Brazilian Troops Begin Deploying to Fight Amazon Fires

Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry.

President Jair Bolsonaro also tried to temper global concern, saying that previously deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared. Even so, the fires were likely to be urgently discussed at a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in France this weekend.

Some 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.

The military’s first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of water on fires, he said.

An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility. On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland, as well as a large column of smoke billowing from one fire.

The municipality of Nova Santa Helena in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state was also hard-hit. Trucks were seen driving along a highway Friday as fires blazed and embers smoldered in adjacent fields.

The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.

Wildfires consume an area near Porto Velho, Brazil, Aug. 23, 2019. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.

Azevedo, the defense minister, noted U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer in a tweet to help Brazil fight the fires, and said there had been no further contact on the matter.

Despite international concern, Bolsonaro told reporters on Saturday that the situation was returning to normal. He said he was “speaking to everyone” about the problem, including Trump, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and several Latin American leaders.

Bolsonaro had described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.

The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity. Protesters gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in European and Latin American cities Friday, and demonstrators also marched in Brazil.

“The planet’s lungs are on fire. Let’s save them!” read a sign at a protest outside Brazil’s embassy in Mexico City.

A woman holds up a banner saying ‘ Their life does not belong to us’ during a demonstration against the wildfires in the Amazon outside the Brazilian embassy in Paris, Aug. 23, 2019.

The dispute spilled into the economic arena when French leader Emmanuel Macron threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Brazil and several other South American countries.

“First we need to help Brazil and other countries put out these fires,” Macron said Saturday.

The goal is to “preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs,” he said.

In a weekly video message released Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Group of Seven leaders “cannot be silent” and should discuss how to help extinguish the fires.

Bolivia has also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields. A U.S.-based aircraft, the B747-400 SuperTanker, is flying over devastated areas in Bolivia to help put out the blazes and protect forests.

On Saturday, several helicopters along with police, military troops, firefighters and volunteers on the ground worked to extinguish fires in Bolivia’s Chiquitanía region, where the woods are dry at this time of year.

Farmers commonly set fires in this season to clear land for crops or livestock, but sometimes the blazes get out of control. The Bolivian government says 9,530 square kilometers (3680 square miles) have been burned this year.

The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales has backed the increased cultivation of crops for biofuel production, raising questions about whether the policy opened the way to increased burning.

Similarly, Bolsonaro had said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether lax enforcement of environmental regulations may have contributed to the surge in the number of fires.

Brazil’s justice ministry also said federal police will deploy in fire zones to assist other state agencies and combat “illegal deforestation.”

Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.

More than half of those fires occurred in the Amazon region.

Powerful, Obscure Law Is Basis for Trump ‘Order’ On Trade

President Donald Trump is threatening to use the emergency authority granted by a powerful but obscure federal law to make good on his tweeted “order” to U.S. businesses to cut ties in China amid a spiraling trade war between the two nations.

China’s announcement Friday that it was raising tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. imports sent Trump into a rage and White House aides scrambling for a response.

Trump fired off on Twitter, declaring American companies “are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” He later clarified that he was threatening to make use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in the trade war, raising questions about the wisdom and propriety of making the 1977 act used to target rogue regimes, terrorists and drug traffickers the newest weapon in the clash between the world’s largest economies.

It would mark the latest grasp of authority by Trump, who has claimed widespread powers not sought by his predecessors despite his own past criticism of their use of executive powers.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Trump tweeted late Friday. “Case closed!”

For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Case closed!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2019

The act gives presidents wide berth in regulating international commerce during times of declared national emergencies. Trump threatened to use those powers earlier this year to place tariffs on imports from Mexico in a bid to force the U.S. neighbor to do more to address illegal crossings at their shared border.

It was not immediately clear how Trump could use the act to force American businesses to move their manufacturing out of China and to the U.S, and Trump’s threat appeared premature — as he has not declared an emergency with respect to China.

Even without the emergency threat, Trump’s retaliatory action Friday — further raising tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. — had already sparked widespread outrage from the business community.

