UK union fails to win recognition at Amazon site after losing ballot, Amazon says

LONDON — The GMB union has failed to secure the right to formally represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, central England, Amazon said on Wednesday.

The ballot result on union recognition is a blow for the U.K. trade union movement as victory in the ballot would have forced the U.S. e-commerce giant to negotiate labor terms with a U.K. union for the first time.

The Coventry workers have been involved in a dispute over pay and union recognition for more than a year and have carried out numerous strikes.

The GMB union has argued Amazon frustrated its recognition bid by recruiting hundreds of additional workers at the site so the union no longer had the numbers to make the ballot threshold.

Amazon’s treatment of workers has been in the spotlight for years. It has historically opposed unionization, saying its preference has been to resolve issues with employees directly rather than through unions.

However, in 2022, workers at its warehouse in Staten Island, New York, forced the company to recognize a trade union in the U.S. for the first time.

That was seen as key moment for the union movement. However, Amazon workers at two other New York warehouses and one in Alabama have since voted against unionizing.

Amazon does interact with unions in countries such as Germany and Italy. But that is largely because it is required to by government.

Amazon employs about 75,000 in the UK, making it one of the country’s top 10 private sector employers.

Britain’s new Labor government has promised to give workers more rights and unions more power.

It plans to update trade union legislation, removing restrictions on trade union activity and ensuring industrial relations are based around good faith negotiation and bargaining.

Labor says British employment laws are outdated, a drag on economic growth and a major factor in the U.K.’s worst period of industrial relations since the 1980s.

UK’s new government announces legislation for ‘national renewal’ as Parliament opens with royal pomp 

London — Britain’s new Labour Party government promised to calm the country’s febrile politics and ease its cost-of-living crisis as it set out its plans for “national renewal” at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Stabilizing the U.K.’s public finances and spurring economic growth were at the center of Prime Minister Keir Starmer ‘s legislative agenda, announced in a speech delivered by King Charles III.

“My government will seek a new partnership with both business and working people and help the country move on from the recent cost of living challenges by prioritizing wealth creation for all communities,” the king said in a speech to hundreds of lawmakers and scarlet-robed members of the House of Lords.

Starmer campaigned on a promise to bring bold change to Britain at modest cost to taxpayers. He aims to be both pro-worker and pro-business, in favor of vast new construction projects and protective of the environment. The risk is he may end up pleasing no one.

In a written introduction to the speech, Starmer urged patience, saying change would require “determined, patient work and serious solutions” rather than easy answers and “the snake oil charm of populism.”

The King’s Speech is the centerpiece of the State Opening, an occasion where royal pomp meets hard-nosed politics, as the king donned a diamond-studded crown, sat on a gilded throne and announced the laws his government intends to pass in the coming year.

Labour won a landslide election victory on July 4 as voters turned on the Conservatives after years of high inflation, ethics scandals and a revolving door of prime ministers. Starmer has promised to patch up the country’s aging infrastructure and frayed public services, but says he won’t raise personal taxes and insists change must be bound by “unbreakable fiscal rules.”

Wednesday’s speech included 40 bills – the Conservatives’ last speech had just 21 – ranging from housebuilding to nationalizing Britain’s railways and decarbonizing the nation’s power supply with a publicly-owned green energy firm, Great British Energy.

The government said it would “get Britain building,” setting up a National Wealth Fund and rewriting planning rules that stop new homes and infrastructure being built.

Economic measures included tighter rules governing corporations and a law to ensure all government budgets get advance independent scrutiny. That aims to avoid a repetition of the chaos sparked in 2022 by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose package of uncosted tax cuts rocked the British economy and ended her brief term in office.

The government promised stronger protections for workers, with a ban on some”zero-hours” contracts and a higher minimum wage for many employees. Also announced were protections for renters against shoddy housing, sudden eviction and landlords who won’t let them have a pet.

The government promised more power for local governments and better bus and railway services – keys to the “levelling up” of Britain’s London-centric economy that former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised but largely failed to deliver.

Though Starmer eschewed large-scale nationalization of industries, the government plans to take the delay-plagued train operators into public ownership.

The speech said the government “recognizes the urgency of the global climate challenge” — a change in tone from the Conservative government’s emphasis on oil and gas exploration. As well as increasing renewable energy, it pledged tougher penalties for water companies that dump sewage into rivers, lakes and seas.

The speech included new measures to strengthen border security, creating a beefed-up Border Security Command with counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

It follows Starmer’s decision to scrap the Conservatives’ contentious and unrealized plan to send people arriving in the U.K. across the English Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

The speech also tackled an issue that has foxed previous governments: reforming the House of Lords. The unelected upper chamber of Parliament is packed with almost 800 members – largely lifetime political appointees, with a smattering of judges, bishops and almost 100 hereditary aristocrats. The government said it would remove the hereditary nobles, though there was no mention of Starmer’s past proposal of setting a Lords retirement age of 80.

