Ride-hailing application Uber, after successful launches in Ghana and Nigeria, is looking to expand in West Africa to Senegal’s capital, Dakar.  But in a city full of taxis, and drivers without smartphones, the Silicon Valley company will have to overcome a lot of challenges to make a profit.  From Dakar, VOA’s Esha Sarai reports.

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The world is dealing with climate refugees, people whose homes have been inundated by rising sea levels. But in Wales, residents of one seaside town are confused and angry because of a political decision to let nature have its way and let the town sink back into the sea. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has defended a plea deal he helped broker with Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 in Florida. The billionaire financier, who socialized with U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton, is detained in New York where federal prosecutors have charged him with sex trafficking of minors between 2002 and 2005. Acosta is under pressure to step down because as U.S. attorney in Florida, he agreed to a mild sentence for Epstein. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.
 

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A Spanish court ruled on Wednesday that singer Julio Iglesias was the father of a 43-year-old man, resolving a paternity dispute that had lasted three decades after the singer refused to take a DNA test.

Javier Sanchez-Santos was born in 1976 to Portuguese dancer Maria Edite Santos. The ruling that he is the son of Iglesias can still be appealed.

Iglesias, 75, has sold more than 300 million records in 14 languages, making him the best-selling Latin artist ever. He turned to singing after a car accident in 1963 that ended his
burgeoning career as a soccer player.

He has eight other children. Three were born out of his marriage to Isabel Preysler and five with his wife Miranda Rijnsburger.

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Thailand’s new civilian government will retain the power to arbitrarily detain critics despite the imminent easing of junta-era security controls, prompting warnings from rights groups of enduring “martial law”.

Nearly 2,000 people have been tried in military courts since now-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in a 2014 coup.

The junta eased a ban on political activities last year in the run-up to national elections and the former army chief phased out dozens of additional junta-enacted orders Tuesday, transferring military cases to civilian courts.

But the government retained over 100 orders — including the right for the military to detain suspects for seven days on national security grounds.

“This is martial law used during an emergency crisis, but we’ve had elections and a new government so why is it still imposed?” said Anon Chalawan, of the legal monitoring group iLaw.

Prayut, who was also officially endorsed by Thailand’s king Wednesday as defence minister, has called his original invoking of junta-era powers as a way of “solving problems”.

But political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich said the continuing restrictions showed that full democracy remained a distant prospect for Thais.

“I think they know people will be more critical of this government,” he said.

Thailand held elections in March, and Prayut holds a slim majority in the lower house through a coalition of almost 20 parties, which — together with a military-appointed Senate — voted him in as civilian prime minister.

Prayut’s political opponents slammed the process, which included the temporary suspension from parliament of his biggest rival.

Despite questions over his legitimacy, the ex-army chief got down to the nitty gritty of forming a cabinet.

The picks endorsed by the king Wednesday include junta number two Prawit Wongsuwan as deputy prime minister and pro-marijuana Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul as health minister.

They still need to be sworn in and present policy statements.

The flurry of political activity came after a rash of attacks on pro-democracy activists that remain unsolved.

In late June, activist Sirawith Seritiwat — known for staging anti-junta protests — was put in hospital after being set upon by stick-wielding men.

Police on Wednesday charged eight people for allegedly posting “false information” on Facebook which accused authorities of being behind the attack.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.

 

 

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Wealthy American financier Jeffrey Epstein, charged with sex trafficking in underage girls, is now confined to a cell in a fortress-like concrete tower jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.

After his arrest on Saturday at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport on arrival from Paris in his private plane, Epstein was likely put in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan, according to defense lawyers and others familiar with the jail.

“When you have someone that’s allegedly a sexual predator like Jeffrey Epstein, he’ll need to be in protective custody,” Andrew Laufer, a lawyer who has represented MCC inmates in civil lawsuits against prison officials, said in an interview.

Epstein pleaded not guilty in the nearby federal court on Monday to one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy. He will remain in jail at least until a bail hearing on July 15. Federal prosecutors have said he is a flight risk because of his wealth and international ties.

In the past, Epstein, 66, was known for socializing with politicians and royalty, with friends who have included U.S. President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and, according to court papers, Britain’s Prince Andrew. None of those people was mentioned in the indictment and prosecutors declined to comment on anyone said to be associated with Epstein.

The indictment said Epstein made young girls perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and paid some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005 at his mansion in New York and estate in Florida.  

Marc Fernich, a lawyer for Epstein, declined to comment on Epstein’s current conditions.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it does not release information on an inmate’s conditions of confinement for safety and security reasons.

