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Cyberattack Downs Florida City Computers at Site of Navy Base Attack

Federal authorities are investigating a cyberattack on the city of Pensacola, Florida, home to the naval air station where a Saudi flight student killed three sailors and wounded eight others on Friday.
                   
A spokeswoman for the city said federal authorities were alerted to the cyberattack as a precaution, in light of the deadly violence at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
                   
City officials became aware of the attack early Saturday morning, hours after the shooting, but expressed caution about linking the two incidents _ although they were not prepared to outright dismiss any connections.
                   
Much of the city’s computer systems remained offline Monday morning. However, city officials stressed that all emergency services were running, including 911 services.
                   
Some phone lines to city offices were not working as the city and federal authorities continued their investigation. The city’s email and other electronic services were down until further notice.

 

Trump Relies on Strong US Economy in Reelection Bid

As 2019 draws to a close, the U.S. economy is posting strong numbers, capping a remarkable 11-year streak of expansion. President Donald Trump argues that’s why he deserves to win reelection in 2020. But as VOA’s Ardita Dunellari explains, there are dangers ahead that could rattle both the economy and the president’s reelection message.

Sudanese PM Calls His Country a ‘Success Story in the Making,’ Asks World for Help

During his recent visit to Washington, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said one goal looms above all others as he leads the country’s transitional government: bringing peace to the war-ravaged nation.
 
“Our number one top priority is to stop the war and build the foundation of sustainable peace,” he said. “Essentially to stop the sufferings of our people in the IDP camps and the refugee camps. We think the opportune time of stopping this war is now.”
 
Hamdok did not specify which war he meant; Sudan’s government has been fighting rebels in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions for years. The capital, Khartoum, saw deadly conflicts between protesters and the military earlier this year.
 
He did say he was heartened by the resiliency on display when he visited the Zam Zam camp for internally displaced people in Darfur, where a war that began in 2003 has never entirely stopped.
 
“It was a very moving moment but the climax of it was… a woman who took the floor and delivered the first speech. She articulated so well their interest, their expectations about the transitional government, how they see the peace process. After that, she was followed by six speakers… They all said our sister articulated our issues and were very satisfied with what she said.
 
“All the sufferings and the miseries they went through, it taught them, educated them and made them strong enough to be able to say from now onwards we know what is good for ourselves and nobody can dictate on us anything. This is very liberating,” Hamdok said.
 
Unlike the administration of his predecessor, Omar al-Bashir, Hamdok’s government has pledged to allow unfettered access for aid organizations to reach those in need.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

Hamdok spoke at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington. He visited the American capital in an effort to repair Sudan’s relationship with the U.S., which was strained to nonexistent during the entire 30-year reign of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who the military ousted in April after months of mass protests.
 
One of Hamdok’s goal’s is for the U.S. to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  Sudan was put on the list in 1993, at a time when al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden was living in Khartoum.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok addresses members of the Sudanese diaspora in a Washington hotel during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

 Although Sudan is still on the list, the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors.
 
U.S. officials have said the process of removing Sudan from the terrorism list will be a long one. Hamdok stressed that his country is prepared to meet the requirements which may include paying restitution to victims of terrorist attacks.
 
“We Sudanese as a people have never supported terrorism before. It was a former regime that supported this,” he said. “We are also as a nation, victims of terrorism that was inflicted on us by the regime. But we accepted this as a corporate responsibility. And we are negotiating.”
 
Hamdok, an economist and diplomat who has worked for the U.N., was named the country’s transitional prime minister in August. In deference to the leading role women played in the revolution, Hamdok made history by

Members of the Sudanese diaspora listen to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as he addresses them at a Washington hotel. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

Walaa Esam AbdelRahman, Minister of Youth and Sport, was an activist who participated in sit-ins and street protests. She and other activists faced live fire and tear gas and were forced to go into hiding in between protests in fear of reprisals from security forces.
 
“It was very dangerous. But the more that they were aggressive, the more that we went to the street. That’s why we went so far,” she told VOA.
 
Now AbdelRahman and others are seeking to institute a series of changes, including legal and political reforms, paving the way for a democratic, free and fair election in 2022.
 
“The road is not easy but we went so far and we were very determined to reach to the final destination of this transitional period because I always say that these [upcoming] three years is part of the revolution. It’s another level,” she told VOA. “We will finish the level of protesting and marching. Now we need to build the new Sudan.”

