Already smashing records, this year’s hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season is about to get even nastier, forecasters predict. In the coming months, they expect to run out of traditional hurricane names and see about twice as much storm activity as a normal year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday upped its seasonal forecast, now predicting a far-above-average 19 to 25 named storms — seven to 11 of them to become hurricanes and three to six of those to become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph).
A Zimbabwean investigative journalist will remain in jail after a judge dismissed his bail application Thursday, as the United Nations secretary-general raised “concern” about a wave of arrests in the country. Before his arrest, Chin’ono regularly posted on Twitter about alleged government corruption and encouraged Zimbabweans to speak out and act against graft. Opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume was also arrested for organizing the anti-government protest, which was thwarted by police and the military which kept people off the streets of Harare, the capital, and other cities on July 31.
With its airports closed to commercial flights and its economy tanking, Cuba has launched the first in a series of long-promised reforms meant to bolster the country's struggling private sector. The island's thousands of restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, auto mechanics and dozens of other types of private businesses have operated for years without the ability to import, export or buy supplies in wholesale markets.While the communist government began allowing widespread private enterprise a decade ago, it maintained a state monopoly on imports, exports and wholesale transactions. As a result, the country's roughly 613,000 private business owners have been forced to compete for scarce goods in Cuba's understocked retail outlets or buy on the black market.
Animal rights activists in Cambodia have gained a small victory in their effort to end the trade in dog meat, convincing a canine slaughterhouse in one village to abandon the business. Animal activists are taking the 15 dogs that had been caged at the slaughterhouse to an animal shelter in the capital, Phnom Penh, for rehabilitation, after which they will be offered for adoption, either in Cambodia or abroad.
Almost immediately after the devastating Tuesday explosion that nearly destroyed Beirut and killed at least 137 people, a number of verified Twitter accounts linked to Saudi Arabia started firing off tweets blaming the Iran-backed group Hezbollah. Within 24 hours, the hashtag “Hezbollah’s Ammonia Burns Beirut” was trending, even though authorities and the group itself denies any involvement.Beirut Ignored Public Warning There Was a Russian ‘Bomb’ at the PortIntelligence sources say that the disinformation is being generated and spread by four verified Saudi-linked accounts that have been active in recent years in disinformation campaigns designed to hurt Iranian interests. Marc Owen Jones, an author and assistant professor of Middle East studies at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar, told The Daily Beast by phone that it is coming primarily from a “core group of influencers” who have verified Twitter accounts, meaning they should have been vetted by the social-media giant. In just 48 hours since the explosion, he has already found 14,000 interactions involving 9,870 unique accounts spreading lies.Before the Beirut explosion diverted their attention, many of these disinformation accounts were on a rampage against female journalists who were then targeted and essentially silenced out of fear to respond, he says. “This part of the general trope coming out of Saudi,” he told The Daily Beast. “Obviously the impact of that is to create a vacuum of opposition voices, filled with government mouthpieces.”He says that as long as they are allowed on social media, “they will flourish without being controlled. They have created an ecosystem.”The purpose is to justify to the domestic audience in Saudi Arabia that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, not to be believed. “With these accusations, the risk is what they may spark,” he says. But Saudi-friendly accounts aren’t the only ones engaging in this dangerous blame game, which could potentially set off new unrest. Right after the blast, a now-deleted account with more than 100,000 followers analyzed the mushroom cloud seen after the explosion and tweeted about the blast being atomic, according to the BBC. Supporters of QAnon, the far-right deep-state conspiracy theory, are also doing their best to push the theory on Facebook and Reddit that the blast was part of a war between the Lebanese government and the central banking system.Weapons experts have also weighed in, tweeting a barrage of dubious “proof” that the adjacent fire was not at a fireworks depot as authorities suggested, but stored a weapons cache. Dark-web sites have also been going wild with accusations that the U.S. or Israel launched a missile, going so far as to quote President Trump’s seeming “admission” that the U.S. was involved or forewarned when he referred to it as a bomb.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Forced to play defense in states he led comfortably months ago, President Donald Trump set his sights on Ohio on Thursday in an attempt to reframe the centerpiece of his reelection pitch. During his visit, Trump planned to promote the economic prosperity that much of the nation enjoyed before the coronavirus pandemic and try to make the case that he is best suited to rebuild a crippled economy. The president also intended to use the Ohio trip to kick off a long weekend of fundraising that comes as his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has chipped away at Trump’s financial advantage as the race enters its final three months.
