Conservation efforts bring Iberian lynx back from brink of extinction

MADRID — Things are looking up for the Iberian lynx.

Just over two decades ago, the pointy-eared wild cat was on the brink of extinction, but as of Thursday the International Union for Conservation of Nature says it’s no longer an endangered species.

Successful conservation efforts mean that the animal, native to Spain and Portugal, is now barely a vulnerable species, according to the latest version of the IUCN Red List.

In 2001, there were only 62 mature Iberian lynx — medium-sized, mottled brown cats with characteristic pointed ears and a pair of beard-like tufts of facial hair — on the Iberian Peninsula. The species’ disappearance was closely linked to that of its main prey, the European rabbit, as well as habitat degradation and human activity.

Alarms went off and breeding, reintroduction and protection projects were started, as well as efforts to restore habitats like dense woodland, Mediterranean scrublands and pastures. More than two decades later, in 2022, nature reserves in southern Spain and Portugal contained 648 adult specimens. The latest census, from last year, shows that there are more than 2,000 adults and juveniles, the IUCN said.

“It’s really a huge success, an exponential increase in the population size,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red list unit, told The Associated Press.

One of the keys to their recovery has been the attention given to the rabbit population, which had been affected by changes in agricultural production. Their recovery has led to a steady increase in the lynx population, Hilton-Taylor said.

“The greatest recovery of a cat species ever achieved through conservation (…) is the result of committed collaboration between public bodies, scientific institutions, NGOs, private companies, and community members including local landowners, farmers, gamekeepers and hunters,” Francisco Javier Salcedo Ortiz, who coordinates the EU-funded LIFE Lynx-Connect project, said in a statement.

IUCN has also worked with local communities to raise awareness of the importance of the Iberian lynx in the ecosystem, which helped reduce animal deaths due poaching and roadkill. In addition, farmers receive compensation if the cats kill any of their livestock, Hilton-Taylor said.

Since 2010, more than 400 Iberian lynx have been reintroduced to parts of Portugal and Spain, and now they occupy at least 3,320 square kilometers, an increase from 449 square kilometers in 2005.

“We have to consider every single thing before releasing a lynx, and every four years or so we revise the protocols,” said Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the World Wildlife Fund’s Spain species project manager. WWF is one of the NGOs involved in the project.

While the latest Red List update offers hope for other species in the same situation, the lynx isn’t out of danger just yet, says Hilton-Taylor.

The biggest uncertainty is what will happens to rabbits, an animal vulnerable to virus outbreaks, as well as other diseases that could be transmitted by domestic animals.

“We also worried about issues with climate change, how the habitat will respond to climate change, especially the increasing impact of fires, as we’ve seen in the Mediterranean in the last year or two,” said Hilton-Taylor. 

Germany assures China that doors still open to discuss EU surcharges

Shanghai, China — The German vice-chancellor assured China on Saturday that the “doors” remained “open” to discuss EU surcharges on Chinese electric vehicles, without reassuring Beijing which promised to “firmly defend” its manufacturers.

Also, the Minister of Economy and Climate, Robert Habeck is making a visit that seems like a last chance to avoid a trade war between the Old Continent and the second world power, an important economic partner of Germany.

A task further complicated by the political context, the German leader reproached China on Saturday for its economic support for Russia against a backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine, stressing it was “harming” relations between Beijing and Brussels.

China regularly denounces these upcoming surcharges on electric vehicles as being “purely protectionist.”

“These are not punitive customs duties,” Habeck assured Zheng Shanjie, director of the Chinese Economic Planning Agency (NDRC) Saturday, according to a recording sent to AFP by the Chinese Embassy in Germany.

“This is not a punishment,” he insisted.

Up to 28% increase

Without compromise by July 4, the European Commission will impose up to 28% increase in customs duties on imports of Chinese electric vehicles, accusing Beijing of having, according to it, distorted competition by massively subsidizing this sector.

These surcharges would become definitive from November.

“For Europe, I can say that the doors are open and the invitation or offer for discussion has been made several times. Now it must be accepted,” Habeck said at a news conference in Shanghai.

From Brussels, Olof Gill, the EU spokesperson, assured that European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis and Chinese Trade Minister Wang Wentao “had a frank and constructive call on Saturday regarding the anti-subsidy investigation of the EU on electric cars produced in China.”