 

Reports: Trump, House Democrats Close to Deal on Revisions to Trade Deal

News reports say House Democrats and the White House are close to agreeing on changes to a trade deal that the United States, Canada and Mexico signed last year but have not ratified.

The United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, known as the USMCA, would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which President Donald Trump has derided as the “worst trade deal” ever signed by the U.S. He made renegotiating NAFTA a campaign promise during the 2016 presidential race.

NAFTA took effect in the 1990s during U.S. President Bill Clinton’s administration.

FILE – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Nov. 21, 2019.

The Mexican Senate accepted changes to the USMCA after intense negotiations with the United States. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move forward on the deal.

“It’s time, it’s the moment,” Lopez Obrador said at a press conference.

Reports say Pelosi is studying the terms of the agreement. The changes to the deal are aimed at winning the support of House Democrats. Those close to the discussions say a ratification vote could take place in the House of Representatives on Dec. 18.

FILE – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters during her weekly news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 5, 2019.

Both the House and the Senate must sign off on the deal.

Some congressional Republicans have criticized Pelosi, saying she is holding up the deal, which they say is having an impact on Trump’s negotiations with China.

“We would get a better agreement with China if we had USMCA done,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in his weekly press conference last Thursday. China and the U.S. have placed billions of dollars worth of tariffs on each other’s goods in the trade war.

NAFTA’s critics say it encouraged factories and jobs to relocate to Mexico. NAFTA eliminated most tariffs among the three nations, making it one of the largest free trade agreements in the world.

Ratification needed

The revised agreement must be ratified by legislators in the three countries for it to go into force. House Democrats called on Mexico to adhere to higher labor standards.

Mexican senators have approved the USMCA. If it cannot be ratified by all three countries, they will remain in NAFTA unless they break away from it.

Lopez Obrador expressed concern for implementing the trade deal sooner rather than later. He said time was running short to avoid the matter becoming an issue in the U.S. presidential race.
 
 The Trump administration also made lowering the trade deficit with Mexico part of a renegotiation strategy.
 
Separately, the United States had a last-minute request to the agreement over the weekend, relating to how steel is identified. The U.S. has proposed that 70% of steel for automobile production come from the North American region. Cars produced in Mexico also use components made in Brazil, Japan and Germany.

If Congress is not able to pass Trump’s renegotiated trade deal, he said that he would take the United States out of NAFTA.
 

Messi’s Hometown Offers Emotional Trip to His Childhood

Soccer wasn’t always Lionel Messi’s favorite activity.

When he was a child in the modest neighborhood of La Bajada in his Argentine hometown of Rosario, he spent his time bicycling with friends, building forts out of branches and stones, playing hide and seek – and occasionally stealing lemons from a neighbor to make juice.

Those stories and others are the focus of a new tour being offered by Rosario to celebrate their 32-year-old hometown hero, an international sports superstar who just won an unprecedented sixth Golden Ball as world soccer’s player of the year.

The tour put together by Rosario’s city hall is free of charge and available in an app translated into several languages, guiding fans through 0 stops.

Few houses are higher than two stories in La Bajada, a middle-class neighborhood in the city that is 186 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Buenos Aires.

Halfway down Israel street stands a gray house, closed off by shut curtains and protected by railings. There is no sign outside indicating it was Messi’s home, and no one lives there now, though it still belongs to his family.

The neighbors aren’t so shy about the Messi connection, however. Colorful paintings dedicated to the soccer star stand in front of houses and there are sidewalks colored in the blue and white of Argentina’s national team with Messi’s jersey number, 10, painted in black.

Messi’s neighbors and friends are often willing to share stories with visitors.

“Leo was normal and ordinary like other people here,” Diego Vallejos, one of Messi’s childhood friends, told The Associated Press on a sandy soccer field of the El Campito club as three youngsters played soccer.

“We fell, we scratched ourselves riding bikes. We went to the street with water bombs and threw them at buses,” said Vallejos, who is one year older than Messi.

Also are on the tour are the school Messi attended and the Abanderado Grandoli club, where he learned his first soccer moves.

The city long had a somewhat distant relationship with Messi, and officials say the tour seeks to change that. Rosario’s city hall said Messi’s family did not take part in the creation of the tour.

“What we want to emphasize is that Leo is a product of his city, and that there is a life and many stories behind the superstar,” said Santiago Valenti with Rosario’s tourism agency.

Messi was born June 24, 1987, in the Hospital Italiano Garibaldi in Rosario. He lived in the city until 2000, when he moved to Barcelona.

