Nicaragua frees 222 opponents of Ortega, sends them to US

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Juan Sebastian Chamorro, one of the more than 200 freed political prisoners from Nicaragua, speaks to reporters after arriving in the US capital on Feb. 9, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Supporters of Nicaraguan political prisoners chant at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia on Feb. 9, 2023 as the former inmates arrive. (AP)
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Updated 10 February 2023
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Nicaragua frees 222 opponents of Ortega, sends them to US

  • Nicaraguan President Ortega claimed that the prisoners were behind 2018 street protests he claims were a plot to overthrow him
  • Tens of thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down those antigovernment protests in

MEXICO CITY: Some 222 inmates considered by many to be political prisoners of the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega flew to Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Blinken said the prisoners had been jailed “for exercising their fundamental freedoms and have endured lengthy unjust detentions.”
“The release of these individuals, one of whom is a US citizen, by the government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step toward addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern,” Blinken said.
He said that among those on the plane were political and business leaders, journalists, civil society representatives and students. Blinken credited “concerted American diplomacy.”
Ortega has maintained that his imprisoned opponents and others were behind 2018 street protests he claims were a plot to overthrow him. Tens of thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down those antigovernment protests in.
The Nicaraguan opposition’s latest count on “political prisoners” held had been 245. It was not immediately clear who was not released.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Nicaragua had identified 224 prisoners to be sent on the plane, but two of them declined. They were not identified.
Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez was on a list of 39 prisoners who were not on the plane compiled by the nongovernmental group Mechanism for Recognition of Political Prisoners.
Price said those who arrived in Washington came voluntarily and would receive humanitarian parole allowing them to stay in the country for two years. They were staying at hotels under responsibility of US Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security and the government would work with nongovernmental organizations to help in their resettlement.
“It was the Nicaraguan government that decided to offer the opportunity to these individuals to travel the United States,” Price said. “When I say this is a product of American engagement, as you know, we have long called for the release of individuals imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms as a first step toward the restoration of democracy and an improved human rights climate in Nicaragua.”
Back in Nicaragua, a judge read a statement saying the 222 prisoners had been “deported.”
Octavio Rothschuh, a magistrate on the Managua Appeals court, said the deportation was carried out under an order issued Wednesday that declared the prisoners “traitors to the country.” He said they were deported for actions that undermined Nicaragua’s independence and sovereignty.
Later Thursday, Nicaragua’s Congress unanimously approved a constitutional change allowing “traitors” to be stripped of their nationality. It will require a second vote in the next legislative session later this year.
Wilma Nuñez, president of the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights, said in a statement that while the prisoners’ release was welcome, “deportation is a legal term that applies to foreigners who commit crimes in a country. They want to call exile a deportation, which is absolutely arbitrary and prohibited by international human rights norms.”
Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the Organization of American States, celebrated the release, which he said the US State Department had confirmed to him.
“It is a massive freeing” of prisoners seldom seen, McFields said. He credited the prisoners’ families for never letting up the pressure.
Berta Valle, the wife of opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, said the State Department told her that her husband was on the plane.
According to US officials, also among those aboard the flight were Cristiana Chamorro, who had been a leading presidential contender before her arrest in 2021. Daughter of former President Violeta Chamorro, she was sentenced last March to eight years in prison. She was convicted of money laundering through her mother’s nongovernmental organization as Ortega pursued NGOs that received foreign funding. She was being held under house arrest.
Other one-time presidential hopefuls Arturo Cruz and Juan Sebastian Chamorro were also on the flight, US officials said.
Ortega upped his pursuit of political opponents in early 2021, looking to clear the field ahead of presidential elections in November of that year. Security forces arrested seven potential presidential contenders and Ortega romped to a fourth consecutive term in elections that the US and other countries termed a farce.
Nicaraguan judges sentenced several opposition leaders, including former high-level officials of the governing Sandinista movement and former presidential contenders, to prison terms for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”
Given the notoriously bad conditions at the infamous El Chipote prison and others, as well as the age of some of the opposition leaders, relatives had feared the terms may effectively be death sentences.
Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader who once led a raid that helped free then rebel Ortega from prison, died while awaiting trial. He was 73.
Nicaraguan judges also sentenced five Catholic priests to prison this week for conspiracy and spreading false information. It was not immediately clear if any of them were on the flight.
 