“Both sides will continue to engage at all levels in the coming weeks,” he added.

China vows to defend ‘rights’

Earlier Saturday, the tone had been firm on the Chinese side.

“If the EU shows sincerity, China wants to start negotiations as soon as possible” on the surcharges, Trade Minister Wang told him, according to the English-speaking state television CGTN.

“But if the EU persists in this course, we will take all necessary measures to defend our interests. This will include lodging a complaint with the dispute settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organization (WTO). We will firmly defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises.”

Beijing had already announced Monday that it had launched an anti-dumping investigation into imports of pork and pork products from the European Union.

German and European manufacturers are strongly affected by cheaper Chinese competition. Imports of Chinese electric vehicles into Germany increased tenfold between 2020 and 2023.

China argues that the success of its electricity sector is due to innovation and efficient supply chains, not subsidies.

“(EU) protectionism will not protect (its manufacturers’) competitiveness and will only slow down the global fight against climate change and the promotion of a green transition,” Zheng told Habeck.

“We expect Germany to show leadership within the EU and take the right measures,” implying the cancellation of surcharges, he insisted, according to the New China agency.

Habeck blames Beijing

Such an epilogue seems improbable, with Habeck again blaming Beijing on Saturday for the surge in its trade with Moscow.

“The Russian war of aggression and Chinese support for the Russian government are already harming trade and economic relations between Europe and China,” he said he told his Chinese interlocutors.

China has pledged not to supply weapons to Russia and calls for respect for the territorial integrity of all countries — including Ukraine. But China has never condemned Moscow for its invasion.

Habeck assured Saturday that many “dual-use” goods (both civil and military) were used by Russia after passing through “third countries” — implying China.

“We therefore cannot accept” that the Russian invasion is supported with these products, insisted the German vice-chancellor, calling on Beijing to ban their export to its Russian neighbor.

German car manufacturers still fear a major trade conflict with Beijing, which would undermine their activity in this crucial market. For Mercedes, Volkswagen or BMW, China represents up to 36% of sales volumes.

Greece battles wildfires fanned by gale force winds

ATHENS — Hundreds of firefighters struggled Saturday to contain wildfires fanned by gale force winds on two Greek islands and in other parts of Greece, as authorities warned many regions face a high risk of new blazes. 

More than 30 firefighters backed by two aircraft and five helicopters were battling a wildfire burning on the island of Andros in the Aegean, away from tourist resorts, where four communities were evacuated as a precaution. 

“More firefighters [are] expected on the island later in the day,” a fire services official told Reuters, adding there were no reports of damage or injuries. 

Wildfires are common in Greece, but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists link to climate change. A wildfire near Athens last week forced dozens to flee their homes; authorities said they believed arson and hot, dry conditions were to blame. 

Meteorologists say the latest fires are the first time that the country has experienced “hot-dry-windy” conditions so early in the summer. 

“I can’t remember another year facing such conditions so early, in early and mid-June,” meteorologist Thodoris Giannaros told state TV. 

On Friday, a 55-year-old man died after being injured in a blaze in the region of Ilia on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, as several fires burned on Greece’s southern tip. 

Several hundred firefighters have been deployed to battle more than 70 forest fires across the country since Friday. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Sunday, the fire service said. 

Earlier Saturday, firefighters tamed a forest fire on the island of Salamina, in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens, and another about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of the capital. 

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.

Russian air strike damages Ukrainian power facilities, injures 2

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a new barrage of missiles and drones in an overnight attack on Ukraine on Saturday, damaging energy facilities in the southeast and west of the country and injuring at least two energy workers, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukraine’s air defense shot down 12 of 16 missiles and all 13 drones launched by Russia in the second large strike this week, the air force said. The air alerts in Ukrainian regions lasted for several hours in the middle of the night.

National grid operator Ukrenergo said equipment at its facilities in Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast and Lviv region in the west were damaged by the strikes.

Two energy workers in the Zaporizhzhia region were wounded and taken to the hospital, it said.

Ivan Fedorov, Zaporizhzhia’s governor, said the fire broke out at an energy infrastructure facility in the region and further damage assessment was underway as repair brigades and emergency workers dealt with the attack.

“We can say for sure: the enemy will not stop. Ukraine needs air defense systems,” Fedorov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Moscow has said its air strikes against the Ukrainian energy infrastructure were in retaliation for Ukrainian drone attacks on the Russian territory.