Valerie Rochon is eager to read her email every Monday morning, even when it makes her cry. Tammi Truax, the city’s poet laureate, has been contributing to the newsletters since early April, elevating the collection of public health updates and community resources with a layer of emotion and introspection. “I think she’s absolutely brilliant,” said Rochon, who leads the Portsmouth chamber of commerce.
CAIRO -- The countdown to catastrophe in Beirut started six years ago when a troubled, Russian-leased cargo ship made an unscheduled stop at the city's port.The ship was trailed by debts, crewed by disgruntled sailors and dogged by a small hole in its hull that meant water had to be constantly pumped out. And it carried a volatile cargo: more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a combustible material used to make fertilizers -- and bombs -- that was destined for Mozambique.The ship, the Rhosus, never made it. Embroiled in a financial and diplomatic dispute, it was abandoned by the Russian businessman who had leased it. And the ammonium nitrate was transferred to a dockside warehouse in Beirut, where it would languish for years, until Tuesday, when Lebanese officials said it exploded, sending a shock wave that killed more than 130 people and wounded another 5,000.The story of the ship and its deadly cargo, which emerged Wednesday in accounts from Lebanon, Russia and Ukraine, offered a bleak tale about how legal battles, financial wrangling and, apparently, chronic negligence set the stage for a horrific accident that devastated one of the Middle East's most fondly regarded cities."I was horrified," said Boris Prokoshev, the ship's 70-year-old retired Russian captain, about the accident, speaking in a phone interview from Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort town just up the coast from where the ammonium nitrate began its journey to Beirut in 2013.In Lebanon, public rage focused on the negligence of the authorities, who were aware of the danger posed by the storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse on the Beirut docks yet failed to act.Senior customs officials wrote to the Lebanese courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate, according to public records posted to social media by a Lebanese lawmaker, Salim Aoun."In view of the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate," Shafik Marei, the director of Lebanese customs, wrote in May 2016, "we repeat our request to demand the maritime agency to re-export the materials immediately."The customs officials proposed a number of solutions, including donating the ammonium nitrate to the Lebanese army or selling it to the privately owned Lebanese Explosives Co. Marei sent a second, similar letter a year later. The judiciary failed to respond to any of his pleas, the records suggested.Lebanese judicial officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.The Rhosus, which flew the flag of Moldova, arrived in Beirut in November 2013, two months after it left the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia. The ship was leased by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman living in Cyprus.Prokoshev, the captain, joined the ship in Turkey after a mutiny over unpaid wages by a previous crew. Grechushkin had been paid $1 million to transport the high-density ammonium nitrate to the port of Beira in Mozambique, the captain said.The ammonium nitrate was purchased by the International Bank of Mozambique for Fabrica de Explosivos de Moçambique, a firm that makes commercial explosives, according to Baroudi and Partners, a Lebanese law firm representing the ship's crew, in a statement issued Wednesday.Grechushkin, who was in Cyprus at the time and communicating by telephone, told the captain he didn't have enough money to pay for passage through the Suez Canal. So he sent the ship to Beirut to earn some cash by taking on an additional cargo of heavy machinery.But in Beirut, the machinery would not fit into the ship, which was about 30 or 40 years old, the captain said.Then Lebanese officials found the ship unseaworthy and impounded the vessel for failing to pay the port docking fees and other charges. When the ship's suppliers tried to contact Grechushkin for payment for fuel, food and other essentials, he could not be reached, having apparently abandoned the ship he had leased.Six crew members returned home, but Lebanese officials forced the captain and three Ukrainian crew members to remain on board until the debt issue was solved. Lebanese immigration restrictions prevented the crew from leaving the ship, and they struggled to obtain food and other supplies, according to their lawyers.Prokoshev, the captain, said Lebanese port officials took pity on