Using Tech to Save World’s Most Endangered Species in Tanzania

In Tanzania, protecting endangered animals has become easier thanks to Earth Ranger. Earth Ranger is not a superhero, it’s a technology platform, developed by Vulcan Inc., a company co-founded by U.S. philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The system helps rangers remotely monitor elephants and other animals to stay ahead of poachers. Faiza Elmasry has the story. VOA’s Faith Lapidus narrates.

Macedonia’s Parliament Approves Change in Country’s Name 

Macedonia’s parliament has approved a proposal to change the country’s name, a move that could pave the way for it to join NATO and the European Union.

Eighty members of parliament in the 120-seat body voted in favor of the measure Friday to rename the country North Macedonia, just surpassing the two-thirds supermajority needed to enact constitutional changes.

Parliament was forced to address the issue after a September referendum on the matter failed to achieve the turnout threshold of 50 percent.

According to election officials, only about a third of eligible voters cast ballots in the September referendum. However, they said more than 90 percent of those voting cast ballots in favor of changing the country’s name to North Macedonia. Conservatives in Macedonia strongly oppose the name change and boycotted the referendum.

Macedonians are being asked to change the name of their country to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece and pave the way for the country’s admission into NATO and the EU.

Athens has argued that the name “Macedonia” belongs exclusively to its northern province of Macedonia and that using the name implies Skopje’s intentions to claim the Greek province.

The two countries agreed on the name change in June.

Greece has for years pressured Skopje into renouncing the country’s name, forcing it to use the more formal moniker Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the United Nations. Greece has consistently blocked its smaller neighbor from gaining membership in NATO and the EU as long it retained its name.

The process for Macedonia’s parliament to fully change the country’s name is lengthy and will require several more rounds of voting.

Bolton Headed to Russia Amid Fears US Leaving Nuclear Deal

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton will meet Saturday in Moscow with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, amid reports that Washington will tell Russia it plans to quit a landmark nuclear weapons treaty.

The visit comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump this year.

Bolton, who will also meet Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, announced the visit to Moscow in a tweet, saying he would “continue discussions that began in Helsinki,” referring to a summit held in July.

The New York Times said the Trump administration plans to inform Russian leaders in the coming days that it is preparing to leave the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF.

The newspaper said the U.S. accuses Russia of violating the deal, signed in 1987 by president Ronald Reagan, by deploying tactical nuclear weapons to intimidate former Soviet satellite states that are now close to the West.

US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election, as well as tension over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.

However, Washington is looking for support from Moscow in finding resolutions to the Syria war and putting pressure on both Iran and North Korea.

No new summit between Trump and Putin has been announced, but one is expected in the near future.

The two leaders will be in Paris on Nov. 11 to attend commemorations marking the end of World War I.

A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said another potential date would be when the presidents both attend the Group of 20 meeting Nov. 30-Dec. 1.

“There are a couple possibilities, including the G-20 in Buenos Aires or the Armistice Day parade in Paris. At the G20 is probably more likely,” the official said. “President Trump’s invitation to Putin to visit Washington, D.C., still stands.” 

US Officials Warn No Letup in Russian Meddling Attempts

U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and security agencies are warning that Russia is persistently targeting the country’s upcoming midterm elections. They laid out the latest evidence in new charges against a Russian national connected to the oligarch known as “Putin’s cook.”

The U.S. on Friday unsealed the criminal complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, making her the first Russian charged in connection with interference in the 2018 election.

According to the criminal complaint, Khusyaynova was the chief accountant for a Russian effort dubbed “Project Lakhta,” a self-described “information warfare” operation run by the Internet Research Agency — the same social media troll farm indicted earlier this year by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia investigation.

Charging documents say Khusyaynova oversaw spending for social media advertisements and promotions and proxy servers as she helped to create thousands of social media accounts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, some of which generated tens of thousands of followers.

The criminal complaint says Khusyanova was working with a multimillion-dollar budget — money, according to U.S. officials, that came from Russian businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s cook” because of his catering company’s work for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin is thought to have extensive ties to Russia’s political and military establishments.

Involved in 2018 elections

But unlike previous criminal complaints, U.S. officials said Khusyaynova’s activity extended well beyond the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as she funded efforts to create new social media accounts targeting both issues and candidates, Republican and Democratic, involved the 2018 election, now just a little more than two weeks away.

Like with previous efforts under “Project Lakhta,” all of the accounts were designed to make it appear as though they belonged to actual American political activists, using virtual private networks (VPNs) and other methods to hide their origin. 

U.S. officials also said those running them were told to intensify divisions and distrust between members of all political parties “through supporting radical groups” and to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.”

