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People in Beirut reflect on what they've lost two years after port blasts: Reporter's notebook

Ibtissem Guenfoud/ABC News

(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- An explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Lebanon's biggest seaport in 2020 has left deep trauma in the Lebanese psyche.

Opera singer Michel Bou Rjeilly says Beirut will never be the same.

"It was all gone," he said. "The café shops, the boutiques, the little scribbles on the walls, the old men fighting over who cheated while playing cards … Smashed, dead and unrecognizable."

Bou Rjeilly who was injured in the explosion, said he remembers the immediate aftermath with clarity. "All my things were scattered on the floor, my brother was in front of me trying to remove the glass from my hair and head, telling me not to worry and that we will fix the house together … outside people screaming, ambulances going off, the phone wouldn't stop ringing," he recalled.

Nearly 200 people were reported dead after the blasts on Aug. 4, 2020, and over 7,000 were injured. The blasts destroyed 77,000 apartments and displaced over 300,000 people, the United Nations said.

Four of the port's silos collapsed on Thursday as a belated result of the blasts, two years to the day after the explosions. Beirut residents who had gathered near the port center for protests and in homage to victims watched their port once again engulfed in smoke on this national day of mourning.

On Wednesday, U.N. experts called on the Human Rights Council to launch an international investigation into the explosion, saying, "Victims must have justice and accountability."

Yet two years after the blasts, no one has been arrested or faced consequences. "This tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened," U.N. experts said this week.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, some Beirut residents talk about it constantly, sharing where they were when it happened, and like Bou Rjeilly, sharing their survival stories.

Some of them say if the economic crisis had hit the Lebanese commercial area of Mar Mikhael; if COVID-19 restrictions had not drastically diminished the numbers on the streets that day. if children were still at school at the time of the explosion, perhaps the death toll would have been in the thousands rather than the hundreds.

The human toll is significant. My contact in Lebanon told me as I boarded the plane to head there to cover the explosion in September 2020 that I could call him anytime because he doesn't "sleep since the blasts."

Apparently, he is not alone in experiencing restless nights and anxiety since the blast. Local reports have also covered a shortage of antidepressants in Lebanon's pharmacies -- some believe due to the country's financial crisis and the trauma from the explosions.

The explosions also led to an exacerbation of the food crisis in a country already hard-hit by a dire financial crisis. Lebanon imports up to 80% of its food and the blasts affected the country's main entry point for food products, according to a local food bank.

Mona Keenan is vice president of the Lebanese Food Bank, a nongovernmental organization that distributed over 100,000 food boxes to people in need in the last year. More than 1.5 million people are currently suffering from food insecurity in Lebanon, she said.

"The food crisis since the explosions has doubled, tripled even, (so) the need is much more than before," Keenan said. "The port was the main place where food came from."

The blasts have become a symbol of the struggle of the Lebanese people. The shockwaves are still being felt, with nearly 80,000 people having fled the country in the last year alone, according to Sal, an independent consultancy firm based in Beirut.

During my September in Beirut, I spoke to those who were making plans to leave the country while claiming their love for Lebanon and pride in being from its capital.

A large number of Lebanese are fleeing country, according to the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, so expatriation is far from a new phenomenon. What's different this time, is that some told me they were not looking back once gone, and were planning on not returning.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia-Ukraine live updates: Nuclear plant reportedly shelled

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 05, 4:05 PM EDT
Russia shelled nuclear plant, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Friday.

Zelenskyy said forces twice struck the plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory in the southeast, and called the action "an act of terror," in a statement released on Telegram.

"Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant," he said in the statement.

The facility is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The Russian military, however, claimed it was a Ukrainian artillery strike that led to the reduction of activities of one power unit, and power falling at another.

They claimed 20 shells were fired at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant.

"Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident," Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency officials said the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “out of control” as routine safety checks had not been observed. IAEA officials have appealed for access to the Russian-controlled plant.

Aug 05, 6:33 AM EDT
3 more ships carrying Ukrainian grain leave Odesa-area ports

Another three commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain have departed from Odesa-area ports under a wartime deal, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

The vessels are bound for Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a combined total of 58,000 tons of Ukrainian corn onboard. All three ships will undergo inspection in Istanbul, as is required under the grain exports deal, according to the ministry.

The United Nations confirmed Thursday that three more grain ships -- two from the port of Chornomorsk and one from Odesa -- were cleared to depart through the designated "maritime humanitarian corridor."

On Monday, the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from Odesa's port under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm's way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. "Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law."

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called "a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians."

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

"This marks the conclusion of an initial 'proof of concept' operation to execute the agreement," the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It's the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia's ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni's journey a "significant step" but noted that "this is only a first step."

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports "are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops," but didn't provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine -- often referred to collectively as Europe's breadbasket -- produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world -- particularly in Africa and the Middle East -- are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee 'hell' in Ukraine's east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia's invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine's east "hell."

"It cannot be described with words," Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet "completely break the Russian army's advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting," he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

"The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill," he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that "it still needs to be done."

