S. wants to maintain the momentum in the high technology partnership between the two countries,” according to Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

A joint fact sheet by the two countries following Sullivan’s meeting with Doval said that they launched a new strategic semiconductor partnership between U.S. and Indian companies for precision-guided ammunition and other national security-focused electronics platforms.

They also agreed to co-invest in a lithium resource project in South America and a rare earths deposit in Africa “to diversify critical mineral supply chains” and discussed possible co-production of land warfare systems, according to the fact sheet.

Growing the domestic defense manufacturing sector remains a top focus for the Modi administration as it looks to lower its dependence on imported arms. Although India has diversified its imports of military equipment, it is still heavily reliant on Russia.

For India, the technology initiative is a top priority as it looks to strengthen the country’s security and build its capabilities in high technology areas.

“India wants to become one of the leading countries in cutting edge technologies and it is of great benefit for New Delhi to partner the U.S. which is the leader in these areas,” said Joshi. “The idea is to get into co-production, co-development, innovation and attract American companies to set up bases here.”

Sullivan also met Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, who has been retained as the external affairs minister in Modi’s new administration, signaling a continuation in the country’s foreign policy. “Confident that India-US strategic partnership will continue to advance strongly in our new term,” Jaishankar wrote on X.

In Washington, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby told reporters Monday that India and the U.S. “share a unique bond of friendship and Mr. Sullivan’s trip to India will further deepen the already strong U.S.-India partnership to create a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

New Delhi’s ties with Washington have expanded in recent years amid mutual concerns in both countries about an assertive China — India’s military standoff with Beijing along their disputed Himalayan borders remains unresolved four years after a clash between their troops.

As Sullivan visited India, an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, charged with trying to hire a hitman to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in the U.S., appeared in court in New York Monday following his extradition from the Czech Republic. The alleged plan was foiled.

Allegations by U.S. prosecutors of the involvement of an Indian government official in the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual US-Canadian citizen, have raised concerns about a strain in bilateral ties.

The U.S. allegations followed accusations leveled by Canada in September of involvement of Indian nationals in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader.

India, which views Sikh separatist groups overseas as security threats, has denied its involvement in both the killing in Canada and the alleged plot in the U.S. But it said it has set up an inquiry committee to examine the information provided by Washington.

Analysts in New Delhi say ties are unlikely to be adversely impacted by the alleged murder plot. “The U.S. is quite pragmatic on these matters. They are continuing to stress that ties with India are important, so I don’t think a failed conspiracy will derail ties,” Joshi said.

Smartphone stroke detection breakthrough announced by Australian team

SYDNEY — A new technology that allows smartphones to identify strokes far quicker than existing methods has been developed by researchers in Australia.

The new technology uses artificial intelligence as it scans a patient’s face for symmetry and certain muscle movements, which are called action units. People who have suffered a stroke often have one side of their face looking different from the other.  

The biomedical engineers at Melbourne’s RMIT University say the smartphone technology can detect facial asymmetry, potentially identifying strokes within seconds – much sooner and more precisely than current technologies.

Professor Dinesh Kumar, who led the research team, explained to Australian Broadcasting Corp. how the AI-driven device works.

“It takes a video of a person who is doing a smile, and the model determines whether this particular smile is indicative of (a) person who has had a stroke,” Kumar said. “We then inform the paramedic or the clinician who is aware of the very high risk of this person having a stroke and, thus, can be treated immediately.”

Strokes affect millions of people around the world.  They occur when the supply of blood to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, which stops brain tissue from receiving oxygen and nutrients.  Experts say that if treatment is delayed by even a few minutes, the brain can suffer permanent damage. 

Symptoms of stroke include confusion, speech impairments and reduced facial expressions.

The RMIT team reports that the smartphone tool has an accuracy rating of 82% for detecting stroke. They stress that it would not replace comprehensive medical diagnostic tests for stroke, but instead would guide initial treatment by first responders by quickly identifying patients who need urgent care.  

The Australian study, which was a collaboration with São Paulo State University in Brazil, is published in the journal, Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine.

A year after the Titan’s tragic dive, deep-sea explorers vow to pursue ocean’s mysteries

PORTLAND, Maine — The deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the deep-sea grave of the Titanic last June has not dulled the desire for further ocean exploration, despite lingering questions about the disaster.

Tuesday marks one year since the Titan vanished on its way to the historic wreckage site in the North Atlantic Ocean. After a five-day search that captured attention around the world, authorities said the vessel had been destroyed and all five people on board had died.

Concerns have been raised about whether the Titan was destined for disaster because of its unconventional design and its creator’s refusal to submit to independent checks that are standard in the industry. The U.S. Coast Guard quickly convened a high-level investigation into what happened, but officials said the inquiry is taking longer than the initial 12-month time frame, and a planned public hearing to discuss their findings won’t happen for at least another two months.

Meanwhile, deep-sea exploration continues. The Georgia-based company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic plans to visit the sunken ocean liner in July using remotely operated vehicles, and a real estate billionaire from Ohio has said he plans a voyage to the shipwreck in a two-person submersible in 2026.