Lviv regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said 67 firefighters and 12 special vehicles were involved in putting out the fire in his region on Ukraine’s Polish border. He said there were no casualties in the Lviv region.

Since March, Russian forces have intensified their bombardments of the Ukrainian power system, knocking out about half of the country’s available generating capacity and causing a severe energy crunch.

Despite warm summer weather, Ukrainian cities face scheduled energy cutoffs and the country’s electricity imports from its European neighbors are at record levels.

China, France launch satellite to better understand universe

Xichang, China — A French-Chinese satellite blasted off Saturday on a hunt for the mightiest explosions in the universe, in a notable example of cooperation between a Western power and the Asian giant.

Developed by engineers from both countries, the Space Variable Objects Monitor, or SVOM, will seek out gamma-ray bursts, the light from which has traveled billions of light years to reach Earth.

The 930-kilogram (2,050-pound) satellite carrying four instruments — two French, two Chinese — took off around 3 p.m. aboard a Chinese Long March 2-C rocket from a space base in Xichang, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, AFP journalists witnessed.

Gamma-ray bursts generally occur after the explosion of huge stars — those more than 20 times as big as the sun — or the fusion of compact stars.

The extremely bright cosmic beams can give off a blast of energy equivalent to over a billion billion suns.

Observing them is like “looking back in time, as the light from these objects takes a long time to reach us,” Ore Gottlieb, an astrophysicist at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Astrophysics in New York, told AFP.

“Several mysteries”

The rays carry traces of the gas clouds and galaxies they pass through on their journey through space — valuable data for better understanding the history and evolution of the universe.

“SVOM has the potential to unravel several mysteries in the field of [gamma-ray bursts], including detecting the most distant GRBs in the universe, which correspond to the earliest GRBs,” Gottlieb said.

The most distant bursts identified to date were produced just 630 million years after the Big Bang — when the universe was in its infancy.

“We are … interested in gamma-ray bursts for their own sake, because they are very extreme cosmic explosions which allow us to better understand the death of certain stars,” said Frederic Daigne, an astrophysicist at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris.

“All of this data makes it possible to test the laws of physics with phenomena that are impossible to reproduce in the laboratory on Earth,” he said.

Once analyzed, the data could help to better understand the composition of space, the dynamics of gas clouds or other galaxies.

The project stems from a partnership between the French and Chinese space agencies, as well as other scientific and technical groups from both nations.

Space cooperation at this level between the West and China is uncommon, especially since the United States banned all collaboration between NASA and Beijing in 2011.

Race against time

“U.S. concerns on technology transfer have inhibited U.S. allies from collaborating with the Chinese very much, but it does happen occasionally,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States.

In 2018, China and France jointly launched CFOSAT, an oceanographic satellite mainly used in marine meteorology.

And several European countries have taken part in China’s Chang’e lunar exploration program.

So, while SVOM is “by no means unique,” it remains “significant” in the context of space collaboration between China and the West, said McDowell.

Once in orbit 625 kilometers (388 miles) above the Earth, the satellite will send its data back to observatories.

The main challenge is that gamma-ray bursts are extremely brief, leaving scientists in a race against time to gather information.

Once it detects a burst, SVOM will send an alert to a team on duty around the clock.

Within five minutes, they will have to rev up a network of telescopes on the ground that will align precisely with the axis of the burst’s source to make more detailed observations.

Antisemitism comes to fore in French election campaign

PARIS — The alleged rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a suspected antisemitic attack has sent shockwaves throughout France and thrust concerns about antisemitism to the forefront of campaigning for the country’s legislative elections.

The anti-immigration National Rally party, which has tried to shed historical links to antisemitism, is leading in preelection polling and has its first real chance of forming a government, if it comes out on top in the two-round elections that end July 7. It would be the first far-right force to lead a French government since the Nazi occupation.

Far-left figures, meanwhile, have faced accusations of antisemitism linked to their response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war.

Concerns came to the fore after two adolescent boys in a Paris suburb were given preliminary charges this week of raping a 12-year-old girl and religion-motivated violence, according to prosecutors. Lawyer and Jewish leader Elie Korchia told French broadcaster BFM that the girl is Jewish and that the word Palestine was mentioned during the attack. The prosecutor’s office did not specify the girl’s religion or release her identity, according to policies for the protection of victims, as is standard practice for hate crimes in France.