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Expert explains Russian law behind Brittney Griner sentencing

ABC

(NEW YORK) -- Brittney Griner is known for her game on the basketball court, but she's now become embroiled in a much more dangerous game -- a political gambit between Russia and the U.S.

William Pomeranz, the director of the Wilson Center Kennan Institute, is an expert on Russian law and the political developments within the country. He spoke to ABC News Live about the message behind Russia's sentencing of Griner and what may come next.

He said that Griner's conviction and nine-year sentence for drug charges Thursday "did not come as a surprise."

"Russian criminal law treats drug offenses very harshly and I was not surprised that she got basically the maximum sentence," Pomeranz said.

Griner has been detained in Russia for over five months after she was stopped at an airport for possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. She faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, though she will be credited with five months time served.

Calls to free the WNBA star have escalated in the months since her detainment and put a considerable amount of pressure on the Biden administration to act. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced discussions of a potential prisoner exchange.

He said the proposal includes exchanging Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2019, for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

President Joe Biden said in a brief comment on Friday that he was "hopeful" and his administration was "working hard" to bring Griner home.

Pomeranz said that whether Griner is a "political hostage" is "up for interpretation," but the only way to get Griner out of Russia is through diplomacy.

"Diplomatic negotiations are ongoing, but, clearly, because the Biden administration has made the most overtures, the Russians are in the driver seat of when and how Brittney Griner gets home," said Pomeranz.

Pomeranz added that Griner's guilty conviction under Russian law may help.

"I think the Russians will be more inclined to negotiate. But how fast? I just don't know," said Pomeranz.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ten miners remain trapped underground in flooded tunnel for nearly two days in Mexico

Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Ten miners remain trapped underground in a flooded tunnel in northern Mexico on Friday after first becoming trapped nearly two days ago.

Mexican officials said the incident was reported around 1:35 p.m. on Wednesday, when miners allegedly encountered a tunnel filled with water that then flooded the Sabinas mine.

There were 15 miners inside when the flooding began, but rescuers were able to extract five of them on Wednesday, according to officials.

The remaining miners are trapped between two 200-foot deep mine shafts, with half of the area flooded with water, authorities said.

Laura Velazquez, Mexico's national coordinator of civil protection, said on Thursday that authorities are now working to pump water out of the flooded areas of the mine.

"We have not slept, we are working day and night, uninterrupted," Velazquez said at a briefing Thursday.

Velazquez said officials are strategically using the pumps to extract the greatest amount of water and gain access to the miners inside as soon as possible.

No one has had contact with the 10 miners who remain trapped since Wednesday.

Six special force divers arrived from the National Guard on Thursday morning, but officials had not given updates on their mission as of Friday morning.

Gov. Miguel Riquelme of Coahuila and Zaragoza state visited the Sabinas mine, located about 75 miles southeast of the Texas border, on Thursday.

Riquelme tweeted that work was being done through three wells to extract water using eight specialized pumps. Seventeen additional pumping teams with more resources were being called in, he added.

Riquelme said 150 people were working on the rescue, with officials from the Mexican Office of National Defense, the National Guard and expert rescuers from the Carboniferous region adding to the effort.

"The rescue work at the Agujita coal mine continues without rest, #Sabinas," Riquelme tweeted on Thursday evening.

This is the third mining incident in Sabinas since 2006; 65 people were killed that year in a mining blast, followed by another 14 miners that were trapped and confirmed dead after a different explosion in 2011.

Officials have not yet begun investigating this new incident's cause.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in his daily press briefing on Thursday that investigations will have to come later.

"Those responsible -- the permits, the inspections, everything, all of that -- we are leaving until after. We already have the basic information. But let's not talk about that now, let's look to save the miners," he said.

The specific mine shaft where 10 workers are now trapped only began operations in January 2022, the secretary of Labor and Social Welfare said in a statement. However, the agency said there has been "no history of complaints of any type of anomaly."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prince William, Kate, Prince Charles and Camilla wish Meghan Markle happy birthday

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The royal family sent birthday wishes to Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, on Thursday.

Prince William and Kate, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Charles and Camilla, the duke and duchess of Cornwall, all commemorated Meghan's 41st birthday, in separate social media posts.

"Wishing a happy birthday to the Duchess of Sussex!" William and Kate wrote alongside a photo of Meghan.

Charles and Camilla sent similar wishes in their own tweet, also alongside a photo of Meghan.


Little-known species are at even more risk of extinction, scientists say

Stephen Frink/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The species scientists know least about are at an even higher risk of extinction because researchers are unable to tailor conservation efforts to their needs, according to researchers.

More than 4,300 species whose extinction risk cannot be assessed due to a lack of ecological data are likely at risk of extinction, according to study published in Communications Biology on Thursday.

Among the more than 26,000 species that have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly 7,700 have been declared data deficient, meaning there is not enough data to make any sort of declaration on their extinction risk, Jan Borgelt, an ecologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and author of the study, told ABC News.

Calculations based on previously published data on the geographical areas the species live in, as well as factors known to affect biodiversity -- such as climate change, land use by humans and threats posed by invasive species -- were used to predict extinction risk for data deficient species, according to the study.

