Russia Seeks to Secure Interpol Presidency

Interpol, the body that coordinates police forces across the globe, is in danger of being politicized by Russia, say prominent Kremlin critics. A senior Russian police official is one of only two candidates put forward for the role of president of the organization in a vote scheduled Wednesday in Dubai. Opponents say the Kremlin is abusing Interpol’s arrest warrants to pursue political enemies, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Haiti Hit wth More Violence Amid Third Day of Protests

Haiti faced a third day of protests and violence on Tuesday as anger grew over allegations of government corruption.

An Associated Press journalist saw a man who had been fatally shot in the head near the National Palace. It wasn’t clear who shot him.

Schools, businesses and government offices remained closed while scattered protests were reported across the country.

“Haiti is always in crisis, but this crisis is the worst I’ve seen,” said Dieufete Lebon, a 35-year-old moto-taxi driver who was looking for clients in the largely empty streets of Port-au-Prince.

At least eight deaths have been reported in clashes between protesters and police since the protests began on Sunday. Among the dead is a police officer who was shot and burned to death by a gang on Monday.

Three people also were wounded, including a 29-year-old French woman and a Haitian-American tourist, who were hurt when a group of armed men opened fired on an airport shuttle when it refused to stop.

“Where is this leading us to?” asked Lebon, who said that President Jovenel Moise should step down if the situation does not improve. “If tomorrow the country stays paralyzed, the Haitian people are going to lose their patience.”

Among those who were already fed up was 24-year-old Valdo Cene, who works at a propane gas refilling station and was walking toward a friend’s house to borrow some money. He said he had been unable to work for two days and was upset that banks remained closed.

“I have a child who’s sick,” he said. “Our country is unable to function the way it’s functioning. Citizens are suffering.”

Demonstrators have demanded that the president resign for not investigating allegations of corruption in the previous government over a Venezuelan subsidized energy program, Petrocaribe. 

As Facebook Faces Fire, Heat Turns Up on No. 2 Sandberg

For the past decade, Sheryl Sandberg has been the poised, reliable second-in-command to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, helping steer Facebook’s rapid growth around the world, while also cultivating her brand in ways that hint at aspirations well beyond the social network.

But with growing criticism over the company’s practices, or lack of oversight, her carefully cultivated brand as an eloquent feminist leader is showing cracks. Questions these days aren’t so much about whether she’ll run for the Senate or even president, but whether she ought to keep her job at Facebook. 

“Her brand was being manicured with the same resources and care as the gardens of Tokyo,” said Scott Galloway, a New York University marketing professor. “And unfortunately a hurricane has come through the garden.”

Facebook has been dealing with hurricanes for the past two years: fake news, elections interference, hate speech, a privacy scandal, the list goes on. The company’s response — namely, Zuckerberg’s and Sandberg’s — has been slow at best, misleading and obfuscating at worst, as The New York Times reported last week. That report, and one from The Wall Street Journal , underscored Sandberg’s influence at the company, even as Zuckerberg has borne much of the criticism and anger. There have been calls for both to be ousted.

But because of the way Facebook is set up, firing Zuckerberg would be all but impossible. He controls the majority of the company’s voting stock, serves as its chairman and has — at least publicly — the support of its board of directors. Essentially, he’d have to fire himself. Firing Sandberg would be the next logical option to hold a high-level executive accountable. Though the chances are slim, the fact that it has even come up shows the extent of Facebook’s — and Sandberg’s — troubles.

 As chief operating officer, Sandberg is in charge of Facebook’s business dealings, including the ads that make up the bulk of the company’s revenue. She steered Facebook from a rising tech startup into a viable global business expected to reap $55 billion in revenue this year. The company is second only to Google in digital advertising.

But she’s also gotten the blame when things go wrong, including Facebook’s failure to spot Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections by buying U.S. political ads — in rubles. Though Sandberg has denied knowing that Facebook hired an opposition research firm to discredit activists, she created a permissive environment through what the Times called an “aggressive lobbying campaign” against critics. Facebook fired the firm, Definers, after the Times report came out.