The MCC houses about 800 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted. Prominent inmates have included New York Mafia bosses, the fraudster Bernie Madoff and the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Inmates and defense lawyers have complained of rat and cockroach infestations and uncomfortable extremes of heat and cold or problems with the water supply.

The jail’s harshest unit, known colloquially as “10 South”, has been compared unfavorably to the U.S. prison camp Guantanamo Bay. In 2011, rights group Amnesty International said the unit, which has also been used to house people accused of terrorism, flouts “international standards for humane treatment.”

One defense lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Epstein is likely in “9 South,” a separate special housing unit.

Inmates in protective custody are allowed out of their cell for recreation only one hour a day, according to BOP guidelines and interviews with lawyers.

Laufer and other lawyers said they believed that high-profile defendants such as Epstein enjoyed better protections than most, in part because prison officials are mindful of the embarrassment that harm to a well-known inmate could bring.

If Epstein is moved into a general population unit, he would have access to a shared common space with a television used by other inmates in the unit.

There, however, he would likely be a target for other inmates both because of his wealth and because he is a registered sex offender following his 2008 conviction for soliciting a girl for prostitution in Florida.

“The sex offenders have a hard time,” Jack Donson, a former BOP employee who now works as a federal prison consultant in New York, said in an interview. “He’s definitely going to get ostracized.”

There are fewer activities and diversions for inmates at the MCC compared to some other jails, Donson said.

“It’s pretty confining, pretty boring, not dangerous, but still no picnic,” Donson said. “Especially if you’re a man of wealth: one minute you’re on your yacht or in a helicopter; next minute you’re sitting at a table playing cards with the boys.”

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The company will list its shares as part of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), which will also take a 49% stake in Virgin Galactic for about $800 million, a source who worked on the deal told Reuters.

The SPAC deal allows Virgin Galactic to go public sooner, compared with a traditional initial public offering, which the company might have considered in six to nine months following its first commercial flight, the source said.

“They were working on this deal for the best part of nine months. Part of the work was getting Branson comfortable with the idea of going public via a SPAC, a concept which he wasn’t familiar with at the start of the process,” according to the source.

Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to cash in on burgeoning demand for satellite launch services and, eventually, space travel, a market long dominated by industry stalwarts such as United Launch Alliance – a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

But since its early days, his ambitious timeline for taking customers into space has suffered delays and setbacks.

FILE – Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson speaks during an interview while attending the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 11, 2019.

In February, the company took a step closer to its goal of suborbital flights for space tourists when its rocket plane soared to the edge of space with a test passenger for the first time.

Rival Blue Origin has launched its New Shepard rocket to space, but its trips have not yet carried humans. SpaceX last year named Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as its first passenger on a voyage around the moon, tentatively scheduled for 2023.

Hundreds of people from 60 countries, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber, have paid or put down deposits to fly on one of Virgin’s suborbital flights. Some of Virgin Galactic’s ticket holders have been waiting over 14 years for their trip.

A 90-minute flight, which allows passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, costs about $250,000.

The cost is expected to come down “dramatically” over the next decade as space travel becomes more accessible to common people, Branson told CNBC on Tuesday.

“I think we can do it a lot quicker than aviation did it.”

Virgin’s current reservations represent about $80 million in total collected deposits and $120 million of potential revenue.

Social Capital Hedosophia’s chief executive officer, Chamath Palihapitiya, who is investing $100 million as part of the deal, will become chairman of the combined company.

“By embarking on this new chapter, at this advanced point in Virgin Galactic’s development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Branson said in a statement.

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Spain’s Socialists said on Tuesday they would give up trying to install their leader Pedro Sanchez as prime minister if he fails to win two investiture votes this month, raising the prospect of yet another parliamentary election.

Those comments compounded the tension in already fraught relations among Spain’s main political parties, which blame each other for the fact that there is still no government in place two and a half months after the election.

Sanchez, who came to power in June 2018 after parliament ousted a conservative government over a fraud scandal, is currently acting prime minister after his party won April elections but without enough seats to govern on its own.

The Socialists’ most likely ally for a July 23 investiture vote is far-left Unidas Podemos, but its leader Pablo Iglesias and Sanchez again failed on Tuesday to agree on an alliance.

Speaking after the Sanchez-Iglesias meeting, Adriana Lastra, the Socialist spokeswoman in parliament, told a news conference: “There will be no change, from the investiture vote of July to one in September… There are no second chances.”

A source in Podemos responded that “it isn’t serious” for Sanchez to seek to be sworn in by parliament “without having the necessary support and while threatening repeat elections”.

If there is a repeat parliamentary election, it would take place in November and would be the fourth one in four years.

“The fear of new elections might ultimately force Unidas Podemos to support Sanchez, but the possibility of a repeat poll taking place in November cannot be discarded,” said Antonio Barroso, managing director of political consultancy Teneo.