The Titan dove southeast of Newfoundland. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Monday that there are other submersibles operating within Canadian waters, some of which are not registered with the country or any other.

Numerous ocean explorers told The Associated Press they are confident undersea exploration can continue safely in a post-Titan world.

“It’s been a desire of the scientific community to get down into the ocean,” said Greg Stone, a veteran ocean explorer and friend of Titan operator Stockton Rush, who died in the implosion. “I have not noticed any difference in the desire to go into the ocean, exploring.”

OceanGate, a company co-founded by Rush that owned the submersible, suspended operations in early July following the implosion. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.

David Concannon, a former adviser to OceanGate, said he will mark the anniversary privately with a group of people who were involved with the company or the submersible’s expeditions over the years, including scientists, volunteers and mission specialists. Many of them, including those who were on the Titan support ship Polar Prince, have not been interviewed by the Coast Guard, he said.

“The fact is, they are isolated and in a liminal space,” he said in an email last week. “Stockton Rush has been vilified and so has everyone associated with OceanGate. I wasn’t even there and I have gotten death threats. We support each other and just wait to be interviewed. The world has moved on … but the families and those most affected are still living with this tragedy every day.”

The Titan had been chronicling the Titanic’s decay and the underwater ecosystem around the sunken ocean liner in yearly voyages since 2021.

The craft made its last dive on June 18, 2023, a Sunday morning, and lost contact with its support vessel about two hours later. When it was reported overdue that afternoon, rescuers rushed ships, planes and other equipment to the area, about 700 kilometers south of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The U.S. Navy notified the Coast Guard that day of an anomaly in its acoustic data that was “consistent with an implosion or explosion” at the time communications between the Polar Prince and the Titan were lost, a senior Navy official later told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

Any sliver of hope that remained for finding the crew alive was wiped away on June 22, when the Coast Guard announced that debris had been found near the Titanic on the ocean floor. Authorities have since recovered the submersible’s intact endcap, debris and presumed human remains from the site.

In addition to Rush, the implosion killed two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood; British adventurer Hamish Harding; and Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

Harding and Nargeolet were members of The Explorers Club, a professional society dedicated to research, exploration and resource conservation.

“Then, as now, it hit us on a personal level very deeply,” the group’s president, Richard Garriott, said in an interview last week. “We knew not only all the people involved, but even all the previous divers, support teams, people working on all these vessels — those were all either members of this club or well within our network.”

Garriott believes even if the Titan hadn’t imploded, the correct rescue equipment didn’t get to the site fast enough. The tragedy caught everyone from the Coast Guard to the ships on-site off guard, underscoring the importance of developing detailed search and rescue plans ahead of any expedition, he said. His organization has since created a task force to help others do just that.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to really correct, to make sure that we know exactly who to call and exactly what materials need to be mustered,” he said.

EU countries approve landmark nature law after delays

BRUSSELS — European Union countries approved a flagship policy to restore damaged nature on Monday, after months of delay, making it the first green law to pass since European Parliament elections this month. 

The nature restoration law is among the EU’s biggest environmental policies, requiring member states to introduce measures restoring nature on a fifth of their land and sea by 2030. 

EU countries’ environment ministers backed the policy at a meeting in Luxembourg, meaning it can now pass into law. 

The vote was held after Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler of the Greens, defied her conservative coalition partners by pledging to back the policy — giving it just enough support to pass. 

“I know I will face opposition in Austria on this, but I am convinced that this is the time to adopt this law,” Gewessler told reporters. 

The policy aims to reverse the decline of Europe’s natural habitats — 81% of which are classed as being in poor health — and includes specific targets, for example to restore peat lands so they can absorb CO2 emissions. 

The move by Austria’s minister angered Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservative People’s Party, which opposes the law. The OVP minister for EU affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, said Gewessler’s vote in favor would be unconstitutional. 

Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and chairs meetings of ministers, said the Austrian government dispute would not affect the legality of the EU ministers’ vote. 

EU countries and the European Parliament negotiated a deal on the law last year but it has come under fire from some governments in recent months amid protests by farmers angry at costly EU regulations. 

Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden voted against the law on Monday. Belgium abstained. 

EU countries had planned to approve the policy in March but called off the vote after Hungary unexpectedly withdrew its support, wiping out the slim majority in favor. 

Countries including the Netherlands had raised concerns the policy would slow the expansion of wind farms and other economic activities, while Poland on Monday said the policy lacked a plan for how nature protection would be funded.

Respiratory diseases plague Kenya as more people burn wood to save money

NAIROBI, Kenya — Piles of firewood surrounded Jane Muthoni in her kitchen made of iron sheets. The roof, walls and wooden pillars were covered in soot. As she blew on the flame for tea, the 65-year-old was engulfed in smoke.

“I’ve used firewood all my life,” she said. “Sometimes I usually cough from inhaling the smoke, and my eyes itch, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t have money to even buy charcoal.”

She was unaware of the lasting toll on her health. But experts are.

Respiratory diseases have been the most prevalent diseases in Kenya for the past several years and are on the rise, according to government authorities, with 19.6 million reported cases last year.