the hungry crew and provided food. But, he added, they didn't show any concern about the ship's highly dangerous cargo. "They just wanted the money we owed," he said.Their plight attracted attention back in Ukraine, where news accounts described the stranded crew as "hostages," trapped aboard an abandoned ship.The captain, a Russian citizen, appealed to the Russian Embassy in Lebanon for help but got only snippy comments like, "Do you expect President Putin to send special forces to get you out," he recalled.Increasingly desperate, Prokoshev sold some of the ship's fuel and used the proceeds to hire a legal team, and these lawyers also warned the Lebanese authorities that the ship was in danger "of sinking or blowing up at any moment," according to the law firm's statement.A Lebanese judge ordered the release of the crew on compassionate grounds in August 2014, and Grechushkin, having resurfaced, paid for their passage back to Ukraine.Grechushkin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.The crew's departure left the Lebanese authorities in charge of the ship's deadly cargo, which was moved to a storage facility known as Hangar 12, where it remained until the explosion Tuesday.Ammonium nitrate, when mixed with fuel, creates a powerful explosive commonly used in construction and mining. But it has also been used to make explosive devices deployed by terrorists such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the Islamic State group.Sales of ammonium nitrate are regulated in the United States, and many European countries require it to be mixed with other substances to make it less potent.The general manager of Beirut's port, Hassan Koraytem, said in an interview that customs and security officials made repeated requests to Lebanon's courts to have the volatile material moved. "But nothing happened," he said."We were told the cargo would be sold in an auction," he added. "But the auction never happened, and the judiciary never acted."Koraytem, who has been in charge of the port for 17 years, said that when he first heard the blast Tuesday, he figured it might be an air attack.He had "no idea" what caused the initial fire at the storage facility that preceded the second, far larger blast, he said. Four of his employees died in the explosion. "This is not the time to blame," he said. "We are living a national catastrophe."But for many Lebanese, the story is another sign of the chronic mismanagement of a ruling class that steered the country into a punishing economic crisis this year.Prokoshev, who said he is still owed $60,000 in wages, placed the fault with Grechushkin, and with Lebanese officials, who insisted on first impounding the boat and then on keeping the ammonium nitrate in the port "instead of spreading it on their fields.""They could have had very good crops instead of a huge explosion," he said.As for the Rhosus, Prokoshev learned from friends who sailed to Beirut that it had sunk in the harbor in 2015 or 2016 after taking water on board, he said.His only surprise on hearing this, he added, was that it had not gone down sooner.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
The day after Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union posted a message to him on its website: “See you in court.” As president, Trump hasn’t personally squared off against the ACLU from the witness stand, but the broader warning has been borne out. As of this week, the ACLU has filed nearly 400 lawsuits and other legal actions against the Trump administration, some meeting with setbacks but many resulting in important victories.
Residents of Beirut vented their fury at Lebanon's leaders Thursday during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, blaming them for the deadly explosion that ravaged the capital. The blast, which killed more than 130 people, wounded thousands and left tens of thousands homeless, is believed to have been caused when a fire touched off a stockpile of 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that authorities left sitting in a warehouse for years — despite a customs official’s repeated warnings. Macron visited the devastated port and toured a hard-hit neighborhood lined with heavily damaged buildings.
The head of Lebanon’s customs department says one of the country's main security agencies reported to the Cabinet in the past year about the danger from explosive chemicals being stored at the port. Badri Daher told The Associated Press on Thursday that State Security had been investigating the stockpile of ammonium nitrate for the past year. French President Emmanuel Macron says an independent, transparent investigation into the massive explosion in Beirut is “owed to the victims and their families” by Lebanese authorities.