Messaging focused on a variety of topics, including immigration, gun control, the Confederate flag and the debate over American football players kneeling for the U.S. national anthem.

Officials said specific incidents, including mass shootings, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and decisions coming from the Trump White House were also used as fodder.

“The strategic goal of this alleged conspiracy, which continues to this day, is to sow discord in the U.S. political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger said in a statement.

Asked about the new charges during a visit to Arizona, President Donald Trump called them irrelevant to his efforts.

“It had nothing to do with my campaign,” he told reporters. “If they are hackers, a lot of them probably like [2016 Democratic presidential nominee] Hillary Clinton better than me.”

Warning and reassurance

Friday’s indictment came as U.S. intelligence and security officials sought to both warn and reassure U.S. voters about the upcoming midterm elections.

“We’re not seeing anything anywhere remotely close to ’16,” Chris Krebs, undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, told reporters Friday following a tabletop election security exercise.

“2016 had a long lead-up of spear-phishing campaigns, compromise of networks,” he said. “We’re not seeing them right now.”

Krebs and other officials have also said there had been no increase in attempts to infiltrate U.S. voting systems, and that no system involved in tallying votes had been compromised.

Many of those systems have been upgraded or hardened, U.S. officials said, noting that more than 90 percent of the country’s election infrastructure was now being monitored by sensors that can detect malicious activity.

But at the same time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned Friday of persistent efforts by U.S. adversaries to sway voters.

“We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment,” ODNI said in a joint statement with the Justice Department, the FBI and DHS.

“These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections,” the statement said.

U.S. officials say both China and Iran have been increasingly active in their efforts to use influence operations, with current and former officials describing Beijing’s efforts as more sophisticated and more intent on generating a favorable view of China over the long term.

But neither yet compares in scope to the Russian efforts, just some of which were unveiled in the criminal complaint. 

Russian-financed

Financial documents obtained as part of the investigation indicate that as of January 2016, Khusyaynova and “Project Lakhta” were working with a budget of $35 million, spending about $10 million in the first half of 2018 alone.

Khusyaynova’s 2018 expenditures included $60,000 for Facebook advertisements, another $6,000 for ads on Instagram, and $18,000 for “bloggers” and for developing accounts on Twitter.

Russian businessman Prigozhin was the source of the money, according to U.S. officials.

Prigozhin controls Concord Management and Consulting LLC, one of three entities under indictment as part of the Mueller investigation.

A Washington-based lawyer representing Concord did not respond to a request for comment.

Masood Farivar contributed to this report

IMF Reaches Deal with Ukraine on New $4 Billion, 14-Month Loan

The International Monetary Fund announced Friday it had reached an agreement with Ukraine on economic policies that would unlock a new loan deal that will provide nearly $4 billion.

The new 14-month standby loan deal replaces an existing four-year financial aid package agreed in March 2015 and due to expire in five months, the IMF said in a statement.

The agreement must be approved by the IMF board, which will come later in the year after authorities in Kyiv approve a 2019 budget “consistent with IMF staff recommendations and an increase in household gas and heating tariffs,” a step the government had agreed on but never implemented.

But the deal also stresses the need for “continuing to protect low-income households.”

Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman had been seeking the additional financing from the Washington-based lender to help his crisis-hit nation.

Groysman on Friday announced a gas price increase of 23.5 percent to take effect November 1.

He said the “incredible efforts” of Ukrainian negotiators managed to reach a compromise with the IMF and reduce the initial demand to raise prices by 60 percent.

“If we are not able to continue cooperation with our international partners … this could lead to the country being put into default,” he said.

Ukraine has not received any money from the IMF since April 2017, when the fund released $1 billion for the cash-strapped country to repay loans. It had received less than $9 billion of the original $17.5 billion package.

Talks on economic reform measures that would satisfy IMF requirements and allow the release of further aid had been hung up for months, as the fund awaited the government’s approval of a budget, pension reform and an anti-corruption court.

A gas price hike is a sensitive issue for the cash-strapped country as its pro-Western leadership faces presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

The IMF said the new loan “will provide an anchor for the authorities’ economic policies during 2019.”

Building on progress under the previous financing package, the loan will “focus in particular on continuing with fiscal consolidation and reducing inflation, as well as reforms to strengthen tax administration, the financial sector and the energy sector,” the IMF said.

An IMF lifeline helped the country to recover from crises sparked by a Russian-backed war in the separatist industrial east that began in April 2014 and has claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The loss of industries in the war zone and flight of foreign investors saw the former Soviet republic’s economy shrink by 17 percent in 2014-2015.