Burning biomass such as firewood is the largest contributor to those diseases, said Evans Amukoye, a scientist with the Kenya Medical Research Institute’s respiratory diseases research center.

“One can have itchy eyes, coughs while inhaling the smoke, and for serious cases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you find that you cannot walk as your lungs have become tight,” Amukoye said. The disease is caused by indoor or outdoor air pollution or smoking.

Data from Kenya’s health ministry shows that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is responsible for 1.7% of deaths in the country.

People in low-income areas are diagnosed with respiratory diseases later in life compared to middle-class people in urban areas with better awareness and access to health care, Amukoye said.

Families in informal neighborhoods and rural areas are the most affected as most people rely on firewood or fossil fuels for cooking. Women hunched over a smoking fire at stalls for tea or snacks is a common sight in the capital, Nairobi, and beyond.

The government’s 2022 Demographic and Health Survey showed a high dependence on traditional fuels for cooking in Kenya. The number of households relying on biomass like firewood increased from 4.7 million to 6.7 million between 2020 and 2022.

Economist Abraham Muriu said he believes the increase in Kenyans using firewood is a result of economic shocks caused by reduced incomes during the COVID pandemic and ongoing high inflation.

“Firewood is readily available and the most accessible fossil fuel, especially in rural areas,” Muriu said.

He said more Kenyans in urban areas have likely resorted to using firewood or charcoal, too, as prices and taxes rise. Blackened sacks of charcoal are openly on sale at some Nairobi intersections, and the hunt for firewood across the country is constant.

Mercy Letting, 33, a businesswoman in Nairobi’s Kasarani neighborhood was using charcoal to make meals for customers in the first six months after opening her restaurant early last year. With time, it affected her health.

“I am asthmatic, so whenever I used charcoal to cook the smoke would always trigger an attack, forcing me to spend part of my daily earnings on medication. This happened five times,” she said.

She found it expensive, spending 4,500 Kenyan shillings ($33) per month to buy a sack of charcoal. “I eventually had to buy an ‘eco-friendly’ cooker, which has been great for my health and good for business.” It requires less charcoal.

Letting also bought an induction burner, which she said is faster in cooking and more efficient as she spends only 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.38) per day on electricity.

Although companies pursue “clean cooking” options, high prices remain an obstacle to many Kenyans.

“If we want to deliver a truly clean and efficient solution to users across Africa, it needs to be affordable for them,” said Chris McKinney, the chief commercial officer at BURN Manufacturing, which describes itself as a “modern cookstove” company based on the outskirts of Nairobi.

“This has been the key barrier to scaling for us,” he said.

Study: Men all over world tend to eat more meat than women

chicago, illinois — Vacationing in Chicago this week from Europe, Jelle den Burger and Nirusa Naguleswaran grabbed a bite at the Dog House Grill: a classic Italian beef sandwich for him, grilled cheese for her. 

Both think the way their genders lined up with their food choices was no coincidence. Women, said Naguleswaran, are simply more likely to ditch meat, and to care about how their diet affects the environment and other people. 

“I don’t want to put it in the wrong way, that male people feel attacked,” said Naguleswaran, of Netherlands, laughing. She said she used to love eating meat, but giving it up for climate reasons was more important to her. “We just have it in our nature to care about others.” 

Now, scientists can say more confidently than ever that gender and meat-eating preferences are linked. A paper out in Nature Scientific Reports this week shows that the difference is nearly universal across cultures — and that it’s even more pronounced in countries that are more developed. 

Researchers already knew men in some countries ate more meat than women did. And they knew that people in wealthier countries ate more meat overall. But the latest findings suggest that when men and women have the social and financial freedom to make choices about their diets, they diverge from each other even more, with men eating more meat and women eating less. 

That’s important because about 20% of planet-warming global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal-based food products, according to earlier research from the University of Illinois. The researchers behind the new report think their findings could fine-tune efforts to persuade people to eat less meat and dairy. 

“Anything that one could do to reduce meat consumption in men would have a greater impact, on average, than among women,” said Christopher Hopwood, a professor of psychology at the University of Zurich and one of the authors of the paper. The work drew on surveys funded by Mercy for Animals, a nonprofit dedicated to ending animal agriculture. Hopwood said he is not affiliated with the organization and is not an advocate. 

Researchers ask what thousands eat

The researchers asked over 28,000 people in 23 countries on four continents how much of various types of food they ate every day, then calculated the average land animal consumption by gender identity in each country. They used the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures health, education and standard of living, to rank how “developed” each country was, and also looked at the Global Gender Gap Index, a scale of gender equality published by the World Economic Forum. 

They found that, with three exceptions — China, India and Indonesia — gender differences in meat consumption were higher in countries with higher development and gender equality scores. 

The large number and cultural diversity of people surveyed is “a real strength of this,” said Daniel Rosenfeld, a social psychologist at UCLA who studies eating behavior and moral psychology and was not involved in the study. 

The study did not answer the question of why men tend to eat more meat, but scientists have some theories. One is that evolutionarily, women may have been hormonally hardwired to avoid meat that could possibly have been contaminated, affecting pregnancy, whereas men may have sought out meat proteins given their history as hunters in some societies. 