South Korea fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed border on Thursday

Updated 21 June 2024
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South Korea fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed border on Thursday

SEOUL: South Korea’s military fired warning shots after several North Korean soldiers crossed the border on Thursday morning, the Yonhap news agency reported on Friday citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The soldiers retreated immediately after the warning shots were fired, the report said.
They had breached the Military Demarcation Line running through the middle of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), where they were working around 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Thursday, South Korea said.
It is at least the third such incident this month. South Korea’s military fired warning shots on Tuesday after dozens of North Korean soldiers breached the demarcation line.
The incident came after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for the first time in 24 years earlier this week. (

 


US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

Updated 21 June 2024
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US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

  • White House says it can do this by redirecting orders made by other allies for air defense systems
  • Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes

WASHINGTON: The White House announced Thursday that it will rush delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine by redirecting planned shipments to other allied nations, as Washington scrambles to counter increased Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
National security spokesman John Kirby said the US had taken the “difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize near-term planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries,” though he wouldn’t say which nations would be affected or how many.
“Right now, we know that Ukraine urgently needs these additional capabilities,” Kirby said on a call with reporters, adding, “Obviously more is needed, and it’s needed now.”
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden, during last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Italy, suggested such action might be necessary, saying, “We’ve let it be known for those countries that are expecting, from us, air defense systems in the future, that they’re going to have to wait.”
“Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met,” Biden said. “And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.”
The US was already sending Ukraine a consistent stream of interceptors for its air defense systems, including for the Patriot missile batteries and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS. But Kirby said that more was urgently needed as Russia’s military has accelerated missile and drone attacks against cities and infrastructure centers “trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of this winter.”

This handout photograph taken on June 18, 2024 and released by the Press service of the 24th mechanized brigade shows Ukrainian servicemen repairing military equipment at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (AFP)

Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes, as each side seeks to hinder the other’s ability to continue fighting.
The number of interceptors to be sent isn’t clear but Kirby said it could involve “hundreds” of Patriot interceptor missiles.
Kirby said Ukraine will get prioritized shipments as soon as systems roll off assembly lines for the next about 16 months, and those will provide the country with “enough capability” during that period.
After that, he said, “Countries that have been asked to delay will start to get” deliveries of systems they had already ordered.
Kirby said the move means “a range of countries” will face delays in receiving missile systems that are being diverted to Ukraine but that the shift would not affect Taiwan or what it “continues to need and receive for self-defense” in the face of potential threats from China.
Asked to describe how other countries reacted to the shift, Kirby said they were “broadly understanding of it.”
“They know how serious the need is in Ukraine,” he said.


Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

Updated 21 June 2024
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Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

  • The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally is seen leading the race ahead of France’s parliamentary elections, three polls showed on Thursday, ahead of the leftwing Popular Front and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists.
Pollster IFOP in a survey for broadcasting group TF1 and Le Figaro said the National Rally (RN) would secure 34 percent of the vote, while the Popular Front would reach 29 percent and Macron’s Together bloc would get 22 percent.
Another poll by Harris Interactive — conducted for RTL radio, M6 TV and Challenges Magazine — put the RN at 33 percent, while the left was seen at 26 percent and Macron’s camp at 21 percent.
A third poll published on Thursday, by OpinionWay on behalf of CNews TV, Europe 1 radio and the Journal du Dimanche paper, also put the RN in the lead with 35 percent of the votes, ahead of the Popular Front which had 27 percent and Macron’s camp which had 20 percent.
The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district.
The Harris poll, however, made rough seat projections and forecast 235 to 280 seats for RN and its allies, which would fall short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority but make it by far the largest bloc.