There was no mention of lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, though that was one of Labour’s election promises.

While much of Starmer’s agenda marks a break with the defeated Conservative government of former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Starmer revived Sunak’s plan to stop future generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco.

The speech confirmed that the government wants to “reset the relationship with European partners” roiled by Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2020. It said there would be no change to Britain’s strong support for Ukraine and promised to “play a leading role in providing Ukraine with a clear path to NATO membership.”

Wednesday’s address was the second such speech delivered by Charles since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022.

He traveled from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage – past a small group of anti-monarchy protesters with signs reading “Down with the Crown” – before donning ceremonial robes and the Imperial State Crown to deliver his speech. Police said 10 members of an environmental activist group were arrested near Parliament over alleged plans to disrupt the ceremony.

For all its royal trappings, it is the King’s Speech in name only. The words are written by government officials, and the monarch betrayed no flicker of emotion as he read them out.

“The king has zero agency in this,” said Jill Rutter, senior research fellow at the Institute for Government think tank.

European experts expect economic measures, military personnel changes from China’s Third Plenary Session

Vienna — European experts watching China’s Third Plenum say this week’s high-level meetings are unlikely to touch on political reform but will likely introduce several measures to reverse the nation’s economic downturn.

“Any measures to be announced on China’s key economic problems will be moderate and gradual, like Chinese medicine, as opposed to a shock therapy,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, a senior researcher at the Belgian think tank Bruegel.

The Spanish economist listed eight key problems facing the current Chinese economy: stagnation in real estate; tight local government finances; deflationary pressure; sluggish consumer consumption; an aging population; a decline in foreign investment in non-manufacturing industries; increased social security costs, such as pensions and medical care; and the failure to achieve transformation and upgrading of the manufacturing industry.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency has said decisions on such matters are expected from this week’s Third Plenary Session of the 20th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which is to address policy matters spanning the next decade.

Garcia-Herrero said China’s possible approaches include providing modest subsidies to low- and middle-income households to stimulate consumption; structural measures to slow down the aging of the population; opening up investment access to attract foreign investment; increasing local government taxes to make up for shortfalls caused by falling land prices; delaying retirement; and reducing government administrative costs to achieve fiscal balance.

Chinese policymakers will need to make some hard choices. A lack of social benefits prompts people to save for future emergencies, which reduces private consumption. Stimulating consumption will require greater government spending, including a better social welfare system, but this will hurt an already deteriorating fiscal position.

It remains to be seen to what extent China’s economic decision-makers agree on establishing a social safety net and carrying out consumption-oriented structural reforms.

Garcia-Herrero said that in the long term, the way to solve China’s economic woes is to expand local fiscal autonomy and develop high-end manufacturing, although neither seems likely in the short term.

The plenum is expected to focus on reforming the fiscal and taxation systems, and specific measures may include transferring consumption tax and value-added tax from the central government to local governments.

President Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of vigorously developing “new quality productivity” and promoting China’s industrial upgrading and “high-quality development.”

Alexander Davey, an analyst at MERICS, told VOA, “The past reforms of investments of vast resources and personnel into modernizing China’s industrial system and promoting scientific and technological innovation will continue.”

But he said it is uncertain whether those investments “will negatively impact the extent to which Beijing can allocate resources for local governments to service health care, education, infrastructure, government employee wages, etc.”

Analysts say the Chinese modernization development model, which relies on high-end manufacturing exports to drive the economy, could exacerbate trade disputes between China and its major export destinations. The United States and Europe have recently accused China of “overcapacity” of electric vehicles and have imposed anti-dumping investigations and tariff measures.

Davey said Chinese-style modernization “could be used as pretext for how Beijing decides to retaliate [against] Brussels’ tariffs on Chinese EVs, among other EU de-risking actions towards China. Beijing may target European imports like brandy, wine, and certain types of cars, framing them as unnecessary luxury goods in its march towards common prosperity, imposing tariffs accordingly.”

The China watchers also said specific plans for personnel changes at the top level of the People’s Liberation Army are expected.

Two former Chinese defense ministers, Wei Fenghe and Li Shangfu, were expelled last month from the party and the military.

Francesco Sisci, an Italian Sinologist, told VOA, “We know the focus will be the PLA and the economy. The domestic economy is not doing well with private consumption shrinking and the military is under immense stress for the unprecedented purge of two ministers of defense. The PLA seems in disarray, which is extremely dangerous.”

