Russian missile destroys school in Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital

The deadly July 8 Russian missile attack that damaged Ukraine’s largest children hospital also destroyed its school for seriously ill patients trying to keep up with their studies. The School of Superheroes, launched at Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, is now offered at other children’s hospitals in Ukraine. Anna Kosstutschenko has more from Kyiv. (Camera and Produced by: Pavel Suhodolskiy)

Top EU leaders snub Hungary meetings after Orban’s outreach to Russia, China

Budapest, Hungary — Top officials of the European Union will boycott informal meetings hosted by Hungary while the country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, after Hungary’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Orban held a series of rogue meetings with foreign leaders about Ukraine that angered his European partners.

The highly unusual decision to have the European Commission president and other top officials of the body boycott the meetings in Budapest was made “in light of recent developments marking the start of the Hungarian [EU] presidency,” commission spokesperson Eric Mamer posted Monday on X.

Hungary took over the six-month rotating role July 1, and since then Orban has visited Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, China and the United States on a world tour he’s touted as a “peace mission” aimed at brokering an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

That angered many leaders in the EU, who said they had not been informed in advance of Orban’s plans and rushed to emphasize that the nationalist leader was not acting on behalf of the bloc during his surprise meetings with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Hungary’s European affairs minister, Janos Boka, lashed out at the commission’s decision, writing on X on Monday that the body ‘’cannot cherry pick institutions and member states it wants to cooperate with.”

“Are all Commission decisions now based on political considerations?” Boka wrote.

A Hungarian government spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs, also suggested the decision was a product of political bias, writing on X: “Sacrificing the institutional setup for private political purposes and disregarding [the Commission’s] role for ideological and political motives.”

The decision by the European Commission applies to informal meetings hosted by Hungary and means senior civil servants will attend instead of top officials like the European Commission president, currently Ursula von der Leyen.

Orban’s government has gone against the European mainstream by refusing to supply Kyiv with weapons to deter Russia’s invasion and by threatening to block financial assistance to the war-ravaged country.

In an interview with Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet on Monday, Orban’s political director said that following his trip to Moscow — the first such visit from an EU head of state or government in more than two years — the prime minister had briefed the leaders of other EU countries “in writing about the negotiations, the experiences of the first phase of the peace mission and the Hungarian proposals.”

“If Europe wants peace and wants to have a decisive say in settling the war and ending the bloodshed, it must now work out and implement a change of direction,” said Balazs Orban, who is not related to the premier.

But von der Leyen accused Orban of trying to mollify the Russian leader with the trip, writing on X: “Appeasement will not stop Putin. Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”

Hungary’s government has long argued for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations in the conflict in Ukraine but has not outlined what such moves might mean for the country’s territorial integrity and future security. It has exhibited an adversarial posture toward Ukraine while maintaining close ties to Moscow, even after its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Orban’s critics have accused him of acting against the unity and interests of the EU and NATO, of which Hungary is a member, and of pursuing an appeasement strategy concerning Russia’s aggression.

From basement to battlefield: Ukrainian startups create low-cost robots to fight Russia

Northern Ukraine — Struggling with manpower shortages, overwhelming odds and uneven international assistance, Ukraine hopes to find a strategic edge against Russia in an abandoned warehouse or a factory basement.

An ecosystem of laboratories in hundreds of secret workshops is leveraging innovation to create a robot army that Ukraine hopes will kill Russian troops and save its own wounded soldiers and civilians.

Defense startups across Ukraine — about 250 according to industry estimates — are creating the killing machines at secret locations that typically look like rural car repair shops.

Employees at a startup run by entrepreneur Andrii Denysenko can put together an unmanned ground vehicle called the Odyssey in four days at a shed used by the company. Its most important feature is the price tag: $35,000, or roughly 10% of the cost of an imported model.

Denysenko asked that The Associated Press not publish details of the location to protect the infrastructure and the people working there.

The site is partitioned into small rooms for welding and body work. That includes making fiberglass cargo beds, spray-painting the vehicles gun-green and fitting basic electronics, battery-powered engines, off-the-shelf cameras and thermal sensors.

The military is assessing dozens of new unmanned air, ground and marine vehicles produced by the no-frills startup sector, whose production methods are far removed from giant Western defense companies.

A fourth branch of Ukraine’s military — the Unmanned Systems Forces — joined the army, navy and air force in May.

Engineers take inspiration from articles in defense magazines or online videos to produce cut-price platforms. Weapons or smart components can be added later.

