Nicaragua Government Says It Will Free All Jailed Protesters

The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is promising to free all protesters arrested in the last year within 90 days.

The release of more than 700 opposition protesters had been the main demand of the opposition for continuing talks with the government. In return, the government is asking for the lifting of sanctions imposed against the Ortega administration.

The announcement was made Wednesday by the two independent figures who are monitoring and assisting the talks. The papal nuncio in Nicaragua and a representative of the Organization of American States said the talks would resume Thursday, after several days of tension.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have died in protests or related violence since April 2018. 

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Voice of America

Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads to City of 1 Million

Health authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have confirmed a case of Ebola in another city of close to 1 million people, the health ministry said Wednesday.

Bunia is the second-largest city in eastern Congo to confirm a case of the hemorrhagic fever during the current outbreak, which was declared last August and is believed to have killed 610 people and infected 370 more to date.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that the outbreak was concentrated in two areas and could be stopped by September, but poor security in Congo’s militia-ravaged east and community resistance to health workers continue to hamper the response.

The confirmed case in Bunia is a 6-month-old infant, whose parents appear to be well, Congo’s health ministry said in a daily bulletin. Investigations are underway to identify how the child was infected, it added.

The cities of Butembo, which has a slightly larger population than Bunia, and Beni, which is slightly smaller, have also experienced Ebola cases.

The current outbreak is the second-deadliest in history behind the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that is believed to have killed more than 11,000 people.

Five Ebola treatment centers have been attacked since last month, sometimes by armed assailants. The violence led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities at the epicenter of the outbreak last month.

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Voice of America

Analysts: IS Ideology Still a Threat Despite Setbacks

As U.S.-backed forces fight to seize the last bit of territory held by the Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria, the battle against jihadist influence is far from over. Counterterror experts warn that extremist groups may still try to recruit a rising generation of hundreds of millions of millennials to their ranks.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday announced full control over the remaining IS enclave of Baghuz in eastern Syria after hundreds of IS militants surrendered overnight. The capture was a significant step in the fight against IS, but not a complete victory over the terror group as fighting continued with some jihadists along the Euphrates River. 

Some experts said the final push in Baghuz was the end of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, but IS and other radical Islamist organizations will continue to attract new members because the West has made little progress on the ideological battlefield.

“In terms of what comes next, I think these movements adapt very quickly operationally,” said Juan Zarate, a senior national security analyst who served as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism in the George W. Bush administration. 

“We will see this with ISIS going underground. We have seen this with al-Qaida adapting and going underground. They will rationalize the loss … in part because they have very long-term visions of their own movements in history. So they will see this as just one chapter, whereas we in Washington who are thinking in two-year cycles, maybe at most in four-year cycles, see this as the end of [IS], or the killing of [Osama] bin Laden as the ending of al-Qaida,” Zarate said, speaking Tuesday at the Washington Institute.

Zarate said the defeat will most likely encourage IS to revisit its actions and implement an al-Qaida-style strategy of insurgency while hiding among more vulnerable Muslim communities.

“Part of the ideological clash between al-Qaida and Islamic State was al-Qaida saying, ‘Look, we’ve learned lessons of how to go about doing these terrorist movements. We’ve learned some very hard lessons that if you pop your head up too much, if you expose yourself too much, you’re going to get whacked by the American and the counterterrorism forces aligned with them,’ ” he said.

Virtual caliphate

Experts say the loss of IS territory or caliphate is likely to prompt the terror group to step up efforts to spread its ideology and recruit followers on the internet. That is because the lost caliphate was an effective tool for inspiring prospective recruits and spreading ideas, and the IS leadership will have to replace that if it is to survive.  IS has shown considerable skill in online recruiting, and Western powers have been ineffective in countering IS propaganda, they say.

IS online communication and propaganda over the years has declined as the group lost territory in Iraq and Syria. Nevertheless, the jihadists have continued to recycle old propaganda messages and even create new ones. 

IS on Monday released a 44-minute audio recording of its spokesman, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, calling followers to take revenge for the two attacks targeting mosques in New Zealand that left 50 people dead last Friday. 

“The scenes of the massacres in the two mosques should wake up those who were fooled, and should incite the supporters of the caliphate to avenge their religion,” he said.

Al-Muhajir mocked the U.S. assertion that IS was defeated, claiming its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was still alive and urging the supporters of the caliphate to retaliate against the U.S.-led campaign in Baghuz.

