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Cutting-edge Electric Boat Undergoes Testing on River Seine in Paris

An innovative boat that saves energy by rising out of the water on hydrofoil wings underwent testing on the Seine river in Paris on Monday as its backers seek to obtain a license to operate a taxi service on the river.

The SeaBubbles craft is powered by electric motors and its hydrofoil wings reduce the drag on the hull in the water, making it more energy efficient than conventional boats.

SeaBubbles co-founder Alain Thebault said the boat, which carries four passengers and one pilot, has green credentials as it is noise free and produces no pollution.

The Bubbles water taxi is seen on the River Seine during a demonstration by the SeaBubbles company in Paris, France, Sept. 16, 2019.

“It’s the future,” he told Reuters in an interview after the boat had completed its latest tests, running up and down the Seine.

The testing will continue until Sept. 20, after which the project’s backers hope to obtain a commercial license to run taxi services from the east of Paris to the west.

Hydrofoils were invented decades ago but their commercial use is limited because they tend to be unstable. SeaBubbles uses computer processors to adjust the hydrofoil wings constantly in the water, which its designers say gives passengers a smooth ride.

More Than 450,000 People Want Andrew Yang’s Money

More than 450,000 people have signed up for a chance to receive $1,000 per month from U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

During last week’s debate, the Democrat announced that he will pick 10 families to receive the money for a year from his campaign funds.   

Since he made the announcement last Thursday, Yang’s campaign has raised more than $1 million and collected more than 450,000 email addresses from people who entered the online raffle.

Yang’s surprise announcement was aimed at drawing attention to the main platform of his campaign — to provide a universal basic income of $1,000 a month to every American adult.

The candidate says the stipend, which he calls Freedom Dividend, would allow Americans to use the money for basic needs while they try to better their lives.

Yang is a newcomer to the American political arena. He is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who has never run for elected office before.

The 44-year-old is the first Asian-American candidate to have gained significant national attention.

Panel: Full-Scale War Looms in South Sudan One Year After Peace Accord Signed

A panel of U.N. experts warns the failure of South Sudan’s warring factions to implement last year’s peace accord risks plunging the country into full-scale war once again.

The report by the three-member Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan shows no improvements since South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a peace accord aimed at ending the country’s six-year civil war.

The chair of the commission, Yasmin Sooka, said more than six million people are going hungry, 1.3 million children under five are acutely malnourished, and millions more are stunted, affecting their health and mental development.

FILE – Yasmin Sooka, chairwoman of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Dec. 14, 2016.

“The starvation in South Sudan is neither random, nor accidental,” she said. “It has been part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the warring parties to target civilians in acts that may amount to war crimes. … There is no doubt that the responsibility for the enduring humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan rests firmly with the country’s warring politicians.”

Sooka warned that important provisions of the accord are not being implemented, including the disengagement of rival forces in preparation for the creation of a unified military force for South Sudan. She urged the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union and the international community to deal effectively with armed groups to prevent a return to full-scale war.

In addition, she said gross human rights violations are rampant and widespread, levels of sexual and gender-based violence are exceedingly high, and justice for the victims has proven to be impossible.

“In the military courts that are actually trying to prosecute perpetrators, the judges do not even have ink and paper to print their judgments and have been going to the market to print court documents, paying for it out of their own pockets,” Sooka said. “This is a government that cannot supply stationery or even food, but has no problem buying bullets.”


Not all assessments of South Sudan’s near-future are so bleak. In late August, IGAD representatives in Addis Ababa said last year’s cease-fire has continued to hold, and said the general security situation in South Sudan has improved. The U.N. has noted that more than a half-million South Sudanese have returned home from neighboring countries.

South Sudan’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Kuol Alor, said his government has been exerting efforts to restore stability and tranquility to the country. He said a fuller response to the commission’s report will be made to the council by the Minister of Justice when he arrives in Geneva later in the week.

OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Files For Bankruptcy

Purdue Pharma, the maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin, has filed for bankruptcy protection in a U.S. court.