But even the idea of men as hunters is intertwined with culture, Rosenfeld said. That’s a good example of another theory, which is that societal norms shape gender identity from an early age and thus how people decide to fill their plates. 

‘I’m going to eat more’

Rosenfeld, who said he stopped eating meat about 10 years ago, said his own experience hanging out in college “as a guy hanging out with other guy friends” illustrated the cultural pressure for men to eat meat. “If they’re all eating meats and I decide not to,” he said, “it can disrupt the natural flow of social situations.” 

The same cultural factors that shape gender influence how people respond to new information, said Carolyn Semmler, a professor of psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia who also studies meat eating and social factors such as gender. Semmler was not involved in this study. In some of her past work, she’s studied cognitive dissonance around eating meat. 

In those cases, she said, women presented with information about poor animal welfare in the livestock industry were more likely to say they would reduce their meat consumption. But men tended to go the other direction, she said. 

“One participant said to me, ‘I think you guys are trying to get me to eat less meat, so I’m going to eat more,'” she said. 

Semmler said meat can be important to masculine identity, noting for example the popular notion of men at the grill. And she said presenting eating less meat as a moral cause can be a sensitive issue. Still, she said, people should be aware of how their food choices affect the planet. 

But she and Hopwood acknowledged how difficult it is to change behavior. 

“Men are a tough nut to crack,” Hopwood said. 

Jose Lopez, another diner at the Dog House Grill, said he thought men should eat less meat but said that in general he has observed otherwise. 

“We’re carnivores,” he said. “Men eat like savages.” 

Brazilian women protest bill that equates late abortions with homicide

SAO PAULO — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Sao Paulo on Saturday as protests sweep across Brazil in opposition to a bill that would further criminalize abortions. If passed, the law would equate the termination of a pregnancy after 22 weeks with homicide.

The bill, proposed by conservative lawmakers and heading for a vote in the lower house, would also apply in cases of rape. Critics say those who seek an abortion so late are mostly child rape victims, as their pregnancies tend to be detected later.

To rally opposition, rights’ groups created the ‘A child is not a mother’ campaign that has flooded social media. Placards, stickers and banners emblazoned with the slogan have abounded during demonstrations. And viral visuals depicting women in red cloaks compare Brazil to Gilead, the theocratic patriarchy Margaret Atwood created in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

About 10,000 people, mostly women, filled several blocks of Sao Paulo’s main boulevard on Saturday afternoon, organizers estimated. It was the biggest demonstration yet, following events in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Florianopolis, Recife, Manaus, and other cities.

Marli Gavioli, 65, has mostly refrained from protesting since demonstrations in the 1980s that called for the end of the military dictatorship, but she told The Associated Press she’s too outraged to remain home. “I couldn’t stay out of this, or I would regret it too much. We are being whipped from all sides, us women. It’s past time we do something,” she said.

Brazil only permits abortion in cases of rape if there is an evident risk to the mother’s life or if the fetus has no functioning brain. Aside from those exceptions, Brazil’s penal code imposes between one- and three-years jail time for women who end a pregnancy. Some Brazilian women fly abroad to obtain abortions.

If the bill becomes law, the sentence will rise to between six and 20 years when an abortion is performed after 22 weeks. Critics have highlighted that would mean convicted rapists could receive lesser sentences than their victims.

Experts say that late access to abortion reflects inequalities in health care. Children, poor women, Black women and those living in rural areas are particularly at risk.

“We cannot be sentenced to prison for having suffered a rape and not receiving support and care,” Talita Rodrigues, a member of rights’ group National Front against the Criminalization of Women and for the Legalization of Abortion, said by phone.

Of the 74,930 people who were victims of rape in Brazil in 2022, 61.4% were under 14 years old, according to a 2023 study of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent group that tracks crimes.

“For children, it is common for a pregnancy to be discovered only after 22 weeks,” Ivanilda Figueiredo, a professor of law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said by phone. For example, they might not know that periods — a sign a woman isn’t pregnant — are monthly, she said.

Among the protesters in downtown Rio on Thursday was Graziela Souza, a 25-year-old student who was sexually assaulted as a child.

“I think it’s very important for victims to be present, as much as it hurts,” Souza said. “We must speak out and fight against it, because if we stay at home we are going to lose.”

Defenders of the bill have argued that abortions at a later stage were unimaginable when Brazil’s penal code was adopted in 1940, which explains why there is currently no time limit. Had it been envisioned, they argue, it would be considered infanticide.

The bill’s author, lawmaker and Evangelical pastor Sóstenes Cavalcante, declined an interview request from the AP.

On Wednesday, the lower house Speaker Arthur Lira rushed through a procedure to fast-track the bill in under 30 seconds, with many lawmakers reportedly unaware it was taking place. The maneuver allows the plenary to vote without the bill first clearing committees. Lira has been a top target for protesters’ ire. Signs on Saturday read “What if it happened to your daughter, Lira?” and simply “Lira out.”