A recently opened sports museum, a few blocks from Messi’s old house, offers an interactive tour of the lives of local stars in racing, boxing, basketball and soccer.

Messi’s section of the museum is introduced by a painting that mixes monuments from Rosario and Barcelona, and the sentence: “All that I did, I did for soccer.” Two giant screens display goals and testimonials from his teammates.

“The idea is not to pay a tribute to his sporting success,” said museum coordinator Juan Echeverria. “It is to value the path he walked, everything that an athlete has to go through to get to the tip of the iceberg that we see when he is on the podium.”

The museum has contacted Messi’s family and the player’s father said he would donate more memorabilia.

One of items on display is a small red coat with a white collar. Below it is Messi’s official register as a Newell’s Old Boys academy player and a picture of him smiling.

Downtown is the Malvinas compound where Newell’s has its soccer academy. It was there the young Messi was filmed out-dribbling much bigger opponents.

“This is where it all started,” said Lisandro Conte, an employee at the academy.

Messi did not play for Newell’s. “At that time there were players who looked more promising, and the bet was placed on them,” Conte said

Still, Messi has said he wants to finish his career at Newell’s, playing for his hometown club in his own country after a professional career in Barcelona’s storied Spanish league team.

Fans visiting Rosario might even be able to catch a match between academy teams like the recent clash between Newell’s and arch-rival Rosario Central. Among the 14 youngsters chasing the ball might be Rosario’s next star.
   

Turkish-US Fighter Jet Dispute Rekindles Century-Old Animosities

Turkey Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned Washington on Monday that Turkey will seek alternatives if Washington doesn’t end its embargo on the sale of the F-35 jet.

The impasse over the fighter jet, deemed key to Turkey’s future defense, is rekindling memories of a similar century-old dispute.

Hoping that a “reasonable and sensible” way could be found to resolve Washington’s freeze on the F-35 sales, Akar warned, “If this is not possible, everyone should know that we will naturally seek other quests.”

FILE – Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar speaks to a group of reporters in Ankara, Turkey, May 21, 2019.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that Russia’s Su-35 fighter is being considered as an alternative to America’s latest stealth fighter jet if the embargo is not lifted.

President Donald Trump froze the jet sale after Ankara procured the Russian S-400 missile system. Washington claims the S-400’s sophisticated radar compromises NATO defense systems — in particular, the stealth technology of its F-35 jet.

Ankara claims Washington is manufacturing the dispute.

“The U.S. criticized us. However, NATO did not say anything. On the contrary, NATO Secretary General (Jens Stoltenberg) repeatedly stated all countries have the right to buy the weapon and defense system they want,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday.

1914 dispute

The increasingly acrimonious dispute is resurrecting memories of a century-old Turkish arms deal that also went sour. In 1914 on the eve of World War I, Britain seized two state-of-the-art dreadnought warships built by British builders for the then-Ottoman Empire.

The incident still resonates in Turkey.

“It continues to haunt not only the public and political mind, but the institutional mind, especially,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and author of “The Ottoman Quest for Dreadnoughts.” “The navy has never forgotten this experience, and today, there are many similarities in several respects with the F-35 embargo.

“The two warships … were fully paid for. But (Winston) Churchill (head of the British navy in 1914) was obsessed, convinced that the Ottomans were going to join the Germans. So, there was no point in releasing the two ships which may end up on the wrong side of the conflict,” Guvenc said.

“Over a century ago, it was the fear of the Ottoman’s joining the Germans,” Guvenc added. “Today, the case with the F-35, Russia is the modern-day equivalent with Germany.”

FILE – National Guard members view two F-35 fighter jets that arrived at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vt., Sept. 19, 2019.

In 1914, after Britain’s seizure of the Ottoman warships, Germany offered two ships of its own as replacements, a move that brought the Turks to Germany’s side against Britain, France and Russia in World War I.

Former Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen acknowledges the 1914 incident still resonates in Turkish military thinking.

“Among commanders of today’s Turkish navy, it is still a vivid memory and still today shapes the thinking of these naval planners.”

Since 1914, Ankara has never procured a British naval vessel. Selcen says the latest arms disputes with Washington differs from the past.

“It’s a public diplomacy stand (by Ankara). It’s public propaganda to compare with the warships,” Selcen said, “because it was kind of an own goal by Turkish foreign policy to get kicked out of the project. It was made clear by Washington: either the S-400 or F-35, not both.”