On July 22-23 Sanchez needs to win an absolute majority – at least 176 votes – in the 350-seat Spanish lower house of parliament to be named prime minister.

If he fails to do so, the chamber will vote again within two days and in that vote he needs only a simple majority – where more lawmakers back him than oppose him or abstain – to be able to form the next government.

If that second vote fails, Sanchez could either call a second investiture vote in September or let a two-month period pass until a new election is automatically called in November.

Podemos wants ministerial portfolios in a coalition government and accuses Sanchez of trying to impose a single party government unilaterally. The premier has so far only offered them junior posts.

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Mexico’s moderate Finance Minister Carlos Urzua resigned on Tuesday with a letter that shocked markets by citing “extremism” in economic policy, before President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador quickly named a well-regarded deputy minister to replace him.

In the unusually strongly worded resignation note made public on his Twitter account, Urzua said the government was forming economic policy without sufficient foundation.

“I’m convinced that economic policy should always be evidence-based, careful of potential impacts and free of extremism, either from the right or the left,” Urzua wrote. “These convictions did not resonate during my tenure in this administration,” Urzua said.

He also said there were what he called conflicts of interest in the appointment of some ministry officials imposed on him by influential members of the government. He did not give more details.

The Mexican peso fell over 2% on the news and the benchmark stock index slid almost 1.5%. Both recovered a little after Lopez Obrador quickly promoted Deputy Finance Minister Arturo Herrera to the top job.

Well known to investors and seen as a competent economic manager, Herrera now has the task of reviving economic growth while meeting a 1 percent primary budget surplus, kickstarting flagging investment and fending off downgrades from ratings agencies worried about indebted state-oil company Pemex.

“[Herrera] is a well-known figure with good dialogue with market participants and is not perceived as a … dogmatic individual,” said Alberto Ramos, head of Latin American research at Goldman Sachs.

“But in light of the unusual content of Urzua’s resignation letter there is out there the lingering question of who is ultimately in charge of running economic policy,” Ramos said.

Academic hawk

Urzua, a slightly disheveled former academic prone to mild verbal gaffes, was a very different finance minister from Mexico’s recent tradition of slick technocrats who spoke the language of Wall Street.

However, he was seen by markets as a moderate whose commitment to fiscal discipline was a bright spot in the administration of Lopez Obrador, which has frequently buffeted markets with surprise policy decisions.

Before the government took office on Dec. 1, Urzua was tasked with meeting with dozens of investment funds to convey that the government was center-left, rather than leftist.

On his watch, however, Urzua was hit by a sovereign debt downgrade and contracting economic growth as he stuck to fiscal targets while setting aside money to support Pemex and Lopez Obrador’s plans to splurge on a new oil refinery.

A 64-year-old economist, Urzua is an old friend of the president and served as his finance minister when Lopez Obrador was Mexico City’s mayor.

Urzua deeply cut back spending programs in a strategy aimed at cleaning out corruption and largesse with a new, more centralized model of assistance. He also began a program of centralizing procurement, in another drive for efficiency and clean government.

Both actions have been blamed for shortages in areas such as healthcare, where lack of medicines led to the high-profile resignation of the public health system chief earlier this year.

In a video message to announce his successor, Lopez Obrador said Urzua was not comfortable with the decisions being taken to upend what the president frequently calls the neoliberal era in Mexico, starting in the 1980s.

“We are committed to changing economic policy that has been imposed for the past 36 years,” Lopez Obrador said. “We can’t put old wine in new bottles.”

“We believe there will be economic growth, that we will progress in the country by fighting corruption and … with a policy of austerity,” the president said.

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Lawmakers must pass legislation easing “abhorrent conditions” facing children held at the southern border, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday as she tried taking the offensive on an issue that badly split Democrats and has raised questions about their unity on other issues.
 
Pelosi, D-Calif., tried rallying Democrats against a common foe — Republicans led by President Donald Trump — less than two weeks after a $4.6 billion border bill drove a bitter rift into her party. Although the measure passed Congress easily and became law, many House progressives and Hispanics voted “no” because they said the measure lacked real controls on how the government must handle children, while the party’s moderates and senators said the measure was the best compromise they could craft with the GOP-run Senate.
 
In a letter to colleagues returning from an 11-day Fourth of July recess, Pelosi said Democrats must lead “a Battle Cry across America to protect the children.”  Citing another fight over blocking a citizenship question Trump wants added to the 2020 census, Pelosi said, “In both the case of the Census and the abhorrent conditions for children and families at the border, we must hold the Trump Administration and the GOP accountable.”
 