The IMF now forecasts the economy will grow by 3.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2019.

Following the announcement, debt rating agency Standard and Poor’s affirmed the country’s credit score at “B-” with a stable outlook.

“We expect the new arrangement will aid Ukraine’s efforts to cover sizable external debt obligations maturing next year, and also help to anchor macroeconomic policies through the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections,” S&P said in a statement.

The IMF loan is also likely to unlock credit from other international donors, the ratings agency said.

Migrant Caravan Breaks Through Guatemalan Border Fence

Central American migrants traveling in a mass caravan broke through a Guatemalan border fence Friday, running into a wall of police in Mexico, whose government has promised the United States it will confront the caravan.

Mexican television footage showed hundreds of migrants breaking through Guatemalan border posts and streaming onto a bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala. The migrants were met on the other side by a line of Mexican police in riot gear.

Witnesses say some of the migrants threw rocks and other objects at Mexican security forces, who used pepper spray to force the migrants to retreat.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a late night televised address Friday to the nation: “Mexico does not permit and will not permit entry into its territory in an irregular fashion, much less in a violent fashion.”

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales are set to meet Saturday to discuss the situation. Hernandez says he has asked for clearance to send civil protection personnel to help the Hondurans at the border with Mexico and is looking for ways to return the migrants to Honduras, where their march began.

The migrant caravan has angered U.S. President Donald Trump. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Mexico City Friday to discuss the issue with his counterpart. Pompeo met with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray who vowed to meet the “challenge” of the caravan.

Pompeo told VOA Contributor Greta Van Susteren Friday that Mexican officials want to create a situation where migrants “understand that it is not fruitful to transit though Mexico into the United States.”

WATCH: Pompeo on Migrants Heading to US-Mexico Border

He said the caravan is “not organic” and is being underwritten by political opponents of the Honduran leadership. 

“This is not just a group of people who happen to wander together into a big group,” he said.

The caravan of nearly 3,000 people left San Pedro Sula in Honduras late last week, making its way through Guatemala’s muddy jungle and residential streets to reach Mexico and hoping eventually to reach the United States.

On Thursday, Trump threatened to send the military to close the southern U.S. border unless Mexico stops what he calls an “onslaught” of Central American migrants. Trump claims there are criminals among the migrants and is urging Mexico “in the strongest terms” to stop them.

“He’s making a political calculation,” said Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s incoming foreign minister, about Trump’s posting on Twitter, in a reference to U.S. midterm elections in November. Ebrard said in a local radio interview Trump’s comments were “predictable.”

While Trump has threatened to deploy the military to the Mexico-U.S. border, Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis said Thursday in a statement the “Department of Defense has not been tasked to provide additional support.”

Mexican officials say they will not let the migrants enter as one large group. Individuals must show a passport or visa to cross the border, or apply for refugee status.

Mexico’s government has sought assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help process migrants claiming refugee status, which could help it to disperse the caravan.

Videgaray, the foreign minister, said in an interview with the Televisa network that those who want to apply for refuge in Mexico will be welcome to do so “if they have a vulnerable situation in their country of origin.”

The Mexican government has said any migrant who decides to cross illegally will be detained and deported.

Honduras is one of the most violent nations in the world, partly because of gangs and drugs.

Many of those trying to get to the United States want to escape violence and poverty.

WikiLeaks’ Assange Sues in Ecuador for Better Asylum Terms, Lawyer Says


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has filed a lawsuit in Ecuador against new terms of asylum in the Andean country’s London embassy that require him to pay for medical bills and phone calls and clean up after his pet cat, his lawyer said on Friday.

Ecuador this month created the new protocol governing his stay at the embassy. Lawyer Baltasar Garzon told a press conference in Quito that the rules were drawn up without consulting the Australian national, who has sued Foreign Minister Jose Valencia in a Quito court to have them changed.

Assange has not had access to the internet since it was cut off in March, Garzon added, despite a WikiLeaks statement this week that it had been restored.

“He has been held in inhuman conditions for more than six years,” Garzon said. “Even people who are imprisoned have phone calls paid for by the state,” he added, describing the obligations regarding the cat as “denigrating.”

Garzon said Valencia was named in the lawsuit because he serves as the intermediary between Assange and the Ecuadorean government.

Valencia said the government “will respond in an appropriate manner.”

“The protocol is in line with international standards and Ecuadorean law,” he told reporters in the Ecuadorean city of Daule on Friday.

Assange’s stay has become an increasing annoyance for Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno, who has said the asylum cannot be eternal but has been reluctant to push him out of the embassy on concern for his human rights. 