Conservative lawmakers proposing the bill — who protesters have dubbed ‘the rape caucus’ — are playing politics, hoping to boost turnout and support from Evangelical voters in October municipal elections, Fernanda Barros dos Santos, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said by phone. Abortion is a topic of high concern for Christians, who make up a majority of voters in Brazil.

“The bill puts people who are progressive in a very difficult situation, because they lose votes by defending abortion rights,” said Figueiredo, the law professor.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government has been seeking inroads with Evangelicals, a key voting bloc for far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula beat Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election.

“The president sent a letter to Evangelicals in the campaign saying he was against abortion. We want to see if he will veto it. Let’s test Lula,” Cavalcante, the bill’s author, told local news outlet G1 on Tuesday.

First lady Rosângela da Silva, known as Janja, slammed the proposal on social media Friday, saying women and girls who are raped need to be protected, not revictimized. Lula finally weighed in on Saturday, speaking at the G7 in Italy.

“I had five kids, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild. I’m against abortion. However, since abortion is a reality, we need to treat abortion as a public health issue,” he said in a news conference. “And I think it’s insanity that someone wants to punish a woman with a sentence that’s longer than the criminal who committed the rape.”

Although strict abortion laws have long been the norm across the predominantly Roman Catholic region of Latin America, feminist movements have gained momentum in recent years and delivered successive victories for abortion-rights campaigners. Colombia’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 2022, following a similar breakthrough ruling by Mexico. Argentina’s Congress legalized abortion in 2020, and a few years earlier Chile rolled back a strict ban.

Midwives: State law could jeopardize Native Hawaiian birth traditions

HONOLULU — Ki’inaniokalani Kahoʻohanohano longed for a deeper connection to her Native Hawaiian ancestors and culture as she prepared to give birth to her first child at home on the north shore of Maui in 2003.

But generations of colonialist suppression had eroded many Hawaiian traditions, and it was hard to find information on how the islands’ Indigenous people honored pregnancy or childbirth. Nor could she find a Native Hawaiian midwife.

That experience led Kahoʻohanohano — now a mother of five — to become a Native Hawaiian midwife herself, a role in which she spent years helping to deliver as many as three babies a month, receiving them in a traditional cloth made of woven bark and uttering sacred, tremorous chants as she welcomed them into the world.

Her quest to preserve tradition also led her into a downtown Honolulu courtroom this week, where she and others are seeking to block a state law that they say endangers their ability to continue serving pregnant women who hope for such customary Native Hawaiian births.

“To be able to have our babies in the places and in the ways of our kupuna, our ancestors, is very vital,” she testified. “To me, the point of what we do is to be able to return birth home to these places.”

Lawmakers enacted a midwife licensure law in 2019, finding that the “improper practice of midwifery poses a significant risk of harm to the mother or newborn, and may result in death.” Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail, plus thousands of dollars in criminal and civil fines.

The measure requires anyone who provides “assessment, monitoring, and care” during pregnancy, labor, childbirth and during the postpartum period to be licensed. The women’s lawsuit says that would include a wide range of people, including midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and even family and friends of the new mother.

Until last summer, the law provided an exception for “birth attendants,” which allowed Kahoʻohanohano to continue practicing Native Hawaiian birth customs. With that exception now expired, however, she and others face the licensing requirements — which, they say, include costly programs only available out of state or online that don’t align with Hawaiian culture and beliefs.

In 2022, the average cost of an accredited midwifery program was $6,200 to $6,900 a year, according to court documents filed by the state.

Attorneys for the state argued in a court filing that the law “undoubtedly serves a compelling interest in protecting pregnant persons from receiving ill-advice from untrained individuals.”

State Deputy Attorney General Isaac Ickes told Judge Shirley Kawamura that the law doesn’t outlaw Native Hawaiian midwifery or homebirths, but that requiring a license reduces the risks of harm or death.

The dispute is the latest in a long history of debate about how and whether Hawaii should regulate the practice of traditional healing arts that dates to well before the islands became the 50th state in 1959. Those arts were banished or severely restricted for much of the 20th century, but the Hawaiian Indigenous rights movement of the 1970s renewed interest in the customary ways.

Hawaii eventually adopted a system where councils versed in Native Hawaiian healing certify traditional practitioners, though those suing say their efforts to form such a council for midwifery have failed.

Practicing midwifery without a license, meanwhile, was banned until 1998 — when, lawmakers say, they inadvertently decriminalized it when they altered the regulation of nurse-midwives, something the 2019 law sought to remedy.

Among the nine plaintiffs are women who seek traditional births and argue that the new licensing requirement violates their right of privacy and reproductive autonomy under Hawaii’s Constitution. They are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

“For pregnant people whose own family may no longer hold the knowledge of the ceremonial and sacred aspects of birth, a midwife trained in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary birthing practices can be an invaluable, culturally informed health care provider,” the lawsuit states.

When Kahoʻohanohano was unable to find a Native Hawaiian midwife to attend the birth of her first child, she turned instead to a Native American one, who was open to incorporating traditional Hawaiian aspects that Kahoʻohanohano gleaned from her elders.

