Living and Dying in Battle for Libya’s Capital

As Libya’s two rival governments fight for control of the capital, Tripoli, airstrikes and artillery fire continue to batter the city. Nearly 1,100 people have died and more than 100,000 have been displaced by the war. As VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Tripoli, officials say if the fighting does not slow down, the country is headed toward “disaster.”
 

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Puerto Rico Governor Resists Calls for Resignation

The governor of Puerto Rico is not backing down despite massive street protests in the capital, San Juan, demanding his resignation. Thousands of people have taken to the streets after Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of leaked text messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rossello used homophobic and misogynistic language.  VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the governor said in a statement Thursday that his commitment to Puerto Rico is stronger than ever.

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South Korean Political Parties Back Moon in Japan Trade Row

Setting aside their usual bickering, South Korean liberal and conservative parties on Thursday vowed to cooperate to help the Seoul government prevail in an escalating trade row with Japan.
 
After a meeting between the parties’ leaders and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Seoul’s presidential office, they announced plans to create a “pan-national” emergency body to respond to tighter Japanese trade controls on certain technology exports to South Korea.
 
The meeting came amid growing concerns in South Korea that Japan’s trade curbs, which could possibly be expanded to hundreds of trade items in coming weeks, would rattle its export-dependent economy.
 
South Korean political leaders urged Japan to immediately withdraw the measures they described as “unjust economic retaliation” that would seriously harm bilateral relations and cooperation.
 
The leaders of conservative parties also called for Moon to take more aggressive diplomatic steps, such as pushing for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or sending a special envoy to Japan.

Earlier on Thursday, South Korea’s central bank lowered its policy rate for the first time in three years to combat a faltering economy that faces further risks created by the trade row with Japan.

“Japan’s export restriction measures are an unjust economic retaliation that violates the order of free trade and seriously damages friendly and mutually beneficial relationships between South Korea and Japan,”  the South Korean parties and presidential Blue House said in a joint statement after the meeting.
 
Moon during the meeting said that a united front between the government and political parties would “send a good message to Japan and increase the negotiation leverage of our government and companies.”

Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, called for Moon to push for a quick meeting with Abe or send high-level special envoys to Tokyo and Washington, a treaty ally with both Asian nations, to help resolve the standoff.
 
“The government doesn’t have concrete plans and is just appealing to the emotions of our people with words. However, words and emotions cannot solve this problem,” Hwang said.  “Core issues should be resolved between the leaders of both countries … I think the president should solve this with a top-down approach.”
 
The dispute erupted earlier this month when Tokyo tightened controls on the exports of photoresists and two other chemicals to South Korean companies that use them to produce semiconductors and display screens for smartphones and TVs.
 
Seoul has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate against South Korean court rulings calling for Japanese companies to compensate aging South Korean plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II, and plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.
 
Tokyo said the issue has nothing to do with historical issues between the countries and says the materials affected by the export controls can be sent only to trustworthy trading partners. Without presenting specific examples, it has questioned Seoul’s credibility in controlling the exports of arms and items that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.
 
South Korea has rejected the Japanese claims and proposed an inquiry by the United Nations Security Council or another international body on the export controls of both countries.
 
South Korea is also bracing for the possibility that Japan will take further steps by removing it from a 27-country “whitelist” receiving preferential treatment in trade.

Its removal from the list would require Japanese companies to apply for case-by-case approvals for exports to South Korea of hundreds of items deemed sensitive, not just the three materials affected by the trade curbs that took effect July 4. It will also allow Japanese authorities to restrict any export to South Korea when they believe there are security concerns.

“The Japanese government should immediately withdraw its economic retaliation measure and clearly understand that additional measures such as the removal from the whitelist would threaten South Korea-Japan relations and the security cooperation in Northeast Asia,” said Choi Do-ja, spokeswoman of the conservative Bareun Mirae Party.

 

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Budget Watchdog Says No-Deal Brexit Will Spur UK Recession

The U.K. will plunge into recession if it leaves the European Union without a divorce deal, with the pound plunging in value and the economy shrinking by 2% in a year, Britain’s official economic watchdog said Thursday.