Facebook declined to comment on Sandberg or make her available for an interview. A representative instead pointed to Zuckerberg’s remarks that overall, “Sheryl is doing great work for the company. She’s been a very important partner to me and continues to be, and will continue to be. She’s leading a lot of the efforts to improve our systems in these areas.”

Sandberg, 49, who was hired away from Google in 2008, has been a crucial “heat shield” for Zuckerberg, as Galloway put it, as lawmakers and the public crank up criticism of the 34-year-old founder. In September, Facebook sent Sandberg to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, eliciting a warmer response than her boss did three months before. 

Sandberg, former chief of staff for treasury secretary Larry Summers, appears more comfortable in Washington meeting rooms than Zuckerberg, who can seem robotic. Her profile is high enough that lawmakers don’t feel stilted when she shows up. She’s written (with help) two books, including 2013’s “Lean In” about women and leadership. Her second book, “Plan B,” is about dealing with loss and grief after her husband died unexpectedly. She was the lone chief operating officer among a who’s who of tech CEOs — including Apple’s Tim Cook and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — to meet with Donald Trump a month after his election.

“It’s both who she is and how bereft Silicon Valley is of strong, powerful female voices,” crisis management expert Richard Levick said. “She has positioned herself as one of those strong voices with ‘Lean In.’’’

But her high profile also makes her more susceptible to criticism.

The chorus for Sandberg to leave is getting louder. CNBC commentator Jim Cramer predicted Monday that Facebook’s stock would rise if Sandberg leaves or gets fired. NYU’s Galloway believes both Sandberg and Zuckerberg should be fired for allowing Facebook to turn into an entity that harms democracy around the world.

“Every day executives are fired for a fraction of infractions these two have committed,” he said.

Besides elections interference, Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been criticized for their slow response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data-mining firm accessed millions of users’ private information without their permission. The pair were silent for days after the news came out.

According to the Journal, Zuckerberg told Sandberg this spring that he blamed her and her teams for the “public fallout” over Cambridge Analytica. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said Sandberg at one point wondered if she should be worried about her job (though that appears to no longer be the case, based on Zuckerberg’s public support).

Galloway said it would look bad for Facebook to fire one of the only top female executives in an industry where women “face inordinately high obstacles to get to leadership positions.”

Beyond that, Sandberg has also been a positive force on Facebook. She was hired to be the “adult” in the room and has filled that role well. She moves comfortably outside tech circles and in public speaking, countering Zuckerberg’s shortcomings in that area. 

If anything, Sandberg’s departure from Facebook would likely be on her own terms. While Zuckerberg has spent all of his adult life at Facebook, Sandberg had a career before Facebook and even tech, so it is plausible that she would have a life after Facebook, perhaps back in politics.

But first, she has Facebook’s own troubles to deal with. The task seems daunting because its problems might never go away. But Levick believes she can begin to restore her image by acknowledging her role in causing Facebook’s problems instead of blaming external forces beyond her control: “The knee jerk response ‘poor, poor’ me’ is not the solution.”



British Top Diplomat Meets Jailed UK-Iranian’s Family

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday that he met with the family of jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his visit to Iran.

“No child should have to go this long without their mother,” Hunt wrote on Twitter alongside photos of him with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s four-year-old daughter Gabriella.

He also met her mother and brother during his brief visit to Tehran on Monday, and pressed for her release during his meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“British-Iranian dual nationals wrongly imprisoned must be freed,” Hunt tweeted later on Monday.

“I’ve pressed hard on this today – innocent people should not be turned into diplomatic pawns.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation – the media organization’s philanthropic arm – was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016.

She is serving a five-year jail sentence for sedition – and has denied all charges filed against her.


Italian Officials: Migrant Rescuers Mishandled Medical Waste

Italian prosecutors have ordered the seizure of a migrant rescue ship and accused the aid group Doctors Without Borders of illegally disposing of 24 metric tons (26.5 tons) of medical and contaminated waste accumulated during nearly 50 rescues.