“We are fighting a huge country, and they don’t have any resource limits. We understand that we cannot spend a lot of human lives,” said Denysenko, who heads the defense startup UkrPrototyp. “War is mathematics.”

One of its drones, the car-sized Odyssey, spun on its axis and kicked up dust as it rumbled forward in a cornfield in the north of the country last month.

The 800-kilogram (1,750-pound) prototype that looks like a small, turretless tank with its wheels on tracks can travel up to 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) on one charge of a battery the size of a small beer cooler.

The prototype acts as a rescue-and-supply platform but can be modified to carry a remotely operated heavy machine gun or sling mine-clearing charges.

“Squads of robots … will become logistics devices, tow trucks, minelayers and deminers, as well as self-destructive robots,” a government fundraising page said after the launch of Ukraine’s Unmanned Systems Forces. “The first robots are already proving their effectiveness on the battlefield.”

Mykhailo Fedorov, the deputy prime minister for digital transformation, is encouraging citizens to take free online courses and assemble aerial drones at home. He wants Ukrainians to make a million of flying machines a year.

“There will be more of them soon,” the fundraising page said. “Many more.”

Denysenko’s company is working on projects including a motorized exoskeleton that would boost a soldier’s strength and carrier vehicles to transport a soldier’s equipment and even help them up an incline. “We will do everything to make unmanned technologies develop even faster. [Russia’s] murderers use their soldiers as cannon fodder, while we lose our best people,” Fedorov wrote in an online post.

Ukraine has semi-autonomous attack drones and counter-drone weapons endowed with AI and the combination of low-cost weapons and artificial intelligence tools is worrying many experts who say low-cost drones will enable their proliferation.

Technology leaders to the United Nations and the Vatican worry that the use of drones and AI in weapons could reduce the barrier to killing and dramatically escalate conflicts.

Human Rights Watch and other international rights groups are calling for a ban on weapons that exclude human decision making, a concern echoed by the U.N. General Assembly, Elon Musk and the founders of the Google-owned, London-based startup DeepMind.

“Cheaper drones will enable their proliferation,” said Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “Their autonomy is also only likely to increase.”

UN alarmed as childhood immunization levels stall

Geneva — Global childhood vaccination levels have stalled, leaving millions more children un- or under-vaccinated than before the pandemic, the U.N. said Monday, warning of dangerous coverage gaps enabling outbreaks of diseases like measles.

In 2023, 84% of children, or 108 million, received three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), with the third dose serving as a key marker for global immunization coverage, according to data published by the U.N. health and children’s agencies.

That was the same percentage as a year earlier, meaning that modest progress seen in 2022 after the steep drop during the COVID-19 crisis has “stalled,” the organizations warned. The rate was 86% in 2019 before the pandemic.

“The latest trends demonstrate that many countries continue to miss far too many children,” UNICEF chief Catherine Russell said in a joint statement.

In fact, 2.7 million additional children remained un- or under-vaccinated last year compared to the pre-pandemic levels in 2019, the organizations found.

‘Off track’

“We are off track,” World Health Organization vaccine chief Kate O’Brien told reporters. “Global immunization coverage has yet to fully recover from the historic backsliding that we saw during the course of the pandemic.”

Not only has progress stalled, but the number of so-called zero-dose children, who have not received a single jab, rose to 14.5 million last year from 13.9 million in 2022 and from 12.8 million in 2019, according to the data published Monday.

“This puts the lives of the most vulnerable children at risk,” O’Brien warned.

Even more concerning is that more than half of the world’s unvaccinated children live in 31 countries with fragile, conflict-affected settings, where they are especially vulnerable to contracting preventable diseases, due to lacking access to security, nutrition and health services.

Children in such countries are also far more likely to miss out on the necessary follow-up jabs.

A full 6.5 million children worldwide did not complete their third dose of the DTP vaccine, which is necessary to achieve disease protection in infancy and early childhood, Monday’s datasets showed. 

‘Canary in the coal mine’

The WHO and UNICEF voiced additional concern over lagging vaccination against measles — one of the world’s most infectious diseases — amid an exploding number of outbreaks around the world.

“Measles outbreaks are the canary in the coal mine, exposing and exploiting gaps in immunization and hitting the most vulnerable first,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

In 2023, only 83% of children worldwide received their first dose of the measles vaccine through routine health services — the same level as in 2022 but down from 86% before the pandemic.

And only 74% received their second necessary dose, while 95% coverage is needed to prevent outbreaks, the organizations pointed out.

