The party of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the most votes in Sunday’s parliamentary election giving the president a mandate to carry out sweeping changes in the country beset by conflict and high-level corruption. The former comedian and TV celebrity won a landslide victory in the April 21 presidential election and has called for snap elections to gain parliamentary support. His party, Servant of the People, is named after his popular TV show, which satirized government corruption. Another new party, Voice, is headed by Ukraine’s most popular singer. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke rports the two may join to form a ruling coalition.
From mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers to all the different types of social media out there, modern day society as a whole is distracted in a way it never has before. Scientists have noticed that as technology becomes more prevalent, people are also getting fatter. VOA’s Elizabeth has the details on a Rice University study examining whether there is a link between technology habits and obesity.
Education has been a key issue for Democratic candidates running for president in the 2020 race, especially as they seek the support of younger Americans who have now replaced Baby Boomers as the country’s largest voting bloc. But education is not the only concern for these young voters. Other social issues are likely to motivate them to go to the polls in 2020. Sahar Majid has more in this report for VOA narrated by Kathleen Struck.
As drought-hit towns across New South Wales and Queensland edge closer to completely running out of water, federal and state governments in Australia are trying to come up with ways to guarantee supplies into the future. But on the other side of the continent, the city of Perth is leagues ahead in its water efficiency following a long-term decline in rainfall. Part of its survival plan relies on recycled water from toilets, a move that many consumers elsewhere still consider to be unpalatable.
Since 2017, residents in the Western Australian city of Perth have been drinking water recycled from sewage. It is filtered using a process called reverse osmosis, which is similar to forcing water through a giant sponge. It is then disinfected with ultra-violet light at a treatment plant, pumped into natural aquifers, and extracted.
Perth is a city of two million people, and Clare Lugar from Western Australia’s Water Corporation said it has had to get used to climatic changes.
“We know from the mid-70s onwards Perth’s rainfall has been declining by about 20 percent, and that has had a huge impact on our water sources that are dependent on the climate.”
Lugar said convincing residents of the benefits of drinking recycled sewage did take time.
“So, it is only a small percentage of the water that comes into the plant is actually from our toilets. But getting over that perception, that kind of image you might be drinking the water that you flushing down the toilet – that was probably one of our big challenges initially,” said Lugar.
Two desalination plants supply about half of Perth’s water. Aquifers are also crucial, but recycling produces only two percent of the total. But that figure is soon expected to rise.
Ian Wright, an expert in environmental science at Western Sydney University, believes other parts of Australia should embrace recycling.
“In Sydney that is probably 150 liters per day per person of waste water that is completely wasted, and, yes, we have the availability of desalination on the coast, but Canberra does not have desalination and then the poor drought-stricken towns like Tamworth and Dubbo, and Broken Hill, they could really, really use that now,” he said.
Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent. Water is precious, and, in many places, scarce. More than 95 percent of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, is officially in drought, and the next three months are forecast to be drier than average.
British Treasury chief Philip Hammond said Sunday that he will quit if _ as widely expected — Boris Johnson becomes prime minister this week on a promise to leave the European Union with or without a divorce deal.
Hammond said Johnson’s vow to press for a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a new agreement with the EU is “not something that I could ever sign up to.”
Hammond was almost certain to be removed from office by the new leader in any case. He has angered Brexit-backers, who now dominate the governing Conservative Party, with his warnings about the economic pain that leaving the EU could cause.
Hammond told the BBC that if Johnson wins, “I’m not going to be sacked because I’m going to resign before we get to that point.”
Johnson is the strong favorite to win a two-person runoff to lead the Conservative Party and the country. The winner is being announced Tuesday, with the victor taking over from Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday.
Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31 but Parliament has repeatedly rejected the divorce deal struck between May and the bloc. Both Johnson and his rival Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, say they will leave the EU without an agreement if the EU won’t renegotiate.
Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The U.K.’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) and the economy shrinking 2% in a year.
But Johnson, who helped lead the “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, says a no-deal Brexit will be “vanishingly inexpensive” if the country prepares properly.
The EU insists it won’t reopen the 585-page divorce deal it struck with May.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said Sunday that the bloc is “simply not going to move away from the Withdrawal Agreement.”
“If the approach of the new British prime minister is that they’re going to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement, then I think we’re in trouble,” he told the BBC. “We’re all in trouble, quite frankly, because it’s a little bit like saying: ‘Either give me what I want or I’m going to burn the house down for everybody.'”