She surrounded herself with Hawaiian cultural practitioners focusing on pule, or prayer, and lomilomi, a traditional massage with physical and spiritual elements. It all helped ease her three days of labor, she said. And then, “two pushes and pau” — done — the boy was born.

The births of her five children in various Maui communities, Kahoʻohanohano said, were her “greatest teachers” in herself becoming one of the very few midwives who know about Native Hawaiian birthing practices.

She is believed to be the first person in a century to give birth on her husband’s ancestral lands in Kahakuloa, a remote west Maui valley of mostly Native Hawaiians, where her daughter was born in 2015. The community is at least 40 minutes along winding roads to the island’s only hospital.

Kahoʻohanohano testified about helping low-risk pregnant women and identifying instances where she transferred someone to receive care at the hospital but said she’s never experienced any emergency situations.

Among the other plaintiffs are midwives she has helped train and women she has aided through birth. Makalani Franco-Francis testified that she learned about customary birth practices from Kahoʻohanohano, including how to receive a newborn in kapa, or traditional cloth, and cultural protocols for a placenta, including taking it to the ocean or burying it to connect a newborn to its ancestral lands.

The law has halted her education, Franco-Francis said. She testified that she’s not interested in resuming her midwifery education through out-of-state or online programs.

“It’s not in alignment with our cultural practices, and it’s also a financial obligation,” she said.

The judge heard testimony through the week. It’s not clear how soon a ruling might come.

Dutch visitor dies on Greek island, 4 foreign tourists missing

athens, greece — A missing Dutch tourist was found dead early Saturday on the eastern Greek island of Samos, local media reported, the latest in a string of recent cases in which tourists in the Greek islands have died or gone missing. Some, if not all, had set out on hikes in blistering hot temperatures. 

Dr. Michael Mosley, a noted British television anchor and author, was found dead last Sunday on the island of Symi. A coroner concluded Mosley had died the previous Wednesday, shortly after going for a hike over difficult, rocky terrain. 

Samos, like Symi, lies very close to the Turkish coast. 

The body of the 74-year-old Dutch tourist was found by a Fire Service drone lying face down in a ravine about 300 meters (330 yards) from the spot where he was last observed Sunday, walking with some difficulty in the blistering heat. 

Authorities were still searching for four people reported missing in the past few days. 

On Friday, two French tourists were reported missing on Sikinos, a relatively secluded Cyclades island in the Aegean Sea, with less than 400 permanent residents. 

The two women, aged 73 and 64, had left their respective hotels to meet. 

A 70-year-old American tourist was reported missing Thursday on the small island of Mathraki in Greece’s northwest extremity by his host, a Greek-American friend. The tourist had last been seen Tuesday at a cafe in the company of two female tourists who have since left the island. 

Mathraki, population 100, is a 3.9-square-kilometer (1.2-square-mile) heavily wooded island, west of the better-known island of Corfu. Strong winds had prevented police and the fire service from reaching the island to search for the missing person as of Saturday afternoon, media reported. 

On the island of Amorgos, authorities were still searching for a 59-year-old tourist reported missing since Tuesday, when he had gone on a solo hike in very hot conditions. 

U.S. media identified the missing tourist as retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Albert Calibet of Hermosa Beach, California. 

Amorgos, the easternmost of the Cyclades islands, is a rocky 122-square-kilometer (47-square-mile) island of less than 2,000 inhabitants. A couple of years ago the island had a record number of visitors, over 100,000. 

Some media commentary has focused on the need to inform tourists of the dangers of setting off on hikes in intense heat. 

Temperatures across Greece on Saturday were more than 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) lower than on Thursday, when they peaked at almost 45 C (113 F). They are expected to rise again from Sunday, although not to heat-wave levels.  

Worst of rainfall that triggered Florida floods is over

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Although more rain could trigger additional isolated Florida flooding, forecasters say the strong, persistent storms that dumped up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) in southern parts of the state appear to have passed.

Some neighborhood streets in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas still have standing water, although it is rapidly receding, officials said.

“The worst flooding risk was the last three days,” said Sammy Hadi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “The heaviest rainfall has concluded.”

The no-name storm system pushed across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico at roughly the same time as the early June start of hurricane season, which this year is forecast to be among the most active in recent memory amid concerns that climate change is increasing storm intensity.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a media briefing in Hollywood, south of Fort Lauderdale, and said while more rain was coming, it’s likely to be more typical of South Florida afternoon showers this time of year.

“We are going to get some more rain today, maybe throughout the balance of the weekend. Hopefully it’s not approaching the levels that it was, but we have a lot of resources staged here, and we’ll be able to offer the state’s assistance,” he said.

DeSantis said the state has deployed about 100 pumps in addition to what cities and counties are using to try to clear water from streets.

Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said while flooding was extensive, there were no reports of destroyed homes and very few of severely damaged homes. No deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

“We don’t think there’s going to be enough damage to necessarily qualify for a federal disaster declaration,” DeSantis said. But he added the storms may have affected enough business to qualify for Small Business Administration assistance.