Adrianna Zhang  contributed to this report.

Japan-Germany security cooperation troubles North Korea, China

washington — North Korea and China are watching for possible regional impacts from Japan’s recent enhanced security cooperation with Germany.

This weekend, Japan will hold joint drills with Germany around the Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. Spain is slated to join them there, while France will join Japan next week for drills over Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture bordering the Pacific Ocean.

At a joint press conference in Berlin late last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said defense cooperation will be enhanced by the planned visits of German aircraft and frigates to Japan and of a Japanese training fleet to Hamburg this summer.

North Korea slammed the security cooperation as “collusion” that crossed a “red line” and is “reminiscent of the Second World War,” according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA on Monday.

“The defeated war criminal nations are in cahoots to stage a series of war games escalating the regional tensions,” KCNA continued.

Kishida said Japan hopes to work with Germany “to deal with the deepening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea as well as China’s moves related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” according to Nippon.com, a news agency based in Tokyo.

Kishida and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed in Berlin on Friday to boost their security cooperation after attending a NATO summit in Washington. It was Kishida’s first trip to Germany as prime minister.

Pact enters into force

Also on Friday, a military supply-sharing pact that aims to exchange food, fuel, and ammunition between Japan and Germany entered into force. The agreement was signed in January.

Beijing said the cooperation between Japan and Germany should not create tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Monday that “cooperation between countries, including military and security ties, should not target any third party or harm their interests.”

Maki Kobayashi, Japanese cabinet secretary for public affairs, told VOA’s Mandarin Service during the NATO summit that Japan has been working “very closely” with NATO countries on security issues and joint exercises.

“China has been saying there is an attempt at creating NATO in Asia, which is not correct,” she said.

Rather, she said, Japan has been seeking closer ties among like-minded countries “to share situational analyses and also align some policies” in support of an international order based on the rule of law.

In Berlin, Kishida and Scholz also agreed to enhance economic security including safeguarding the resilience of supply chains for key items such as critical minerals and semiconductors.

Cooperation seen two different ways

In Washington last week, the leaders of NATO and four Indo-Pacific countries, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, discussed how to ramp up their combined defense capacity.

“A union of defense industrial bases between NATO and IP4 countries would have significant and positive implications for international peace and stability,” said Matthew Brummer, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

“Japan has recently moved to provide surface-to-air missiles to the United States, which then sends them to Ukraine,” he added.

In December, Tokyo agreed to ship Japanese-made Patriot guided missiles to backfill U.S. inventory after taking a major step away from its pacifist self-defense policies and easing its postwar ban on the export of lethal weapons.

“In general, the NATO-IP4 cooperation is a good thing, since it symbolizes the recognition that both the Indo-Pacific theater and the European theater are linked,” Elli-Katharina Pohlkamp, visiting fellow of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations based in Berlin said via email.

However, she continued, “Strengthening NATO-IP4 ties could exacerbate tensions with China and Russia, who may perceive this cooperation as a containment strategy,” and encourage countries like North Korea to align more closely with them.

Adam Xu contributed to this report.

Spain confirms body found is missing UK teen’s

MADRID — Spanish authorities confirmed on Tuesday that a body found in a remote area of the island of Tenerife a day earlier was that of a missing British teenager and that the injuries sustained were compatible with an accidental fall.

“We have a positive ID,” a court spokesperson said. “Fingerprinting confirms that the body belongs to Jay Slater, and the death was due to multiple traumas compatible with a fall in the mountainous area.”

Earlier, the same spokesperson said it would take some days before autopsy results were available.

Slater’s mother, Debbie, issued a statement through the British overseas missing persons charity LBT Global acknowledging the “worst news.”

“I just can’t believe this could happen to my beautiful boy,” the statement read. “Our hearts are broken.”

The body was found Monday morning by a Civil Guard mountain rescue group.

Slater, 19, went missing on June 17, and his phone was last traced to the Masca ravine in a remote national park on the Canary Islands archipelago.

The remains were found with Slater’s possessions and clothes close to the site of his mobile phone’s last location, LBT Global said on Monday.

Matthew Searle, chief executive of LBT Global, which has issued several statements on behalf of the family, said it would help repatriate Slater’s body and belongings and make funeral arrangements.

“There will, of course, be many more hurdles for the family to face in the coming days, and we will work with them to make this horrific time as easy as possible,” he said. 

Nobel laureates call on Belarus’ leader to release all political prisoners

Tallinn, Estonia — Dozens of Nobel Prize laureates are calling in an open letter on Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to free all political prisoners, after 18 seriously ill activists were released this month.

The Belarusian human rights group Viasna counts almost 1,400 political prisoners, including its Nobel Peace Prize-winning founder Ales Bialiatski.