Prosecutors in Catania, Sicily said Tuesday that 24 people were under investigation, including the aid group’s Italy personnel and the crew of the Aquarius. Prosecutors accused them of working with a Sicily-based shipping company to mix medical and “contaminated” waste, like migrants’ clothing, with other garbage to save money.

Prosecutors ordered the sequester of the Aquarius, which is currently moored in Marseille, France, as well as the seizure of 460,000 euros ($526,000), which prosecutors said was the amount saved by the group by not properly disposing of the material.

Doctors Without Borders called the accusation “disproportionate” and another attempt to criminalize migrant rescues. The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said its waste disposal followed all approved “standard procedures.”

At the same time, however, MSF allowed that there may have been lapses, especially among port authorities with whom MSF worked, acknowledging prosecutor video showing latex gloves and what appeared to be a syringe mixed in with regular garbage.

“We are ready to clarify the facts and respond about the procedures we followed, but we strongly reaffirm the legitimacy and the legality of our humanitarian activities,” said MSF Italia’s director general, Gabriele Eminente.

At a news conference, MSF officials expressed shock at the prosecutors’ claim that migrants’ clothing alone could spread infectious disease, saying it showed ignorance about public health and was more an attempt to tarnish MSF’s reputation.

The Aquarius, a 77-meter (252.62-foot) -long former fishery protection vessel, is perhaps best known for having become a pawn in the European battle over migration in June after Italy’s new populist government refused to let it dock in an Italian port.

After a weeklong standoff at sea that returned the migration debate to the world stage, Spain agreed to let the Aquarius dock with its 630 migrants who, along with tens of thousands of other migrants before them, had set off from Libya aboard smugglers boats.

The same Sicily prosecutors’ office behind the new investigation made headlines in 2017 when it publicly accused rescue groups of aiding illegal migration by being in contact with Libyan-based human traffickers as they plucked migrants from the sea off Libya’s coast. To date, the investigation hasn’t produced any indictments.

In the new probe, dubbed “Operation Borderless,” prosecutors alleged that between Jan. 1, 2017, and May 2018, MSF and the Sicily-based Mediterranean Shipping Agency knowingly avoided the “rigid treatment” required for “dangerous waste,” including food containers and medical equipment used on board the ship to treat sick migrants.

Prosecutors produced documentation filled out by the suspects that certified that no medical waste or contagious or infections substances were being thrown away. Prosecutors also provided wiretaps of communications between MSF personnel and the shipping agency about how to classify the material.

A statement from prosecutors noted cases of scabies, HIV, tuberculosis and meningitis among newly arrived migrants and said their “contaminated clothing” risked spreading infection.

They accused the suspects of “organized activity trafficking in illegal waste.”

Another aid group that works with MSF aboard the Aquarius, SOS Mediterranee, denounced the ship’s sequester as a “politically driven attack” and urged French authorities to “show restraint” as they weigh the seizure order from Italian prosecutors.

Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who drove the June crackdown on the Aquarius and other aid groups, praised the Catania prosecutors for the new investigation, which also involved another rescue ship the Vos Prudence.

“I did the right thing by blocking the NGO ships, for not only stopping the traffic of clandestine migrants but also, apparently, the traffic in toxic waste,” he tweeted with the hashtag (hash)portsclosed.

Tijuana Arrests 34 Central America Migrants on Minor Charges

Officials in the Mexican border city of Tijuana said they have arrested 34 members of the caravan of Central American migrants for minor offenses and turned them over for deportation,

A Tijuana city statement late Monday said the 34 — apparently all men — were arrested for drug possession, public intoxication, disturbing the peace and resisting police, and added they would be deported to their home countries. The main caravan has between 4,000 and 6,000 participants, so those arrested represent less than 1 percent of the total.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has made a point of saying the city is not comfortable with the caravan that began arriving last week, and he compared the Central American group unfavorably with about 3,000 Haitians who ended up in this city bordering San Diego on a failed bid to reach the United States last year.