The company is facing numerous lawsuits from local and state governments and other plaintiffs alleging it aggressively marketed dangerous, addictive painkillers that helped fuel the opioid crisis in the United States.

The bankruptcy filing comes days after Purdue Pharma reached a tentative settlement with about 2,000 entities that have filed lawsuits.  The value of the settlement could reach $12 billion.

But some of the states involved in the suits oppose the settlement, saying the company and the Sackler family that controls it are not offering enough and that the current terms would not produce the $12 billion in estimated relief.

Purdue Pharma Chairman Steve Miller rejected criticism of the settlement and said if instead the lawsuits go forward the only result would be to waste money on the legal fight that could otherwise be part of the agreement.

The Sacklers have offered to pay $3 billion under the settlement, and said they want the company to be utilized for public benefit.  That could include providing communities with free doses of drugs the company has created to combat overdoses and addiction to opioids.

The New York Attorney General’s office alleged in a Friday court filing that members of the Sackler family used hidden accounts to transfer $1 billion to themselves.  The family said the transfers were done decades ago and were legal.

U.S. government data shows the number of drug overdose deaths involving opioids rose from 8,000 in 1999 to 47,600 in 2017.

China’s New Transport Ship Will Help Fortify Islands in Disputed Sea

A new large supply transport ship will help the Beijing government ferry supplies to its holdings in the disputed South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway contested by other countries.

China has alarmed the other countries since 2010 by landfilling small islets for military use. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines contest all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea with China. China claims about 90% of it.

The Sansha No. 2 transport ship that passed trial in August can “cover the whole South China Sea,” Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency reports. The vessel with a displacement of  over 8,000 metric tons will help civilian and military work, Xinhua says.

The ship will help take equipment to the sea’s Paracel Islands – controlled by China but hotly disputed by Vietnam – and possibly further to the more widely contested Spratly Islands, analysts predict.

“They’re expanding their capabilities in all areas,” said Jay Batongbacal, international maritime affairs professor at University of the Philippines. “Deploying in the disputed areas is even more symbolic. It’s also more important for them, because they’re able to keep ahead of the rest of the region.”

Extra-large ship

China’s second transport ship in its class, and one with an especially large displacement, will probably take ammunition, food, water, and power generation gear to the islets it now controls, said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan.

The newest ship will “increase logistics support” for troops stationed on the islets, Yang said. “They have troops and operations stationed there, so they certainly need some kind of more capable logistical support systems,” he said.

The tropical sea stretches from Hong Kong south to Borneo. The six claimants prize it for fisheries, energy reserves and marine shipping lanes.

Sansha No. 2’s late August trial run took it to Woody Island in the Paracel chain. The ship can go 6,000 kilometers without refueling and carry up to 400 people, Xinhua says. 

China operates a military runway on Woody Island and keeps troops there. A transport that went into use on the island 11 years ago could carry just 2,540 metric tons. 

On three major islets in the Spratly chain, China has built runways and military aircraft hangars, according to an initiative under U.S. think tank Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Unique advance for China

Other countries with South China Sea claims lack China’s military power or technology. The People’s Liberation Army, the world’s third largest, flew bombers to the Spratly Islands last year. China plans to deploy floating nuclear power stations to the sea in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The transport ship marks the “latest technology” for China, Batongbacal said. China will probably produce more vessels of the same type to set up a rotation, Yang forecast.

The builder of Sansha No. 2 and its predecessor Sansha No. 1 plans to work on a third transport vessel “to provide better service to personnel stationed on islands”, Xinhua says.

Taiwan sometimes sends a transport to the Spratly chain, Yang said. Taiwan, however, has just one major holding in that archipelago.

Vietnam’s navy operates transport vessels but uses smaller fishing boats for South China Sea transport jobs, said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. China could disrupt resupply missions handled by smaller vessels, he said.

“The issue here is more about whether the other claimants can resupply their garrisons uninterrupted the way the Chinese will enjoy in the South China Sea,” Koh said.

The United States, China’s former Cold War foe and a modern-day economic rival, began increasing the number of ship passages through the South China Sea in 2017 under U.S. President Donald Trump. Washington does not claim the waterway but believes it should be open for international use.