North Korea is quarantining thousands of people and shipping food and other aid to a southern city locked down over coronavirus worries, officials said, as the country's response to a suspected case reinforces doubt about its longstanding claim to be virus-free. But amid the outside skepticism and a stream of North Korean propaganda glorifying its virus efforts, an exchange between Pyongyang and the United Nations is providing new clarity - and actual numbers - about what might be happening in the North, which has closed its borders and cut travel - never a free-flowing stream - by outsider monitors and journalists. In late July, North Korea said it had imposed its "maximum emergency system" to guard against the virus spreading after finding a person with Covid-19 symptoms in Kaesong city, near the border with rival South Korea. State media reported that leader Kim Jong-un then ordered a total lockdown of Kaesong, and said the suspected case was a North Korean who had earlier fled to South Korea before slipping back into Kaesong last month. North Korea's public admission of its first potential case and the emergency steps it took prompted immediate outside speculation that Pyongyang may be worried about a big outbreak after months of steadfastly claiming it had no cases. Foreign experts are highly skeptical over the North's assertion of no cases, in large part because of its long, porous border with China, where the virus emerged, and its history of hiding past disease outbreaks.
Recommended safety measures include wearing face coverings in schools and limiting movement so kids stay in the same classroom all day. In the U.S., some school districts are planning a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing.
When a right-wing populist party won the right to govern Poland five years ago, Piotr Grabarczyk feared “bad things” might happen to gay men like him and other LGBT people. Friends and a job bound Grabarczyk to Warsaw, the relatively liberal capital city.
The U.N. Security Council discussed disputed Kashmir at Pakistan's request Wednesday for the third time since India’s Hindu nationalist government decided to end the Muslim-majority region’s semi-autonomy a year ago. The U.N.’s most powerful body did not take any action or issue a statement after the virtual meeting behind closed doors.
Pygmy hogs — the world’s smallest and rarest wild pig — are under a virus lockdown. There is neither a vaccine nor cure for the highly contagious viral disease that has already killed over 16,000 domestic pigs, said Pradip Gogoi, an official at Assam state’s animal husbandry wing. The shy, 10-inch tall pygmy hogs suffered severe habitat loss and were thought to be extinct in the 1960s.
Shortly into the march, police, who reported that water bottles and rocks were being thrown at them, unleashed a volley of tear gas on the entire crowd, including those who were marching peacefully. The Charlotte protest was one of the dozens around the country during the past few months where police unleashed tear gas on peaceful protesters. Tear gas has commonly been used as a defensive tool by law enforcement to make rioters disperse.
Until recently, Robert Lewis had never heard of Karen Bass, the California congresswoman in contention to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's running mate. When he learned that Bass had called Castro's death “a great loss,” the 22-year-old considered it a disregard for the plight of those who suffered at the hands of Castro's government. Lewis' reaction is a blow to Democrats who in recent years have tried to pull young Cubans in Florida away from the Republican Party, the political home of many of their parents and grandparents.
When officers led them out of a detention facility near the U.S.-Mexico border and onto a bus last month, the 12-year-old from Honduras and his 9-year-old sister believed they were going to a shelter so they could be reunited with their mother in the Midwest. Instead, the bus drove five hours to an airport where the children were told to board a plane. “They didn’t tell us we were going back to Honduras.”
North Korea is quarantining thousands of people and shipping food and other aid to a southern city locked down over coronavirus worries, officials said, as the country’s response to a suspected case reinforces doubt about its longstanding claim to be virus-free. In late July, North Korea said it had imposed its “maximum emergency system” to guard against the virus spreading after finding a person with COVID-19 symptoms in Kaesong city, near the border with rival South Korea. State media reported that leader Kim Jong Un then ordered a total lockdown of Kaesong, and said the suspected case was a North Korean who had earlier fled to South Korea before slipping back into Kaesong last month.
