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. 


Fearing Crackdown, Christians at Forefront of Hong Kong Protests

As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters vow to keep up their fight, churches remain on the front lines. Christian groups hold regular public gatherings and sing hymns at demonstrations, both as a way to protest and to de-escalate clashes between police and more aggressive protesters. As VOA’s Bill Gallo reports, many churches in Hong Kong fear a crackdown on religion as China expands its influence.


Brazil’s Bolsonaro Offers His Son the Post of Ambassador in Washington

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday he had invited his son Eduardo to become ambassador to the United States, underscoring his family’s influential role in the country’s diplomacy and domestic politics.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, currently a federal congressman, told reporters separately he would accept the role if nominated. His father said earlier that the appointment would hinge on his son’s acceptance.

“If it is a mission given by the president, I would accept,” Eduardo Bolsonaro told reporters, adding he was prepared to resign from Congress if the president appoints him. He added the ultimate nomination still depended on conversations with his father and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

The appointment would need to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before passing to the full upper house for confirmation.

Brazil’s previous ambassador to Washington retired in April. The far-right Brazilian president, who said his campaign last year was inspired by U.S. President Donald Trump, has made friendly overtures to the American leader and made similar use of family members as official advisers.

Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Flavio, is advancing his conservative social agenda as a senator.

Carlos Bolsonaro, another son of the president and a Rio de Janeiro city councilman, has taken a role in his father’s social media communications and stirred controversy by attacking members of the Brazilian Cabinet.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, the third of the president’s four sons and a daughter from three marriages, has counseled his father on foreign affairs.

After his father’s election in October, Eduardo Bolsonaro was one of his first envoys to Washington, where he met with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and was spotted wearing a “Trump 2020” cap.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon named the younger Bolsonaro the Latin American leader of his right-wing nationalist organization, “The Movement.”

During the Brazilian leader’s White House visit in March, Trump heaped praise on Eduardo Bolsonaro, who sat by his father during an Oval Office chat while Brazil’s foreign minister and ambassador in Washington were nowhere to be seen.


Europe’s Reported Syphilis Cases Increase 70% Since 2010

Syphilis cases have soared in Europe over the last decade and become, for the first time since the early 2000s, more common in some countries than new cases of HIV, health experts said Friday.

Reported cases of the sexually transmitted disease are up by 70% since 2010, a report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed, with the rise driven by more unprotected sex and riskier sexual behavior among gay men.

“The increases in syphilis infections that we see across Europe … are a result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV,” said Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections.

FILE – A billboard above a gas station, April 1, 2016, promotes testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The number of cases of STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – in California reached a record high in 2017.

The European report comes after the World Health Organization said last month that around a million people each day worldwide catch a sexually transmitted infection.

Left untreated, syphilis can have severe complications in men and women, including causing stillbirths and newborn deaths and increasing the risk of HIV. Syphilis was one of the leading causes of baby loss globally in 2016.

The Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors health and disease in Europe, said that overall, more than 260,000 syphilis cases were reported from 30 countries from 2007 to 2017.

In 2017, syphilis rates reached an all-time high with more than 33,000 reported cases, the ECDC said. This meant that for the first time since the early 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

But the problem varied significantly by country, with rates more than doubling in five countries — Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta — but dropping by 50% or more in Estonia and Romania.

Close to two-thirds of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 where sexual orientation was known were in men who have sex with men, the ECDC report said, while heterosexual men contributed 23% of cases and women 15%.

The proportion of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men ranged from less than 20% in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to more than 80% in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. 

“To reverse this trend, we need to encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and casual partners,” he said.


Dozens Hurt as 5.7 Magnitude Quake Shakes Iran

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Iran near the border with Iraq on Monday, causing one death due to a heart attack and dozens of injuries, the country’s relief and rescue organisation said.

The quake, whose epicenter was in the Masjed Soleiman area of Khuzestan province, hit at 11:30 am (0700 GMT) at a depth of 17 kilometers, the national seismological center reported.

The region was rattled by seven aftershocks, the strongest of which measured 4.7 magnitude, it said.

At least 45 people were injured, the head of Iran’s relief and rescue organization, Morteza Salimi, told state TV.

“One citizen at Masjed Soleiman also passed away due to a heart-attack after the earthquake,” Salimi said.

In nearby cities and villages affected by the quake, there were “only minor cracks in buildings” and roads to some villages were cut off.

Iran sits on top of major tectonic plates and sees frequent seismic activity.

FILE – A damaged building is seen following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. Nov. 13, 2017.

In November 2017 a 7.3-magnitude tremor in the western province of Kermanshah killed 620 people.

In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeast Iran decimated the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.

Iran’s deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in northern Iran, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.




Iran Says Enriching Uranium Higher Than Limit in Nuclear Deal

Monday the country had surpassed the limits on how much it was allowed to enrich uranium under the 2015 international nuclear deal.

Iranian state media quoted spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi as saying enrichment levels had reached nearly 5%, breaching the 3.67% limit set in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He also said Iran could consider continuing on to enriching uranium to 20% as the next step in its move to back away from its commitments under the nuclear deal, unless it gets the help it wants on sanctions relief.

Uranium enriched to 5% is sufficient to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but still far below the 90% needed for building a nuclear weapon.

Iran has been hinting at, and subsequently following through on, pledges to increase its nuclear activity while demanding other signatories to the nuclear agreement — particularly those in Europe — do more to help Iran economically as it deals with negative effects of sanctions the United States has imposed since pulling out of the deal last year.

FILE – President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations of nuclear achievements in Tehran, April 9, 2018.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week Iran was prepared to enrich “any amount that we want” beyond the 3.67% level. He further pledged to resume construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, a project Iran agreed to shut down when it signed the 2015 deal.  Iran has also already gone past the limit for the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to keep in its stockpile.