General Motors Auto Workers Go On Strike

Members of the United Auto Workers union began a strike Monday against General Motors as the two sides remain apart on the terms of a new contract.

Talks are set to resume Monday, but plants that makes cars and parts in nine states will be closed with nearly 50,000 workers off the job.

Union Vice President Terry Dittes said the decision to go on strike was a last resort, but necessary. The union wants better wages and health care, as well as job security and profit sharing.

General Motors says it has offered pay raises, profit sharing and good health benefits, along with billions of dollars in investments in manufacturing facilities that would bring more jobs.

The last UAW strike at General Motors came in 2007.

Union contracts with Ford and Fiat Chrysler were also due to expire, but have been extended indefinitely.  Any contract reached with General Motors will serve as a template in negotiations with the other companies.

Hong Kong Protesters, Police Clash

Hong Kong protesters clashed with  police Sunday.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at police near the Legislative Council building.

Police responded by firing water cannons filled with blue jets of water, a practice usually initiated to identify protesters later.

Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were on Hong Kong’s streets Sunday.

The weekend demonstrations have continued for three months despite the Hong Kong government’s promise to withdraw extradition legislation that sparked the protests. Dissenters have since broadened their demands for the direct election of their leaders and police accountability.

Protesters carrying umbrellas take part in march in Hong Kong, Sept. 15, 2019.

The protesters saw the bill that would have allowed some Hong Kong criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial as an example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began in early June.

The increasingly violent demonstrations have further damaged Hong Kong’s economy, which had already been weakened by the U.S.-China trade war.

Earlier Sunday, demonstrators gathered outside the British consulate where they sang “God Save the Queen.”

Under an agreement with the former colonial power Britain, China has promised Hong Kong can maintain its free market system and democratic freedoms until 2047. But hundreds of thousands of people have turned out for marches to protest what residents of Hong Kong see as steady encroachment on those freedoms by Beijing.


Calls for Release of Separatists, Political Prisoners Intensify in Cameroon

Consultations have begun in Cameroon ahead of a national dialogue ordered by president Paul Biya. Civil society groups and opposition political parties are calling for the unconditional release of Anglophone separatist leaders and other political prisoners before discussions begin.

FILE – Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute visits Bamenda, Cameroon, May 10, 2019.

Cameroon Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute began consultations with political party leaders, civil society activists, opinion leaders, traditional rulers, lawmakers and clergy on September 11, one day after President Paul Biya called for a national dialogue to solve the separatist crisis rocking his country.

Prince Ekosso, president of the United Socialist Democratic Party, says among the recommendations they are strongly making for the announced dialogue to be successful are the unconditional release of all people he says are illegally held in prisons and detention centers and an end to the separatist war in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

“Mr. Biya should call for a cease-fire. He was the one who declared war against the separatists. Release all those who are political prisoners in Cameroon including Maurice Kamto and Tabe Ayuk Sisseku [Julius Ayuk Tabe], and he should create a situation where all Cameroonians can express their will,” said Ekosso.

Biya declared war on the Anglophone separatists in November 2017 and said he would crush them if they did not surrender.

In August, the Yaounde military tribunal gave life sentences to Julius Ayuk Tabe, the leader of the separatist movement, and nine others it said had been found guilty of secession, terrorism and hostility against the state.

FILE – Maurice Kamto, then-presidential candidate of Renaissance Movement (MRC), holds a news conference at his headquarter in Yaounde, Cameroon, Oct. 8, 2018.

Opposition leader Maurice Kamto, who came in second in the October presidential election, but claims to have won, is on trial with dozens of others in a military tribunal on insurrection charges.

Biya has insisted that he will maintain Cameroon as one nation and indivisible. Justin Roger Ndah, assistant secretary-general of the opposition MRC party says they are urging the government to accept discussions on the form of the state.

He says Paul Biya should not think that speaking about the form of the state during the expected national dialogue is a taboo subject and an indication of his weakness. He says it is fundamental for all issues disturbing Cameroon to be brought to the discussion table and required constitutional amendments be made when the time comes.