The downpours hit Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, delaying flights at two of the state’s largest airports and leaving vehicles waterlogged and stalled in some of the region’s lowest-lying streets. The main problem was hundreds of vehicles that were stranded on streets as people were unable to navigate the flood waters.

“Looked like the beginning of a zombie movie,” said Ted Rico, a tow truck driver who spent much of Wednesday night and Thursday morning helping to clear the streets of stalled vehicles. “There’s cars littered everywhere, on top of sidewalks, in the median, in the middle of the street, no lights on. Just craziness, you know. Abandoned cars everywhere.”

Report: Highly potent opioids now show up in drug users in Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria — Traces of highly potent opioids known as nitazenes have for the first time been found to be consumed by people who use drugs in Africa, according to a report released Wednesday by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a nonprofit organization.

Nitazenes, powerful synthetic opioids, have long been in use in Western countries as well as in Asia where they have been associated with overdose deaths. Some of them can be up to 100 times more potent than heroin and up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, meaning that users can get an effect from a much smaller amount, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.

The report focused on Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau and is based on chemical testing of kush, a derivative of cannabis mixed with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and tramadol and chemicals like formaldehyde. Researchers found that in Sierra Leone, 83% of the samples were found to contain nitazenes, while in Guinea-Bissau it was identified in 55%.

“The GI-TOC ( Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) believes that these results are the first indication that nitazenes have penetrated retail drug markets in Africa,” the report said.

Many young people in West and Central Africa have become addicted to drugs with between 5.2% and 13.5% using cannabis, the most widely used illicit substance on the continent, according to the World Health Organization.

In Sierra Leone where kush is one of the most widely consumed drugs, President Julius Maada Bio this year declared war on the substance, calling it an epidemic and a national threat.

Nitazenes have been detected repeatedly in substances sold to young people in the region such that users are most likely ingesting them “without knowing the risks they face,” Wednesday’s report said.

The authors said their findings suggest that nitazenes are being imported into Sierra Leone from elsewhere and that the substance being sold as kush in Guinea-Bissau was of similar chemical composition to that found in Freetown.

Officials in the two countries must deploy chemical testing equipment as a first step in tackling drug abuse, the report said. “Without this, it is impossible for the government of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the wider subregion to accurately monitor the countries’ illicit drug markets and develop evidence-based responses,” it said.

Disease, extreme weather push up orange juice prices

MOGI GUACU, Brazil — Orange juice prices have always been volatile, falling when bumper harvests create an oversupply of oranges and rising when frost or a hurricane knocks out fruit trees.

But the record-high prices the world is seeing for OJ right now may be on the table for a while, since the diseases and extreme weather ravaging orange groves in some top-producing countries aren’t easily resolved problems.

This year’s harvest in Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of orange juice, is likely to be the worst in 36 years due to flooding and drought, according to a forecast by Fundecitrus, a citrus growers’ organization in Sao Paulo state.

“The concern isn’t just that the price of juice is going up. The concern is not having the juice,” Oscar Simonetti, an orange farmer in Mogi Guacu, Brazil, said.

In the U.S., Florida’s already diminished orange production fell 62% in the 2022-23 season after Hurricane Ian further battered a crop that was struggling due to an invasive pest. Drought also cut Spain’s orange production last year.

Scarce supplies have sent prices soaring. In the U.S., a 12-ounce can of frozen orange juice concentrate cost an average of $4.27 in April, 42% more than during the same month a year earlier, according to government figures.

In the United Kingdom, where the British Fruit Juice Association says supplies are at 50-year lows, the price of fresh orange juice rose 25% over the past year, according to consumer research company Nielsen.

Those price increases are turning off inflation-weary consumers. Orange juice consumption has fallen 15% to 25% in major global markets — including the U.S. and the European Union — over the last year, according to Rabobank, a Dutch bank that focuses on food and agriculture.

Jonna Parker, a principal for fresh food client insights at market research company Circana, said consumers are increasingly getting their morning fruit intake from energy drinks, smoothies and other beverages besides orange juice.

“The price gets high and people consider other alternatives,” she said.

Global orange juice consumption was already declining before the current price hikes due to competition from other drinks and public concern about the amount of sugar in fruit juices. If that trend continues, it should help balance supply with demand and keep prices from rising much further, Rabobank said. But it expects limited supplies will keep prices elevated for some time.

In some markets, orange juice is disappearing from shelves altogether.

Late last year, McDonald’s in Australia removed orange juice from its menu in favor of an “orange fruit drink” that contains 35% orange juice. The company cited short supplies.

Tokyo-based Morinaga Milk Industry Co. expects to stop shipping its Sunkist brand orange juice – which uses juice from Brazil – by the end of June because of low juice supplies from Brazil, a company spokeswoman said. In April 2023, Megmilk Snow Brand Co., based in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, stopped shipments of 1-liter and 450-milliliter packs of orange juice, which it sells under an agreement with Dole. Sales haven’t yet resumed.

Some companies are considering using alternatives to oranges in their products. Coldpress, a British juice company, introduced a mandarin juice product in February, citing the high price of regular juicing oranges.