The moves have drawn concern from Europe.  EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters Monday the bloc is “extremely concerned” about Iran’s boost in enrichment and that it is urging Iran to “stop and reverse all activities” that are not consistent with its commitments under the nuclear deal.

In the United States, President Donald Trump warned Iran on Sunday it “better be careful.”  

He did not specify to reporters any specific reactions his administration was considering, but reiterated the position that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

Trump made his comment hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Iran’s decision will lead to “further isolation and sanctions.”

“Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime with nuclear weapons would pose an even greater danger to the world,” Pompeo wrote.

The deal came in response to allegations Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons, and in return for the restrictions that were put in place to allay those concerns, Iran won badly needed relief from sanctions that harmed its economy.


South Korean Man Defects to North Korea, According to North’s Media

A South Korean man has defected to North Korea to permanently live there and work for its unification with the South, Pyongyang’s state media reported.

Choe In-guk is the son of two high level diplomats who also defected to the communist North in 1984 after a political dispute with then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee.

The state-run North Korean Uriminzokkiri website reported that Choe would work at the guidance of the country’s Chairman Kim Jong Un.

The website published images and footage showing Choe in a beret reading a statement upon his arrival at Pyongyang’s international airport.
Choe said he is over 70 years old and that he  made the decision to fulfill his parents’ “dying wishes” for him to “follow” North Korea and work for the unification of both countries,  a written statement published on the website said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Choe was in North Korea without special permission from the Seoul government. A ministry spokesman told reporters Monday that authorities were trying to find out details about Choe’s travel to the North.

The ministry also said that Choe had been allowed to make 12 authorized trips to North Korea since 2001 to visit his parents’ cemetery and attend a death anniversary for his mother.

South Koreans defection to North Korea is very rare and the North is known to have repatriated them in the past.  



Greeks Vote as Leftist Syriza Days in Power Seem Numbered

Greeks vote on Sunday in a snap election that polls say will bring opposition conservatives to power, ending four years of leftist rule blamed for saddling the country with more debt and mismanaging crises.

The election is largely a showdown of two contenders.

Incumbent Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party is on one side — a 44-year-old radical leftist who stormed to power in 2015 vowing to tear up the austerity rule book, only to relent weeks later.

On the other side of the fence is Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 51, of New Democracy. He is from a famous political dynasty; he hopes to follow the footsteps of his father as prime minister, while a sister of his was foreign minister.

Opinion polls put New Democracy’s lead at up to 10 percentage points, potentially giving it an absolute majority in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Voting starts at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and ends at 7 p.m., with first official projections expected about two hours after voting ends.

Financial crisis

Greece endured a debilitating financial crisis from 2010 that saw the country needing a cash lifeline from its European Union partners three times.

The economy is the public’s main concern, said Thomas Gerakis of pollsters MARC.

“Voters want to know the government can give Greeks a better tomorrow,” he said. Some voters wanted to punish Syriza for reneging on past pledges, he added.

Tsipras was also roundly criticized for mismanagement of crises on his watch, and for brokering a deeply unpopular deal to end a dispute over the name of neighoring North Macedonia.

One hundred people died in a devastating fire that swept through a seaside village east of Athens last year; while Mitsotakis was quick to the scene to console survivors, Tsipras was out of the public eye for several days.

Greece wrapped up its last economic adjustment program in 2018, but remains under surveillance from lenders to ensure no future fiscal slippage. Though economic growth has returned to the country, unemployment is the eurozone’s highest at 18 percent.

Main opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses supporters during a pre-election rally in Athens, July 4, 2019.

New Democracy has promised to invest in creating well-paying jobs with decent benefits. The outgoing government, meanwhile, hopes voters will reward it for upping the minimum wage by 11 percent and reinstating collective bargaining.

Mitsotakis hopes that his reforms will persuade lenders to show more flexibility in due course.

“The first thing that is necessary for economic growth to be boosted is a stable government, a strong majority in the next parliament,” Mitsotakis told Reuters.

Tsipras said that a vote cast in favor of Mitsotakis would go to the political establishment that forced Greece to the edge of the precipice in the first place.

“Each and every one of you must now consider if, after so many sacrifices, we should return to the days of despair,” he told voters, wrapping up the pre-election campaign on Friday.


Report: UK Interior Minister to Back Johnson for PM

British Interior Minister Sajid Javid will soon formally endorse Boris Johnson to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and the country’s next prime minister, the Sunday Times reported. 

Johnson is the front-runner in a contest with Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt to be the next leader. Voting is due to close on July 22, with the winner set to be announced the following day. 

Johnson has pledged to leave the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31 if he becomes prime minister, while Hunt has said that he would, if absolutely necessary, go for a no-deal Brexit. 

The Sunday Times said Javid has positioned himself to be Johnson’s finance minister, taking over from current Finance Minister Philip Hammond. 

It reported that in a speech on Tuesday, Javid will say: “Trust in our democracy will be at stake if we don’t make Oct. 31 a ‘deal or no deal’ deadline. To prepare that, we are agreed on the need for ramped-up no-deal preparations, including a budget.” 

The newspaper also said that Johnson would visit the United States before the end of September to meet President Donald Trump. 


What’s in Store for Ivanka Trump?

Ivanka Trump, daughter and adviser to the president, has been the subject of criticism and ridicule after her prominent involvement during President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia last week. Many are questioning her competence to be in such high-profile events, accusing the administration of harming the country’s interest through nepotism, as well as wondering whether the president is grooming his daughter for a bigger role in the future. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.