Assange believes he would be handed over to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. 

Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in 2012 granted Assange asylum as he sought to avoid extradition to Sweden for interrogation on alleged sexual assault crimes.

Sweden later dropped its investigation of Assange, but Britain says he will be arrested for violating the terms of his bail if he leaves the embassy.

Ecuador in 2017 gave Assange citizenship and named him to a diplomatic post in Russia, but rescinded the latter after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.

Pakistan Blasts India Over Purchase of Russian Air Defense System

Pakistan has criticized and downplayed rival India’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 Triumph air defense system, claiming Islamabad can counter the threat.

New Delhi recently signed a $5.4 billion deal with Moscow to purchase what experts believe is the most modern ballistic missile defense (BMS) system available. India has said it needs the missile system that provides high-altitude protection from incoming missiles to bolster its defenses against China and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, in an official reaction to the pact Friday, warned the purchase of the system will “further destabilize strategic stability” and lead to a “renewed” arms race in South Asia.

The Russian weapon system, according to reports, can simultaneously engage and destroy 36 targets, including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ballistic as well as cruise missiles within 400 kilometers at an altitude of 30 kilometers.

“Pakistan remains fully confident of its ability to address threats from any kind of destabilizing weapon system,” the ministry noted, without further explanation.

In January 2017, Islamabad announced the successful flight testing of a surface-to-surface “Ababeel” ballistic missile that it said was capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads to hit targets with “high precision” as far as 2,200 kilometers, “defeating the enemy’s hostile radars.”

U.S. and Western critics maintain that Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world, assertions Islamabad dismisses as “misleading.”

The Trump administration on Wednesday reiterated persistent U.S. concerns about Pakistan’s development of long- and short-range missile launch capabilities and its growing nuclear stockpile.

“Specifically, we’ve expressed concern about the increased security challenges that accompany growing stockpiles, particularly battlefield nuclear weapons, as they pose a greater risk from theft and misuse,” State Department Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Henry Ensher told a seminar at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based research institution.

“These weapons also increase the risk that a conventional conflict between India and Pakistan could escalate to use of nuclear weapons,” Ensher said.

Pakistani officials dismiss safety-related concerns about the nation’s nuclear weapons and cite close defense and nuclear cooperation between the United States and India for reinforcing its nuclear-deterrence capabilities.

Islamabad says its short-range battlefield nuclear weapons are aimed at deterring New Delhi from taking advantage of its massive military power to inflict a surprise limited conventional war on Pakistan.

Possible sanctions

New Delhi is hoping for a waiver from the United States, which passed a law last year placing automatic sanctions on countries dealing with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.

With an eye on China, New Delhi and Washington have been building a closer partnership. U.S. officials, however, have said there is no guarantee for such a waiver and urged India not to enter into transactions with Russia.

Last month, Washington imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia.

Russia’s sale of S-400 missiles to India comes as relations between Moscow and Islamabad have significantly improved in areas that include defense, political and economic fields.

Pakistan will host another round of annual joint military drills with Russia starting Sunday.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and military clashes along their disputed Kashmir border have lately become routine, raising concerns another war between the two countries could escalate into nuclear exchanges.

Financial Watchdog: Regulate Cryptocurrencies Now, Or Else

A global financial body says governments worldwide must establish rules for virtual currencies like bitcoin to stop criminals from using them to launder money or finance terrorism.

The Financial Action Task Force said Friday that from next year it will start assessing whether countries are doing enough to fight criminal use of virtual currencies.

Countries that don’t could risk being effectively put on a “gray list” by the FATF, which can scare away investors.

Marshall Billingslea, an assistant U.S. Treasury secretary who holds the FATF’s rotating leadership, said, “We’ve made clear today that every jurisdiction must establish” virtual currency rules. “It’s no longer optional.”

The FATF described how the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have used virtual currencies.

Financial regulators worldwide have struggled to deal with the rise of electronic alternatives to traditional money.

Former Deputy UK Leader Nick Clegg Takes Post with Facebook

Facebook has hired former U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg to head its global policy and communications teams, enlisting a veteran of European Union politics to help it with increased regulatory scrutiny in the region.

Clegg, 51, will become a vice president of the social media giant, and report to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Clegg will be called upon to help Facebook and other Silicon Valley stalwarts grapple with a changing regulatory landscape globally. European Union regulators are interested in reining in mostly American tech giants who they blame for avoiding tax, stifling competition and encroaching on privacy rights.

Clegg led the Liberal Democrats from 2007 to 2015, including five years in the coalition government with the Conservatives. He lost his Sheffield Hallam seat at last year’s general election.