“This is still too low to prevent outbreaks and achieve elimination goals,” Ephrem Lemango, UNICEF immunization chief, told reporters.

He pointed out that more than 300,000 measles cases were confirmed in 2023 — nearly three times as many as a year earlier.

And a full 103 countries have suffered outbreaks in the past five years, with low vaccination coverage of 80% or lower seen as a major factor.

By contrast, 91 countries with strong measles vaccine coverage experienced no outbreaks.

“Alarmingly, nearly three in four infants live in places at the greatest risk of measles outbreaks,” Lemango said, pointing out that 10 crisis-wracked countries, including Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, account for more than half of children not vaccinated against measles.

On a more positive note, strong increases were seen in vaccination against the cervical cancer-causing HPV virus.

But that vaccine is still only reaching 56% of adolescent girls in high-income countries and 23% in lower-income countries — far below the 90% target.

A decade afterMH17 crash, victim’s father waits for Russia to say sorry

HILVERSUM, Netherlands — Quinn Schansman dreamed of becoming the youngest-ever CEO of an American company. A decade ago, he’d just finished the first year of an international business degree in Amsterdam as a step toward that lofty goal.

But the 18-year-old dual Dutch American citizen’s future — whatever it may have held — was cruelly cut short when he was one of the 298 people killed as a Soviet-era Buk surface-to-air rocket, launched from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels, destroyed Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

The conflict in Ukraine has since erupted into full-scale war following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

On Wednesday, Quinn’s father, Thomas Schansman, will read out his name and those of other victims during a commemoration marking 10 years since the tragedy at a monument near Schiphol, the airport flight MH17 left on its way to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

Schansman has learned to live with the loss of his son, but what he still can’t accept is Moscow’s blunt denials of responsibility for the downing of the Boeing 777, which shattered in midair and scattered bodies and wreckage over agricultural land and fields of sunflowers in eastern Ukraine.

An international investigation concluded that the Buk missile system belonged to the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and that it was driven into Ukraine from a Russian military base near the city of Kursk and returned there after the plane was shot down.

In 2022, after a trial that lasted more than two years, a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a pro-Russian Ukrainian in absentia of murder for their roles in transporting the missile. They were given life prison sentences but remain at large because Russia refused to surrender them to face trial. One other Russian was acquitted.

Russia steadfastly denies any responsibility.

More legal action is underway at the European Court of Human Rights and the International Civil Aviation Organization Council to hold Russia to account under international law for the attack.

If those organizations rule that Moscow was responsible, Schansman says it will be a moment to celebrate — but it wouldn’t be the end of the story.

“That does not provide closure. For me, closure is the acknowledgment by Russia that they delivered the Buk, the recognition that they must also take responsibility for it,” Schansman told The Associated Press. “I want to hear apologies. The simple ‘Sorry.’”

Nationals of 16 countries killed

People killed in the crash were citizens of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam, Israel, Italy, Romania, the United States and South Africa.

Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus will also be in the Netherlands for the commemoration. He honored families of the dead in a statement earlier this month, saying that 38 of the victims “called Australia home.”

“I pay tribute to their bravery, their strength and their perseverance. Seeking justice for those aboard flight MH17 has required many of those who loved them most to tell and re-tell their stories of loss in successive legal proceedings,” he said.

Dreyfus said the anniversary and a commemoration at Parliament House in Canberra would be “a moment to pause and remember those whose lives were tragically cut short in a senseless act of violence. It will be a moment to commit ourselves to continue to seek accountability for those responsible for this despicable crime.”

Schansman said he no longer cares if other people who were involved in firing the missile are brought to justice because “it won’t bring my son back.”

He just wants Russia to admit responsibility.

“The fact that for all these years — right up to today — they continue to deny and to spread disinformation, that hurts,” Schansman said. “That is irritating and it makes you at certain times a bitter person.”

Mark Rutte, the former Dutch prime minister who was in office when the Boeing 777 was shot down, said the disaster and its decade-long aftermath was “perhaps the most drastic and emotional event of my entire premiership. I have always tried to be a support to the relatives.”

Rutte’s administration helped coordinate a complex operation to repatriate the remains of the victims to the Netherlands. Thousands of people solemnly lined highways as convoys of hearses carried coffins from a military airbase to a barracks where the painstaking process of identification took place.

Wednesday’s ceremony will be held at the national MH17 memorial, a park near Schiphol Airport that is planted with 298 trees — one for each victim — and sunflowers, reflecting the flowers that grew at the crash scene.