The researchers found that about 56% of data deficient species are likely threatened with extinction compared with 28% of species that have been assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

This becomes a problem for those making conservation plans, Borgelt said.

"So in most cases, actually, these data deficiencies are just ignored in a lot of analysis simply because we don't know how threatened they are, if they're threatened at all," he said.

Extinction risks for data deficient species varied between groups and geographic areas. About 85% of amphibians, 40% of ray-finned fish, 61% of mammals, 59% of reptiles and 62% of insects are likely at risk of extinction, the study said.

For land-dwelling species that are data deficient, risk of extinction is prevalent among those that occupy smaller geographical areas within regions such as central Africa, southern Asia and Madagascar, the researchers found.

Maintaining the earth's biodiversity is critical because all life depends on the proper functioning of ecosystems -- such as clean water and carbon sequestration to help mitigate climate change, Borgelt said.

"Ultimately, functioning ecosystems depend on the species that live in those ecosystems," he said. "And once we lose species, we sort of distract these ecological networks."

The findings highlight potential biases in current conservation priorities as well as the importance of conservation for many data deficient species that are likely threatened by extinction, the paper concluded.

These assessments are "the very foundation of all conservation-related actions," Borgelt said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Drone strike on al-Qaeda leader renews hostility between US, Taliban

IntelCenter/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is a double-edged sword for President Joe Biden, both bolstering his claim that counterterrorism operations need not rely on U.S. boots on the ground while casting doubt on his claim that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for America's enemies.

But for the Taliban, the revelation that Osama bin Laden's successor was hiding in plain sight in the heart of Afghanistan's capital Kabul is a much sharper blow -- hardening its pariah status at a time when the country's de facto government is desperate for international legitimacy.

Taliban leaders, who initially tried to obscure evidence of the strike, waited days after to issue an official response.

On Thursday, the Taliban formally denied having any knowledge of al-Zawahiri's "arrival and stay in Kabul," even though he was living in the guest house of Afghanistan's influential Interior Minister and the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that other top-level members of the government were also aware of Zawahiri's location, according to a senior administration official within the Biden administration.

The Taliban also claimed Afghanistan poses no danger to any country, but condemned the strike that killed Zawahiri and issued a warning to the U.S., saying "if such action is repeated, the responsibility of any consequences will be on the United States of America."

Though sources say American diplomats were not surprised to see that the Taliban has continued its close ties with al-Qaeda, a longtime ally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed outrage that Afghanistan's government harbored Zawahiri.

"By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qa'ida in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha Agreement and repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries," Blinken said in a statement, referring the 2020 deal that paved the way for the withdrawal of NATO forces from the country in return for anti-terrorism commitments.

Despite the continuing conversation, concerns that releasing the funds would be politically untenable have ballooned in the wake of al-Zawahiri's killing, as some officials fear any sign of support of Afghanistan's de facto government could be construed by the American public as condoning the Taliban's affiliation with extremists.

Though the Biden administration has previously faced backlash for failing to transfer the assets, the Taliban have the most to lose as they struggle to manage Afghanistan's floundering economy.

Isolated and under sanctions, the Taliban have recently undertaken a concentrated effort to gain status on the world stage, which the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has characterized as a bid "to prove to the international community that it is a reliable partner." Although no country has officially recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, at least four have accredited its appointed officials -- a step in that direction.

But the Taliban's response to the strike has done little to control damage with the international community. And domestically, the Taliban have been the target of blowback from nationalist who want to seek revenge.

Meanwhile, the suffering throughout Afghanistan is only worsening. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction's quarterly report to Congress released this week predicts that before November "humanitarian food assistance is expected to decrease from reaching 38% of the population to only 8% due to lack of funding." The United Nations' World Food Programme estimates that 92% of the country's population currently faces some level of food insecurity and three million children are at risk of acute malnutrition.

ABC News' Cindy Smith contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


In South Korea, Pelosi vows support to denuclearize the North but avoids commenting on Taiwan, China

Young-Ho Lee / Sipa/ Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with her South Korean counterpart and other political leaders in Seoul on Thursday to reassure strong ties between their two countries, but she avoided making direct public comments on her recent controversial visit to Taiwan.

South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo greeted Pelosi and other members of her congressional delegation as they arrived at the unicameral national legislature in South Korea's capital. After an hour-long meeting, both sides reaffirmed the ironclad bilateral alliance facing a range of issues, including increasing nuclear threats from North Korea.

"We also come to say to you that a friendship, a relationship that began from urgency and security, many years ago, has become the warmest of friendships," Pelosi said during a joint press conference with Kim. "We want to advance security, economy and governance in the inter-parliamentary way."

Pelosi emphasized the need to bolster inter-parliamentary cooperation between their two nations to deal with global security and economic challenges ahead. She agreed to review Kim's proposal for Congress to work on a resolution marking next year's 70th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, forged on the battlefield during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Both Pelosi and Kim shared concerns about North Korea's unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests in recent months. Reiterating the need for the international community to prepare for possibly more provocations from Pyongyang, Kim said he and Pelosi agreed to support their governments' efforts to achieve "practical denuclearization and peace" on the Korean Peninsula based on "strong and extended deterrence" as well as diplomacy.