“The Haitians arrived with their papers, with a clear vision,” Gastelum said in an interview posted on the city’s Facebook page. They came “in an orderly way, they never asked us for food or shelter,” renting apartments and making their own food. He said the Haitians found jobs and “inserted themselves in the city’s economy” and had not been involved in any disturbances.

The Mexican government gave the Haitians temporary transit permits, and after they failed in attempts to enter the United States, many have since applied for Mexican residency. The majority in the Central American caravan have refused Mexico’s repeated offers of residency or asylum, and vowed to cross the border.

The caravan of Central Americans, he said “had arrived all of sudden, with a lot of people — not all … but a lot — were aggressive and cocky.”

Trump administration officials, who have portrayed the migrant caravans as a threat to the United States, have said there were as many as 500 criminals in the groups heading northward, but they haven’t said what the crimes were and said they could not reveal the source of the number because they were protecting intelligence sources.

Some local police and residents have expressed concern that portraying the caravan as criminals has tarred its innocent members and exposed them to reprisals.

Some of the largely Honduran migrant were frightened over the weekend when about 500 people in an affluent district of Tijuana staged angry protests against the caravan. Dozens of the more radical protesters then marched to an outdoor sports complex near downtown where 2,500 migrants are staying, sleeping on dirt fields and under bleachers.

Dulce Alvarado, 28, from Lempira, Honduras, said she was stepping out of a corner grocery near the complex carrying her 2-year-old son when she was surrounded by the demonstrators chanting “Get out!” and “We don’t want you here!”

“I was very scared,” Alvarado said.

A Tijuana police officer helped Alvarado to safety and the protest eventually ended peacefully.

Another Tijuana police officer, Victor Coronel, who has overseen security outside the sports complex where the migrants are staying, said local fears are based on the bad behavior of only a handful of migrants.

“The problem is that there has been bad information circulating on social media, with videos of two or three migrants acting badly, climbing the wall or grabbing food in stores,” said Coronel, adding that most are poor people simply trying to find work.

Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Geronimo Gutierrez, told reporters Monday that the situation is a “wake-up call” for the U.S., Mexico and Central America, and could force the region to work together to address the issue of immigration.

U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego, and there was already a waiting list of 3,000 when the new migrants arrived, so most will have to wait months to even be considered for asylum.

Gastelum, appealing for greater federal help to copy with what he called an “avalanche” of migrants, estimated they would be in Tijuana for at least six months while waiting to file asylum claims.

For most people in this city of 1.6 million, the arrival of thousands of Central Americans is not noticeable. Most of the migrants stay within a three-block radius of the sports complex that faces the towering metal walls topped with barbed wire at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the United States has dramatically increased security at ports of entry in preparation for the caravan, placing cement barriers topped with razor wire that can be quickly moved to block passage if a mass of migrants to try to force their way into the country.

Kremlin: Opposition to Russian Candidate to Head Interpol is Election Meddling

The Kremlin says opposition to a Russian candidate to lead the global police group Interpol amounts to election interference.

The election for a new leader is set for Wednesday at the end of Interpol’s annual conference in Dubai.

Four U.S. senators issued an open letter Monday urging President Donald Trump to oppose the candidacy of Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk, the current Interpol vice president.

The senators said Prokopchuk had been “personally involved” in what it said was Russia’s routine “abuses of Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists.”

“This is probably a certain kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organization,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response to criticism of Prokopchuk.

Interpol member countries will vote to replace Meng Hongwei, who disappeared in his native China in September. China later told Interpol that Meng had quit after being charged with accepting bribes.

Also vying for the presidency of Interpol is South Korea’s Kim Jong-Yang, who is serving as acting president.

Prokopchuk, considered the leading candidate, has also been criticized by others including Bill Browder, a U.S.-born British fund manager and Kremlin foe who has been the subject of several arrest notices issued by Interpol at Russia’s request.

Browder said it would be “outrageous” if Prokopchuk wins the election, which he maintains is an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “expand his criminal tentacles to every corner of the globe.”  