Siddi Haman, a senior official of Biya’s CPDM party says people should see in the expected dialogue the president’s true will to bring peace to the country.

He says all Cameroonians should have confidence in Biya, who, as the father of the nation, has called for the dialogue. He says after the dialogue the president can use his constitutional power to grant the desires of the people, as the most important thing he is asking for before he leaves power is to maintain Cameroon as a peaceful, one and indivisible state with every one living in harmony.

The conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions has killed more than 2,000 people, internally displaced more than 500,000 and caused more than 50,000 Cameroonians to seek refuge in Nigeria, according to the United Nations.




Thai Government May Beat Legal Threats, But Flagging Economy Looms

Less than two months into its term, Thailand’s post-junta government is fending off a series of challenges to its very existence, including a brewing political storm over the Cabinet’s failure to recite the full oath of office.

A general election in March returned the 2014 coup leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, to power to widespread criticism that his military junta had manipulated the contest in its favor. Two months later the country crowned a new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has been consolidating power around the Royal Palace since the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 2016. The country’s GDP growth rate has meanwhile dipped to its lowest level since just after the putsch.

Analysts expect the country’s courts to save Prayut’s new administration from collapse. They say, though, that a pending fight in the lower house of Parliament next week over the botched oath could further batter its already bruised image, especially if the economy continues to flag.

FILE – People gather holding a portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn along a sidewalk near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, May 3, 2019, ahead of King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation. which will take place from May 4 to 6.

Legitimacy of administration challenged

By challenging the administration’s very legitimacy, the opposition parties are “trying to wake Thai people up to the fact that this is not a democracy; this is simply the continuation of the junta by a different form,” said Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

At a swearing-in ceremony July 16, Prayut and his 35 ministers lined up before the king and pledged their allegiance. They also swore to work for the people and country but left out the last few words of the official oath, which included a vow to “uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.”

The opposition says the omission raises fresh doubts about Prayut’s commitment to the rule of law. In theory it could also undo everything he and his Cabinet have done since taking the oath, including the approval of a draft 2020 budget and economic stimulus plan, if their tenure is ultimately deemed illegitimate.

FILE – Members of the National Council for Peace and Order, from left, Wissanu Krea-ngam, General Paiboon Khumchaya and Pornpetch Wichitcholchai speak during a press conference at Government House in Bangkok, July 23, 2014.

Prayut has yet to explain why he and the ministers failed to recite the oath in full. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam fueled speculation that it was deliberate while deflecting questions from local reporters in the days that followed.

“One day you’ll know why we shouldn’t talk about it,” he was quoted as saying by local media, adding that it was “something no one should stick his nose into.”

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court bowed out of the brawl by claiming the matter was between Prayut and his Cabinet and the king. The Office of the Ombudsman had forwarded the original complaint to the court after deciding that the incomplete oath had breached the national charter.

Pitch Pongsawat, an assistant professor of political science at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said he was not surprised by the decision from a court that has developed a reputation for siding with Thailand’s royalist, pro-military establishment.

“It’s unconstitutional,” he said of the swearing-in, “but [it] doesn’t matter with this regime … Everybody knows that they will find a way out.”

Parliament to grill Prayut

The opposition is scheduled to question the prime minister over the oath in Parliament Wednesday.

Pitch said the best it can hope for is to do more damage to the government’s democratic credentials by drawing an often truculent Prayut into a political faux pas or blunder under the pressure of a public grilling.

“If they do it very well … it will put the regime in trouble,” he said. “I think that’s what they’re aiming for.”

The day of the debate, the Constitutional Court is also set to rule on whether Prayut was even eligible to run for prime minister while still at the helm of the military government that followed the coup.

Eligibility questioned

The Constitution bars “state officials” from running for political office. A ruling against Prayut would trigger a new vote for prime minister in Parliament.

Pitch and Chambers expect the court to clear him one way or another, or draw the case out indefinitely.

Even if the government does survive, it may find it ever harder to actually govern.