New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

Updated 21 June 2024
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New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

  • The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed a bill that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts suggested by a platform’s algorithm, a move to limit feeds critics argue are addictive.
Under the legislation, feeds on apps like TikTok and Instagram would be limited for people under age 18 to posts from accounts they follow, rather than content suggested by an automated algorithm. It would also block platforms from sending minors notifications on suggested posts between midnight and 6 a.m.
Both provisions could be turned off if a minor gets what the bill defines as “verifiable parental consent.”
The law does not take effect immediately. State Attorney General Letitia James is now tasked with crafting rules to determine mechanisms for verifying a user’s age and parental consent. After the rules are finalized, social media companies will have 180 days to implement the regulations.
“We can protect our kids. We can tell the companies that you are not allowed to do this, you don’t have a right to do this, that parents should have say over their children’s lives and their health, not you,” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a bill signing ceremony in Manhattan.
The signing is the first step in what is expected to be a drawn out process of rule making, and a probable lawsuit from social media companies to block the law.
NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that includes X and Meta, has criticized the legislation as unconstitutional.
“This is an assault on free speech and the open Internet by the State of New York,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said in a statement. “New York has created a way for the government to track what sites people visit and their online activity by forcing websites to censor all content unless visitors provide an ID to verify their age.”
Most of the biggest social media platforms send users a steady stream of suggested videos, photographs and other content, using a computer to try and predict what will keep users entertained and engaged for as long as possible. The algorithms use a variety of factors to curate that content, including what a user has clicked on before and interests of other people with similar preferences.
The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced plans to work with the Legislature on a bill to restrict smartphone usage for students during the school day, though he didn’t provide exact details on what the proposal would include. Newsom in 2019 signed a bill allowing school districts to limit or ban smartphones while at school.
There hasn’t been broad legislation on the subject at the federal level but it is a common point of discussion in Washington. This week the US surgeon general called on Congress to put warning labels on social media platforms similar to those on cigarettes, citing mental health dangers for children using the sites.
Some tech companies, with pressure mounting, have decided to set up parental controls on their platforms. Last year, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, created tools that allowed parents to set time limits on the apps for children.
The New York legislation, debuted last October, had faced major pushback in the Legislature from the tech industry.
“Social media platforms manipulate what our children see online to keep them on the platforms as long as possible,” said James, a Democrat who pushed for the bill. “The more time young people spend on social media, the more they are at risk of developing serious mental health concerns.”


Trump proposes green cards for foreign grads of US colleges, departing from anti-immigrant rhetoric

Updated 21 June 2024
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Trump proposes green cards for foreign grads of US colleges, departing from anti-immigrant rhetoric

  • A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, allows individuals to live and work permanently in the United States and is a path to citizenship

MIAMI: Former President Donald Trump said in an interview posted on Thursday he wants to give automatic green cards to foreign students who graduate from US colleges, a sharp departure from the anti-immigrant rhetoric he typically uses on the campaign trail.
Trump was asked about plans for companies to be able to import the “best and brightest” in a podcast taped Wednesday with venture capitalists and tech investors called the “All-In.”
“What I want to do and what I will do is you graduate from a college, I think you should get automatically as part of your diploma a green card to be able to stay in this country. And that includes junior colleges too, anybody graduates from a college. You go there for two years or four years,” he said, vowing to address this concern on day one.
Immigration has been Trump’s signature issue during his 2024 bid to return to the White House. His suggestion that he would offer green cards — documents that confer a pathway to US citizenship — to potentially hundreds of thousands of foreign graduates would represent a sweeping expansion of America’s immigration system that sharply diverges from his most common messages on foreigners.
Trump has blamed immigrants who are in the country illegally for committing crimes, stealing jobs and government resources, and suggested that they are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He has promised to carry out the largest deportation operation in US history if elected.
Trump and his allies often say they distinguish between people entering illegally versus legally. But during his administration, Trump also proposed curbs on legal immigration such as family-based visas and the visa lottery program.
Right after taking office in 2017, he issued his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, directing Cabinet members to suggest reforms to ensure that business visas were only awarded to the highest-paid or most-skilled applicants to protect American workers.
He has previously said the H1-B program commonly used by companies to hire foreign workers temporarily — a program he has used in the past — was “very bad” and used by tech companies to get foreign workers for lower pay.
During the conversation with “All-In,” Trump blamed the coronavirus pandemic for being unable to implement these measures while he was president. He said he knows of stories of people who graduate from top colleges and want to stay in the US but can’t secure visas to do so, forcing them to return to their native countries, specifically naming India and China. He said they go on and become multibillionaires, employing thousands of workers.
“You need a pool of people to work for your company,” Trump said. “And they have to be smart people. Not everybody can be less than smart. You need brilliant people.”