UN Rights Expert: World Body Unlikely to Act on Iran Harassing BBC Reporters

A U.N. human rights expert says his efforts to highlight Iranian harassment of BBC Persian service journalists are unlikely to result in the world body acting against Iran.

David Kaye, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, spoke with VOA Persian in a Monday interview.

Asked what the world body would do next after he raised the issue of Iran’s treatment of BBC Persian in an October 22 speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s 3rd Committee, he said: “To be honest, I don’t expect the 3rd Committee to do all that much.”

“Normally, one would expect that in the case of a human rights crisis or of rights violations, the General Assembly or its Human Rights Council would issue a resolution or something like that. I don’t expect that to happen here,” Kaye said.

In his remarks about the safety of journalists to the UNGA’s 3rd Committee on social, cultural and humanitarian affairs, Kaye said: “Iran continues to crack down on journalists and media — including on the BBC Persian service — not just the reporters but their families.”

Kaye’s comments drew a strongly-worded response from Iran’s delegate to the committee, Zahora Ershadi. She said Iran sees itself as a victim of “media warfare” funded by “adversarial governments” such as Britain, whom she accused of using the BBC for “pumping blind hate, fabricated, false news, and provoking disruption and destruction.”

“It is regrettable that the special rapporteur avoids recognizing these harmful characteristics and the abuse of media and internet platforms,” Ershadi said.

The BBC made an unprecedented appeal to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March to stop what it called Iranian harassment of its London-based Persian service staff and their families in Iran. “The BBC is taking the unprecedented step of appealing to the United Nations because our own attempts to persuade the Iranian authorities to end their harassment have been completely ignored,” said BBC Director General Tony Hall at the time.

The BBC submitted the complaint after revealing last year that Iran had opened a criminal investigation into 150 BBC staff, former staff and contributors for “conspiracy against national security.”

Speaking to the Monday edition of VOA Persian’s News at Nine show from London, BBC Persian correspondent Kasra Naji said he and his colleagues in the West still face the conspiracy charge in Iran. “We are banned from engaging in any kind of financial transactions in the country,” Naji said. “That’s not so important to us (financially), but it hurts our families in Iran, because they cannot sell our properties to other family members. So we’re calling on Iranian authorities to remove this ban.”

Naji also said Iran has made some progress in dealing with the problem.

“During the past year, the harassment of our families in Iran has declined,” Naji said. He cited the positive influence of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who submitted a February report to the Human Rights Council, calling on Iran to “cease all legal action against the BBC staff and their families, and to end the use of repressive legislation against independent journalism, whether affiliated to the BBC or not.”

Kaye said he expects another U.N. human rights expert, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Javaid Rehman, to raise the issue of Iranian harassment of BBC journalists and their families in addition to other human rights problems in the country. Rehman was appointed to the role in July.

“The continued authorization of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran is a message that the international community considers the human rights situation in Iran very seriously,” Kaye said.

VOA Director Amanda Bennett, in a conversation with VOA Persian’s News at Nine show, said harassment of journalists is increasing around the world in a bid to control their reporting. “We find this absolutely unacceptable, that journalists working out of different countries have pressure put on their families back home,” she said.  

Bennett said large international news organizations and NGOs are trying to figure out how they can collaborate to stop governments from targeting journalists with harassment or violence. “We are finding that when we work together to get our message out, that a free press is essential to free society and that we should not be targeting journalists like this, we find that it is effective in places,” Bennett said.


This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.


‘Yellow Vests’ End Macron’s Honeymoon

“Yellow Vest” activists have vowed to bring the French capital Paris to a standstill next weekend, prolonging their campaign of disruption to force President Emmanuel Macron to ease fuel taxes. Government officials fear the flash demonstrations, which are morphing into a more broad-based grassroots protest against the French leader’s economic policies in general, are hardening into a long-term challenge to the state, which they are scrambling to contain.