Prayut’s Cabinet entered office with a razor-thin majority in the 500-seat lower house of Parliament to begin with. Having been passed over for ministry and legislative committee posts since then, a few of the coalition’s smallest parties recently announced that their votes were no longer guaranteed, leaving the parties remaining in the alliance with just under half the seats.

Pitch said, though, that the government was counting on lawmakers among the opposition parties to switch sides and make up for any losses when the time comes.

Chambers also noted that the lawmakers threatening to split from the ruling coalitions have said they were going “independent,” not necessarily joining the other side, possibly to win concessions for their continued loyalty.

“As independent MPs, they can demand more from the coalition for their vote. Actually they become more powerful,” he said.

A street vender pushes a cart with piggy banks in a market in Bangkok, Sept. 4, 2019. World Bank records show the poverty in Thailand declined in last 30 years, but the pace of the decline has slowed recently.

Slowing economy

The one thing that just might bring the government down, Chambers said, had nothing to do with the courts, Constitution or Parliament.

“Probably the only thing that could really hurt this government is the economy,” he said. “If the economy sours increasingly … then those people who still like Prayut are going to wash their hands [of] the government. At that point there could be another election.”

Thailand’s year-on-year GDP growth hit 2.3% in the second quarter of 2019, its slowest pace in nearly five years.

The government spokesperson’s office would not comment for this story. A spokesman for Prayut’s party, Palang Pracharath, did not reply to a request for an interview.

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Gets Tepid Turnout at Final Public Sendoff

The flag-draped coffin had arrived, followed by black-clad family members, their heads bowed. Several dozen suited dignitaries marched in, chests puffed out. Military members stood rigid and proud. All of the pomp and circumstance one would expect at the memorial for a man hailed as an African icon was in place Saturday for the final public sendoff for Robert Mugabe.

But there was just one thing missing: A crowd.

Final Public Sendoff for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Draws Light Turnout video player.

Final Public Sendoff for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Draws Light Turnout

Because, for the man known as the father of his nation, very few of Mugabe’s 16 million “children” showed up for his final public sendoff Saturday at Harare’s National Sports Stadium. The 60,000-capacity stadium was maybe one-third full. It was a poor showing compared to previous events, like the packed-to-the-rafters inauguration of the man who used the military to force Mugabe to resign two years ago.

Members of the public sit in the stands during the state funeral for former president Robert Mugabe, at the National Sports Stadium, in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, Sept. 14, 2019.

Mugabe, the first president of independent Zimbabwe, died last week at the age of 95, after ruling for 37 years.

In attendance were a smattering of African heads of state and former heads of state – but no major leaders from outside the continent. Those who came included leaders like Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – who has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since 1979 – and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of independent Kenya’s first president. They praised Mugabe for fighting to liberate his country from the yoke of centuries of colonial rule.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa pays his respects to former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, at the National Sports stadium during a funeral ceremony in Harare, Sept, 14, 2019.

But his own family described Mugabe, who was forced to resign in 2017, as a bitter man. His widow, Grace, draped head-to-toe in black lace, stood on the dais, her head down. The family’s spokesman, Walter Chidakwa, hailed the leader, but also offered some sharp words.

“Towards the end of his life,” he said, “he was a sad man. A sad, sad, sad man.”

So where was everyone on this sunny Saturday?

Many were in one of Harare’s hours-long petrol queues – a consequence of the shattered economy that many blame Mugabe for.

The coffin carrying the remains of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe arrives at the National Sports stadium during a funeral procession in Harare, Sept, 14, 2019.

 Teacher Betty Mukombani told VOA she had no interest in driving to the stadium to bid farewell. At the time, she was staring down a four-hour wait in a petrol queue just a five-minute drive from the stadium.

“He’s the one who ruined the economy of Zimbabwe, so I have no interest in burying such a criminal,” she said.
And others in the queue, like archeologist Happy Marufu, say they have real relatives they’d rather be with.

“I should be doing something else or sometimes even relaxing with my family,” he said.

Even those who turned out to see off the father of the nation couldn’t resist making a point about this country’s ruined economy.

They sang, hundreds of them: Before, bread cost $1. Now, it costs $10.