Hundreds of people gathered Thursday evening around the Bastille monument in Paris to protest against antisemitism, in the second straight night of demonstrations.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, but as a result of its own World War II collaboration with the Nazis, antisemitic acts today open old scars. France also has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, and anti-Muslim acts have risen in recent years.

Politicians from all sides were quick to comment on the attack, notably after a surge in antisemitic acts in France since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal wrote on the social media platform X that the girl was “raped because she’s Jewish,” while French President Emmanuel Macron called on schools to hold a “discussion hour” on racism and antisemitism.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, said that if elected, he would “fight the antisemitism that has been plaguing France since Oct. 7.” In the wake of reports of the attack, Bardella announced that his party was withdrawing support for one of its candidates over an antisemitic message on social media posted in 2018.

His predecessor as party president and the National Rally’s 2022 presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, accused the “extreme left” of “stigmatization of Jews” and of “instrumentalizing” the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon denounced “antisemitic racism,” though the France Unbowed party which he formerly led has itself faced accusations of antisemitism linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

“There has never been any ambiguity in our denunciation of antisemitism,” lawmaker Manuel Bompard of France Unbowed said on French news broadcaster La Chaîne Info on Wednesday, pushing back on accusations that his party’s stance on antisemitism and the Israel-Hamas war contributed to an environment of insecurity for French Jews. “To have people believe that there would be a link between what happened and France Unbowed’s political positions is offensive and inappropriate,” he said.

Arié Alimi, lawyer and vice president of the League of Human Rights, called for a united front against the far right.

“For some time now there is an awareness that there is antisemitism also on the left and that we need to address it,” he said at Thursday’s demonstration. ”Today it’s the camp of the left, of progressives that is gathered with all people who are worried by antisemitism and all kinds of racism in France, in a particular political moment with a far right that could possibly come to power.”

Although the alleged rape has heightened tensions regarding antisemitism in France before the June 30 and July 7 two-round parliamentary election, it is far from a new issue in French politics.

More than 180,000 people across France, marched in November to protest rising antisemitism in the wake of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza.

Along with then-Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and representatives of several other parties, Le Pen attended the march amid fierce criticism that her once-pariah National Rally party had failed to shake off its antisemitic heritage despite growing political legitimacy.

Borne, the daughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, tweeted that “the presence of the National Rally is not fooling anyone.”

Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father, was convicted repeatedly of antisemitic hate speech and played down the scope of the Holocaust. Marine Le Pen — runner-up in the last two presidential elections and likely a top contender in 2027 — has worked to scrub the party’s image, kicking her father out and changing its name from National Front to National Rally.

Attal announced in May that “366 antisemitic acts ” were recorded between January and March this year, an increase of 300% compared to the first three months of 2023.

Antisemitism refers to hatred of Jews, but there is no universally agreed definition of what exactly it entails or how it relates to criticism of Israel. The Israeli government regularly accuses its opponents of antisemitism, while critics say it uses the term to silence opposition to its policies.

The war has reignited the long debate about the definition of antisemitism and whether any criticism of Israel — from its military’s killing of thousands of Palestinian children to questions over Israel’s very right to exist — amounts to anti-Jewish hate speech.

Some Olympic teams will bring their own AC units to Paris, undercutting environmental plan

EUGENE, Oregon — The U.S. Olympic team is one of a handful that will supply air conditioners for their athletes at the Paris Games in a move that undercuts organizers’ plans to cut carbon emissions. 

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic CEO Sarah Hirshland said Friday that while the U.S. team appreciates efforts aimed at sustainability, the federation would be supplying AC units for what is typically the largest contingent of athletes at the Summer Games. 

“As you can imagine, this is a period of time in which consistency and predictability is critical for Team USA’s performance,” Hirshland said. “In our conversations with athletes, this was a very high priority and something that the athletes felt was a critical component in their performance capability.” 

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada and Britain were among the other countries with plans to bring air conditioners to France. 

Olympic organizers have touted plans to cool rooms in the Athletes Village, which will house more than 15,000 Olympians and sports officials over the course of the games, using a system of cooling pipes underneath the floors. 

The average high in Paris on August 1 is 26 degrees Celsius. The objective is to keep the rooms between 23-26 degrees. The rooms will also be equipped with fans. 

