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Blasts Injure 120 Civilians This Week in Eastern Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, a stronghold of Islamic State’s Khursan branch, was hit with more than a dozen bomb blasts recently, wounding more than 120 people, including 30 children. Among those children was Basharyar, who fled Afghanistan with his family years ago to neighboring Pakistan. VOA’s Zia Urahman Hasrat reports from Nangarhar.

Dave Chappelle to Host Benefit Concert for Ohio Shooting

Comedian Dave Chappelle plans to host a special block party and benefit concert in Ohio for those affected by the recent mass shooting.

Chappelle will be among national and local entertainers planned for the main stage at the “Gem City Shine” event in Dayton Sunday.

WDTN-TV reports the City of Dayton along with the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce will help organize the tribute.

The organizers say the event will be an effort to reclaim the entertainment district after 24-year-old Connor Betts’ 32-second rampage in front of Ned Peppers that killed nine people and left dozens injured Aug. 4.

Chappelle, a resident of nearby Yellow Springs, urges attendees to “live in the moment” by enjoying the experience live rather than recording it on their cellphones.

Like a Rolling Stone: NASA Names Mars Rock After the Band

The Rolling Stones have rocked stages around the world in their more than 50-year career. But now their influence has gone into space after NASA’s Mars InSight Mission named a rock on the planet after the band.

Slightly larger than a golf ball, the “Rolling Stones Rock” is said to have rolled about 3 feet (1 meter), spurred by the InSight spacecraft’s thrusters during touchdown on Mars in November, NASA said.

“In images taken by InSight the next day, several divots in the orange-red soil can be seen trailing Rolling Stones Rock,” it said. “It’s the farthest NASA has seen a rock roll while landing a spacecraft on another planet.”

Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr. announced the name as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts were about to perform Thursday night at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium, close to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Rolling Stones, known for hits such as “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Brown Sugar,” called the honor “a milestone in our long and eventful history.”

While the “Rolling Stones Rock” name is informal, it will feature on working maps of Mars, NASA said, but only the International Astronomical Union can give official scientific names for locations, asteroids and other objects in the solar system.

Italian President Gives Parties Until Tuesday to Solve Political Crisis

Italian President Sergio Mattarella agreed to a new round of consultations with party leaders Tuesday to resolve Italy’s political crisis. Speaking to reporters in Rome Thursday, two days after the collapse of the country’s populist government, the president said if no coalition wins a parliamentary approval, he could form a caretaker government or hold early elections. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports Italian political leaders have started negotiations in an effort to avert a snap vote.

From Humble Beginnings, Comic Cons Have Become Huge Events

The first Official Comic Book Convention or Comic Con for short, happened in New York in 1964. Since then, the world of comic books has moved to TV, the movies, and video games, and these conventions have become huge events. We visited one to get a feel for how they work. VOA’s Dhania Iman reports.

China ‘Will Not Sit Idly’ if US Sells Fighter Jets to Taiwan

China “will not sit idly by” if the U.S. proceeds with a sale of advanced F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan, a Chinese general said, while warning of other potential countermeasures in addition to punishing foreign firms involved in the deal.

Beijing considered the sale a violation of previous U.S. commitments to China regarding the island it considers its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary, Maj. Gen. Chen Rongdi, chief of the Institute of War Studies at the Academy of Military Sciences, said. He did not elaborate on what additional measures China might take.

“China will not sit idly by,” Chen said Thursday at a forum sponsored by China’s official journalists’ association. “Of course, we don’t rule out additional measures.”

Sanction companies

Beijing has repeatedly said it will levy sanctions against U.S. companies linked to a planned $8 billion sale and demanded Washington cancel it immediately. China has made such threats regarding previous arms sales by the U.S., but they’ve had limited effect because the companies involved are either important to China’s own nascent commercial aviation industry or have little or no business with the country.

Most recently, China pledged sanctions against the U.S. in July when the Trump administration said it was considering a $2.2 billion sale of tanks and air missiles to Taiwan.

Both Chen and Col. Cao Yanzong, a research fellow at the institute, dismissed the ultimate effectiveness of the F-16V planes, given China’s overwhelming air superiority and arsenal of short- to medium-range missiles.

The sale would be of little use “beyond making profits for American arms makers, while further undermining relations between China and the U.S. and China and Taiwan,” Cao said.