“It’s impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said in a statement.

The Consumer Technology Association called the escalating tariffs “the worst economic mistake since the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 — a decision that catapulted our country into the Great Depression.”

And trade association CompTIA stressed the logistical strain that would follow if companies were forced to shift operations out of China, saying it would take months for most companies.

“Any forced immediate action would result in chaos,” CEO Todd Thibodeaux said in emailed comments.

The frequent tariff fluctuations are making it hard to plan and are casting uncertainty on some investments, said Peter Bragdon, executive vice president and chief administration officer of Columbia Sportswear.

“There’s no way for anyone to plan around chaos and incoherence,” he said.

Columbia manufactures in more than 20 countries, including China. This diversification helps shield the company from some fluctuations, but China is an important base for serving Chinese customers as well as those in other countries, Bragdon said. The company plans to continue doing business there.

“We follow the rule of law, not the rule of Twitter,” he said.

Presidents have often used the act to impose economic sanctions to further U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. Initially, the targets were foreign states or their governments, but over the years the act has been increasingly used to punish individuals, groups and non-state actors, such as terrorists.

Some of the sanctions have affected U.S. businesses by prohibiting Americans from doing business with those targeted. The act also was used to block new investment in Burma in 1997.

Congress has never attempted to end a national emergency invoking the law, which would require a joint resolution. Congressional lawmakers did vote earlier this year to disapprove of Trump’s declared emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, only to see Trump veto the resolution.

China’s Commerce Ministry issued a statement Saturday condemning Trump’s threat, saying, “This kind of unilateral, bullying trade protectionism and maximum pressure go against the consensus reached by the two countries’ heads of state, violate the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and seriously damage the multilateral trading system and normal international trade order.”

Rohingya Refugees Protest Exodus, Demand Rights in Myanmar

Thousands of angry and frustrated Rohingya refugees marked the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh on Sunday by demanding their citizenship and other rights in the country they fled from.

The event came days after Bangladesh with the help of the U.N. refugee agency attempted to start the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims but none agreed to go back voluntarily. Myanmar had scheduled Aug. 22 for the beginning of the process but it failed for a second time after the first attempt last November.

The repatriation deal is based on an understanding that the return has to be “safe, dignified and voluntary.” The refugees also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights, which the Buddhist-majority nation has refused to grant so far.

More than 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh.

On Sunday morning, more than 3,000 gathered at a playground in Kutupalong camp. Some carried placards and banners reading “Never Again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day,” and “Restore our citizenship.”

A prayer session was scheduled for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias. Security was tight in the camps despite the Rohingya groups’ pledge that they would protest peacefully.

Muhib Ullah, one of the organizers, said they planned a massive rally later Sunday when tens of thousands of refugees are expected to join.

“We want to tell the world that we want our rights back, we want citizenship, we want our homes and land back,” he said. “Myanmar is our country. We are Rohingya.”

Myanmar has consistently denied human rights violations and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya fled from, were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

A U.N.-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.

On Thursday, the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report concluding rapes of Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide. The report said the discrimination Myanmar practiced against the Rohingya in peacetime aggravated the sexual violence toward them during times of conflict.

Fortify Rights, a human rights group that has documented abuses in Myanmar, called on the Myanmar government on Saturday to implement recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The commission recommended that the government end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohinya Muslims, ensure full humanitarian access, tackle Rohingya statelessness and “revisit” the 1982 Citizenship Law and punish perpetrators of abuses.

“Rather than deal with ongoing atrocities, the government tried to hide behind the Advisory Commission,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “The commission responded with concrete recommendations to end violations, and the government should act on them without delay. The government needs to urgently address the realities on the ground.”

У центрі Санкт-Петербурга активісти провели одиночні пікети до Дня Незалежності України

У центрі російського Санкт-Петербурга на перетині Невського проспекту і Малої Садової 24 серпня активісти влаштували серію одиночних пікетів до Дня Незалежності України. Як повідомляє російський правозахисний портал «ОВД-инфо», о 16-й годині російські силовики затримали учасника одного з пікетів Олексія Соловйова. Повідомляється, що Соловйова забрали у відділок, але відпустили після отримання пояснень.