Many of Belarus’ most prominent opposition figures are behind bars while others fled abroad as authorities cracked down severely on opponents as protests gripped the country in 2020. But only one well-known figure was among the 18 prisoners whom Lukashenko allowed to be freed earlier this month.

The letter from Nobel winners urged Lukashenko to follow through with more releases.

“You have a unique opportunity to turn the page on the past and enter history not only as an uncompromising ruler but also as a political leader who has shown wisdom and compassion, responsible to your people and their future,” said the letter that was posted Friday on the website of Belarusian political scientist Dmitry Bolkunets.

The 58 signatories include literature prize winners Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus, J.M. Coetzee, Herta Mueller, and peace prize laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Oscar Arias, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Juan Manuel Santos, Dmitry Muratov and Maria Ressa.

French PM poised to take caretaker role in deadlocked France       

Paris — French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal was set to resign but stay on as head of a caretaker government Tuesday, officials said, with no replacement in sight as divided parliamentary groups succumb to infighting.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to accept Attal’s resignation after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting — the first since his allies got roundly beaten in a snap National Assembly election called to “clarify” the political landscape.

But he was also likely to ask the prime minister and his team to stay on as a caretaker government with restricted powers until after the Paris Olympics, which open on July 26.

This would also give political parties more time to build a governing coalition after the July 7 election runoff left the National Assembly without an overall majority.

A broad alliance — called New Popular Front (NFP) — of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.

Macron’s allies came second with 164 seats and the far-right National Rally (RN) third at 143.

The divided NFP alliance has been scrambling to come up with a consensus candidate for prime minister.

But internal conflicts — notably between the LFI and the more moderate Socialists — have thwarted all efforts to find a personality able to survive a confidence vote in parliament.

‘Shameful’

Over the weekend, the Socialists torpedoed the hopes of Huguette Bello, 73, a former communist MP and the president of the regional council in France’s overseas territory La Reunion, who had support from the other left-wing parties.

The LFI, in turn, rejected Laurence Tubiana, an economist and climate specialist without political affiliation, who had the backing of the Socialists, Communists and Green party.

Leftist deputy Francois Ruffin on Tuesday called the NFP’s infighting “shameful,” while Green deputy Sandrine Rousseau said the disagreements made her “very angry.”

On Saturday, Attal was voted in as leader of his party’s National Assembly contingent, as he eyes his own future outside government, saying he would “contribute to the emergence of a majority concerning projects and ideas.”

Macron and Attal, observers say, are still hoping to find a right-of-center majority in parliament that would keep both the LFI or the far-right RN out of any new coalition.

Once Attal resigns, he and other cabinet members will be able to take their seats in parliament and participate in any coalition-building.

Parliament reconvenes on Thursday and will start by filling the National Assembly speaker job and other key positions.

Cracks have appeared between Attal and his former mentor Macron, whom the prime minister appears to blame for the electoral defeat only six months after being appointed France’s youngest ever head of government at 34.

Macron still has almost three years to go as president before elections in 2027, at which far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to make a fresh bid for power.

Germany says it saw fewer security problems than expected during Euro 2024

BERLIN — German authorities had fewer security problems and crimes to deal with than they expected at the European Championship, the country’s top security official said Monday.

The tournament ended on Sunday with Spain beating England 2-1 in the final in Berlin and no reports of serious disturbances. That capped a month-long event that mostly saw only isolated and relatively minor incidents, a contrast with violence at some past tournaments.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said that about 2.6 million people attended matches in the 10 host cities, and another 6 million watched games in the designated fan zones.

Over the course of the tournament, it said, there were a total of about 170 arrests and 320 temporary detentions. Police recorded about 2,340 offenses linked to the tournament, including some 700 involving bodily harm and 120 thefts. There were about 140 cases involving violence against police officers.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the country had been “prepared for all conceivable dangers from Islamist terrorism, through hooligan violence to cyberattacks and dangerous drone flights.”

“There were significantly fewer security incidents and offenses than our security authorities had expected beforehand at an event with millions of people,” Faeser said in a statement. “Above all, the very high police presence across the country was decisive in this.”

Germany introduced temporary border controls at all its frontiers during Euro 2024, something that has become standard practice during such events in Europe’s nominally ID check-free travel zone, the Schengen area. Those are due to run through Friday.

They will then be dropped at the borders with Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. However, the government is ordering checks on the border with France before and during the upcoming Olympic Games, and longer-standing checks on the eastern and southern borders with Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland that were motivated by concerns about migration will be kept in place.

Lebanese man arrested in Germany, accused of supplying drone parts to Hezbollah

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.