Survivors of the world’s first atomic bombing gathered in diminished numbers near an iconic, blasted dome Thursday to mark the attack’s 75th anniversary, many of them urging the world, and their own government, to do more to ban nuclear weapons. An upsurge of coronavirus cases in Japan meant a much smaller than normal turnout, but the bombing survivors’ message was more urgent than ever. As their numbers dwindle — their average age is about 83 — many nations have bolstered or maintained their nuclear arsenals, and their own government refuses to sign a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Arizona has grown more politically moderate in the past five years, but Republican primary voters haven’t entirely abandoned Joe Arpaio, the six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix who lost the job in 2016 amid voter frustration over his legal troubles and headline-grabbing tactics. In what Arpaio acknowledges could be his last political race, he was trailing Jerry Sheridan, his former second-in-command, by 541 votes as the count continued Wednesday. Mike O’Neil, a longtime Arizona pollster who has followed Arpaio’s career, said the lawman remains in contention because he has strong name recognition and is still popular in some Republican circles — even though he was trounced in 2016 and finished third in the 2018 U.S. Senate primary.
More than 1,300 people were killed in the first half of 2020 by armed groups in DR Congo, three times more than in the same period in 2019, according to a report published on Wednesday by the United Nations. Between January and June 2020, fighters of all armed groups were responsible for the summary executions or arbitrary killings of at least 1,315 people, including 267 women and 165 children, the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) said. The surge is the result of a deterioration in the human rights situation in provinces where conflict is rife, particularly Ituri, South Kivu, Tanganyika and North Kivu, the UNJHRO said.
The investigation into an explosion in the harbor of Lebanon's port city of Beirut is focusing on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it. Aug. 12, 2015: A massive warehouse explosion rocked the port city of Tianjin, China, killing 173 people and injuring nearly 800. Investigators found the warehouse held illegal stores of ammonium nitrate, which caught fire and caused a series of blasts.
The United States will submit a UN Security Council resolution next week to extend an arms embargo on Iran despite opposition from Russia and China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. A ban on conventional weapons sales to Iran ends on October 18 and the United States has threatened to try to force a return of UN sanctions if it is not extended.
The staggering videos from the Lebanese capital are grimly familiar to Tommy Muska thousands of miles away in Texas: a towering blast, a thundering explosion and shock waves demolishing buildings with horrifying speed. It is what the mayor of West, Texas, lived seven years ago when one of the deadliest fertilizer plant explosions in U.S. history partly leveled his rural town. On Wednesday, Muska also couldn't shake a familiar feeling — that yet again, no lessons will be learned.
At the last minute, President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, are searching for places to impressively yet safely accept their parties' presidential nominations as the spread of the coronavirus adds fresh uncertainty to the campaign for the White House. Trump said Wednesday he's considering giving his Aug. 27 acceptance speech on the grounds of the White House, a move that could violate ethics law. Biden, meanwhile, scrapped plans to accept the Democratic nomination on Aug. 20 in Milwaukee, where the party has spent more than a year planning a massive convention.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- As if the Lebanese haven’t suffered enough. For months, they have been caught between an economic meltdown, crumbling public services and a surging pandemic. Now they must count the dead and survey the extensive damage to their capital after two giant explosions on Tuesday.The blasts, especially the second, were so huge they were reportedly heard and felt in Cyprus. At least 100 people are reported to have been killed — that number will almost certainly rise — and thousands injured. A large expanse of the port and its immediate neighborhood lies in smoking ruin; miles away, streets are full of shattered glass.Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government says the explosions were caused when careless welding ignited about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible material used as fertilizer and for bomb-making. By comparison, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The 2015 disaster in the Chinese city of Tianjin was caused by the explosion of 800 tons of ammonium nitrate.The equivalent of 1,100 Oklahoma City-size bombs could indeed account for the devastation and the reddish mushroom cloud that plumed gaudily over the Beirut port. But it doesn’t mean Lebanese will simply accept that the explosion was an unavoidable, force majeure event.Assuming the official account holds up, the disaster again exposes the rot that is destroying the country — an especially corrosive mix of corruption, ineptitude and malign intentions.The ammonium nitrate was apparently seized in 2013 from a Moldovan-flagged ship traveling from Georgia to Mozambique. But someone — who, we don’t yet know — brought it into Beirut; instead of returning, auctioning or disposing of it, the port management inexcusably allowed it to be stored there for years.There are no prizes for guessing who in Lebanon might be interested in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand. The U.S. Treasury and Israel both believe Hezbollah controls many of Beirut’s port facilities.Diab, whose government is entirely dependent on political support from Hezbollah and its Maronite Christian allies, has vowed to hold those responsible to account. More than likely, some minor officials will be fingered for permitting improper storage of highly dangerous material.Iran-backed Hezbollah, with its large and well-armed militia as well as its political hold on the prime minister, has nothing to fear from the state. But it will not escape public opprobrium: Most Lebanese will assume the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia, for use in Syria and against Israel.Why the chemicals exploded is another matter, rich with possibilities of conjecture. In the court of public opinion, the usual suspects will be rounded up from the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Hezbollah on one side and Israel on the other. President Donald Trump, who can be relied upon to make everything worse, speculated it was a deliberate attack. This will be picked up and amplified by conspiracy theorists in the Middle East.But suspicions of Hezbollah’s culpability will intensify on Friday when a United Nations special tribunal for Lebanon that has been looking into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to issue verdicts in cases against four Hezbollah cadres being tried in absentia. The men are in hiding, and have not been seen in years; even if they are found guilty, no one expects them to be handed over. Hariri, remember, was killed in a massive blast.A guilty verdict would increase domestic pressure on Hezbollah, its allies and the government. When Lebanese have finished mourning their dead, anger will return — the kind that fueled the massive street demonstrations that brought down Diab’s predecessor last October.Even without the Beirut blasts, the timing of the verdict would have been awkward for Diab, who is struggling to negotiate an economic bailout with the International Monetary Fund: Among the hurdles is Hezbollah’s resistance to the necessary reforms. Hezbollah finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the principal backer of the government presiding over a thoroughgoing collapse of the Lebanese state and society. It will not easily shake off blame for the Beirut blast, or for the Hariri assassination. Even in this country that has suffered so much and for so long, the latest of Lebanon’s tragedies will not soon be forgotten, nor its perpetrators forgiven.(Corrects the number of Oklahoma City-size bombs that would equal the size of the Beirut explosion in the fourth paragraph.)This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The Trump administration will press ahead with efforts to extend a United Nations arms embargo on Iran despite widespread opposition to such a move at the world body, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday. The decision sets the stage for a potential crisis at the U.N. Security Council amid rising tensions in the Middle East. Pompeo said the United States would call for a Security Council vote next week on a U.S.-drafted resolution to extend the embargo that is due to expire in October.
Progressive Democrats celebrated two primary victories Wednesday, claiming the protests over George Floyd’s death and a renewed focus on racial and economic justice have given their candidates new momentum after some rough patches this year. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of the “squad” of four first-term congresswomen of color who have drawn attention for their liberal views and distaste for President Donald Trump, scored a convincing victory over Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. Jones had criticized Tlaib as being too divisive.
