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.”

Iran’s Pezeshkian vows balance with all countries, warns US against pressure

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s newly elected president said his government will create “balance in relations with all countries” in line with national interests and the prerequisites for peace but stressed to the United States that his country “will not respond to pressure.”

Masoud Pezeshkian penned “My Message To The New World” in the country’s state-owned Tehran Times late Friday, praising the latest presidential election that “demonstrated remarkable stability” and vowing to uphold “promises I made during my campaign.”

Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon and longtime lawmaker, bested hard-liner former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to clinch the July 5 runoff election to replace President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in May.

He said in his message his administration would “prioritize strengthening relations with our neighbors” and urged Arab countries to use “all diplomatic leverages” to push for a lasting cease-fire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip that started October 7.

Iran has long supported the militant group Hamas, and Pezeshkian on Wednesday expressed his all-out support of “the Palestinian resistance” in a message to the group’s chief, Ismail Haniyeh.

Pezeshkian, in the letter Friday, hailed his country’s relations with Russia and China, which “consistently stood by us during challenging times.” He said Moscow was “a valued strategic ally” and his government would expand bilateral cooperation. He also expressed willingness to “support initiatives aimed at” achieving peace between Russia and Ukraine in the ongoing war.

The president also said he looked forward to furthering cooperation with Beijing and applauded it for brokering a deal to normalize relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia after seven years of diplomatic tensions.

Pezeshkian said he looks forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with European countries “based on principles of mutual respect” despite a relationship that has known “its ups and downs.”

In May 2018, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — a nuclear agreement that also included Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Since then, Western powers have accused the Islamic Republic of expanding its nuclear program and enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60% level, near-weapons-grade levels. The U.S. has issued severe, mainly economic, sanctions against Iran.

Pezeshkian accused the European countries of reneging on commitments made, following the U.S. withdrawal, to ensure “effective banking transactions, effective protection of companies from U.S. sanctions, and the promotion of investments in Iran.” However, he added there were still many opportunities for collaboration between Iran and Europe.

He then addressed the U.S., underscoring his country’s refusal to “respond to pressure,” adding that Iran “entered the JCPOA in 2015 in good faith and fully met our obligations.” Pezeshkian said the U.S. backing out has inflicted “hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to our economy” and caused “untold suffering, death and destruction on the Iranian people — particularly during the COVID pandemic” due to sanctions.

Pezeshkian said Western countries “not only missed a historic opportunity to reduce and manage tensions in the region and the world, but also seriously undermined the Non-Proliferation Treaty.” He emphasized that “Iran’s defense doctrine does not include nuclear weapons.”

Iran has held indirect talks with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, although there’s been no clear movement toward constraining Tehran’s nuclear program for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Pezeshkian also accused the U.S. administration in his open letter of escalating “hostilities” by assassinating General Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s regional military activities, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in neighboring Iraq in 2020.

Besides regional turmoil and tense relations over Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s president faces many challenges locally. He must now convince an angry public — many under financial duress due to sanctions, stubbornly high inflation and unemployment — that he can make the changes promised while dealing with an administration still largely governed by hard-liners.

Pezeshkian has aligned himself with other moderate and reformist figures since his presidential campaign. His main advocate has been former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who reached the 2015 JCPOA. Pezeshkian appointed Zarif as the head of the Strategic Council for the administration’s transition period. The council, comprised of experts and advisers, will focus on assessing potential candidates for key cabinet positions and ensuring a seamless handover of leadership.

Canada bolsters Arctic defense in face of Russian, Chinese aggression

Toronto, Canada — Canada says it is going shopping for 12 conventionally powered submarines capable of operating under the Arctic ice to enhance maritime security in a region that is fast gaining strategic significance in the face of climate change.

The purchase is expected to help ease mounting pressure on Ottawa — one of the lowest-spending NATO members — to meet the alliance’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense.

“As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada needs a new fleet of submarines,” Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Wednesday as NATO leaders were meeting in Washington.

The ministry said it has begun meeting with manufacturers and will formally invite bids for the sale in the fall.

“Canada’s key submarine capability requirements will be stealth, lethality, persistence and Arctic deployability — meaning that the submarine must have extended range and endurance,” the statement said.

“Canada’s new fleet will need to provide a unique combination of these requirements to ensure that Canada can detect, track, deter and, if necessary, defeat adversaries in all three of Canada’s oceans while contributing meaningfully alongside allies and enabling the government of Canada to deploy this fleet abroad in support of our partners and allies.”

A day later in Washington, Canada, the United States and Finland issued a joint statement announcing an agreement to build icebreakers for the Arctic region.

The pact calls for enhanced information sharing on polar icebreaker production, allowing for workers and experts from each country to train in shipyards across all three, and promoting to allies the purchase of polar icebreakers from American, Finnish or Canadian shipyards for their own needs, The Associated Press reported.

The AP quoted Daleep Singh, the White House deputy national security adviser for international economics, saying the agreement would demonstrate to Russia and China that the U.S. and allies will “doggedly pursue collaboration on industrial policy to increase our competitive edge.”