“I want the Paris Games to be exemplary from an environmental point of view,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has said about the plans for the Olympics. 

According to the International Energy Agency, fewer than 1 in 10 households in Europe has air conditioning, and the numbers in Paris are lower than that. The study said that of the 1.6 billion AC units in use across the globe in 2016, more than half were in China (570 million) and the United States (375 million). The entire European Union had around 100 million. 

The Olympics mark the most important stop on the athletic careers of the 10,500-plus athletes who will descend on Paris, which has led some high-profile countries to undercut environmental efforts for the sake of comfort. 

“It’s a high-performance environment,” Australian Olympic Committee spokesman Strath Gordon explained to the Post. 

 

Russia-North Korea defense pact moves military cooperation out of shadows

washington — A new defense pact signed between Russia and North Korea this week publicly laid out Moscow’s willingness to engage in full-fledged military cooperation with Pyongyang, in contrast to their denials prior to the summit, analysts said.

Before Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday, it was already widely believed that Moscow was transferring military technology to Pyongyang for weapons upgrades.

In 2023, North Korea launched the solid-fuel Hwasong-18 missile for the first time. After analyzing the shape and color of the smoke at the tail of the missile, experts said these technologies appeared to have come from Russia.

At the same time, U.S. and other officials have accused North Korea of providing Russia with large quantities of conventional munitions for its war in Ukraine.

In September, Kim showed an interest in various military assets during his tour of Russia’s satellite launch site, fighter jet factory, and Pacific Fleet equipped with nuclear-capable bombers and hypersonic missiles.

Both Russia and North Korea denied any arms dealings between them prior to Putin’s visit to Pyongyang.

It is still uncertain exactly what types of military technology Moscow could provide Pyongyang.

But at the summit, Moscow made explicit its willingness to prop up Pyongyang’s military in return for continued flow of munitions to use against Ukraine, according to Bruce Bechtol Jr., a former intelligence officer at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas.

In the Treaty of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed between Putin and Kim at their summit, the two agreed to set up “mechanisms” for undertaking “measures” for “strengthening the defense capabilities.”

They also agreed to develop and cooperate in the areas of science and technology, including space.

At a joint press conference following their summit, Putin said Moscow “does not rule out developing military and technical cooperation” with Pyongyang as agreed on in the pact in response to the U.S. and other NATO countries’ allowing weapons that they supplied to Ukraine being used against targets inside Russia.

Kim and Putin also agreed in the treaty to intervene militarily if either North Korea or Russia is invaded. But Bechtol said the most significant part of the treaty “is military cooperation.”

“We’re not going to invade North Korea. We’re not going to invade Russia. It’s all about the military cooperation, the arms deals” that have “no limits” and will be made in a “barter” form rather than in a “cash and carry” arrangement, he said.

Any arms exports or imports by North Korea would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Putin trade proposal

In an article by Putin published by North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday ahead of his arrival in Pyongyang, Putin said Russia and North Korea would develop a trade and payment system not controlled by the West. This would make it easier to circumvent international sanctions on both countries.

Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who helped draft the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enforcement Act of 2016, said, “Russia and North Korea have been talking about setting up ruble-based and renminbi-based payment systems for at least a decade.”

He continued: “It never worked before. It would probably violate U.N. sanctions, and if our Treasury Department is willing to impose secondary sanctions on the banks that facilitate it, it will fail again.”

Moscow and Pyongyang are likely to exchange military hardware using railways rather than sea routes to avoid “any kind of interdiction,” said David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy. He said the idea of interdiction could be discussed when Washington, Seoul and Tokyo meet on the sidelines of a NATO summit in July.

Putin said at a press conference in Pyongyang this week that Russian Railways will participate in the upgrade of the Khasan-Rajin railway crossing between the two countries.

‘High intensity of commitment’

Even without the treaty, military cooperation — including arms transfers from Russia to North Korea — was likely to have gone forward, according to Bechtol and other analysts.

“I frankly don’t think that the treaty makes a huge difference,” said Michael Kimmage, who from 2014 to 2016 served on the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. State Department, where he held the Russia-Ukraine portfolio.

“It’s signaling a high intensity of commitment” and “a longevity of commitment,” which “in and of itself is quite significant,” but “I don’t think the treaty itself is that dramatic of a turning point,” he said.