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The United States' top health official, Alex Aza, will lead a delegation on a trip to Taiwan, a rare high-level visit to the island by a U.S. official that is likely to further fray ties between Beijing and Washington.Azar, the secretary of health and human services, will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since 1979, the year the United States severed its formal ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the Chinese government in Beijing.No date was given for Azar's trip to Taiwan, a self-ruled island that the Chinese government claims as its territory. But in a statement Tuesday, the health department billed it as an opportunity to strengthen economic and public health cooperation with Taiwan and to highlight its success in battling the coronavirus pandemic."Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the COVID-19 pandemic and long before it," Azar said in the department's statement. "I look forward to conveying President Trump's support for Taiwan's global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health."As of Tuesday, the island of 23 million just off the coast of southeastern China had reported just 476 coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Officials in Taiwan have tried to turn that success into a geopolitical victory. Its government has sent millions of masks, emblazoned with the words "made in Taiwan," to the United States, Italy and other countries devastated by the coronavirus.It has also promoted itself as a model of democracy, even as China tries to use the crisis to promote the strength of its authoritarian system.On Wednesday, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said China was "firmly opposed to official interactions between the U.S. and Taiwan," without mentioning Azar by name. The spokesman, Wang Wenbin, urged the United States to adhere to the "one China principle," which holds that mainland China and Taiwan are part of a single country, so as not to "gravely damage Sino-U.S. relations and the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.""China has lodged solemn representations with the U.S.," Wang said at a regular briefing, adding that Taiwan was "the most important and sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations."Beijing has long sought to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and objected to U.S. support for the island, which remains an important, though unofficial, American ally in the Pacific region. Although the United States has been cautious about making official contact with Taiwan, it continues to be the island's leading arms supplier.Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Azar would meet with senior Taiwanese leaders, including President Tsai Ing-wen. Discussions are expected to touch on Taiwan's role as a supplier of medical equipment and critical technology, among other issues, the U.S. health department said.The island is home to one of the world's leading computer chipmakers, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., and is a major manufacturer of medical masks and other hospital equipment.Azar will also deliver a speech in which he will highlight "Taiwan's constructive role in the international community, especially in global public health," the statement said.The trip threatens to further fuel tensions between the United States and China, with diplomatic ties reaching their lowest point since the two countries normalized relations more than four decades ago.The superpowers are locked in a fast-growing battle on multiple fronts, including in trade, technology, defense and human rights. Both the United States and China have recently stepped up military activity in the region, sparking concerns about the risk of a clash over Taiwan or the South China Sea.In addition, Beijing has in recent years steadily picked off Taiwan's few remaining official allies and has blocked Taiwan's participation as an observer in the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization's top decision-making body.The tension between Beijing and Taiwan dates to the end of China's civil war in 1949, when the Communist Party defeated its Nationalist enemies, who fled to the island and set up the Republic of China government that still rules the territory today. Unification with Taiwan remains one of the Chinese Communist Party's ultimate goals, and in recent years, China's top leader, Xi Jinping, has bluntly warned that any move toward formal independence by the island would invite military force.Azar's trip will be the first by a U.S. health secretary and the first in six years by a U.S. Cabinet member, according to the health department. The last trip by a U.S. Cabinet-level official to Taiwan was in 2014 by Gina McCarthy, then the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.The Health and Human Services Department did not say whether Azar would attend an official memorial that has been established in Taipei, Taiwan's capital, for Lee Teng-hui, the former Taiwanese president who died last week.In a statement offering his condolences, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Lee, who led the island's transformation into a vibrant democracy, crediting him with ending decades of authoritarianism and ushering in a "new era of economic prosperity, openness and the rule of law."The announcement of Azar's visit comes as coronavirus case numbers have been surging throughout most of the United States. More than 4.7 million people there have been infected and at least 157,100 have died, according to a New York Times database.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
Although scientists often worry most about the loss of the world’s predators, a comprehensive new study finds that plant-eating herbivores are the animals most at risk of extinction. About one in four species of herbivores, 25.5%, are considered threatened, endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s scientific authority on extinction risk, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances. “The implications for this are huge,” Atwood said.
More than 50,000 people have been affected by flooding across Sudan over the past week, the United Nations said Wednesday. "Torrential rains continued in several parts of Sudan... leading to flooding, landslides, damages to houses and infrastructure in at least 14 of the (country's) 18 states," the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. "More than 50,000 people have been affected," it said in a statement.
The aftermath of a massive explosion in the Lebanese capital of Beirut shows a shattered city covered in dust and debris. The blast sent a mushroom cloud into the sky, killed more than 100 people and injured thousands, with more bodies probably buried in the rubble. A photo of a damaged hospital room offered a chilling scene.
U.S. testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to learn the results. An Associated Press analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. “There’s a sense of desperation that we need to do something else,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.