Hammond is the third U.K. minister within a week to quit or say they will resign in order to try to prevent a cliff-edge Brexit. Britain looks set for a fall showdown between the new Conservative government and British lawmakers determined to thwart a no-deal exit.
“I am confident that Parliament does have a way of preventing a no-deal exit on October 31 without parliamentary consent and I intend to work with others to ensure parliament uses its power to make sure that the new government can’t do that,” Hammond said.
The United Nations says conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate and humanitarian needs for millions of civilians remain acute across the war-torn country.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Najat Rochdi’s job is to keep tabs on the humanitarian situation in Syria. She said conditions in this country, which has been at war for more than eight year, are alarming. She is appealing to the international community to protect and support millions of vulnerable civilians who lack the bare essentials for survival.
She said an estimated 11.7 million people need humanitarian aid and five million are in acute need. She said it has been a particularly grave month for civilians caught up in intensified fighting between Government and rebel forces in Idlib in northwestern Syria.
Her spokeswoman, Jenifer Fenton, said at least 350 civilians reportedly have been killed and more than 330,000 have been displaced. She said some three million people are at particular risk. She said they are trapped in the battle zone and are at the mercy of the warring parties as there is no place where they can flee.
“Civilian infrastructure continues to be damaged and destroyed. Protection of civilians remains our foremost concern. Far too many civilians are dying. Fighting terrorism does not absolve any party of its obligations under international humanitarian law and we continue to call on parties to uphold their agreements and to stabilize the situation,” said the spokeswoman.
Fenton said the situation remains unsustainable for some 70,000 people living in the squalid, overcrowded Al Hol camp in northeastern Syria. These people fled to Al Hol after the Syrian government seized control of Deir-Ez-Zour, the radical Islamic State group’s last stronghold.
The vast majority of the camp population is comprised of Syrian and Iraqi women and children. This population includes more than 11,000 family members of suspected IS foreign fighters from dozens of countries. These nations are reluctant to bring back their nationals fearing prosecutions of IS fighters will be difficult and will alienate their citizens.
UNICEF and other agencies are urging nations to repatriate an estimated 29,000 children of foreign IS fighters, noting they are blameless and are victims of this brutal war.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports a number of children have been repatriated to their countries of origin in past weeks. But it adds thousands of others remain in Al Hol, facing an uncertain future.
Pakistan organized its first ever provincial elections Saturday in a northwestern region along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that until a few years ago was condemned as the “epicenter” of international terrorism.
Pakistani officials said the elections in the seven districts of what were formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) are central to steps the government has taken to supplement regional and global efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan and counter violent extremism.
Pakistani election officials said some 2.8 million registered voters were to choose from 285 candidates for 16 seats in the legislative assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
The contestants, including two women, represented major mainstream political parties. The election was held under tight security and no incidents of violence were reported.
The historic vote came on a day when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan left for the United States for his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, where the two leaders will discuss counterterrorism measures among a range of other issues.
A landmark constitutional amendment pushed through the parliament last year paved the ground for the tribal territory to be merged in the adjoining KP province to bring it into the national mainstream.
Until last year, the lawless border regions of FATA were federally administered through a set of British colonial laws that were not applicable to the rest of Pakistan, and residents could vote only in the national assembly, lower house of the parliament.
FATA anti-terror campaign
Civilian and military leaders in Pakistan hailed Saturday’s democratic process as testimony that years-long security operations have rid most of the ex-FATA of militant groups, including al-Qaida and fighters loyal to the Taliban waging a deadly insurgency against U.S.-led intentional forces on the Afghan side of the porous border.
Islamabad has been for years accused by American and Afghan officials of harboring training camps and sanctuaries for the Taliban. Pakistani officials have consistently denied those charges.
The anti-terrorism Pakistan army offensives, backed by airpower, over the years had displaced several million residents of FATA, although officials say 95% of them have since been rehabilitated.
A government document shared with VOA claimed the operations killed more than 15,000 militants and captured another 5,000. The remnants have fled and taken refuge in “ungoverned” border regions of Afghanistan, it added.
It was not possible to ascertain the veracity of the data through independent sources because conflict zones in FATA had remained inaccessible for journalists and aid workers during military operations.
In recent months, however, the military has organized media trips to showcase infrastructure development, particularly in North Waziristan, which Pakistani officials say was the final battleground in their bid to clear FATA of terror.