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said, “It is hard to imagine this new agreement makes it easier for Russia to transfer military technologies to North Korea, given the transfers in recent years of Iskander missile technology, liquid oxygen and petroleum fuel for satellite launchers, repair of satellite launcher problems, GPS jammers, and 24 mm MRL precision guidance.”

He continued: “I think the bottom line is not the greater feasibility of weapons technology transfers but the Russian government’s greater political willingness to make the transfers.”

Putin’s outspoken willingness to cooperate militarily with Pyongyang has prompted deep concerns in both Seoul and Washington.

A senior South Korean presidential official said on Thursday that Seoul will now consider sending arms directly to Ukraine. Seoul has withheld providing lethal weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.

A spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry told VOA’s Korean Service on Thursday that Seoul is “gravely concerned” about the treaty and the declaration of military technology cooperation “that outrightly violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

A State Department spokesperson told VOA Korean on Wednesday that “deepening cooperation between Russia and the DPRK is a trend that should be of great concern.” The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea’s official name.

In contrast, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Thursday that Moscow and Pyongyang have “a normal need for exchanges, cooperation and a closer relationship.”

Fire kills 11 in southeastern Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey — A fire that apparently started in crop stubble spread through settlements in southeast Turkey overnight, killing 11 people and leaving dozens of others requiring medical treatment, officials and news reports said Friday.

In neighboring Greece, authorities evacuated several villages in the southern Peloponnese region because of wildfires.

The blaze in Turkey broke out in an area between the provinces of Diyarbakir and Mardin. Fanned by winds, it moved quickly through the villages of Koksalan, Yazcicegi and Bagacik, Diyarbakir Gov. Ali Ihsan Su said. The fire was brought under control early Friday.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca posted on X that 11 people were killed. Around 80 others required treatment, including six who were in serious condition.

Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said that authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, which lit up the night sky.

Residents believe the blaze was caused by sparks from a power line that set crop residue ablaze, according to independent news website Gazete Duvar. Some of the hospitalized people were villagers who tried to extinguish the fire, it said.

Hundreds of farm animals also perished in the fire, according to news channel HaberTurk.

Across the country in northwest Turkey, meanwhile, firefighters were battling a wildfire near the town of Ayvacik in Canakkale province, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

No one was hurt, but authorities evacuated the small village of Camkoy as a precaution, the agency reported.

It was one of several wildfires that have erupted in the province of Canakkale in the past week amid high winds and scorching summer temperatures.

Wildfires also erupted in Greece amid very windy, hot and dry conditions. About a dozen villages or settlements were ordered evacuated as a precaution because of wildfires in the southern Peloponnese region.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. State-run ERT television reported at least six homes burned in one southern village that had been safely evacuated in advance. Firefighters on the ground were assisted by water-dropping aircraft.

The greater Athens region was on the top wildfire emergency footing Friday because of the weather forecast, with bans on entering forests and parks. A fire in Saronida, south of the Greek capital, was brought under control in the evening.

The fire service said late Friday that 64 wildfires had broken out around the country in the previous 24 hours. 

Georgia tries to reconcile contested Soviet history with Western future

Georgians are preparing for elections this year amid fears in the West that the government is straying from the country’s ambition to join the European Union. The nation appears to be caught in a struggle to reconcile its turbulent past with its West-aligned future. Henry Ridgwell reports.

Half a million Ukrainians in frontline city of Mykolaiv suffer through 3rd year without clean water

Going into a third year of war, life without clean water has become routine for nearly half a million residents of Ukraine’s frontline city of Mykolaiv. At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Russian forces destroyed the water distribution system. As Lesia Bakalets reports, the city has been looking for ways to restore it since then. Video: Vladyslav Smilianets

US charity sends medical help to Ukraine’s frontline towns

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, U.S. humanitarian group Project HOPE has provided aid to Ukrainian health clinics and residents of the country’s frontline towns and villages. Yaroslava Movchan has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Videographer: Dmytro Hlushko.

As thousands visit Mayan ruins, memory of groundbreaking Ukrainian academic largely forgotten

June 20th marked the start of the summer solstice, a moment that draws thousands of people from around the world to the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Mexico, to see a phenomenon that appears each year – a sun shadow of a serpent descending from top of the site’s main period. What many visitors don’t know is that much of the modern understanding of the ancient Mayans is rooted in the work of a Ukrainian-born academic from the Soviet era. Marcus Harton narrates this report from Olga Pavlova in Moscow. Camera: Ricardo Marquina Montanana and Luis Ramirez

China warns of possible ‘trade war’ with EU as Germany’s Habeck heads to Beijing

US bans Russia’s Kaspersky antivirus software

Washington — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday banned Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky from providing its popular antivirus products in the United States over national security concerns, the U.S. Commerce Department said.