But others are tight-lipped about their plans. Several major orange juice makers – including Dole, Tropicana, Florida’s Natural, Uncle Matt’s and Coca-Cola, which makes the Simply and Minute Maid brands – declined to comment or failed to respond to inquires from The Associated Press.

The roots of the current supply troubles stretch back decades. In 2005, an invasive bug called the Asian citrus psyllid arrived in Florida, injecting bacteria from its saliva into the state’s orange trees. The bacteria slowly kills the tree by destroying its root systems. There’s no known cure once a tree is infected.

The impact has been devastating. In 2004, before the disease – called citrus greening – hit Florida, the state produced 200 million boxes of oranges. This year, it will produce less than 20 million.

Michael Rogers, a professor of entomology and the director of the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center, said no type of orange tree is totally resistant to greening, but scientists have been trying to breed trees that are more tolerant of it.

Citrus greening arrived in Brazil around the same time as Florida, but it has progressed more slowly there because Brazil has much larger orange groves. Bugs spread the disease by flying from tree to tree, Rogers said.

Still, the disease is spreading. Fundecitrus estimates that 38% of Brazil’s orange trees had citrus greening in 2023. Simonetti, the orange farmer, estimates that 20% of his production is affected by greening. Oranges on affected trees don’t ripen properly and fall off early, affecting the quality of their juice, he said.

Shifting production to other locations isn’t necessarily an option. California grows oranges, for example, and the citrus psyllid doesn’t fare as well in the state’s climate. But California also doesn’t get the rainfall needed for juicing oranges; its oranges are usually sold for eating, Rogers said.

Another issue impacting orange harvests is extreme weather, which is becoming more common as the world warms due to climate change.

Last year, nine heat waves swept across Brazil, resulting in lower output and poorer fruit quality. This year, the impacts of El Niño have been particularly dramatic, with a historic drought in the Amazon and devastating floods in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

“The temperatures are high during the day. At night the temperature drops. The plant can’t stand this temperature difference,” Simonetti said.

Brazil’s 2024-25 harvest is expected to yield 232 million boxes of oranges, down 24% from the prior year.

“We have never seen a harvest like this,” Vinícius Trombin, the coordinator of Fundecitrus’ crop estimates survey, said.

To make up for the anticipated smaller yield, some producers are considering blending oranges with tangerines to make juice, Trombin said. But he’s skeptical.

“The consumer wants an orange juice made up 100% out of oranges,” he said.

Parker, of Circana, isn’t so sure. She thinks blends with other fruits might help hold down costs and revive consumer interest in orange juice.

“The idea of multiple flavors is very popular and is a way to stand out,” she said. “You’ve got to keep people engaged. Once you lose that interest, it’s really hard to get people back.”

Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communication on the internet, shutting off access to virtual private networks — known as VPNs — which can be used to circumvent blockages of banned websites and services. 

The attempt to restrict access to information began at the end of May, according to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group, and media reports. 

The military government that took power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several attempts to throttle traffic on the internet, especially in the months immediately after their takeover. 

Reports in local media say the attack on internet usage includes random street searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if any are found. It is unclear if payments are an official measure. 

25 arrested for having VPNs

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones. Radio Free Asia is a sister news outlet to Voice of America. 

As the army faces strong challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country in what amounts to a civil war, it has also made a regular practice of shutting down civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it hard for evidence of alleged human rights abuses to become public. 

According to a report released last month by Athan, a freedom of expression advocacy group in Myanmar, nearly 90 of 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service — or both — cut off by authorities. 

Resistance that arose to the 2021 army takeover relied heavily on social media, especially Facebook, to organize street protests. As nonviolent resistance escalated into armed struggle and other independent media were shut down or forced underground, the need for online information increased. 

The resistance scored a victory in cybersphere when Facebook and other major social media platforms banned members of the Myanmar military because of their alleged violations of human and civil rights, and blocked ads from most military-linked commercial entities. 

Users unable to connect

This year, widely used free VPN services started failing at the end of May, with users getting messages that they could not be connected, keeping them from social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and some websites.

VPNs connect users to their desired sites through third-party computers, making it almost impossible for internet service providers and snooping governments to see what the users are actually connecting to. 

Internet users, including online retail sellers, have been complaining for the past two weeks about slowdowns, saying they were not able to watch or upload videos and posts or send messages easily. 

Operators of Myanmar’s top telecom companies MPT, Ooredoo, Atom and the military-backed Mytel, as well as fiber internet services, told The Associated Press on Friday that access to Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp and VPN services was banned nationwide at the end of May on the order of the Transport and Communications Ministry. 

The AP tried to contact a spokesperson for the Transport and Communications Ministry for comment but received no response. 

The operators said VPNs are not currently authorized for use, but suggested users try rotating through different services to see if any work. 

A test by the AP of more than two dozen VPN apps found that only one could hold a connection, and it was slow. 

The military government has not yet publicly announced the ban on VPNs. 

Contraception, in-vitro fertilization become key campaign issue

The debate over the right to an abortion has divided U.S. politics for decades. But two years after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, sending that decision back to the states, a new front has opened — the debate over birth control. VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports on the election-year battle over contraception and in-vitro fertilization.