On Monday — the third day of protests — the Yellow Vests (gilets jaunes), who are named after the high-visibility jackets all motorists are legally obliged to carry in their vehicles and are drawn mainly from low-income earners in small-town and rural France, blocked roads around nearly half a dozen refineries and fuel depots as well as gridlocking traffic in several major cities across France, including Toulouse, Marseilles, Strasbourg and Lille.

New movement gets serious

The agitation was originally intended as a one-day event when the campaigners, who have  been organizing via Facebook and other social media platforms, mounted a mass blockade last Saturday to protest price hikes of so-called “eco taxes,” levies on fuel meant to dissuade the French from using cars. More than 280,000 protesters turned out to paralyze French highways and disrupt Paris. But the protest has snowballed into a revolt of rage against Macron, who is mocked by the Yellow Vests as the “president of the rich” and whose lofty pro-European Union vision infuriates them.

More than 400 people have so far been injured in the flash blockades.  One woman was killed when a panicked driver hit a roadblock.  More than 300 have been arrested, although some police unions have expressed sympathy with the Yellow Vests and promised officers would police the blockades gently and not make arrests for petty offenses.  

A new breed of activists

The protest has not followed France’s normal routine for street agitation. Generally, demonstrations and strikes are organized by labor or party leaders, who can engage with the government as demonstrations unfold and leverage the leadership into a deal.

But the Yellow Vest movement is as sprawling and amorphous and non-hierarchical in organization as the Occupy movements in the United States. While the Occupy activists were progressive and left-wing in ideology, the Yellow Vests are more right-wing based and they echo the populism of French politician Pierre Poujade, who in 1954 founded a right-wing movement for exasperated artisans and small shopkeepers angry with high taxes.

There have been reports, too, of Yellow Vests shouting racist and homophobic slurs, and in a village near Lyons, a gay councilor and his partner were attacked. Officials of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National and Nicolas Dupont’s Aignan’s movement have sought to get involved, helping to mobilize supporters for last Saturday’s protest.

An unlikely leader

The Yellow Vests’ figurehead is Jacline Mouraud, who at first glance is an unlikely symbol of revolt. The 51-year-old is an accordion player, hypnotist and spiritual medium from Brittany, but she shot to prominence when on October 18 she posted a video message denouncing Macron for “persecuting drivers.”

In her video, which went viral, she ridiculed the French leader and listed a series of grievances including high fuel taxes, which have been hiked as part of Macron’s proposed “green revolution,” the targeting of diesel vehicles, the use of speed radars, traffic tickets and plans to expand road tolls. “What are you doing with the dough, apart from changing the china at the Élysée and building a swimming pool?” Mouraud mocked Macron in the video.

She was referring to published reports this year of a palace order for a new set of plates costing taxpayers more than half a million dollars and plans to build a new – but inexpensive – presidential swimming pool.  

Macron’s aides have struggled to balance their contempt for the movement – one ridiculed Mouraud as a soothsayer “who generates spirits from under her fingernails” — with their need to somehow defuse it. The eclectic nature of the movement with the grievances protesters are expressing – and their disdain for Macron in particular – makes it even harder for government officials to comprehend it, let alone develop ways to disarm it. Some officials hope that the amorphousness of the movement will end up being its downfall and that it will peter out much as the Occupy movements did.

Honeymoon ends, storm begins

In a bid to deflate support for the Yellow Vests, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has announced plans to spend 500 million euros in compensatory measures, including a tax credit for those on low incomes to trade in high-polluting cars for hybrids. But Philippe warned that the green taxes would continue. “A government that would change direction all the time, that would zigzag around the difficulties, would not take France where it must be taken,” he said Sunday.

The Yellow Vest agitation has coincided with Macron’s sharp drop in popularity. His approval ratings have fallen to 25 percent — not quite hitting the depths of his predecessor, Francois Hollande, but perilously low for a relatively fresh president, say analysts.

Le Pen, who lost to Macron in last year’s presidential contest, clearly hopes to benefit from Yellow Vest agitation. A recent poll showed that her party leads voting intentions for the European parliamentary election next May, at 21 percent to 19 percent for Macron’s La République en Marche.