“Kaspersky will generally no longer be able to, among other activities, sell its software within the United States or provide updates to software already in use,” the agency said in a statement.

The announcement came after a lengthy investigation found Kaspersky’s “continued operations in the United States presented a national security risk due to the Russian Government’s offensive cyber capabilities and capacity to influence or direct Kaspersky’s operations,” it said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said, “Russia has shown time and again they have the capability and intent to exploit Russian companies, like Kaspersky Lab, to collect and weaponize sensitive U.S. information.”

Kaspersky, in a statement to AFP, said the Commerce Department “made its decision based on the present geopolitical climate and theoretical concerns,” and vowed to “pursue all legally available options to preserve its current operations and relationships.”

“Kaspersky does not engage in activities which threaten U.S. national security and, in fact, has made significant contributions with its reporting and protection from a variety of threat actors that targeted U.S. interests and allies,” the company said.

The move is the first such action taken since an executive order issued under Donald Trump’s presidency gave the Commerce Department the power to investigate whether certain companies pose a national security risk.

Raimondo said the Commerce Department’s actions demonstrated to America’s adversaries that it would not hesitate to act when “their technology poses a risk to the United States and its citizens.”

While Kaspersky is headquartered in Moscow, it has offices in 31 countries around the world, servicing more than 400 million users and 270,000 corporate clients in more than 200 countries, the Commerce Department said.

As well as banning the sale of Kaspersky’s antivirus software, the Commerce Department also added three entities linked to the firm to a list of companies deemed to be a national security concern, “for their cooperation with Russian military and intelligence authorities in support of the Russian government’s cyber intelligence objectives.”

The Commerce Department said it “strongly encouraged” users to switch to new vendors, although its decision does not ban them from using the software should they choose to do so.

Kaspersky is allowed to continue certain operations in the United States, including providing antivirus updates, until September 29, “in order to minimize disruption to US consumers and businesses and to give them time to find suitable alternatives,” it added.  

US asks Vietnam to support Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity

WASHINGTON — The United States called on Vietnam Thursday to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity following Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Hanoi, part of the Russian president’s brief Asian tour seeking to shore up alliances in the face of mounting Western sanctions.

“We expect that any country, when it engages in conversations with the government of Russia, and especially when it hosts leaders from the government of Russia, will make clear their respect for the principles of the U.N. Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity, and convey that those principles must be upheld across the world,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told VOA during a briefing on Thursday.

U.S. diplomat to Hanoi

Meanwhile, the State Department’s top diplomat for Asia is traveling to Hanoi to reaffirm ties after the U.S. and Vietnam upgraded their bilateral relationship last year.

“Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, June 21 to 22,” according to a State Department press release.

“He will meet with senior Vietnam government officials to underscore the strong U.S. commitment to implementing the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and to working with Vietnam in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

Kritenbrink’s trip was planned “well before” Putin’s visit to Hanoi, according to Miller.

Vietnam maintains three tiers of diplomatic relationship with other countries:  Comprehensive Partnerships; Strategic Partnerships; and Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships. The United States, China and Russia are among the countries that maintain top-tier ties with Vietnam.

U.S. officials did not have an assessment, when asked by reporters, if there is any indication that Vietnamese companies or people are providing material support to Moscow for its war on Ukraine, or whether Washington has warned Hanoi against it.

At the White House, John Kirby, the National Security Council communications adviser, told reporters that the U.S. will “stay focused on continuing to deepen” the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam and “broaden it, improve it, for our own mutual benefit to each other and to the region.”

Putin’s visit to North Korea

Russia and Vietnam pledged Thursday to deepen ties during a state visit by Putin aimed at bolstering his alliances to counter Western efforts to isolate Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

Russia and Vietnam “want to push up cooperation in defense and security, how to deal with nontraditional security challenges on the basis of international law, for peace and security in the region and the world,” Vietnamese President To Lam told reporters after talks with Putin.

Putin traveled to Vietnam, a close ally of Moscow since the Cold War, after talks in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Those two countries signed a mutual defense pact.