Singh noted that the U.S. has two icebreakers, and both are nearing the end of their usable life. Finland has 12 icebreakers and Canada has nine, while Russia has 36, according to U.S. Coast Guard data.

The same day in Washington, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government had signed “a trilateral letter of intent with Germany and Norway to establish a strategic partnership aimed at strengthening maritime security cooperation in the North Atlantic in support of NATO’s deterrence and defense.”

Trudeau also said for the first time that Canada expects to reach NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target by 2032. Canada also pledged $367 million in new military aid to Ukraine ahead of a meeting Wednesday between Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The commitments come in the face of mounting pressure for Canada to spend more on defense. A founding member of NATO, it is the alliance’s fifth-lowest spending member relative to GDP and until this week had pledged only to spend 1.76% of GDP by the 2029-30 budget year.

In a speech Monday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson called Canada’s level of defense spending “shameful.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell posted, “It’s time for our northern ally to invest seriously.”

NATO allies first agreed to the 2% defense spending threshold in 2006 and reaffirmed it in 2014 and 2023. This year, 23 of the 32 member states will meet or exceed that target.

Several nations have been stepping up their military and commercial capabilities in the Arctic as the receding ice pack makes navigation and petrochemical exploration in the Arctic Ocean more practicable. A sea route across Russia’s Arctic coastline promises to provide a shorter sea route between China and Europe.

Despite China’s distance from the Arctic Ocean, Beijing has dubbed itself a “near-Arctic country” to try to stake a bigger claim in the region.

VOA’s Zhang Zhenyu wrote this article and Adrianna Zhang contributed.

Russian oil depot burns as Russia, Ukraine exchange drone attacks

KYIV, Ukraine — An oil depot caught fire in Russia’s southwestern Rostov region Saturday following a Ukrainian drone attack in the early hours, local officials said, in the latest long-range strike by Kyiv’s forces on a border region.

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up aerial assaults on Russian soil, targeting refineries and oil terminals in an effort to slow down the Kremlin’s war machine. Moscow’s army is pressing hard along the front line in eastern Ukraine, where a shortage of troops and ammunition in the third year of war has made defenders vulnerable.

Rostov regional Governor Vasily Golubev said a drone attack had caused a blaze spanning 200 square meters (2,100 square feet), but there were no casualties. Some five hours after he reported the fire on Telegram, Golubev said the fire had been extinguished.

In addition to two drones being intercepted over the Rostov region, Russian air defense systems overnight destroyed two drones over the country’s western Kursk and Belgorod regions, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Saturday.

Ukraine’s air defenses, meanwhile, intercepted four of the five drones launched by Russia overnight, the Ukrainian Air Force said Saturday morning. Mykola Oleschuk, commander of Ukraine’s Air Forces, said the fifth drone left Ukrainian airspace in the direction of Belarus.

In other developments, Vadym Filashkin, the Ukrainian governor of the partly occupied eastern Donetsk region, said Saturday that Russian attacks on Friday killed six people and wounded a further 22.

Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the Kherson region that is also partly occupied, said Saturday that one person had been killed and six wounded as a result of Russian shelling over the previous day.

Holocaust orphan finds family, thanks to DNA tests

NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Shalom Korai never knew his real name or his birthday. He was saved from the streets of a burning Warsaw neighborhood while he was a toddler during World War II, when the rest of his family was killed by Nazis in Poland.   

He grew up and lived in Israel with no idea of his past. He never knew a hug from someone who shared his blood or his DNA — until Wednesday, when Korai walked off an airplane in the U.S. state of South Carolina and into the arms of Ann Meddin Hellman. Her grandfather was the brother of Korai’s grandfather, making them second cousins. 

It’s a story that would have been impossible without modern DNA science and without a genetic test that Korai was given by a psychologist who studies children orphaned in the Holocaust. 

Hellman’s ancestors came to the United States while Korai’s family stayed behind in Poland to run a family business. Decades later, they would be among the 6 million Jewish men, women and children systematically killed by the Germans in World War II.   

“I feel like I’ve given somebody a new life. He’s become my child. I have to protect him and take care of him,” Hellman said, although she is a few years younger than Korai, who is about 83. 

She beamed and gave Korai another hug as they waited for his luggage so they could start several days of parties with dozens of other relatives at Hellman’s Charleston home. 

Korai, who speaks mostly Hebrew, couldn’t stop smiling even if he didn’t quite understand the hubbub of camera crews and Southern hospitality swirling around him. He and Hellman spoke often since the DNA breakthrough, first in letters and later on video calls several times a week.   

As Hellman waited at the end of the jetway, she nervously spoke to her brother and sister. “I can’t wait to get my arms around him,” she said. 

What is known of Korai’s story started with him alone. He was on a street in a burning Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1943 when a policeman scooped him up and took him to a convent. Nuns baptized him and started to raise him as a gentile with several other orphaned children. 

Lena Kuchler-Silberman, a Jewish woman who was part of the resistance against the Nazis, heard of the children. She saved around 100 Jewish children, sometimes taking them in as she found them abandoned or alone or sometimes negotiating or paying to take them out of non-Jewish orphanages. 