And while Wednesday will mark the 10th anniversary of Quinn’s death, his name lives on. His sister Nerissa recently gave birth to her first daughter, named Frida Quinn Schansman Pouw.

American volunteer’s urge to help Ukraine rooted in family’s struggle

Rima Ziuraitis, an American of Lithuanian descent, has been teaching basic first aid to military personnel and civilians in Ukraine for over a year. Ziuraitis, who first arrived in Ukraine as a volunteer in the fall of 2022, has decided to stay in the country and become a medical instructor. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story.

Spain beats England 2-1 to win record 4th European Soccer Championship title

Berlin — Spain won a record fourth European Championship title on Sunday after Mikel Oyarzabal’s 87th-minute goal clinched a 2-1 victory over England, whose painful decades-long wait for a major trophy goes on.

Oyarzabal slid in to poke home Marc Cucurella’s cross, just when the game at Berlin’s Olympiastadion seemed destined for extra time after the latest show of resilience by England at the tournament.

Substitute Cole Palmer equalized for England in the 73rd minute to cancel out Nico Williams’ opener in the 47th from 17-year-old prodigy Lamine Yamal’s pass.

Spain also won the title in 1964, 2008 and 2012.

England men’s team has now lost back-to-back Euro finals and is still without a major title since winning the 1966 World Cup.

It is another agonizing loss for one of the world’s most underperforming national teams, this one coming in front of Prince William and Spain’s King Felipe at the venue built for the 1936 Olympics.

After the final whistle, Williams put his hands to his face before he was embraced by his teammates. Dani Carvajal slumped to the field and was piled on by jubilant teammates.

Yamal, Marc Cucurella and Dani Olmo were among the first to jump over the advertising hoardings to reach the Spanish fans in the stadium’s east end.

China, Russia start joint naval drills 

BEIJING — China and Russia’s naval forces kicked off a joint exercise Sunday at a military port in southern China, official news agency Xinhua reported, days after NATO allies called Beijing a “decisive enabler” of the war in Ukraine.

The Chinese defense ministry said in a statement that forces from both sides recently patrolled the western and northern Pacific Ocean and that the operation had nothing to do with international and regional situations and didn’t target any third party.

The exercise, which began in Guangdong province Sunday and is expected to last until mid-July, aimed to demonstrate the capabilities of the navies in addressing security threats and preserving peace and stability globally and regionally, state broadcaster CCTV reported Saturday, adding it would include anti-missile exercises, sea strikes and air defense.

Xinhua News Agency reported the Chinese and Russian naval forces carried out on-map military simulation and tactical coordination exercises after the opening ceremony in the city of Zhanjiang.

The joint drills came on the heels of China’s latest tensions with NATO allies last week.

The sternly worded final communiqué, approved by the 32 NATO members at their summit in Washington, made clear that China is becoming a focus of the military alliance, calling Beijing a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The European and North American members and their partners in the Indo-Pacific increasingly see shared security concerns coming from Russia and its Asian supporters, especially China.

In response, China accused NATO of seeking security at the expense of others and told the alliance not to bring the same “chaos” to Asia. Its foreign ministry maintained that China has a fair and objective stance on the war in Ukraine.

Last week, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea also came across several Chinese military ships in international waters but within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, American officials said. Its crew detected three vessels approximately 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of the Amchitka Pass in the Aleutian Islands, which mark a separation and linkage between the North Pacific and the Bering Sea.

Later, a fourth ship was spotted approximately 84 miles (135 kilometers) north of the Amukta Pass.

The U.S. side said the Chinese naval vessels operated within international rules and norms.

Carlos Alcaraz tops Novak Djokovic in a second consecutive Wimbledon final for a fourth Slam title 

London — Carlos Alcaraz defeated Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the Wimbledon men’s final Sunday to collect his fourth Grand Slam title at age 21.   

It was a rematch of last year’s championship match on the grass of the All England Club, which Alcaraz won in five sets.   

This one — played in front of a Centre Court crowd that included Kate, the Princess of Wales, in a rare public appearance since announcing she has cancer — was much easier for Alcaraz, at least until he stumbled while holding three match points as he served for the victory at 5-4 in the third set.   

Still, Alcaraz regrouped and eventually picked up a second major trophy in a row after last month’s triumph on the clay at the French Open.   

 

The Spaniard won his first Slam title at the 2022 U.S. Open as a teenager, and no man ever has collected more Slam hardware before turning 22 than he has.   

He improved to 4-0 in major finals.   