З відеотрансляції, яку вела у Facebook Ольга Смирнова, видно, як до учасників пікетів, які тримали в руках прапор України і плакати з привітаннями Україні, підходили співробітники російської поліції і перехожі. Деякі з них підтримували, а деякі засуджували пікети.

Раніше повідомлялося, що у Новосибірську, на півночі Росії, місцеві активісти провели мітинг до Дня Незалежності України.

Іран запровадив «санкції» проти американського «Фонду захисту демократії»

Міністерство закордонних справ Ірану заявило про запровадження санкцій проти базованого у Вашингтоні «Фонду захисту демократії» і його генерального директора, заявивши, що організація підтримує санкції і «економічний тероризм» проти Ірану.

Як повідомляють 24 серпня іранські ЗМІ, зокрема інформагенція Fars, з посиланням на МЗС Ірану, «фонд і його генеральний директор Марк Дубовіц зумисне завдали шкоди життєво важливим інтересам Ірану, поширюючи брехню».

У заяві МЗС Ірану йдеться, що наступними за санкціями можуть бути судові дії проти фонду, Дубовіця та його колег.

Дубовіц заявив, що вважає «знаком честі» включення його «іранським режимом» у будь-які списки. Його фонд рішуче критикував ядерну угоду Ірану зі світовими державами 2015 року.

З 2017 року Іран періодично вводить санкції проти американських структур, хоча вони, як і санкції США, малоефективні, якщо особа не використовує іранську фінансову систему.

Посол Росії у Великобританії пішов у відставку

Посол Росії у Великій Британії Олександр Яковенко пішов у відставку, йдеться на сайті дипломатичної місії. Згідно з повідомленням, дипломат вже вирушив до Росії. Повідомляється, що тимчасовим повіреним призначений радник-посланець Іван Володін.

Олександр Яковенко очолював дипмісію Росії в Лондоні з січня 2011 року. Кінець його каденції позначився напруженістю у відносинах між Британією і Росією після того, як в березні минулого року у Солсбері були отруєні нервово-паралітичною речовиною «Новачок» колишній полковник ГРУ Росії Сергій Скрипаль і його дочка Юлія.

Незабаром після цих подій Великобританія вислала з країни 23 російських дипломатів, Росія вислала таке ж число британських дипломатів.


Зеленський розповів про деякі плани щодо складу уряду

Упродовж наступного тижня буде вирішуватися питання щодо кандидатури прем’єр-міністра нового уряду, зазначив президент Володимир Зеленський, відповідаючи на запитання журналістів під час урочистого прийому в Маріїнському палаці, повідомляє кореспондент Радіо Свобода. 

«Мені нема куди тягнути. Я вам скажу чесно, що складність цього рішення – в тому, що мені подобається кілька людей. Двоє», – сказав він.

Наразі, за його словами, три людини претендують на позицію міністра фінансів, в тому числі – чинна міністр Оксана Маркарова. Деталей президент не повідомив, але обіцяв вийти на пресконференцію після призначення уряду у вересні.

Урочистий прийом з нагоди Дня Незалежності, який глава держави Володимир Зеленський провів 24 серпня в Маріїнському палаці в Києві відвідали п’ять попередніх президентів України (всі, крім Віктора Януковича).

Сьогодні, 24 серпня, Україна святкує 28-й День Незалежності. У столиці Києві відбулися як офіційне святкування, «Хода гідності» за участі президента України, так і неофіційний Марш ветеранів. Традиційного параду військової техніки в Києві цього року не проводять.

У Гонконгу знову сутички: поліція застосувала сльозогінний газ, протестувальники – каміння

Поліція Гонконгу застосувала сльозогінний газ для розгону протестувальників, які збиралися біля поліцейського відділку.