In Washington, Republican Representative Mike Turner, who is the chairperson of the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, voiced concerns over the possibility of Russia providing North Korea with technological assistance to improve its long-range ballistic missiles and their ability to directly target the United States.

“I think we’ve all sort of felt intuitively that China, Russia, North Korea, Iran are working together in both their development of capabilities and in their threats to the United States. These symbolic meetings, I think, should allow us to focus on this as a threat that has already been occurring,” Turner said during an event at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

VOA’s White House correspondent Anita Powell and National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some material in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

South Korea blasts Russia-North Korea deal, says it will consider possible arms supplies to Ukraine 

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s presidential office condemned an agreement reached by Russia and North Korea that vowed mutual defense assistance in the event of war and says it will reconsider its policy of limiting support to Ukraine of non-lethal supplies.

The comments by a senior presidential official on Thursday came after the office issued a statement condemning the agreement reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in their summit in Pyongyang on Wednesday. The office said the agreement posed a threat to South Korea’s security and warned that it will negatively affect Seoul’s relations with Moscow.

The presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, according to office rules, said Seoul in response will reconsider the issue of providing arms to Ukraine to help the country fight off Russia’s invasion.

South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine while joining U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms to Ukraine, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.

The new agreement between Russia and North Korea reached by their leaders at a Pyongyang summit requires both countries to use all available means to provide immediate military assistance in the event of war, North Korean state media said Thursday.

Both North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin had described the deal reached Wednesday as a major upgrade of bilateral relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian ties. Outside observers said it could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Thursday reported the language of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement. The agency said Article 4 of the agreement states that if one of the countries gets invaded and is pushed into a state of war, the other must deploy “all means at its disposal without delay” to provide “military and other assistance.” But it also says that such actions must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes a U.N. member state’s right to self-defense.

The summit between Kim and Putin came as the U.S. and its allies expressed growing concern over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its war in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Following their summit, Kim said the two countries had a “fiery friendship,” and that the deal was their “strongest-ever treaty,” putting the relationship at the level of an alliance. He vowed full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Putin called it a “breakthrough document” reflecting shared desires to move relations to a higher level.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961, which experts say necessitated Moscow’s military intervention if the North came under attack. The deal was discarded after the collapse of the USSR, replaced by one in 2000 that offered weaker security assurances.

A full day after the summit, South Korean officials said they were still interpreting the results, including what Russia’s response might be if the North comes under attack. Analysts were mixed on whether the agreement obligates Russia to an automatic military invention on behalf of the North in war situations or was carefully worded enough to avoid such a commitment. It also wasn’t immediately clear why the article invokes the U.N. charter.

“We are currently reviewing the specifics of the treaty signed between Russia and North Korea during President Putin’s visit to North Korea. We will announce our government’s position after we are done,” Lim Soosuk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said during a briefing.

Still, Lim expressed regret that Moscow and Pyongyang signed the agreement while openly talking about military and technology cooperation that would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“Based on our close analysis and assessment of the results of [Putin’s] visit, including the comprehensive strategic partnership treaty signed between Russia and North Korea, we will work with the international community, including our allies and friends, to take correspondingly stern and decisive measures to any actions that threaten our security,” Lim said.

The deal was made as Putin visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years, a visit that showcased their personal and geopolitical ties with Kim hugging Putin twice at the airport, their motorcade rolling past giant Russian flags and Putin portraits, and a welcoming ceremony at Pyongyang’s main square attended by what appeared to be tens of thousands of spectators.

According to KCNA, the agreement also states that Pyongyang and Moscow must not enter into agreements with third parties if they infringe on the “core interests” of another and must not participate in actions that threaten those interests.

KCNA said the agreements require the countries to take steps to prepare joint measures for the purpose of strengthening their defense capabilities to prevent war and protect regional and global peace and security. The agency didn’t specify what those steps are, or whether they would include combined military training and other cooperation.

The agreement also calls for the countries to actively cooperate in efforts to establish a “just and multipolar new world order,” KCNA said, underscoring how the countries are aligning in face of their separate, escalating confrontations with the United States.

Kim in recent months has made Russia his priority as he pushes a foreign policy aimed at expanding relations with countries confronting Washington, embracing the idea of a “new Cold War” and trying to display a united front in Putin’s broader conflicts with the West.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the U.S., South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.