Neither Kim nor Pelosi took questions from reporters.

During her visit Thursday, Pelosi traveled to a border area with the North that is jointly controlled by the American-led United Nations Command and North Korea. She is the highest-level American to visit the so-called Joint Security Area since 2019, when then-U.S. President Donald Trump traveled there for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Later Thursday, Pelosi and her delegation spoke by telephone with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is on a planned vacation this week but was accused by critics of snubbing the U.S. speaker in consideration of ties with China, South Korea's largest trading partner.

When asked whether Yoon's inability to meet with Pelosi in person was related to her trip to Taiwan, the South Korean president's spokesperson, Choi Young-bum, told reporters: "Every decision was made in consideration of our national interests, and without doubt, the South Korean government respects the U.S. administration's diplomatic decisions."

"It is clear that our position to put the Korea-U.S. alliance at first does not change," he added.

According to Yoon's office, the Taiwan issue was not brought up by either side on the call.

Pelosi became the first U.S. speaker to visit Taiwan in a quarter century when she and her delegation made a surprise landing there on Tuesday night, defying repeated warnings not to from mainland China, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory.

Before departing Taipei for Seoul, Pelosi said at a press conference Wednesday that "America's determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad." In response, Beijing began military exercises around Taiwan, including launching multiple ballistic missiles into the waters surrounding the island.

Pelosi and her delegation are scheduled to arrive in Japan on Thursday as the last stop in their Asia tour this week. They visited Singapore on Monday and Malaysia on Tuesday.

ABC News' Morgan Winsor and Karson Yiu contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia-Ukraine live updates: Ukrainian fighting tactics may be endangering civilians

Leon Klein/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm's way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. "Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law."

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called "a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians."

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

"This marks the conclusion of an initial 'proof of concept' operation to execute the agreement," the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It's the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia's ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni's journey a "significant step" but noted that "this is only a first step."

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports "are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops," but didn't provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine -- often referred to collectively as Europe's breadbasket -- produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world -- particularly in Africa and the Middle East -- are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee 'hell' in Ukraine's east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia's invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine's east "hell."

"It cannot be described with words," Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet "completely break the Russian army's advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting," he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

"The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill," he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that "it still needs to be done."

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Aug 02, 4:25 PM EDT
Shipment carrying 27,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine for Istanbul

A ship carrying 27,000 tons of corn has left the Ukrainian port of Odesa and is expected to arrive in Turkey on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the Joint Coordination Centre, Black Sea Grain Initiative.

The ship, adorned with the flag of Sierra Leon, left Odesa on Monday morning and is ultimately destined for Lebanon, according to the JCC.

The route will follow a humanitarian corridor, the JCC said.

The JCC is responsible for carrying out inspections on inbound and outbound vessels in Istanbul to ensure there is no unauthorized crew or cargo, according to the statement.

The arrival of the shipment from Ukraine is a beacon of hope amid the ongoing invasion from Russia. Since the war began, shipments of grain out of Ukraine, considered one of the breadbaskets of the world, have all but stalled -- leading experts to fear a possible food shortage that could plunge millions into malnutrition.

Preparations and planning for ships that can export grain and similar foodstuffs from the three ports in Ukraine are still continuing, according to the JCC, which described the feat as a "historical" humanitarian mission. The initial run to move significant volumes of commercial grain is expected to last 120 days.

"The JCC 's work is critical to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative that helps address global food security," the statement read. "The Initiative is focused on exporting grain, other foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, from Ukraine."

-ABC News’ Engin Bas

Aug 02, 9:19 AM EDT
Power plant used by Russia as 'nuclear shield,' Blinken says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday condemned the conduct of Russian troops around the Zaporizhia power plant -- the biggest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and Europe -- calling it “the height of irresponsibility."

Speaking after nuclear nonproliferation talks at the United Nations in New York, Blinken said Russia was turning the power plant into a “nuclear shield."

“Russia is now using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage,” Blinken said.

The secretary added that Russia's actions bring “the notion of having a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level.”

Russia was already accused of firing shells dangerously close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March as Russian troops occupied the facility in the first weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday a nuclear war should “never be unleashed,” according to local media. Putin stressed that Russia continues to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as well as its bilateral agreements with the U.S. on the reduction of nuclear weapons.

Aug 01, 2:36 PM EDT
US announces new round of aid to Ukraine

The United States is sending a 17th round of aid to Ukraine, consisting of more ammunition for HIMARS rocket systems and howitzers, White House spokesman John Kirby announced.

This aid comes from presidential drawdown authority, separate from any aid passed by Congress.

This package totals $550 million and brings the total of U.S. presidential drawdown aid given to Ukraine since February to $8.8 billion.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Sarah Kolinovsky

Aug 01, 9:14 AM EDT
Russian troops on the move ahead of expected Ukrainian counteroffensive

The Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Monday Russian troops were massing in the direction of the town of Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, possibly in a bid to prepare for a large Ukrainian counterattack.

Talk of a major Ukrainian counteroffensive aimed at taking back the southern city of Kherson, about 140 miles south of Kryvyi Rih, has been gathering pace for several weeks.