Higher stakes

Analysts point out that the loss of the F-35 jets could be more far-reaching than the loss of two warships in 1914. Ankara has invested over a billion dollars into the jet project and ultimately was to take delivery of around 100 jets to replace the Turkish air force’s aging fleet of F-16 aircraft.

Washington has also expelled Turkey from the international consortium building and servicing the advanced jet.

FILE – Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters of the “Sokoly Rossii” (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team fly in formation during a rehearsal for the airshow in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Aug. 1, 2019.

“When Turkey became a full-fledged partner in the F-35 program, the political implications would be that Turkey remains committed to the NATO alliance and staunch ally to the United States,” Guvenc said. “In Washington, the idea is that Turkey is now moving irreversibly away from the western alliance and seeking new friends in Eurasia, basically Russia and China.”

Moscow is lobbying Ankara hard to deepen and broaden Russian military purchases. Turkey is reportedly close to buying a second battery of S-400 missiles, a move analysts say is likely to anger Washington further.

Just as in 1914, Ankara could be facing a pivotal moment, Guvenc said.

“The similarities are very striking, because when the two German warships arrived in Istanbul in place of the two commandeered dreadnoughts, the British naval mission had to leave and was replaced by the German naval mission. And the German military naval influence in Turkey continued after World War I,” he explained.

“So, we may see a rupture in the Turkish military strategy and its realignment around Russia-China — a hybrid military strategy but definitely moving away from the western alliance,” Guvenc said.
 

UN Expert Urges Ethiopia to Stop Shutting Down Internet

A United Nations expert on the freedom of expression said he has urged Ethiopian officials to stop shutting down the internet.

David Kaye, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, that he is concerned with the frequent internet shutdowns carried out by the government.

“I’ve also experienced an internet shut down here in Ethiopia in the past week,” he said, referring to a brief shutdown on Dec. 5 that Ethiopian officials said was to stop a cyber-attack targeting the country’s financial institutions.

Ethiopia has shut down the internet nine times in 2019, mostly during national exams and public protests, he said.

“Internet shutdowns are almost always in violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” said Kaye. “I want to strongly urge the government to not use internet shutdown as a tool. I’ve asked several times `Where do you have the authority in law to shut down the internet?’ Nobody could give me an answer.”

Ethiopia is one of several African countries that have blocked the internet or specific social media sites during elections or periods of crisis.

Kaye stressed that social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have a relatively small presence in Ethiopia right now but they have an “extraordinary responsibility” to moderate contents to make sure postings are accurate.

Kaye praised the reforms implemented by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for achieving peace with neighboring Eritrea.

“This is a remarkable moment in Ethiopia with all sorts of reforms happening in the country,” he said, adding that it is the first time since 2006 that a U.N. special rapporteur of his kind was invited into the country.

He said, however, that more reforms are needed.

“I’ve expressed my concern regarding the draft hate speech and disinformation law as it may inadvertently criminalize public debate,” he said.
 

More Wind Power, Renewables Needed to Fight Climate Change, Experts Warn

As world governments continue climate talks in Madrid, experts say they must sharply increase renewable energy production to meet emissions cutting goals under the Paris agreement. Green energies like wind and solar power are growing rapidly, but not fast enough. From the Spanish village of Maranchon, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA on what’s at stake for the wind industry.

‘Marriage Story’ Tops Golden Globes Nominations With Six

“Marriage Story,” Netflix’s heart-wrenching divorce saga, topped the Golden Globe nominations Monday with six nods including best drama, kicking off the race for the Oscars.

“The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic love letter to 1960s Tinseltown, were hot on its heels with five each.

The nominations traditionally see the stars and movies destined for awards success start to break away from the competition — the Globes are seen as a key bellwether for February’s Academy Awards.

“Marriage Story” earned nominations for its stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, and for its screenplay, but director Noah Baumbach missed out.

Scorsese was nominated for best director for “Irishman” but there was no best actor nod for his leading man Robert De Niro. Instead, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci were both selected for supporting roles.

Netflix’s Vatican drama “The Two Popes” also performed well, while dark comic book tale “Joker” received recognition in best drama, best actor and best director.

Monday’s nominations were announced at an early-morning Beverly Hills ceremony by actor Tim Allen (“Toy Story”) and actresses Dakota Fanning (“I Am Sam”) and Susan Kelechi Watson (“This Is Us”).