Although divisions within both parties are common, seldom are things as openly nasty as when the House approved the border legislation. Progressives accused moderates and their own party leaders of blindsiding them and caving to demands by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while Senate Democrats and centrists said liberals had implausible expectations for what could be produced by divided government.
 
“I think people are going to be walking on eggshells,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said Monday about the mood he expected when lawmakers return Tuesday. He also said he’d spoken to an ideological range of colleagues over the break, and they’d expressed a “need to come together and get things done.”
 
Gottheimer and other centrist Democrats had rebelled and prevented Pelosi from holding a vote to add care requirements for children to the $4.6 billion package, enraging progressives.
 
The bitter feelings suggest that it might be hard for Democrats to band together on upcoming bills, including an annual defense policy bill that liberals are often reluctant to support.
 
“I think this is going to extend into other debates as well,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a progressive leader. He said the defense bill “is not going to be a picnic” and noted that many progressives routinely oppose the defense legislation.
 
The rift seems certain to be discussed when House Democrats hold a weekly closed-door meeting on Wednesday.
 
“At the end of the day, it’s the red team or the blue team, and we’ll have to figure out how to get along,” said Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., a leading moderate and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
 
While Pelosi’s letter didn’t promise action on any particular bill, she highlighted several measures that liberal and Hispanic Democrats have pushed. These included proposals barring the separation of families unless it is to protect children, requiring specific standards of care like thorough medical screenings, and limiting how long unaccompanied children may be kept at temporary holding facilities, many of which are overcrowded.

FILE – Migrants, mainly from Central America, guide their children through the entrance of a World War II-era bomber hanger in Deming, N.M., May 22, 2019.

Congress approved the legislation at a time when the number of migrants entering the U.S. across the southwest border with Mexico surged above 100,000 monthly, the highest levels in years. Federal agencies’ facilities, designed for much smaller influxes, have been overwhelmed as the government detains them and the Trump administration enforces strict policies aimed at discouraging others from coming.
 
The sharp elbows also echoed over the weekend.
 
Pelosi told The New York Times that four freshmen who were the only Democrats to oppose an earlier version of the border bill “have their public whatever and their Twitter world” but “didn’t have any following.”
 
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., one of the four rebels, tweeted in response, “That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment.”

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A massive continent-wide police operation has netted 24 tons of anabolic steroid powder and 234 arrests across Europe. 

It also resulted in the closure of nine underground labs that produced performance-enhancing drugs and the dismantling of 17 organized-crime groups.

The operation involved 33 countries, including 23 EU nations, the European police agency, Europol, and the World Anti-Doping Agency  (WADA). 

“This is the sort of multi-party collaboration that produces real results and can make a significant impact on the availability of counterfeit and illegal drugs used by some athletes globally,” WADA intelligence director Gunther Younger said.

Europol said the operation, co-led by law enforcement officials from Italy and Greece, was the largest of its kind.

International law enforcement agencies have recently been taking a closer look at the use of performance enhancing drugs used by athletes. 

Last year,  the U.S. Justice Department charged Russian military intelligence officers in a wide-ranging case that included WADA and the football federation, FIFA.

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Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is among the least popular since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago, but his rating in a poll released on Monday showed his numbers stabilizing.

The Datafolha polling institute found that 33% of respondents said Bolsonaro was doing a “great or good” job. That is technically tied with the 32% in an April Datafolha poll.

Those who think Bolsonaro is doing a “bad or awful” job rose to 33% from 30% in the April poll.

The latest polls show Bolsonaro technically tied with former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso as the leader with the least support at this point in his first term. Thirty-four percent of those asked by Datafolha in June 1995 thought Cardoso was doing “good or great.”

The poll of 2,086 people across Brazil on July 4-5 has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Bolsonaro easily won last year’s election over leftist rival Fernando Haddad, who stepped in to take the top place on the Workers Party ticket after a graft conviction prevented imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from running. Datafolha polls last year showed Lula far more popular than Bolsonaro – even after he had been imprisoned.

Lula’s conviction has come under scrutiny since the publication of leaked messages last month by news website The Intercept Brasil showed former federal judge and current Justice Minister Sergio Moro stepping over ethical, and possibly legal, lines by coaching the prosecution in Lula’s trial.

Moro, who presided over the case and found Lula guilty, has alternatively argued that the leaked messages show no improper behavior to questioning their authenticity, is facing withering criticism.

On Monday, Moro’s press office said he would take the week of July 15-19 off for “personal” reasons, and later added he was spending time with his family. Moro’s wife and children do not live with him in the capital. July is winter recess for schools in Brazil.

In August the Supreme Court is expected to weigh an appeal from Lula’s legal team, demanding his release from jail.

Lula has been convicted in a second graft trial and faces at least eight more.

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