The 37-year-old Djokovic, wearing a gray sleeve on his surgically repaired right knee, was denied in his bid for an eighth Wimbledon title and record 25th major overall. He tore his meniscus at Roland Garros on June 3 and had an operation in Paris two days later.   

Less than six weeks later, Djokovic was hardly at his best on Sunday — and Alcaraz certainly had something to do with that. 

Israel’s Holocaust memorial opens a facility to store artifacts, photos and more

JERUSALEM — Israel’s national Holocaust museum opened a new conservation facility in Jerusalem on Monday that will preserve, restore and store its more than 45,000 artifacts and works of art in a vast new building, including five floors of underground storage.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, serves as both a museum and a research institution. It welcomes nearly a million visitors each year, leads the country’s annual Holocaust memorial day and hosts nearly all foreign dignitaries visiting Israel.

“Before we opened this building, it was very difficult to exhibit our treasures that were kept in our vaults. They were kind of secret,” said Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan. “Now there’s a state-of-the-art installation (that) will help us to exhibit them.”

The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center, located at the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem, will also provide organization and storage for the museum’s 225 million pages of documents and half a million photographs.

Dayan said the materials will now be kept in a facility that preserves them in optimal temperatures and conditions.

“Yad Vashem has the largest collections in the world of materials related to the Holocaust,” Dayan said. “We will make sure that these treasures are kept for eternity.”

The new facility includes advanced, high-tech labs for conservation, enabling experts to revisit some of the museum’s trickier items, such as a film canister that a family who fled Austria in 1939 brought with them. It was donated to the museum but arrived in an advanced state of decay.

“The film arrived in the worst state it could. It smelled really bad,” said Reut Ilan-Shafik, a photography conservator at Yad Vashem. Over the years, the film had congealed into a solid piece of plastic, making it impossible to be scanned.

Using organic solvents, conservators were able to restore some of the film’s flexibility, allowing them to carefully unravel pieces of it. Using a microscope, Ilan-Shafik was able to see a few frames in their entirety, including one showing a couple kissing on a bench in a park and other snapshots of Europe before World War II.

“It is unbelievable to know that the images of the film that we otherwise thought lost to time” have been recovered, said Orit Feldberg, granddaughter of Hans and Klara Lebel, the couple featured in the photo.

Feldberg’s mother donated the film canister, one of the few things the Lebels were able to take with them when they fled Austria.

“These photographs not only tell their unique story but also keep their memory vibrantly alive,” Feldberg said.

Conservation of items from the Holocaust is an expensive, painstaking process that has taken on greater importance as the number of survivors dwindles.

Last month, the Auschwitz Memorial announced it had finished a half-million-dollar project to conserve 3,000 of the 8,000 pairs of children’s shoes that are on display at the Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

France celebrates national day as political crisis rumbles on 

Paris — France celebrated military victories of the past at its annual Bastille Day parade Sunday, while its present political future appeared far from clear.

President Emmanuel Macron inspected French and allied units which took part in France’s World War II liberation 80 years ago.

And Paris welcomed the Olympic flame to the city, less than two weeks before it hosts the Summer Games.

But behind the pomp — itself in a reduced format while Olympic preparations blocked the traditional Champs Elysees route — France’s tense search for a government appeared to be at a stalemate.

All eyes were on the host, Macron, who last year cut a more impressive figure, hosting rising superpower India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they watched France’s military might roll down the Champs Elysees.

There was no international star guest this year, and there were no armored vehicles as a reduced number of troops marched down the less majestic Avenue Foch.

This month’s snap elections, called by Macron to clarify France’s direction after the far right sent shockwaves through the political establishment by coming first in EU polls, left the country without a parliamentary majority.

Government in limbo

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is hanging on as caretaker head of government but the centrist has reportedly fallen out with Macron and is now focusing on his own future, taking charge of his reduced party in parliament.

Other figures are mobilizing with an eye on the 2027 presidential race, but there is little sign of a majority emerging from parliament, split between three camps.

With government in limbo and Macron barred by the constitution from calling fresh elections for at least 12 months, far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen is eyeing the 2027 campaign with relish.

Meanwhile, a rapidly cobbled-together left-wing alliance, the New Popular Front (NFP), now has the most MPs but no outright majority and no clear candidate for PM.

Firebrand hardliner Jean-Luc Melenchon and his France Unbowed (LFI) party have alienated many even on the left and would be rejected by the center and right.

But LFI represents a large chunk of the NFP and, along with some greens and communists, had been touting Huguette Bello, the 73-year-old former communist and president of the regional council on Reunion in the Indian Ocean, as premier.