The Ukrainian military also issued the maximum missile-fire-threat alert on Sunday in reaction to Russian troops massing in the Black Sea.

At least 17 warships and boats of the Russian Black Sea fleet were maneuvering near the Crimean coast on Sunday, according to Ukrainian military officials.

Among them were six Kalibr cruise missile carriers with more than 40 high-precision missiles on board, as well as four large landing ships.

Russia has also been transferring a large number of troops to occupied Crimea, Vadym Skibitskyi, of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said on Monday.

Russia plans to deploy these troops in the south of Ukraine to conduct future combat operations, Skibitskyi said.

The official added that Russia withdrew tactical groups of airborne troops from the eastern Donetsk region and transferred them to occupied Kherson about two weeks ago.

Russian forces have resumed localized ground attacks northwest and southwest of Izyum over the weekend and may be setting conditions for offensive operations further west into Kharkiv Oblast or toward Kharkiv City, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest report.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd and Max Uzol

Aug 01, 9:09 AM EDT
A 'day of relief for the world' as Ukrainian grain shipments resume

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba called Monday a "day of relief for the world" as his country resumed grain shipments for the first time since Russia's offensive began.

"The day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade," Kuleba wrote in a post on Twitter. "Ukraine has always been a reliable partner and will remain one should Russia respect its part of the deal."

Aug 01, 4:12 AM EDT
Ukrainian lawmaker hails departure of 1st grain ship a 'historic moment'

Watching as the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain set off from Odesa's port on Monday morning, Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko called it "Ukraine's victory" over Russia.

Honcharenko, the son of a former Odesa mayor, said this "historic moment" was only possible because Ukraine had inflicted so much damage on the Russian Navy and had liberated nearby Snake Island, forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin to make a deal.

"It shows again the the language of force is the only language Putin understands," Honcharenko told ABC News.

Honcharenko said he believes 16 more ships in the port will now begin moving out in the coming days. But he cautioned that he thinks Putin will now try to do everything to limit the ships coming in and out to a minimum within the U.N.-brokered deal, utilizing airstrikes near Ukrainian ports as well as trying to invent bureaucratic obstacles.

The next big test of the deal will be when the first ships come to enter Odesa, which Honcharenko said is expected at the end of this week.

-ABC News' Dragana Jovanovic, Oleksii Pshemyskiy and Patrick Reevell

Aug 01, 3:47 AM EDT
1st ship carrying Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa port

The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain departed Odesa on Monday morning under an internationally brokered deal attempting to ease a global hunger crisis.

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni left the Ukrainian port city and is headed to Lebanon, a tiny Mideast nation that imports nearly all of its grain and lacks storage space after a 2020 explosion destroyed grain silos at its main port in Beirut. The vessel is expected to reach Istanbul on Tuesday, where it will be inspected before being allowed to proceed to Tripoli, according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of National Defense.

Razoni, which is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, is the first commercial ship to set off from Ukraine's port of Odesa since Feb. 26 and the first vessel to depart under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to a statement from the spokesperson for the the United Nations secretary-general. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine -- often referred to collectively as Europe's breadbasket -- produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world -- particularly in Africa and the Middle East -- are now on the brink of famine.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Icelandic volcano erupts amid series of earthquakes

JEREMIE RICHARD/AFP via Getty Images

(REYKJAVIK, Iceland) -- An Icelandic volcano has come back to life after a series of nearby earthquakes rumbled it awake, the Icelandic Met Office reported Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning a 4.6 earthquake was recorded on the eastern side of the Fagradalsfjall volcano, prompting further concerns of volcanic action. An hour later, it began erupting.

According to IMO, a volcanic fissure eruption about 100 to 200 meters long left new magma over a field of lava established by eruptions in the area last year.

The IMO has urged people not to go near the volcano, which is about 20 miles south of the country's capital, Reykjavik, and its nearby Keflavík Airport. According to its statement, the volcanic gas in the area can be hazardous.

However, the IMO said that it does not believe the eruption will cancel any flights or move into the city.

The IMO has recorded over 3,000 earthquakes in the last week. The most intense was a 5.4 earthquake recorded on July 31 northeast of Grindavík.

Last year, a six-month eruption from Fagradalsfjall broke an 80- year dormancy of volcanic eruptions in the area.

Tourists flocked to the site from March to September 2021 to see the lava bubble and belch. Now, almost a year later, the same volcano is active.

IMO said it saw the signs that brought last year's eruption revive.

"There are indications that the deformation and seismicity is declining and this was precursory to the eruption which started on 19th March 2021," the IMO said in a statement on Tuesday. "Considering all of the above, the likelihood of an eruption at Fagradalsfjall within the coming days is considered to be substantial."

A day later, the office has confirmed the reawakening of the visual phenomenon.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Extreme flooding, drought is making risk management difficult and ineffective, researchers say

Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Risk management strategies for floods and drought may not reduce the effects of unprecedented extreme weather events as they become more frequent due to climate change, researchers are warning.

