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Voice of America is an international news and broadcast organization serving Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Balkan countries
  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Family File Appeals
    Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appealed his 10-year prison sentence. His daughter and political heir, Maryam, and his son-in-law Mohammad Safdar have also appealed their convictions.  The appeals were filed Monday with the Islamabad High Court.  Authorities in Pakistan swiftly arrested Sharif and Maryam after the two landed in the eastern city of Lahore on a commercial flight from Britain Friday.  The arrest was made in connection with a recent verdict from an anti-corruption court. Sharif and his daughter were sentenced in absentia to 10 years and seven years in prison respectively for failing to explain how they acquired expensive properties in London.  Safdar was given a one-year sentence for failing to cooperate with the National Accountability Bureau and for aiding and abetting Sharif and Maryam.  Legal experts say without surrendering to authorities, Sharif would have not been eligible to appeal the verdict. Tens of thousands of supporters and leaders of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party flooded the streets in Lahore all day Friday in anticipation of the arrest of their leader. They also intermittently clashed with riot police in parts of the capital of the country's most populous province of Punjab.  The provincial government beefed up security ahead of Sharif’s arrival in Lahore and detained scores of protesters in their bid to deter massive gatherings near the airport and prevent them from creating law and order problems, officials said. Sharif had denounced the verdict as politically motivated and accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party to enable alliance favorites to win Pakistan’s national elections on July 25. PML-N candidates have also alleged Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, is pressuring and intimidating them to switch loyalties and contest the polls as independents.  A spokesman for Pakistan’s Independent Election Commission, which oversights the polls, urged candidates Thursday to come forward to register complaints if they are being intimidated.  The army has strongly rejected charges it is meddling in the democratic process, or muzzling the media, to rig the polls in favor of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by sports celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan.  "We don't have a political party. We don't have a loyalty,” the army spokesman said earlier this week. Major-General Asif Ghafoor also dismissed suggestions his institution is forcing Sharif's supporters to switch parties. He said the election commission has requested that the army assist in organizing a “fair and free” election on July 25 and more than 370,000 troops are being deployed at polling stations around Pakistan to achieve the objective.  Khan, who has been leading legal battles and demanding Sharif’s accountability through street protests, denies his party is colluding with the military.
  • Surge in South China Sea Naval Exercises in 2018 Vexes Beijing
    A surge in naval maneuvers in the South China Sea by Western allies this year is keeping China from any further expansion into the contested waters, analysts say. Vessels from Australia, France, Japan and the United States have sent ships to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea in 2018. They believe the sea rich in fisheries and fossil fuel reserves to be an international waterway, but China claims about 90 percent of it and has militarized several key islets. The foreign military exercises, naval ship passages and ports of call, along with one U.S. B-52 flyby have effectively stopped China from pushing ahead with expansion that’s also opposed by five other maritime claimants in Asia, experts believe. “You take a realist perspective of power, and it’s a way of ensuring the South China Sea is permanently contested,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.  “So, the Chinese will issue angry statements and so on, warning of consequences, but the fact that all these multinational navies keep doing it in spite of Chinese warnings, it defies Beijing," he said. Year of military exercises The number of hours of that navy ships have spent in the South China Sea has hit a high this year, said Carl Thayer, Asia-specialized emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. The U.S. Navy has sailed naval vessels into the South China Sea eight times over the past 18 months and flew two B-52 bombers over it last month. This month the United States and the Philippines kicked off their own joint naval exercises to train Manila’s navy. Australia passed three ships though the sea in April en route to a goodwill visit to Vietnam, and Japan anticipates sending an Izumo-class helicopter carrier through the sea again this year as it did in 2017. Last year military officers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc boarded the Izumo. France passed a frigate and an assault ship through near Chinese-held islets in May. Reports in May of Chinese missiles deployed to the sea’s Spratly Islands galvanized much for the foreign naval attention this year, Thayer said. On Monday the U.S. Navy wrapped up its biennial RIMPAC exercises, which are based out of Honolulu. The series of live-fire drills and scenario-based exercises brought together 25,000 people from 25 countries including South China Sea claimant states such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Philippines gained from RIMPAC by “becoming comfortable” with allies and learning to “operate smoothly with them,” said Jay Batongbacal, a University of the Philippines international maritime affairs professor. All four Southeast Asian countries contest some of the waters that China calls its own. The United States dis-invited Beijing from RIMPAC this year. China’s conundrum China