But on Sunday she declined the role, saying that there was no consensus behind her candidacy, notably because of opposition from the center-left Socialist Party, and that she wanted the NFP to agree to another name quickly.

The European Union’s second largest economy, a nuclear-armed G7 power and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, is thus rudderless, a troubling situation for markets and France’s allies alike.

Against this backdrop, the reduced and rerouted parade risked becoming a new symbol of drift, even with the addition of the arrival in Paris of the Olympic Torch, ahead of the July 26 to August 11 Games.

Olympic relay

No tanks took part, and only 4,000 foot soldiers marched, down from 6,500 last year. The military fly-past saw 45 airplanes and 22 helicopters soar over Paris.

Regiments honored on the parade included those from France’s allies and former French colonies that took part in the country’s 1944 World War II liberation.

The parade’s final section turned to the upcoming games.

Colonel Thibault Vallette of the elite Cadre Noir de Saumur cavalry school and 2016 equestrian gold medalist at the Rio Games rode the torch down the route before relay runners were to carry it around the capital.

France’s Bastille Day parade meets the Olympic torch relay in an exceptional year

Competition between NATO, China intensifies following Washington summit

irvine, california — NATO and China’s efforts to deepen cooperation with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific and Europe are viewed by some analysts as part of the growing competition between major powers, especially between the United States and China.    

“[The latest development] is a standard major power competition,” said Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore.  

These efforts are aimed at “finding out where are their friends and who can support their efforts,” he said. “[But] it’s pretty clear that the competition between major powers is intensifying,” he told VOA by phone.    

During its annual summit in Washington, NATO announced it would launch four new joint projects with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. The projects will focus on deepening cooperation with the four Indo-Pacific countries on Ukraine, artificial intelligence, disinformation, and cybersecurity.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the goal is to “harness the unique strengths” of democracies to address shared global challenges. In response, the Chinese government accused NATO of “inciting bloc confrontation and hyping up regional tensions” by engaging with countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Instead of expanding its footprint to the Indo-Pacific region through these joint projects, some experts say NATO is trying to involve more like-minded countries in the process of building up competencies in critical areas of competition.  

“These are core areas that will shape military and other forms of competition moving forward so NATO wants to establish more cooperation with like-minded democracies,” said Stephen Nagy, a regional security expert at the International Christian University in Japan.  

Since NATO has labeled China as “the decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Nagy said the alliance is trying to show Beijing that it won’t back out of the global competition in key areas.    

“NATO is signaling to China that they can be part of the solution, or they would be part of the problem,” he told VOA by phone.    

In an interview with VOA’s Mandarin Service, Japan’s Foreign Press Secretary Maki Kobayashi said that while Tokyo has been working closely with NATO member states, these efforts shouldn’t be viewed as an attempt to establish a NATO in Asia.

China’s attempt to counter NATO  

While the U.S. and its NATO allies aimed to strengthen cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries through the summit in Washington, China is also beefing up military cooperation with Belarus and Russia.  

On Monday, China initiated an 11-day joint military exercise near the border of Poland with Belarus, the newest member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the exercise wasn’t targeting any country, some analysts told VOA that the move is Beijing’s response to NATO’s growing interest in Asia.

In addition to the military exercise with Belarus in Europe, China also announced Friday a joint naval exercise with Russia in waters near the southern city of Zhanjiang.  

The Chinese defense ministry characterized the drills, which will take place near the disputed South China Sea, as attempts for Beijing and Moscow to demonstrate their resolve and capabilities to address “maritime security threats and preserving global and regional peace and stability.”  

Nagy in Japan said Beijing is trying to show its displeasure toward NATO’s efforts to strengthen ties with Indo-Pacific countries. 

“China is signaling to NATO member states that they can cause headaches for them in their region or regions that matter to them,” he told VOA.    

Apart from closely aligning the dates of the two military exercises with the NATO Summit, China also used last week’s SCO Summit in Kazakhstan to uphold its “no limits partnership” with Russia and promote the alternative world order that it has been championing in recent years.

While the SCO isn’t an alliance with a common goal, some experts say China will still try to use it as a platform to “build its own blocs” to counter NATO and dilute Western influence.    

“China is strengthening these arrangements through bilateral agreements and strategic partnership, which often include security,” Sari Arho Havren, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told VOA by phone.    