The 77th Golden Globes will take place in Los Angeles on January 5, two days before voting for Oscars nominees ends.

The gala will be hosted by British comedian Ricky Gervais.

Naval Resupply Advance Gives China New Edge in Maritime Disputes

A Chinese military supply ship has made its first transfer from a civilian vessel, Chinese media say. Routine though that may sound, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that the mid-November operation near the southeast coast kicks off a bigger program to resupply naval ships without requiring a return to shore.
 
Improved at-sea resupply capacity in turn will enable the People’s Liberation Army Navy better to control tracts of disputed waterways in East Asia and operate in other parts of the world, particularly the Indian Ocean, analysts believe.
 
Leaders from Vietnam to the United States would watch warily as China – which lacks far-flung maritime bases – bolsters its resupply fleet  after adding a list of other hardware to the navy.
 
“What it would mean is that China aims to diversify its means of supplying its naval vessels and to consolidate its control of the region, of the maritime domain,” said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.
 
“We all know the Chinese navy is not just looking at the coastal area,” Sun added. “They are looking at the blue water navy, so in that sense their ambition is global, but for (the) Chinese navy’s global ambition, the biggest hindrance has been their capacity to resupply, because China doesn’t have the naval bases.”
 
Pivotal resupply mission
 
The transfer of supplies from a civilian ship followed a longer-term study by the People’s Liberation Army’s on ways to replenish ships, Xinhua reported December 2. Resupplies at sea between military and civilian ships are “common in the navies of world powers”, Xinhua added, quoting a military chief of staff.
 
“The success of the replenishment laid a foundation for mutual replenishment of various kinds of materials between military and civilian ships,” Xinhua said.
 
A breakthrough in resupplies would complement other Chinese naval upgrades, including use of drones, the construction of an aircraft carrier and an overall increase in the number of ships. 

As of 2012, the Chinese navy had 512 ships, according to the British think tank International Institute of Strategic Studies. It had 714 ships last year, the database Globalfirepower.com says.
 
Control in the South China Sea
 
A navy that doesn’t need to revisit the Chinese mainland so often for resupplies could tighten control over features that China holds in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, experts believe. 

China vies for control over the sea with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Those governments prize the waters for fisheries, commercial shipping lanes and vast fossil fuel reserves.
 
China, already has the world’s third strongest armed forces overall and more firepower in the sea than the other claimants.
 
Islets under Chinese control in the sea’s Spratly Islands could become “forward deployed” outposts if better resupplied, said Carl Thayer, Southeast Asia-specialized emeritus professor with the University of New South Wales in Australia. Vietnam and the Philippines vigorously contest much of the Spratly chain.
 
“One massive resupply ship can bring supplies into artificial islands and that just builds up the stocks,” Thayer said. “China can now stay forward deployed and operate from those bases as long as those bases are resupplied.”
 
Further offshore
 
The Chinese navy would be able to operate past its current reach in the Indian Ocean as far west as Africa with a resupply scheme, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. China historically keeps few replenishment ships and the ones it has move slowly, he added. 
 
Expect China to build up to four faster resupply ships in as little as five years for servicing fleets led by aircraft carriers, Huang said. 

China’s navy is expanding for “its own global expeditionary capabilities” as a counterweight to U.S. maritime dominance in many regions, Washington, D.C.-based research organization Center for a New American Security said in a 2017 study.
 
“Probably there will be another threshold that they cross and they can probably support the fleet or flotilla pretty far away from (the) Chinese mainland,” he said.
 
The U.S. Pacific fleet would stop China from expanding eastward, Huang said. However, over the past half-decade the Chinese military has stepped up activity in East China Sea that’s claimed also by Japan.
 
The U.S. Navy has passed ships though the South China Sea more than 10 times under President Donald Trump as a warning for China to share the waterway. Beijing calls the U.S. passages violations of Chinese sovereignty.

Size of Earth’s Plastic Problems Comes Into View

Every year vast amounts of bottles and bags make their way into the world’s oceans….leaving scientists searching for solutions to purge the planet’s plastic problems.  As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, European researchers have started looking at the much, much bigger picture.

FBI Still Looking for Saudi Officer’s Motive for Pensacola Shooting

The FBI on Sunday confirmed that the shooter at a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida on Friday was 21-year-old Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani, who was a student at the Naval Aviation Schools Command at the base. The agency says it has yet to determine the motive for the shooting spree, but is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the Saudi government has pledged to fully cooperate with the investigation.