Korai was taken to a Jewish boarding school in Poland, then to France and eventually to Israel in 1949. He spent 35 years working on semi-trucks. Korai had three children and eight grandchildren. And he put out of his mind that he would never know his actual birthday, the name given to him at birth, how his father and mother met or what his grandfathers did for a living. 

“You can’t start searching for something you know nothing about,” Korai said in Hebrew to the website for MyHeritage, the company whose DNA testing helped find his relatives. 

MyHeritage offered Korai and other Holocaust orphans DNA testing in the summer of 2023. A few months later Hellman got a ping from a DNA sample she had given during her extensive research of her family tree. It was an unknown second cousin. 

The name and other information was unfamiliar. On a hunch, she asked another cousin to test her DNA. It matched too. Hellman reached out to MyHeritage and requested a photo and other information. She remembers gasping when she saw Korai. He looked just like her brother.   

“The picture gave it away,” Hellman said.  

The connection instantly fell into place. Hellman knew a branch of her family connected to her great uncle was killed during the Holocaust. Now she knew there was a survivor. 

Hellman wasn’t looking for anyone in particular when she took her DNA test, but sometimes wonderful surprises happen, said Daniel Horowitz, an expert genealogist at MyHeritage. 

“All this family that he was always praying for came to him just like that,” Horowitz said.   

Some mysteries remain, thanks to the Nazi annihilation of people and many records of their existence. Hellman knows the name of Korai’s aunt. “But I haven’t been able to find his parents’ names. That upsets me the most,” she said. 

Hellman has learned much about her cousin. He’s shy and quiet. As Korai got off the plane Wednesday along with his travel companion and translator, Arie Bauer, he jokingly asked if he could stand behind Bauer. His friend told him to hug his family. 

“It’s slowly dawning on him,” said Bauer. “He’s getting used to, little by little, a brand new family he didn’t know about.” 

It wasn’t just Hellman at the airport. More than a dozen other relatives — Hellman’s brother and sister, her husband and sons, a niece, sister-in-law and cousins were there to celebrate. Dozens more were gathered at Hellman’s house for more parties and gatherings. 

Korai smiled as each of his relatives hugged him. In quieter moments when they talked among themselves, he looked them over. 

“He’ll get to see himself in them in a way he has never gotten to see himself before,” Hellman said. “And we get to give a family to someone who never thought one existed.” 

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Eswatini-Belarus ties spark health care advances

MBABANE, ESWATINI — Eswatini, in an ambitious bid to overhaul its health care system, is partnering with Belarus, paving the way for what officials in the southern African nation hope will be increased access to critical medicines, and the sharing of expertise between Belarusian and Eswatini health care professionals.

 An Eswatini delegation led by Prime Minister Russell Dlamini signed the health care roadmap with Belarus during a weeklong visit in late June. Principal Secretary Bertram Stewart, who was part of the delegation, said the agreement will unlock new access to medicines, medical equipment, and training opportunities, and introduce new models that could alleviate Eswatini’s health care procurement challenges.

“We do look forward to long-term collaborations with Belarus and, of course, the intention is to have reciprocal relations with Belarus wherein whatever we can export to Belarus, they will, subject to quality and price, they will be able to take it and likewise, we will reciprocate by procuring from Belarus whatever we feel is of the right quality for the Kingdom of Eswatini,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization, Eswatini has the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer in the world, with 56 new cases per 100,000 women annually. Eswatini also has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, with more than 27% of adults living with the disease. And the country has a limited number of doctors and nurses, and many rural areas lack access to basic health care services.   

While the government’s partnership with Belarus could usher in a new era of improved healthcare in Eswatini, for people like Sheila Coleman, who lost both her son and sister to chronic illnesses, the lack of advanced cancer care in the country has been devastating. For many patients, this has meant costly, life-or-death journeys to South Africa for treatment—a burden the government says it is now working to alleviate.

“I am proud of my country but of late, have been so disappointed with the health sector of this country,” Coleman said. “I feel that the government has failed us as Emaswati and I say this because of experiences that I have had. … Being diagnosed with a chronic illness in this country is basically a death sentence.”

Thys Louren, a doctor in Eswatini, sees great potential in this health care partnership that could lead to job creation, expert skill attraction, and technology transfer. But he cautions that there are critical questions to answer before this collaboration can be deemed a success.

“What will Belarus benefit from this proposed joint venture,” he asked. “Is the purpose of this joint venture for research purposes because it would provide a very attractive cheaper research cost? Or would it focus on import consumables into Eswatini, which is of concern because we already have pharmaceutical companies in Eswatini and cash flow and availability of stock import is the problem.

“Then lastly, is it for the production of pharmaceuticals which could be highly beneficial to Eswatini because it could, one, stimulate local economy and, two, cater for the significant shortage that we are experiencing especially in the cancer care section where chemotherapy is available locally and patients actually have to cross border for treatment.”

For many in Eswatini, this is a time of unprecedented need. And the nation is placing its health care hopes in the hands of Belarusian expertise. As the partnership unfolds, the nation awaits a pivotal moment, where either an era of medical breakthroughs is born, or the promise of a new dawn fades into the shadows.