But since the SCO includes member states such as India, which is also part of the quadrilateral security dialogue with Australia, Japan, and the U.S., Nagy thinks New Delhi is unlikely to back any efforts to transform SCO into a counterweight of NATO.  

And while China might engage in some security cooperation with other authoritarian states like Russia or Iran — such as the joint military exercise the three countries conducted in March — Nagy said the differences in the three countries’ tolerance for risk and their visions for these partnerships will make it difficult for them to form a formal alliance. 

In his view, Russia has a higher tolerance for risk while China is concerned about how the war in Ukraine may affect stability around the world.  

“In the North Korea front, China is not happy about Putin’s recent trip to Pyongyang while Beijing wants a stable relationship with Iran, which adds limits to their cooperation,” Nagy told VOA. 

“The idea that these countries can converge to form an alliance to combat the so-called Western containment is not feasible, but they may align themselves so they can coordinate the supply of resources,” he added. 

Despite some limitations in reality, Arho Havren said China and NATO’s latest efforts to deepen partnerships show that a bloc competition may be emerging. 

“Both sides are more assertive and clear about their messaging and recent developments may accelerate this trend,” she told VOA.   

5 injured while running with bulls in Spain

Pamplona, Spain — Five runners were injured, but none were gored on the seventh day of Pamplona’s running of the bulls in northern Spain Saturday, the Red Cross said. 

The five injured people were hurt during Spain’s traditional annual San Fermin bull running festival, with most suffering bruising, local government sources said. 

The curtain went up on nine days of festivities earlier this week as thousands of revelers dressed in white clothes and red scarves filled the city’s main square for the “chupinazo” — the firecracker that launches an event dating back to medieval times.

The run became world famous after being immortalized by U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

The festivities include concerts, religious processions and copious amounts of wine.

Each day at 8 a.m., hundreds of attendees launch themselves into a dangerous 850 meters (930 yards) race, seeking to outrun — or at least avoid — six heavy fighting bulls through the city center’s narrow streets.

During the intense “running of the bulls” — which lasts less than three minutes — the runners try to get as close as possible to the animals in their sprint to the Pamplona bullring, where bullfights are held in the afternoon.

This year’s edition saw the day of San Fermin fall on a Sunday, allowing a stronger turnout than when the saint’s day falls on a weekday.

Anyone aged 18 or above may participate.

Dozens of people are injured each year, although most are injuries resulting from falls or being stomped by animals. To date, 16 deaths have also been recorded since 1911, the last coming in 2009.

Missing Polish coal miner found alive more than two days after quake

WARSAW, Poland — A miner who was reported missing after an earthquake shook Poland’s Rydultowy coal mine has been found alive more than two days after the accident that killed one of his colleagues and injured another 17, local officials said Saturday. 

The miner has been airlifted to a hospital and the rescue operation has been closed, said Witold Gałązka of the coal mining group that operates the mine. 

Earlier, the office of the provincial governor of the Silesia coal mining region, in southern Poland, said that the miner was conscious and was being transported to the surface. 

“This is fantastic news,” provincial governor Marek Wojcik said on TVN24. 

The head of the Polish Coal Mining Group that operates the mine, Leszek Pietraszek, said that rescuers reached the 32-year-old miner around 2 p.m. Saturday. He was conscious and communicating but had some problems breathing. He received first aid from a doctor who also prepared him for transportation to the surface. 

Hundreds of rescuers took part in the operation and at times had to be withdrawn from the corridor when more tremors were threatened or because of dangerous methane gas levels. The rescuers had to dig through the rubble by hand to reach the miner, authorities said. 

Seventy-eight miners were in the area when a magnitude 3.1 tremor struck about 1,200 meters below the surface on Thursday afternoon. 

One miner, age 41, was killed and 17 were hospitalized with injuries. Thirteen of the injured have since been released from the hospital. 

The tremor caused a slide of rocks into the corridor at one spot, where the miner was found Saturday. 

The mining group has suffered several deadly accidents this year. In May, three miners died in a cave-in at the Myslowice-Wesola coal mine, and one was killed at the same mine in April. 

Two miners lost their lives in separate accidents in 2019 and 2020 in the Rydultowy mine, which was opened in 1792 and employs about 2,000 miners. 

Coal mining is considered hazardous in Poland, where some mines are prone to methane gas explosions or to cave-ins. Excavation in older mines goes deep into the ground in the search for coal, increasing the job’s hazards. The coal industry is among Poland’s key employers, providing some 75,000 jobs. 

Last year, 15 miners died in accidents. 