The Office for Budget Responsibility made its assessment as chances of an economically disruptive no-deal Brexit appear to be rising.  Both men vying to take over next week as Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, say they will lead the U.K. out of the bloc, with or without an agreement on terms.

They claim that Britain can withstand any resulting turbulence, but most economists predict the economic shock would be severe.

The OBR, which provides the U.K. government with independent economic forecasts, said a no-deal Brexit would see “heightened uncertainty and declining confidence deter investment, while higher trade barriers with the EU weigh on exports.”
 
It predicted GDP would fall by 2% by the end of 2020 in a no-deal scenario, and borrowing would be around 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) a year higher from 2020-21 than it forecast in March.

Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but Parliament has repeatedly rejected the divorce deal truck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the bloc. Johnson and Hunt, who are vying to replace May as Conservative party leader and prime minister, both say they will leave without an agreement if the EU won’t renegotiate.

The bloc insists it won’t change the 585-page withdrawal agreement, which sets out the terms of Britain’s departure and includes a transition period of almost two years to allow both sides to adjust to their new relationship.

“This document is the only way to leave the EU in an orderly manner,” EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the BBC in an interview broadcast Thursday.

Three years after British voters narrowly chose to leave the 28-nation EU, it remains stuck in limbo. May announced her resignation last month after failing to win Parliament’s approval for her Brexit deal.
 
Her successor is being chosen by members of the Conservative Party, most of whom are strongly in favor of Brexit and prepared to accept the risks of leaving without a deal. Johnson is the strong favorite to win the contest when the result is announced Tuesday.

He claims that Britain can flourish outside the EU if it has enough optimism and “mojo,” and says a no-deal Brexit will be “vanishingly inexpensive” if the country prepares properly.

Many others are less sanguine.

Treasury chief Philip Hammond, who has warned about the perils of a no-deal Brexit _ and is likely to be fired by the next prime minister _ said “I greatly fear the impact on our economy and our public finances of a no-deal Brexit.

He said the OBR forecast was based on the “most benign version” of a no-deal Brexit, and in all likelihood “the hit would be much greater, the impact would be much harder.”

Meanwhile, the relationship between the British government and the EU has been frayed by years of testy negotiations and allegations of ill-will on both sides.

EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told a BBC documentary that the British lacked a plan and were “running around like idiots” during the Brexit negotiations. He cited a catchphrase from the classic British sitcom “Dads’ Army”: “Don’t panic!”

Junior U.K. Brexit minister Martin Callanan accused Timmermans of spreading “childish insults” about the British negotiating stance. Quoting another famous riposte from “Dad’s Army,” he said Timmermans was a “stupid boy.”

 

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Iranian State Television Reports Seizure of Oil Tanker

Iranian state television said Thursday forces from the country’s Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil.

The report said the vessel was intercepted Sunday in a section of the Strait of Hormuz south of Iran’s Larak Island with 12 crew members on board.

It said the tanker was involved in smuggling one million liters of fuel, but did not give details about its country of origin.

The seizure comes after the Panamanian-flagged tanker MT Riah, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, disappeared from ship tracking maps in Iranian territorial waters on July 14.

The Revolutionary Guard said it received a distress call from the vessel, which was “later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,” a report said. It said Iranian smugglers intended to transport the fuel to foreign customers.

The seizure comes amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, which began to escalate when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 deal with Iran and world powers last year and imposed stiff sanctions on Iran, including on its oil exports.

Iran has recently exceeded uranium production and enrichment limits in violation of the agreement in an effort to pressure Europe to offer more favorable terms to allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The U.S. has also deployed thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets to the Middle East.

Veiled attacks on oil tankers and Iran’s downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone have further fueled concerns of a military conflict in the Persian Gulf region.

An unnamed U.S. defense official told Associated Press earlier this week the U.S. “has suspicions” Iran seized the tanker MT Riah when it turned off its tracker.

 

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French Prosecutors Want Air France Tried for 2009 Crash 

PARIS — French prosecutors want Air France to stand trial for manslaughter in the 2009 crash of a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that killed all 228 people aboard, a judicial official said Wednesday.  
  
Prosecutors also have asked that the case against Airbus, maker of the doomed aircraft, be dropped for lack of evidence. The official wasn’t authorized to speak about the case and asked to remain anonymous. 
 