FILE – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attends a ceremony to sign up for Democratic Progressive Party’s 2020 presidential candidate nomination in Taipei, Taiwan, March 21, 2019.

Specific fighter jets opposed

China fiercely opposes all arms sales to Taiwan but has specifically objected to advanced fighter jets such as the F-16V, whose Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar is compatible with the F-35 stealth fighters operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines. The U.S. is also installing upgraded electronics, including AESA radars, on Taiwan’s existing fleet of 144 older F-16s.

The Trump administration informed Congress last week that it plans to sell Taiwan 66 of the planes and the U.S. State Department this week approved the sale. It now goes before Congress, where Taiwan enjoys strong bipartisan support.

Despite a lack of formal diplomatic ties, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.

Taiwan is a democratically governed island that broke away from the Communist Party-ruled mainland during a civil war in 1949.

Increased pressure on Taiwan

China has been stepping up military, diplomatic and economic pressure against the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to embrace Beijing’s “one-China principle” that regards Taiwan as Chinese territory.

A semi-annual defense ministry report issued last month stated that China “has the firm resolve and the ability” to take control of Taiwan. “We make no promise to renounce the use of force, and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” the report said.

The document, titled “China’s National Defense in the New Era,” also pointed to specific intimidation tactics cited by many as partial justification for strengthening Taiwan’s defenses.

“Aiming at safeguarding national unity, China’s armed forces strengthen military preparedness with emphasis on the sea,” the report said. “By sailing ships and flying aircraft around Taiwan, the armed forces send a stern warning to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”

Misguided Focus Hinders Response to DRC, Mozambique Insurgencies, Experts Say

Experts are warning that a focus on alleged Islamist militant ties is hindering efforts to respond to insurgencies in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Local insurgent groups have claimed ties to Islamic State to increase their clout, but the groups operate autonomously, experts who study the regions say.
On April 18, a strike on an army base near the Congo’s border with Uganda left several Congolese soldiers dead and others injured.
It was the first attack credited to Wilayat Central Africa, previously known as the Allied Democratic Forces, a group that has pledged allegiance to IS.
A month later, an IS group took responsibility for attacks in northeastern Mozambique, part of a growing insurgency in the country led by several groups, including Ahlu Sunnah wa-Jama and al-Shabab. The latter group, consisting of about 1,000 fighters who operate in decentralized units, shares its name but no known connection with the Somali terrorist organization.
On July 24, IS released a video featuring a man named “Sheikh Abu Abdul Rahman” who called for an end to division and infighting among Muslims in Central Africa. He also called for the creation of a caliphate. The video features heavily armed fighters in a forested area pledging allegiance to IS.
Some saw the proclamation as a sign of solidarity between the Mozambican and Congolese extremist groups. But experts are unsure whether links to IS signal a new threat or simply reflect the groups’ attempts to raise their profile.
Ryan O’Farrell, an extremism researcher studying at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said experts have found virtually no evidence that IS has trained, funded or equipped its African affiliates.
“It also doesn’t necessarily fit Islamic State’s model. They have affiliates all over the continent, and most of them haven’t received training or weapons from Islamic State Central,” O’Farrell told VOA. “Pretty much all of its affiliates are local groups that have local recruitment networks and local financial capacity and local weapons procurement channels. And so, they affiliate themselves with Islamic State as a brand.”

FILE – A South African soldier from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is seen during a patrol to hold off attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces rebels in Oicha, DRC, Oct. 08, 2018.

Nearly daily attacks in the Cabo Delgado region have made the insurgency in Mozambique one of Africa’s deadliest. The group in the DRC has pulled off high-profile attacks, killing U.N. peacekeepers.
But at their core, they remain local insurgencies, O’Farrell said.
“Their targets are primarily local,” O’Farrell said. “That’s very rarely the MO for some of the more peripheral Islamic State affiliates. But within those zones or within any territory in North Kivu (DRC) and within Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, they’re very active.”
Yussuf Adam, an associate professor of contemporary history at the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique, said that rather than receiving arms or provisions from IS, insurgent groups in Mozambique are capturing them from the Mozambican Armed Forces.

“They kill two persons here, three persons there. They take ammunition, and so on. And it seems that they … feed themselves or, you know, feed their operations from guns they collect,” he told VOA.