The retaliatory terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in FATA districts and elsewhere in the country also killed thousands of Pakistanis, including about 8,000 military personnel, according to Pakistani officials.
The violence, which stemmed from Pakistan’s participation in the U.S. “war on terror,” also has inflicted direct and indirect losses to the national economy totaling more than $200 billion, according to government estimates.
Foreign critics also had been referring to FATA as the “most dangerous place”on the globe, and the U.S. repeatedly called for Pakistan to dismantle the terrorism infrastructure.
“This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region,” concluded the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a 2009 study on FATA..
Border security and reconstruction
The Pakistani army is currently building a robust fence and new posts along most of the 2,600-kilometer Afghan border to deter militant infiltration in either direction. The massive border management project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
“With fencing of Pak-Afghan border, cross border movement of terrorists, drugs and smugglers has reduced to almost 5% of what was happening before,” according to a Pakistani government document shared with VOA.
The ensuing reconstruction effort has established roads, bridges and telecommunication networks, schools, health facilities and markets.
The key infrastructure was previously almost non-existent in many FATA districts. Pakistani officials cited a lack a government authority in the region for decades, saying it long served as a “transit zone for Jihadi groups where they had established a de-facto government.”
The military lately, however, has faced allegations of abuses from a newly emerged group in FATA, known as Pakistan Tahafuz Movement or PTM. But both army and government officials deny the charges, alleging that some of the PTM leaders are being supported by Afghan and Indian spy agencies in their bid to undermine Pakistan’s counterterrorism gains.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s nearly one-year-old government takes credit for arranging an ongoing peace dialogue between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
During recent trips to FATA districts, Khan has announced new projects and allocated substantial funds for the development of the regions, hoping they will become a commercial and transit trade hub between Pakistan and Afghanistan if peace eventually returns to the neighboring country.
Saudi-coalition spokesman Col. Turki al Maliki says that coalition fighter jets took out at least five Houthi air defense sites around the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, early Saturday. Amateur video showed a number of explosions rocking Sanaa, overnight.
Amateur video broadcast by Arab media showed a series of explosions around the Yemeni capital Sana’a, early Saturday, followed by loud percussive explosions.
Saudi-owned media, quoting coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki, indicated that at least five Houthi air defense sites were bombed by Saudi warplanes. Maliki claimed that a number of Houthi ballistic missiles were destroyed in the air attacks.
The Saudi-owned Asharqalawsat newspaper quoted Maliki as saying the “operation [overnight] targeted the Houthis air defense capabilities, as well as their ability to launch aggressive attacks.” Maliki went on to say the coalition raids “conformed with international human rights law.”
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that he doesn’t think the Saudi air raids are going to have much effect on the ongoing war or the Houthis military capabilities:
“This is not the first time the Saudis announced launching attacks on missile sites in Yemen,” he said. “It happened in the past and it’s highly unlikely that such attacks are going to have any tangible effects on the Houthi war effort.”
Khashan stressed that most of the Houthis’ attacks on Saudi territory in recent weeks have been launched “using drones, rather than by firing ballistic missiles.”
The Houthis military spokesman, Gen. Yahya Saree, claimed Saturday that his group had launched a retaliatory drone attack Saturday, which “destroyed several radar [sites] and other military equipment at the King Khaled airbase in southern Saudi Arabia.” Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV countered that the drone was shot down near Abha and “hit no targets.”
The Saudi air attacks on Houthi missile sites come one day after unknown drones struck a Shi’ite militia camp that allegedly contained Iranian ballistic missiles in the north of Iraq. Some Iraqi analysts accused Saudi Arabia of the attack, but it was not immediately clear who was responsible. A number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces and Lebanese Hezbollah advisers allegedly were killed or wounded in the raid.
The Wall Street Journal says Equifax will pay around $700 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over a 2017 data breach that exposed Social Security numbers and other private information of nearly 150 million people.
The Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said the settlement could be announced as soon as Monday. Equifax declined to comment.
The report says the deal would resolve investigations by the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and most state attorneys general. It would also resolve a nationwide consumer class-action lawsuit.
Spokesmen for the FTC and the CFPB didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment Friday night.
The breach was one of the largest affecting people’s private information. Atlanta-based Equifax did not notice the attack for more than six weeks. The compromised data included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver license numbers and credit card numbers.
The company said earlier this year that it had set aside around $700 million to cover anticipated settlements and fines.