In the past, even with effective risk management efforts that reduced global vulnerability to floods and drought, the regions affected still suffered dire consequences, researchers at the German Research Center for Geosciences stated in a study published Wednesday in Nature.

Those events are already increasing in severity in many parts of the world. If the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution started, the worst-case scenario presented in the Paris Agreement and many climate change studies, flooding events may double globally and even triple in some places, according to the study.

The planet has already warmed a little more than 1 degree Celsius, according to scientists.

The researchers analyzed a dataset of 45 pairs of flood or drought events that occurred in the same area at different time points -- about 16 years apart on average -- and found that, in general, risk management reduced the impact of floods and drought.

However, when the events were at magnitudes that have not been previously experienced, the effectiveness of the risk management strategies may not as successful, regardless of the approaches taken and whether they had worked in the past, the researchers found.

This may be due to aging infrastructure that was designed to manage a hazard much less menacing than the extreme weather events that are occurring today, such as levees or water reservoirs being exceeded, according to the study.

In addition, flaws to human risk perception, especially for rare extreme events, might hinder efforts to anticipate them and lessen their effects, the researchers said.

In the past two weeks, the U.S. has experienced heat waves in regions that had rarely reached triple-digit temperatures, such as the Pacific Northwest, and back-to-back devastating flooding events in regions that are not built or equipped to handle such an influx of precipitation that modern day storm systems are carrying, such as the record flooding that occurred in Missouri and the catastrophic flooding that claimed dozens of lives in eastern Kentucky.

The researchers did note successful responses from two events in which the second event was more hazardous but the effects were less than those of the first event -- flooding in Barcelona in 1995 and 2018 and Danube catchment floods in Austria and Germany in 2002 and 2013.

They hypothesized that the lessened damage from the second event was due to improved risk management investment and integrated management approaches, which then led to improved early warning and emergency responses.

The findings highlight the difficulty of managing such extreme events as warming global temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of not just floods and drought but storm systems and wildfires as well, the researchers said.

The successful responses can serve as an example for risk management efforts for future unprecedented weather events, the authors concluded.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


As Iranian women are arrested for protesting against hijabs, some make 'forced confessions,' activist says

ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- When Sepideh Rashno appeared last month on Iranian state television to apologize to another woman for refusing to wear a hijab in pubic, longtime observers of Iran's government viewed her actions as a “forced confession.”

A viral video posted days earlier appeared to show Rashno in public without a hijab, which Iranian women have been required by law since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Rashno appeared to be arguing with a woman who wore a hijab, saying she would send the video of their altercation "to the world."

Rashno was later arrested and her apology to the other woman was aired on state television. The apology program was continued later in another special report showing her “confessing.”

That public apology arrived at around the same time as women from across the country began a social media campaign to protest the government's hijab law. Some shared photos and videos of themselves without headscarves in public places. They've used a #No2Hijab or #ImAgainstMandatoryHijab hashtag. Several have been arrested for the online posts, a lawyer said.

Masih Alinejad, a Brooklyn-based Iranian and anti-hijab activist, described Rashno’s televised confession, as well as those of other women, as an "act of terror" in a tweet on Friday.

“Dozens of women have been arrested since [the] July 12 day of action against forced hijab,” Alinejad said on Twitter. “But these acts of terror haven’t deterred women. Our campaign against forced hijab continues.”

While Rashno was arrested by the security forces days after the video of her argument went viral, the woman with whom she fought was not arrested.

Iran's hijab laws are enforced by the morality police, which often patrols busy areas of the cities and arrests women on the streets for not being compliant with the traditional Islamic dress code.

Last month's campaign activity has been treated more strictly by the morality police and those arrested for their activism could face more severe sentencing, as the Iranian judiciary seemed poised to interpret the anti-hijab campaign as a collective act organized by the West, with Iranian officials saying the protests amounted to a plot against Iranian women's "chastity."

Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's interior minister, asked women "not to get influenced by these bad suggestions" coming from the West.

"Some of these cases are supported and managed from outside, and naturally, they have undesirable intentions," he said.

Melika Gharaguzlu, a college student studying journalism, posted on social media on Twitter on July 12 and was arrested a few days later, Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, a lawyer, said. He said the security and judicial bodies in Iran took her into custody.

Besides any objection against the hijab, the Islamic Republic suppresses other kinds of women’s activism in the country.

One group of women, known as the "Justice-Seeking Mothers," have been increasingly vocal about the regime's alleged atrocities. Among the roster of that group are several women whose children were killed during government crackdowns on protests across the country over the past few decades.

Saeid Dehghan, a lawyer and member of the International Bar Association, said the Iranian government attributed some recent arrests directly to the #No2Hijab Campaign. Some families of the women arrested have publicly denied their intent to join the campaign.

"Justice-Seeking Mothers are now a respectable circle whose voices can amplify any civil movement," Mahyar Ostovar Ravari, assistant professor at the information systems department of the Paris School of Business, told ABC News. "The regime seized the #No2Hijab campaign as an opportunity to crack down on these mothers' activism. These mothers have nothing to lose after they lost their children, and it would cost a lot to the regime to arrest them just for seeking justice for their children, so they seize an occasion like this to suppress these women's voices."

Explaining the Islamic Republic's determination to suppress any kind of collective protests, especially those formed by women, Ravari said that such collective protests can strip individual protestors of their fears.

"It helps with the scary feeling of being alone in this … be it in groups like the Justice-Seeking Mothers, or in a campaign like the #No2Hijab," Ravari said.

A few days after Alinejad posted about Rashno's "forced confession," a man with an assault rifle was arrested near her Brooklyn home.

A criminal complaint said that the suspect had been sitting in a car outside Alinejad's home for hours. Alinejad posted a video online that appeared to show a man approaching her door. She said he had "a loaded gun to kill me."

Police said the man, Khalid Mehdiyev, had a loaded Norinco AK-47-style assault rifle, according to a criminal complaint. He was charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, the complaint said. Police haven't said what they believe Mehdiyev's intent or motive may have allegedly been.

"People, especially women, are far ahead of the government. Especially the younger generation," Ravari said, adding, "Now, the young women push to choose what they want and risk the consequences."

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pelosi says US 'will not abandon' Taiwan as China orders live-fire drills

Handout/Getty Images

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) -- Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she and other members of a congressional delegation "came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment" to the self-governing island.

Pelosi and her delegation landed in Taipei on Tuesday night despite repeated warnings not to visit from mainland China, which claims the island as its own territory. She is the first U.S. speaker to visit Taiwan in more than 25 years. Beijing considers any official contact with Taiwan a recognition of its democratically elected government, which the mainland's ruling Communist Party asserts has no right to conduct foreign relations.

Minutes after Pelosi's plane touched down at Taipei Songshan Airport in the Taiwanese capital, mainland China announced live-fire military drills around Taiwan, some of which reportedly began that night ahead of four days of exercises starting Thursday.

The military exercises will be the largest aimed at the island since 1995, when China fired missiles apparently in response to then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visiting the United States.

On Wednesday, Pelosi and her delegation met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as well as other senior officials in Taipei. In a brief speech during her meeting with Tsai, the U.S. speaker conveyed the message that, "now more than ever, American solidarity with Taiwan is crucial."

The military exercises will be the largest aimed at the island since 1995, when China fired missiles apparently in response to then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui visiting the United States.

On Wednesday, Pelosi and her delegation met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as well as other senior officials in Taipei. In a brief speech during her meeting with Tsai, the U.S. speaker conveyed the message that, "now more than ever, American solidarity with Taiwan is crucial."

Tsai thanked Pelosi and the delegation for visiting the island democracy under "challenging circumstances," slamming Beijing's military drills as "unnecessary responses." She said Taiwan is "committed to maintaining the status quo across the strait" and that her government is open to constructive dialogue with Beijing, which has refused to engage with Tsai's administration since she came to power in 2016.

"Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down," Tsai said during the meeting. "We will firmly uphold our nation's sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy."

The Taiwanese president also thanked Pelosi -- "truly one of Taiwan's most devoted friends" -- for her decades of support and presented her with a civilian honor, the Order of the Propitious Clouds.

"Thank you for taking concrete actions to show your staunch support for Taiwan at this critical moment and for expressing the U.S.'s consistent policy supporting Taiwan's self-defense," she added.

Pelosi and the delegation departed Taiwan on Wednesday evening. The surprise visit, which was not announced until after their plane landed, was part of Pelosi's tour of Asia. She visited Singapore on Monday and Malaysia on Tuesday. She will be traveling to South Korea and Japan before returning to the U.S.

Following a string of fiery reactions from various Chinese officials and agencies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued two separate statements on Wednesday condemning Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.

"This act seriously violates the one-China principle, maliciously infringes on China's sovereignty, and openly carries out political provocations, arouses strong indignation among the Chinese people and arouses widespread opposition from the international community," Wang said in the first statement. "This proves once again that some American politicians have become 'troublemakers' in Sino-US relations, and the United States has become the 'largest spoiler' of peace and regional stability in the Taiwan Strait."

In the second statement, Wang directly linked Tsai with "'Taiwan independence' separatist forces," possibly signaling upcoming consequences from Beijing.

Under the so-called "One China principle," Beijing regards Taiwan as their territory, a renegade province to be reunified -- by force if necessary -- with the mainland. The U.S. has a "One China Policy" that recognizes the people of mainland China and Taiwan as being part of "One China," views Beijing as China's sole legal government and does not support an independent Taiwan, but considers the matter "unsettled." Washington is also militarily supportive of the self-governing island and maintains extensive commercial and unofficial ties.

Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949, following a civil war between the Nationalist Party's forces and those of the Communist Party. As the communists took control of the mainland, the nationalists retreated to the island of Taiwan where they established their new capital.

Both sides agree that they are one country but disagree on which is the national leader. Although they have no formal relations, the island's economy remains reliant on trade with the mainland.

The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. The Taiwan Relations Act, which went into force that same year, requires Washington to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Texas man detained in Russia for months due to 'political purposes': Congressman

Courtesy Carol Barnes

(WASHINGTON) -- More than six months after Texas father David Barnes was arrested by Russian authorities, his family is calling on officials in Washington to do more to try to facilitate his release.

"David's a very caring and empathetic person," his sister, Carol Barnes, told ABC News. "Every minute of every day, my mind is on what he's going through, the hell that he's living in, and how unjust it is."

David Barnes has been held since January in a Moscow jail. He is one of several Americans being detained in Russia, but unlike Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan or Marc Fogel, law enforcement in Moscow has alleged that he engaged in criminal activity in the United States -- an accusation that has bewildered members of his family, American prosecutors and now, his local congressman.

"Mr. Barnes has been arrested and detained for political purposes, and my office is working with the State Department to bring him back to Texas as soon as possible," Rep. Kevin Brady told ABC News in a statement. "We continue to urge the Biden administration to do all it can to resolve this situation and free Mr. Barnes."

David Barnes traveled from suburban Houston to Moscow in December 2021 in an effort to gain legal clearance to either see his children or bring them home, after his Russian ex-wife allegedly violated a court custody order and fled the United States with them, according to his family.

In August 2020, a judge in Montgomery County signed an order designating David Barnes as the sole managing conservator of his children, which gave him rights to decide the primary home for his children, make decisions regarding their education, represent them in legal actions, and possess their passports.

Barnes' ex-wife is herself now wanted in the U.S. on a felony charge of interference with child custody, after she fled with the children in 2019.

"David Barnes traveled to Russia in an honest attempt to reunite with his children, who had been kidnapped by their mother and taken to Russia illegally," Brady said. "This is a child custody dispute, not a criminal matter."

On Jan. 13, Russian investigators apprehended Barnes in Moscow, accusing him of abusing his two children years earlier in Texas, according to translations of court documents.

Similar allegations against Barnes were brought to authorities in Texas by his now-ex-wife Svetlana Koptyaeva during their long and acrimonious divorce proceedings. The allegations were investigated in 2018 by the Department of Family and Protective Services, which found insufficient evidence to support them and closed the case without any findings of abuse or any charges against Barnes.

"At this time, there are no accusations out of Montgomery County that we are aware of that would allow Mr. Barnes to be held in custody," Kelly Blackburn of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office told ABC News in May.

A spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney's Office said in May that David Barnes had not been charged in any child abuse cases there either.

Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have met with David Barnes in the time since his arrest, according to emails between his family and the State Department. However, Brady's comments mark the first time that an elected official has stated publicly that David Barnes' detention in Russia is due to "political purposes."

Carol Barnes is hoping the increased attention on her brother's situation will motivate other officials to classify him as being wrongfully detained, push for his release or add him to a proposed prisoner exchange between Russia and the U.S.

"Washington should be able to get their own American citizens back home without so much red tape and us having to contact hundreds of people and getting 1% response," Carol Barnes said. "I mean, somebody pay attention."

In July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a proposal that called on Russia to exchange Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen who was convicted of charges related to illegal arms trafficking. Carol Barnes said she has not heard anything about her brother being part of any potential prisoner exchange.

ABC News asked the White House in July whether it considers David Barnes to be wrongfully detained and if efforts have been made to secure his release, but it referred all questions to the State Department.

"It's just so frustrating," Carol Barnes said. "I realize we're dealing with Russians and it's not that easy, but I don't think they're paying enough attention to it."

A spokesperson for the State Department wrote in a statement on July 26 that they are continuing to urge the Russian government to allow for regular consular access and services to be provided to Americans who remain detained in Russia.

"We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are monitoring Mr. Barnes' situation closely," the spokesperson said, in part. "The department routinely monitors cases of all U.S. nationals detained abroad for indications that it should be designated as a wrongful detention. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time."

David Barnes celebrated his 65th birthday in his Moscow detention center in July. His family does not know when they will get to see him again.

"I want him back. I love him. I miss him," Carol Barnes said. "There's no joy in my life right now at all."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Passenger fined $1,846 for bringing McMuffins to Australia

Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

(LONDON) -- A passenger flying from Bali, Indonesia, to Darwin, Australia, was fined 2,664 Australian dollars (about $1,846 U.S.) last week after they were caught with two egg and beef sausage McMuffins and a ham croissant upon arrival in Australia.

The meat products were sniffed out by a newly trained biosecurity detector dog named Zinta.

"This will be the most expensive [McDonald's] meal this passenger ever has, this fine is twice the cost of an airfare to Bali, but I have no sympathy for people who choose to disobey Australia's strict biosecurity measures, and recent detections show you will be caught," Murray Watt, the Australian minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, said in a press release.

Australia has strict policies on the importation of food products in its effort to keep foot and mouth disease out of the country. The passenger received the hefty fine after failing to disclose that they had the meat products.

The meal also included some travel-safe hot cakes, according to a picture of the confiscated breakfast.

"Biosecurity is no joke—it helps protect jobs, our farms, food and supports the economy," Watt said in the press release. "Passengers who choose to travel need to make sure they are fulfilling the conditions to enter Australia, by following all biosecurity measures."

The seized meat will be tested for foot and mouth disease before it is destroyed.

Zinta is funded by an AU$14 million biosecurity package from the Australian government. The funding went to more biosecurity monitoring at mail centers and airports, including dogs at certain airports.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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