criticizes these movements and often responds with its own. It cites historical records to back its claim to most of the sea. Chinese vessels followed their Australian and French counterparts. Its navy sent an auxiliary general intelligence ship this month to track the RIMPAC exercises near Honolulu, according to American media reports quoting a Pacific Fleet spokesman. In April, China held military drills for two days in the sea. They brought together about 10,000 personnel and 48 naval vessels. China wants to keep the others away, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taipei. “There’s the demonstrating that you are a world leader politically and militarily, the power projection thing, and there’s the deterrent aspect,” Spangler said. “There’s also the sort of insurance policy aspect. In the off chance there’s a conflict, then (China) will be prepared.” But use of the sea by Western navies effectively keeps China from building up more islets – many of which it has landfilled since 2010 – or testing the patience of the Southeast Asian maritime claimants, experts say. China “cannot assume on a roll and can take the South China Sea by stealth” as they build economic ties to get on the good side of other claimants, Chong said. Too much pushback against other navies would scuttle Chinese statements that it’s a good neighbor in Asia, he added. Western-allied ship movement now follows a Cold War pattern where American and Soviet ships tested each other's influence, Thayer said. U.S. and Soviet vessels had faced off, for example, in the Indian Ocean. China may have called off plans to build on Scarborough Shoal, which is contested by Beijing and Manila, as former U.S. President Barack Obama sent ships, he said. A U.S. carrier strike group reached the sea in 2015. “Both sides are contributing to the tensions in the sense that anything America does China will push back,” he said. “Several years ago, the expression was you do 1 we do 1.5 times, you do two, we do 2.5.”
  • Trump Declares US Relationship with Russia 'Has Never Been Worse'
    U.S. President Donald Trump, just hours before his highly anticipated one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, took to social media to cast blame for the state of the American relationship with Moscow.  Trump tweeted: "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!," referring to the current investigation by the special counsel into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Trump had also issued a series of tweets as he headed for Finland, saying no matter how well he does at the summit with Putin he would "return to criticism that it wasn't good enough." ​ ​Asked by reporters to further comment during a Monday morning breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the Mantyniemi official residence, Trump stuck to the bilateral relationship with Helsinki and last week’s meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "NATO was a little bit tough at the beginning and it turned out to be love," replied Trump.  "They're paying and they're paying more rapidly and I think NATO has never been stronger than it is today," said Trump referring to defense spending commitments tied to a minimum percentage of the gross domestic product of the alliance’s member states. Finland, is part of the EU but not a full member of the NATO defense pact. Several thousand protesters gathered Sunday in Helsinki’s iconic Senate Square for a protest that gathered together activists focused on issues including the environment, refugee rights, and anti-war causes. Some of protest signs read: "Dictators not welcome," "Trump is Satan to the environment," and "Stop Killing Journalists." Additional protests are expected Monday.  Ahead of his summit with Putin, Trump has both lowered expectations for the talks and issued a stunning rebuke of what has traditionally been one of Washington’s closest allies. "Well I think we have a lot of foes," Trump told CBS News when asked who he thinks is the U.S.’ biggest enemy. "I think the European Union is a foe. Now you wouldn't think of the European Union, but they're a foe." Trump also said Russia is a foe "in certain respects." European Council President Donald Tusk quickly responded on Twitter: "America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news." Trump’s comments were broadcast as he headed for Helsinki. Trump says he will use the meeting to find areas of cooperation with Putin, who is also critical of Western institutions such as NATO and the EU. "Nothing bad’s gonna come out of it, and maybe some good will come out," Trump said. "But I go in with low expectations. I'm not going with high expectations. I don’t really, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen." Trump and Putin are set to meet one-on-one on Monday afternoon with only interpreters present before wider talks involving aides. The encounter comes three days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, accusing them of meddling in election to help Trump win the White House.  Russia has no extradition treaty with the United States, so it is unlikely that the Russia would turn the intelligence officials over to the U.S. to stand trial. Putin has denied trying to influence the vote. The fresh indictments prompted a number of U.S. senators, all but one Democrats, to request Trump cancel his summit with Putin. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, speaking to VOA’s Russian Service in Helsinki said his greatest fear is that Trump "will be too friendly and lavish praise on Vladimir Putin and I think that serves his interest. I don’t think that serves America’s interest." During his Europe tour, Trump has been combative with traditional U.S. allies at every stage – beginning at a NATO summit in Brussels, where he chastised European leaders for not spending more on defense.   Ahead of his meeting in Britain, Trump criticized Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to negotiations about Britain leaving the EU and suggested it could impact a proposed trade deal between London and Washington.