New Zealand attack 

Matthew Levitt, a counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute, said al-Muhajir’s audio message after nearly six months of silence shows IS wanted to exploit the New Zealand attacks to incite hate and inflame its anti-Western propaganda. 

“They see the opportunity to affect people when they are feeling angry, vulnerable and emotional. And that presence in the virtual world is very, very real,” Levitt said during a discussion on The Battle Against Extremism: Assessment and Prescriptions at the Washington Institute. 

Levitt said IS most likely would try to restore its image among the vulnerable Muslim communities.

“As we get farther and farther away from what that [IS] caliphate really was in terms of the barbarism, et cetera, they will continue and will have a greater effect at presenting it as, ‘Maybe we weren’t perfect, but it was a caliphate. Therefore, you need to come and join us again and get back in line to be like the original followers of the Prophet Muhammad,’ ” he said. 

According to Farah Pandith, a former U.S. envoy to Muslim communities, the U.S. and other Western powers need to make sure they step up their efforts to fight back against IS and other extremist groups ideologically.

Pandith said the counterterror strategy after the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. underestimated the importance of battling extremism on the ideological front, leading in part to the emergence of groups like IS. 

“We failed in large part because we didn’t imagine what could happen. We thought we understood and we had things in a box. We need to reimagine the worst-case scenario ideologically and apply ourselves for that problem, not the problem that we are dealing with today,” she said. 

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Voice of America

Rail Route Suspended, Evacuations Continue in US Midwest Floods

Passenger rail traffic along a popular Missouri route was suspended and evacuations continued Wednesday amid flooding along the Missouri River.

Amtrak said Tuesday that it was temporarily halting its Missouri River Runner Service between Kansas City and St. Louis. Because of the flooding, it said, freight traffic was being diverted to tracks Amtrak uses. Buses were transporting passengers instead.

Crews with Union Pacific worked for hours to get rail traffic back to normal in Nebraska and other states hit hard by floodwaters from a massive late-winter storm last week, said the company’s spokeswoman, Raquel Espinoza.

The Missouri River already crested upstream of Rulo, Neb., and the water was expected to make its way downstream in coming days, cresting Thursday in St. Joseph at its third-highest level on record. More than a dozen levees have breached in Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has handed out hundreds of thousands of sandbags to help with the flood fight.

Three dead, two missing

The surging waters have damaged hundreds of homes and been blamed for two deaths in Nebraska and one in Iowa. Two other Nebraska residents, including a man who was last seen on top of his car near a levee, remain missing, authorities said Wednesday.

The flooding has also taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating tens of thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.

In northwest Missouri, a levee breached Tuesday and unleashed a torrent that overwhelmed a temporary berm that was built up with excavators and sandbags to protect the small town of Craig, where the 220 residents have been ordered to evacuate.

“They’ve got water running down Main Street,” said Tom Bullock, emergency management director of Holt County, where Craig is located.

Water also was lapping at the edge of the tiny community of Fortescue, and another levee was at risk of breaching and potentially flooding Forest City.

“Every levee we have just about is busted,” Bullock said.

Some of the levees have broken in multiple spots, with some breaches hundreds of feet wide, said Mike Dulin, emergency management specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City district.  He said the agency also was monitoring several other levees between Holt County and Kansas City.

The 130 residents of Missouri’s Lewis and Clark Village continued evacuating Wednesday amid road closures.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday surveyed flooded areas in Nebraska. He promised expedited action on presidential disaster declarations in that state and Iowa, where water is being trucked into several communities because floodwaters forced the shutdown of water treatment plants.

Flooding also has forced the Air Force to cancel the 2019 Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air Show at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center said Wednesday that flooding also is a concern across parts of the northwest, northern Rockies and High Plains as warm temperatures this week are leading to accelerated snowmelt and the potential for ice jams.

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Voice of America

Business Owners Resilient On Al-Shabab’s Most Targeted Street

Most of the suicide bombers in Somalia’s capital target the Maka Al-Mukarrama road which links the presidential palace to the busy K4 Junction, home to many businesses and offices. It’s here where the jihadists can cause greatest casualties and damage in order to display their power to the public, the government and the international community. But as Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports, the business owners insist on rebuilding and hoping the situation will turn around.

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Voice of America



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