Air France Flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro for Paris but crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009. The Accident Investigation Bureau found that external speed sensors were frozen and produced irregular readings on the aircraft, which went into an aerodynamic stall.  
  
A plethora of problems appear to have doomed the flight as it traveled through turbulence. The captain was on a rest break when the emergency arose, the autopilot disengaged and the co-pilots struggled to fly the aircraft manually. 
 
In their final summing up on Friday of the investigation, prosecutors cited negligence and insufficient training that led to chaos in the cockpit.  

Airbus had warned pilots a year earlier about possible incorrect speed readings from the plane’s external sensors, known as Pitot tubes, but changed them only after the crash.  
  
A report last year that was part of the judicial investigation blamed the Flight 447 pilots for failing to apply correct procedures, thus losing control of the aircraft.  
  
A victims group, AF 447 Victim Solidarity, contested the 2018 report, saying it freed Airbus of all responsibility in the accident. 

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Campus Centers Put Fine Point on Writing Skills

Many college students enter college or university thinking they are ready for the academic challenges ahead.

But many would be wrong, experts say.

Some students feel that gaining admission suggests they are ready for college or university, says Fuji Lozada, director of the John Crosland Jr. Center for Teaching and Learning at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He says the truth is, though, almost every student needs help adjusting to a new academic environment.

The Crosland Center at Davidson is similar to support centers at many schools that are designed to help students achieve. The center trains peer counselors or students to assist other students. By helping others in areas where they might have experience, students strengthen their own understanding of their field of study, Lozada says.

“When students first come to college, they still are in this mode of ‘I’m here to learn by myself,’ ” he says. “But academics is really a team sport.”

Writing is one area where students often struggle. Most American high schools teach students shorter forms of writing, such as a five-paragraph essay form. College professors expect students to be able to write about subjects at much greater length and depth. They expect students to present complex arguments supported by lots of research. Students talented in other disciplines but not college-level writing might find themselves falling behind, says Lozada.

International students may find it difficult to write at the level expected by American professors, even if their general English skills are strong. That is because U.S. schools have strict rules about using outside research. And professors want students to apply critical analysis while examining all research.

Lozada points out that colleges and universities do not want their students to fail. Some students may be unaware their school has support programs and offices like the Crosland Center at Davidson, which are there to help. Others are afraid to admit they need help.

“When we check with students as to why they didn’t come in for tutoring, they assume that nobody else is getting help,” Lozada says. “And so, actually, once they see … that many students are coming … meeting with other students for peer-tutoring; that usually gets them in the door.”

Struggling students should recognize they are having difficulty, he says. They should ask professors for advice on the areas in which they need to improve and then seek out their college’s academic support services.

Lozada adds that one visit to such a center will not immediately solve the problem: Improving writing skills takes time. The same can be said about mathematics, computer science or any other subject.

While about 40% of Davidson students who seek academic support are first-year students, about 13% are students in the final year of their programs, still asking for help with high-level classwork and major projects.

“Even … when I write a piece, I ask a peer or friend to read it and then they critique it,” Lozada said. “That’s the kind of academic experience we want to encourage.”

This story originated in VOA’s Learning English.

 

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‘Lion King’ Composer Hans Zimmer Finds Circle of Life

Composer Hans Zimmer can’t seem to get away from “The Lion King.”

The emotional score has gotten him jobs, his only Oscar and secured him a place in the hearts of children and adults. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to come back when Jon Favreau approached him to revisit the soundtrack for his technologically advanced reimagining of the animated film, which opens nationwide Thursday night.

“I’m always the one saying no to everything,” Zimmer, 61, said. “I suppose I’m the reluctant bride.”

He only agreed to do “The Lion King” a quarter of a century ago because of his daughter. She was 6 at the time, and his movies at that point weren’t exactly child-friendly.

“I couldn’t take her to a Tony Scott bloodbath,” Zimmer said.

He had one stipulation: That it wasn’t going to be a musical.

“I said I don’t want to do a musical, I hate musicals,” Zimmer said. “And they said, we’ll guarantee you this will not become a musical ever.” How it ended up that way is, “another story.”

But it’s not the only way “The Lion King” diverged from his expectations. What he thought was going to be a “nice cartoon” turned into something much darker. The story about a young prince who loses his father hit a nerve for Zimmer, who also lost his father at a young age.