Місцевич громадський мовник RTHK заявив, що 24 серпня силовики приїхали з палицями, щоб відігнати протестувальників, які кидали цеглу і снаряди із запальною сумішшю.

Сутичка трапилася після маршу протесту у Коулун-Бей, району через гавань від острова Гонконг. 

Продемократичні демонстранти помітили так звані «розумні ліхтарі», які були встановлені в околицях. Вони бояться, що ці пристрої призведуть до посилення нагляду, хоча уряд це заперечив.

Протести в Гонконгу спалахнули понад два з половиною місяці тому з вимогами не ухвалювати законопроект місцевої влади, що міг призвести до видачі мешканців Гонконгу для судів чи відбування покарань до решти Китаю. Після скасування законопроекту їхні учасники розширили вимоги, домагаючись відновлення повної демократії і незалежного розслідування ймовірних зловживань поліції проти демонстрантів.

Ці протести стали в Гонконгу найбільшою кризою з часу переходу регіону під владу Китаю 1997 року і вважаються значним викликом для комуністичної влади в Пекіні. Як раніше повідомлялося, це питання мають обговорити лідери Великої Британії, Італії, Канади, Німеччини, США, Франції і Японії на саміті G7 24 серпня.

Нині Гонконг має у складі Китаю широку автономію і досі ще значною мірою зберігає відсутній у решті Китаю демократичний лад із часів, коли ця територія була британською колонією до 1997 року.

How US Government’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Plan Unfurled Into Confusion

This is the second story in a series on how the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols are being carried out in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Read the first story here.

VOA News Center Immigration Reporter Ramon Taylor, and VOA Spanish Service reporters Jorge Agobian and Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.

Like border cities everywhere, Nuevo Laredo is a portal. People and merchandise cross the five road and rail bridges between the U.S. and Mexico every day, in both directions, for work, school, business meetings, shopping, family visits, doctor appointments – the quotidian building blocks of life along the Rio Grande.

Pay 25 cents and you can walk right across Puente #1, as it’s known colloquially, in a few minutes if you’re in a rush and there’s no line at the immigration agent desks.

Formally the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge, it links Laredo’s historic city center neighborhood of San Agustin, to the commercial strip of shops, pharmacies and low-key lunchtime restaurants on Nuevo Laredo’s Avenida Guerrero.

It’s at the end of this bridge, when entering Mexico from the U.S., in the parking lot built for buses and trucks at the Mexican immigration agency’s customs office, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have dropped off migrants and asylum-seekers sent back to Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) policy to wait for their immigration court dates.

FILE – FILE – People walk back to Mexico on the Americas International Bridge, a legal port of entry which connects Laredo, Texas in the U.S., with Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, July 18, 2019.

“In Nuevo Laredo, we’re used to seeing a lot of migrants (traveling through), historically,” said Raul Cárdenas Thomae, secretary of the Nuevo Laredo city council. “But in the last few months, the number of people crossing into the U.S. has definitely increased.”

Register in Mexico

At first, asylum-seekers would register with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, which in turn would share lists of the asylum-seekers with the U.S. government, Cárdenas Thomae said. The list would allow the asylum-seekers to schedule an initial hearing with a U.S. immigration judge.

Beginning on July 9, however, Nuevo Laredo began receiving people from the other direction under the Trump administration’s new policy. Since then, more than 3,000 asylum-seekers who had crossed into the U.S. and are awaiting immigration court dates have been returned to Mexico under the MPP policy.

Moreover, migrants aren’t the only — or even the main — issue for local government for this city of about 400,000.

Nuevo Laredo maintains a prickly balance among massive amounts of transnational business, politics, migration and organized crime, and it’s long been a base for the Los Zetas cartel, whose activities are deeply entrenched in the city’s fabric.

Nuevo Laredo Mayor Enrique Rivas Cuéllar said every city has its dangers, its risks. But the city is not the one that is pushing migrants to leave, he insists.

“We obviously can’t force anyone not to be in the city of Nuevo Laredo, but what we can be strict about is that the laws are followed; that there is an order that doesn’t disrupt the rights of others,” he told VOA.