Spain, England to contest Euro 2024 final in former Nazi stadium

BERLIN — Spain and England will play the European Championship final on Sunday in an imposing stadium with a dark history.

Built for the 1936 Olympic Games, Berlin’s Olympic stadium still bears the scars of World War II and contains relics from its Nazi past.

But the Olympiastadion, as it’s known in German, is also associated with the rebirth of a democratic Germany after the war. It hosted matches during the 1974 World Cup in what was then West Germany and again at the 2006 World Cup, 16 years after German reunification.

Hitler’s involvement

Adolf Hitler was personally involved in the design and construction of the 100,000-seat track-and-field stadium after the Nazis assumed power in 1933, two years after Germany had been awarded the 1936 Games.

Initially unenthused by the idea of hosting the Games, the Nazi dictator changed his mind after being convinced of their potential for propaganda.

Plans to remodel the existing national stadium were quickly scrapped in favor of constructing a whole new sports complex, the Reich Sports Field, on the same site. Werner March is credited as the architect of Olympiastadion.

Drawing inspiration from the Colosseum in Rome, the stadium was designed to impress. The Olympic Square in front of the main entrance is tapered, with flagpoles and lines of trees on either side heightening the sense of perspective. The idea was to increase the dramatic effect, raising visitors’ expectations and making them feel part of the event.

Up to 2,600 workers toiled on the Reich Sports Field at one stage to have it ready in time for the Games, which started August 1, 1936. The Nazi regime’s racist ideology deeply influenced the project as construction companies were told to only hire “complying, nonunion workers of German citizenship and Aryan race.”

A propaganda victory

Hitler watched from his stadium-balcony as Jesse Owens, a Black American athlete, won four gold medals to become the star of the Games, dealing a blow to Hitler’s notions of racial superiority.

However, the Games also delivered a propaganda victory for Nazi Germany. It won more medals than any other country and presented to the world a carefully crafted image of peace and tolerance that Hitler and his associates wanted to show. It was arguably the world’s first major case of “sportswashing.”

Olympiastadion was decked with hundreds of Nazi flags for the Games, and a swastika adorned one of the two towers holding the Olympic rings above the entrance. The swastika was removed in 1945.

Members of the Nazi paramilitary SA, commonly known as the Brownshirts, were ordered to stop their attacks against Jews during July and August 1936.

The Nazis were already pushing Jewish athletes out of German sports, and there were only two the Nazis considered half-Jewish who were allowed compete on the German team — fencer Helene Mayer and hockey player Rudi Ball.

“It was done to try and silence the critics a little bit,” said Ryan Balmer, a tour guide with degrees in modern history and literature who has lived in Berlin since 2008.

The Nazis also used the Reich Sports Field complex after the Olympics. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini visited in 1937, when he was welcomed by thousands of torch-carrying Nazis on the May Field behind the stadium. Up to 800,000 people reportedly took part.

Olympiastadion survives WWII

Olympiastadion and the Reich Sports Field were damaged in the war, although the stadium escaped relatively unscathed compared to the devastation wrought by Allied bombers in more central areas of Berlin. Many surviving buildings were reused with their Nazi iconography removed.

Olympiastadion fell in the British sector after the city was divided between the four victorious powers — the Soviet Union, the U.S., France and Britain. The British reopened the stadium in 1946 and maintained their military headquarters in the former Reich Sports Field until 1994.

Little was done to Olympiastadion after the war. It and the former the Reich Sports Field were given protected status in 1966, when Hitler’s balcony was shortened by 1 meter. The biggest renovations were made before Germany’s 2006 World Cup, when the stadium was crowned with a roof.

The stadium today

There are no attempts to hide the stadium’s Nazi past — modern-day Germany is adamant that the atrocities of the Nazi era should not be forgotten. Information signs in English and German are placed around the stadium to inform visitors about the site’s history.

While the swastikas have been removed, some Nazi relics remain. An eagle adorns a pillar beside what is now the training ground of Hertha Berlin, which plays its home games in the stadium. The old bell from the Bell Tower still displays a Nazi eagle and Olympic rings, but the swastika has been partially covered.

In a sign of Germany’s post-war rehabilitation, a large conference room in the stadium and a road running along the sports field’s southern perimeter have been named after Owens.

Visitors have mixed feelings about the stadium, which has a capacity of 71,000 during the European Championship. Many fans who attend matches at Olympiastadion are preoccupied with their respective teams’ fortunes and pay little attention to the information signs.

Balmer said the stadium could use “a more prominent reminder of how and why places like this were built.”