“All that stuff that one had managed to cover up so well, I had to go and open up and actually write from that point,” Zimmer said. “I had to write what it felt like to be a little boy who loses his father.”

And yet Zimmer is always somewhat surprised to find that people have such a connection to it. Terrence Malick only approached him for “The Thin Red Line,” which would earn him another Oscar nomination, because of “The Lion King.”

He remembers being at a dinner with Malick, Werner Herzog and others and overhearing, “The voices of the two great filmmakers passionately arguing with each other which piece in `The Lion King’ they prefer.”

“I’m going, they’re talking about a KIDS movie,” Zimmer said, still slightly baffled and amused. “Terry Malick and Werner Herzog arguing about `The Lion King!”’

And when Pharrell Williams convinced Zimmer to play at Coachella in 2017, he said fine, but that, “The one thing we’re not going to do is `The Lion King’.”

A 23-year-old member of his band told him to get over himself. “It’s the soundtrack of my generation,” the young man declared. Zimmer conceded and had a bit of a revelation in the desert.

“I look out throughout the shambles of a field with all these people and see grown men and women truly touched and I’m realizing it’s not because it’s sentimental but because it’s emotional, it’s the truth, and my band is playing every note with total conviction,” Zimmer said. “[I thought] maybe we can pull this off with an orchestra and maybe because everybody in the orchestra will know the material they will play it with the same sort of passion and conviction.”

That was the convincing he needed. And Favreau had shown him some majestic concept footage of what the film would actually look like.

“He wasn’t just my portal into the music, which is arguably the most important aspect of this film,” Favreau said. “It’s difficult to appreciate just how significant a collaborator he was.”

When it finally got down to recording, he assembled his band and hand-picked orchestra from around the world in Los Angeles. And it turned out to be just as he’d dreamed: An emotional experience.

Zimmer even got to do something rather special this time around. He recorded with a live audience at The Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage where they’ve recorded everything from “Gone With the Wind” and “Lawrence of Arabia” to “E.T.” and the most recent “Star Wars” films.

“I wanted it to be a performance. Therefore I needed an audience. I had 102 people in the orchestra and the band. And then I put 20 chairs upfront for the filmmakers who made the movie who actually never get to come to the recording sessions,” Zimmer said with a smile. “It’s the circle of life, or completing a circle or whatever. The force is strong on this!”

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Peruvian President Rejects Call to Cancel Copper Mining Project Permit Amid Protests

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra rejected the demand of a regional governor on Tuesday to cancel within 72 hours the construction permit for a copper mining project that has led to protests.

Residents from the area bordering Southern Copper Corp.’s $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper mine project in the south of Peru, which is the second largest copper producer in the world, began protesting on Monday with a blockade of a portion of Peru’s main coastal highway.

Officials from the southern region of Arequipa said the government had not taken into account the community’s concern that the mining operation would contaminate its water sources and land when it granted a construction permit on July 9.

Arequipa Governor Elmer Caceres called on Vizcarra to cancel the construction permit within three days.

“You cannot cancel [a construction permit]. We have to talk,” Vizcarra said in a public appearance in Lima, responding to a reporter’s question about Caceres’ request.

Demonstrators protest against the Tia Maria mine in Arequipa, Peru, July 15, 2019.

Vizcarra said the government approved the project when legal requirements were met and that Southern Copper said it would not begin construction until it gains more support from people who live in the area.

Caceres said the community plans to continue its protest while perusing a legal plan to challenge the permit, but did not offer details.

Demonstrations have previously derailed the project when at least six protesters were killed in clashes with police in 2011 and 2015.

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Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Dies at 99

John Paul Stevens, who served on the Supreme Court for nearly 35 years and became its leading liberal, has died. He was 99.

Stevens’ influence was felt on issues including abortion rights, protecting consumers and placing limits on the death penalty. He led the high court’s decision to allow terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay to plead for their freedom in U.S. courts.

As a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, Stevens was considered a moderate when Republican President Gerald Ford nominated him. On the Supreme Court he became known as an independent thinker and a voice for ordinary people against powerful interests.

He retired in June 2010 at age 90, the second oldest justice in the court’s history.

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