Officials didn’t know how many people to expect. At one point, local officials understood they might receive as many as 15,000 returnees, Cardenas Thomae said. Moreover, they don’t know how long people will stay — or even if they will stay.

FILE – Migrants sit in a bus that will take them and other migrants to Moneterrey, from an immigration center in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, July 18, 2019.

Buses to Monterrey

The Mexican government at first provided buses from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey, a 270-kilometer (168-mile)  journey that takes about three hours to drive. The buses were an option for migrants; no one was forced on board.

Beginning earlier this month, though, the buses that showed up at the bridge drop-off site were bound for Chiapas, the Mexican state bordering Guatemala, which in turn, borders Honduras and El Salvador.

Bus route from Nuevo Laredo to Tapachula, Mexico

The Homeland Security Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to multiple VOA requests for comment on Mexico’s busing plan and concerns over how people would be able to return for their U.S. court dates.

Calling the busing plan “voluntary,” said Maureen Meyer, director of Mexico programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a Washington-based human rights organization, “seems hard to justify when the people aren’t even very clear on what they’re going into.”

Meyer traveled to Chiapas this month to see the buses from Nuevo Laredo arrive, after a more than 30-hour trip. Mexican immigration agents at the border with Guatemala seemed confused about what they should advise the busloads of people, she told VOA.

The arrival also raised issues for the migrants themselves, each theoretically with a U.S. court date in the coming months. Being closer to home could mean a place to shower and regroup, or pick up more paperwork for their cases. However, they often don’t understand that even a brief return home could weaken their asylum cases, Meyer said.

Behind the scenes, CBP officials, journalists, shelter directors, politicians, and immigration lawyers are asking questions about how MPP functions. Unlike CBP and DHS officials, though, Nuevo Laredo municipality officials were willing to not only talk, but sit down for interviews on camera and address MPP.

The migrants themselves don’t have access to these discussions, though, or to people whom they could ask questions. They have some paperwork that in some cases they don’t understand, or don’t trust, such as a list of free or low-cost lawyers from CBP. The migrants have often thrown away their cellphones before crossing the river and haven’t seen the news in weeks or months.

FILE – A woman and her 7-month-old baby stand on a sidewalk after being bused by Mexican authorities from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey, Mexico.

Immigration attorneys acknowledge that even if the migrants could get cellphone service in Mexico, and can pay for phone credit, there’s a good chance they couldn’t get a lawyer. Border attorneys are stretched thin, and the length of some asylum cases — which can take years — makes it difficult for outside lawyers to connect with potential clients.

US Border Patrol

The long wait may push people to reattempt a stealth border crossing, possibly in a more dangerously remote area.

“I envision a time where everybody… (is) going to try and traverse and evade apprehension and become part of this smuggling effort that happens on this side of the border, as opposed to just on the Mexican side of the border,” Del Rio Sector U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said.

Meanwhile, the migrants and asylum-seekers are still arriving to Nuevo Laredo, and still deciding how and where to wait out the months until their first hearing.

Lilian, a Honduran woman traveling with her 9-year-old son, said the group dropped off at Puente #1 on August 8 was told if they didn’t get on the buses to Chiapas, they would be put out on the street.

She and her son, along with a woman and her children in the CBP facility, did not get on the bus, but headed to another Mexican city.

“What I don’t want is to go back to Honduras. … If we go to Chiapas, how much is it going to cost me to come back? I don’t have that kind of money,” said Lilian, who was given a November court date.


Russian Spacecraft Fails to Dock With Space Station

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft failed to dock with the International Space Station Saturday.

The craft was carrying a humanoid robot that was scheduled to conduct a mission on the station with the cosmonauts who are there.  

NASA said on its blog that the docking system of the Soyuz spacecraft failed to properly lock onto its target on the ISS.

The Soyuz has backed away from the ISS while the cosmonauts work on the station’s docking system.

Officials say the Soyuz will attempt another ISS docking Monday.