Adam said the only international component to the insurgency is that some of the local fighters traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Russians in the 1980s. Unconfirmed reports suggest fighters received training in Somalia.
In a discussion on VOA’s radio interview program “Encounter,” experts said the insurgency in Mozambique is hard to understand because they have not made any public pronouncements. They are decentralized and likely include former street hawkers with links to organized crime.
Judd Devermont, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the insurgency in Mozambique may have Islamist roots, but other factors fuel it. These include resentment over natural gas discoveries, which have not benefited the local population, and heavy-handed operations by security forces, resulting in civilian deaths.

“This is what I would call an insipid insurgency,” Devermont said. “That’s important because it means that there are opportunities here in the embryonic stage to address its concerns, snuff it out and bring back some of these individuals as part of society.”

Oil and gas companies hiring locals who might otherwise become frustrated and join the insurgency would help a lot, Devermont said.

Adam believes the insurgency cannot be addressed by looking at it internationally. Instead, he urged policymakers to look at the local grievances of northern Mozambique, which has long been cut off from the economic hubs of the country and underserved by the central government.
“Violence breeds violence,” Adam said. “What we need is to start working readily to see what are the problems, what is the political and economy of northern Mozambique.”


Indonesia Arrests 34, Blocks Internet in Papua to Curb Protests

Indonesia has arrested 34 people and cut internet access in its easternmost region of Papua to rein in violence after protesters torched buildings, a market and a prison over mistreatment of students and perceived ethnic discrimination.

Police have flown in 1,200 more officers to quell sometimes violent protests since Monday in towns such as Manokwari, Sorong, Fakfak and Timika, near the giant Grasberg copper mine operated by Freeport McMoran’s Indonesian unit.

The communication ministry has blocked the internet and telecoms data to prevent Papuans from accessing social media since Wednesday, although telephone calls and text messages are unaffected, said ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu.

“This is an effort to curb hoaxes and, most importantly, stop people from sharing provocative messages that can incite racial hatred,” he added.

A separatist movement has simmered in Papua for decades, with frequent complaints of rights abuses by security forces, but the recent anger appears to be linked to racist slurs against Papuan students who were detained last week.

The students were arrested in a dormitory in the city of Surabaya in East Java after being accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an Independence Day celebration.

Smaller demonstrations and rallies in support of Papua flared nationwide on Thursday, while the chief security minister, police chief and military commander visited Sorong to inspect the sites of the most violent protests.

Official said two rallies in the Nabire and Yahukimo areas of Papua were peaceful, the Kompas news site said.

In Jakarta, the capital, more than a hundred Papuan students marched from army headquarters to the gates of the presidential palace, shouting pro-independence slogans demanding “Referendum for Papua” or “Freedom for Papua”.

Some held posters demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua. Papuan students also held a smaller protest in the nearby city of Bogor.

President Joko Widodo told reporters he would invite religious and community leaders from across Papua for talks next week.

Widodo has urged the army and police chiefs to act against officers who behaved in a “racist manner” towards students, his chief of staff told news channel CNN Indonesia.

Police have arrested 34 people in Timika, where thousands of protesters threw stones at a parliament building, houses, shops and a hotel on Wednesday, police said. They accused 13 of being members of a pro-Papua independence separatist group.

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticised U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

Widodo has sought to ease tension and improve welfare by building infrastructure.

He has visited the region more often than any of his predecessors, and plans to open a bridge next month in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, his secretariat said.

Iran Showcases New Long-Range Missile System

Iranian state media said the government showcased a domestically built long-range, mobile surface-to-air missile system on Thursday.

The system’s unveiling came on Iran’s National Defense Industry Day and at a time of rising tension between Iran and the United States.

Iran developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons.

Concerns over Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program contributed to the United States last year leaving the pact that Iran sealed with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.


Zimbabwe Rights Activists Oppose Calls for Lifting Sanctions

Zimbabwe rights activists are calling for Western sanctions against the country to remain in place, despite calls this week by the Southern African Development Community for them to be lifted.  Government supporters say the sanctions are hurting ordinary people.  But critics say it is the government’s policies, not sanctions, that are to blame for the poor economy, and that lifting sanctions would send the wrong message about the country’s human rights record.  Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare.