World News

Xinhua/ via Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Hundreds of demonstrators were seen chanting and carrying Black Lives Matter signs outside a number of U.S. embassies in Europe and across the world over the weekend, as the protests against the killing of George Floyd spread internationally.

On Saturday and Sunday, crowds gathered outside the U.S. embassies in London and Berlin to protest against the death of Floyd and show solidarity with the protests in the U.S. with chants of “I Can’t Breathe” a regular feature of the weekend demonstrations.

In London, hundreds took part in a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration beginning with protesters taking a knee for nine minutes in Trafalgar Square before marching onto the U.S. Embassy.

"Well, we've seen for hundreds of years black people and people of color be absolutely abused and killed on the streets and it's just getting worse and worse,” one London protester said. “We've had enough, and if they're not going to listen we're just going to scream louder and louder.”

London’s Metropolitan Police announced they arrested 23 people for “various offenses” across the U.K. capital on Sunday, and said they were on hand to make sure crowds complied with social distancing regulations.

Two black soccer players in Germany referenced the protests after scoring goals in weekend games. Jadon Sancho, an English player for Borussia Dortmund, wore a shirt underneath his jersey saying “Justice for George Floyd.” Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring a goal for Borussia Mönchengladbach in tribute to the U.S. protests.

In Canada, thousands took to the streets in Vancouver and Montreal, echoing the chants heard across the U.S. in mostly peaceful protests Sunday. In the Montreal gathering, crowds were dispersed after projectiles were thrown at police later in the evening.

And in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, crowds chanting “I Can’t Breathe” were dispersed by police in riot gear outside the state government palace on Sunday as anti-government protests against police brutality in Brazil fed off the global sentiment felt by the killing of Floyd.

Last year in Rio, up to 1,402 people between January and September were killed by police, particularly in operations in the favelas, according to Human Rights Watch.

In Iran and China, two countries in which the U.S. has been heavily critical of human rights abuses, state run media and foreign ministers criticised the American handling of the George Floyd protests.

Manslaughter charges have been brought against Derek Chauvin, the white police officer accusing of kneeling on Floyd's neck for nine minutes, and the National Guard has been activated in Minneapolis and 17 states.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/malerapasoBy: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Zarina Ermyrzayeva lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Moscow with nine other people, all immigrant workers from Central Asia.

In late April, she and several of her roommates tested positive for novel coronavirus after falling severely ill with pneumonia symptoms. After a week in the hospital, they returned to the apartment.

For over a month following, they were unable to leave. Quarantine rules forbade them from stepping outside, even to buy groceries. Unable to work and with no money to get deliveries, their food ran out.

“We don’t know who to appeal to,” Ermyrzayeva said in video message after 20 days locked in the apartment. With 10 people to feed, they had only a few kilos of flour and some oil left, she said.

The lockdowns imposed by the pandemic have made life precarious for many, but for millions of migrant workers in Russia, it was an overnight catastrophe, leaving them not just without jobs, but for huge numbers almost immediately without any source of food.

An estimated 11 million migrants live in Russia, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In 2019, 5 million of these were from the former Soviet countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Most of these immigrants do low-paid, manual jobs, working on construction sites, warehouses and markets and as cleaners and restaurant workers.

As the pandemic intensified in mid-March, Russia and the Central Asian countries closed their borders, stranding thousands of migrants. Hundreds found themselves trapped at Russian airports, sleeping among the baggage counters, after their flights were indefinitely canceled.

Many migrants were already living on the breadline, without savings and with unsecured jobs. When the lockdowns began, many of those jobs vanished instantly, without compensation and with no hope of even temporary support from employers.

With no right to Russian state support, which in any case can be difficult and slow to access for Russian citizens, people were left with only enough money to pay for a few days’ food and the prospect of losing their accommodation.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Valentina Chupik, who heads Tong Jahoni, a charity that helps migrant workers in Russia.

The scale of the problem is enormous. The numbers of people left without any source of income and now struggling to feed themselves is in the millions, according to the IOM. Its representative in Russia, Abdusattor Esoev, estimated that 60% of migrants are unable to pay their rent and more than 40% to pay for food. This month the IOM launched an urgent appeal for $7 million to help migrants in Russia and Central Asia.

Many workers’ families in their home countries also rely on the money the migrant workers send back. The World Bank estimates that remittances will fall globally by 20% this year, amounting to around $110 billion.

A small number of charities like Chupik’s have been trying to collect food for people, relying on private donations to buy it from supermarkets and then distribute it.

Gulzina Mamatakhunova, who runs the small charity, Migrant Development Fund, said she had received 30,000 appeals for help in less than a week in the early days of the lockdown. Dom Dobroty, one of the largest charities collecting food, said it had so far distributed more than 150,000 tons of food to around 30,000 people.

But the amount of aid the charities, which have been relying on private donations, can provide is dwarfed by the need. Russia’s government and the migrants' home countries have given little support. Although Central Asian countries have organized some charter flights back, most of their citizens have been left to fend for themselves.

Many migrants live in overcrowded apartments or else hostels, where dozens of people are crammed into largely unfurnished dormitories, sleeping on bunkbeds. In cities like Moscow, where the lockdown was strict, people have been confined to these places, not even permitted to go more than 100 meters from them for exercise.

One of the toughest situations is for those like Ermyrzayeva where someone tests positive for COVID-19. Russian authorities have applied a strict policy to the hostels where migrant workers live, whereby if even just one person tests positive the whole building is quarantined. That means no one is permitted to leave for two weeks, even to buy food.

In practice that means dozens of people locked in, in conditions where social distancing is virtually impossible, effectively waiting to get sick. The clock on the two-week period is also reset each time a new person tests positive, meaning in reality people have been finding themselves sealed in the buildings for weeks longer.

“It’s not even just that they can’t work," said Chupik. "They can’t receive money transfers, they can’t buy food, they can’t buy medicine. The only thing left for them to hope for is help from a charity like ours.”

Nurila Alymkulova and the 11 others in her building have been relying on a food package from Chupik. An experienced nurse in Kyrgyzstan, in Moscow she works as a cleaner. Medics came to the apartment to test Alymkulova and the others after some fell sick. Although she had few symptoms, Alymkulova alone tested positive (Russia has struggled with ineffective tests), but everyone in the house was still quarantined.

“I’m kind of, kind of humiliated in front of my countrymen,” Alymkulova, 53, said by phone, crying, saying she felt guilty. “Imagine a healthy person lying at home depending on everyone.”

The lockdown has also provided ripe territory for corrupt police officers, Chupik said. Migrant workers in normal times are frequent targets for bribes involving Russia’s complex residency rules. The lockdown, with its more severe penalties, has meant police are demanding higher prices, she said, and deliberately seeking out migrants.

In mid-April, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree relieving migrants from paying permit fees required to work and automatically extending their visa. The decree suspended the fees until mid-June, but in reality many employers are reportedly still requiring people to pay them.

Russia has begun easing its lockdown, with Moscow due to relax its next week. From then small shops will re-open and buildings sites already are. Some migrants will be able to return to work.

But there are worries that the economic damage caused by the lockdown will mean many migrant jobs will no longer be there. According to figures released this week, Russia’s unemployment for April was up 21% from last year.

Dinara Sadretdinova, co-founder of Dom Dobroty, said she believed it would ease the situation but said she expected they would still need to be providing food for large numbers of people.

Ermyrzayeva said despite the difficulties they were determined to follow quarantine, having seen the virus’ impact while in hospital.

“If young people can cope with it, older people can’t cope—and so, however it goes, work is already second for us. The most important thing is not to infect other people,” she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pool/Max Mumby/Getty ImagesBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(LONDON) -- As with many brides around the world, Princess Beatrice had to postpone her wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beatrice's mom, Sarah Ferguson, took to social media Friday to mark what would have been her oldest daughter's wedding day.

"Love you my darling Beatrice," Ferguson wrote on Instagram and Twitter, alongside a throwback photo of a young Beatrice, whose father is Prince Andrew. "You have given me more joy than I could ever wish for. I am so excited to celebrate yours and Edo’s love when we all are out of lockdown."

"The most important thing is health and love and today I send it to you and all the other people that were getting married during this time .. so proud of you all," she wrote.

Beatrice, 31, and her fiance, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, were scheduled to wed Friday at the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace in London, where Prince George, the son of Beatrice's cousin Prince William and his wife Kate, was baptized in 2013.

The wedding ceremony was to be followed by a private reception hosted by Beatrice's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, in Buckingham Palace's gardens.

Instead of gathering together for a happy occasion, members of the royal family are following stay-at-home orders at their residences across the U.K. and in Los Angeles, where Beatrice's cousin, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, now live.

Buckingham Palace has not yet announced a new date for Beatrice and Mozzi's wedding.

The couple got engaged in Italy last September. Their engagement was announced by Buckingham Palace later that month.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- As the coronavirus pandemic grips Mexico, thousands of vehicles a day are still crossing the border with the U.S. -- despite a ban on nonessential travel.

Lines of traffic that stretch for miles can be seen in Tijuana, Mexico, with essential workers traveling to jobs in the U.S. and dual citizens and even sick American retirees crossing to San Diego for treatment.

There are a few health checks.

U.S border officials look for signs of illness and may take temperatures if they think it's necessary, but there are concerns that the virus is moving back and forth across the border.

The number of COVID-19 cases are way up just across the border in California's San Diego County.

Health care professionals at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Southern California told ABC News that roughly 48% of their patients had crossed the border in recent weeks.

"Talking to the people on the wards is that there seems to be a lot either living or working on both sides of the border," said Dennis Amundson, director of the intensive care unit at Scripps Mercy.

Scripps Hospital System told ABC News recently that it was sending patients to hospitals in the northern part of the county because there are too many in their wards in southern San Diego County.

Many have been U.S. citizens who live on the Mexican side of the border, but work in the U.S., the hospital said.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the number of deaths due to coronavirus has been rising relentlessly.

ABC News watched large funerals for coronavirus victims with no apparent social distancing. There are currently more than 8,500 deaths due to the virus in Mexico. The group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity released a report in mid-May saying the actual total might be as much as three times higher.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said during a briefing that the U.S. was sending ventilators to Mexico, as well as Brazil, which he noted had also been hit hard by COVID-19.

Brazil is projected to have 125,833 deaths by Aug. 4, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

"Mexico is having a very, very hard time, as you know, with COVID, especially along the border, with Tijuana and various places along the border," Trump said during Thursday's briefing.

Trump said Mexico had a "record" number of COVID-19 cases -- though it's unclear what record he was referring to as the U.S. leads globally in most deaths and cases -- and "sadly" the highest number could be found along Mexico’s border with the U.S.

"Fortunately we have brand-new wall along there, and the wall is saving us," Trump said, apparently referring to a new portion constructed in September 2019.

Despite the images of fresh graves in Mexico, eerily similar to Brazil -- which is suffering the world's second-highest death toll behind the U.S. -- Mexican officials plan to relax restrictions for business and tourism next week.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Leon Neal/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's most senior political adviser might have broken coronavirus lockdown rules during a trip across the country, but authorities won't be taking any further action, local police said Thursday, in the latest development in the controversy that has dominated British politics over the past week.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson's chief adviser who has been credited with masterminding his successful campaigns to take Britain out of the European Union and his general election victory of 2019, drove hundreds of miles from his home in London to Durham, in the north of England, and then, two weeks later on April 12, to local tourist spot Barnard Castle with his wife and son.

Durham police said in a statement Thursday that the second trip, to the castle, "might have been a minor breach" of the rules "that would have warranted police intervention." But, the statement said, police would not be taking retrospective action, nor would they have fined him if they had caught him at Barnard Castle.

"Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis," the Durham police statement said. "Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken."

Cummings has insisted his trip was within the rules he helped devise to prevent the spread of coronavirus, despite acknowledging there was a chance he had contracted coronavirus at the time, after senior figures in British politics whom he had close contact with, including Johnson, tested positive. At an unprecedented press conference held Monday, Cummings' said he had made the trip to "test his eyesight," which had been affected by his suspected bout of coronavirus.

The aide has faced growing calls to quit after reports of the trip surfaced, and he has so far defied those calls.

Johnson, too, has supported his most senior political ally, despite the growing political storm. Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of undermining their own advice, and in doing so treating "the British public with contempt" in so ardently defending one of their own.

The finding that Cummings had breached lockdown protocol that he had helped devise, despite the U.K. government's insistence he acted within the rules, will likely add fuel to the fire in a controversy that has dominated the airwaves since a joint investigation by The Mirror and The Guardian broke the news last week.

"Boris Johnson's unwillingness or inability to do the right thing has left the Government looking untrustworthy and unprincipled," the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, tweeted on Thursday. "Worst of all he's undermined the public health advice that keeps us all safe, just to keep one aide in his job. Our nation's health must come first."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


danielvfung/iStockBy KARSON YIU, ABC News

(HONG KONG) -- China’s National People’s Congress endorsed with thunderous applause a controversial new law to ban all “activities” in Hong Kong that endanger China’s national security at the closing session of its annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing Thursday.

The yet to be drafted law will ultimately be enacted in Hong Kong by decree, bypassing the local lawmaking process, where the Asian financial center is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy from Beijing under the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement put in place when the former British colony was handed back to China.

For the past year, Hong Kong has been rocked with protests that became increasingly violent and anti-Beijing toward the end of 2019. While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept the unrest largely off the streets until recently, Beijing has signaled that it has lost all patience for dissent in the city.

In introducing the proposal to a vote, the preamble reads, “In recent years, the national security risks of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have become prominent, and various illegal activities such as 'Hong Kong independence,' splitting the country, and violent terrorist activities have seriously endangered the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the country.”

The proposal for the law was approved in China’s rubber-stamp parliament 2,878 votes to one, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Hong Kong was "no longer autonomous from China" setting in place the possibility of ending the special treatment the trading hub had enjoyed under U.S. law.

Over 1,300 American companies have offices in Hong Kong and the city is home to roughly 85,000 American citizens. Despite having been largely spared the direct impacts of the U.S.-China trade war, the city has been increasingly caught in between Beijing and Washington as their relationship continues to crater in the wake of the pandemic.

There is no actual law yet and the language of the proposal remains broad, but Hong Kong residents and even the Hong Kong government will have little say in the process. The city only has a sole delegate, Tam Yiu-chung, in China’s top lawmaker body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is expected to convene in June to hash out the specific language of the law and approve it.

On the sidelines of the meetings this past week, Tam has tried to reassure Hong Kong residents, telling them they can express their views to the NPC via an online platform. It is unclear whether those views will be fully taken into account as Beijing has signaled it wants to fast track the law. Observers believe the law will likely be in place sometime over the summer ahead of the Hong Kong legislative elections in September, where the pro-democracy camp is hoping for a big win.

Since the announcement, Beijing and its proxies have been trying to reassure Hong Kong residents that the law will only affect a small targeted portion of Hong Kong. Yet over the past week alone, the language of the proposal was expanded in scope to include groups and organizations in addition to individuals who engaged in acts and activities of sedition, secession and foreign interference.

Issues that will need to be clarified are whether those charged with the new law will be tried in Hong Kong or the mainland and whether local judges with foreign passports would be able to preside over cases.

There is another hotly debated provision in the proposal that allows mainland Chinese security agents to operate openly in Hong Kong for the first time. Hong Kong maintains a separate legal system to the mainland, so will these security agents adhere to locals laws?

Hong Kong legal scholar Johannes Chan told Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Thursday that it would be naive to believe that proposed law would only affect “a small group of people.”

“In China they never really define what exactly is 'national security,’" Chan said in the interview. “So the law could change according to political expediency or political necessity.”

The proposed law has brought street protests back onto the streets of Hong Kong in recent days but they have been met with heavy police presence. Hong Kong Police arrested over 300 protestors across the city on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


perception_photography/iStockBy HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- An Australian wildlife park has welcomed the very first koala born at the park since the devastating Australian bushfires.

Meet Ash, the first baby koala, called a joey, born this season at the Australian Reptile Park in central New South Wales. The park, which shared the news in a May 26 Facebook post, said that Ash is a sign of hope for the future of Australia's native wildlife.

"We have a very special announcement... Our very first koala of the season has popped out of Mums pouch to say hello!" the park wrote. "Keepers have decided to name her Ash! Ash is the first koala born at the park since the tragic Australian bushfires and is a sign of hope for the future of Australia's native wildlife."

Catastrophic bushfires devastated Australia beginning in early July 2019 and into early 2020. New South Wales burned for more than 240 days, with more than 13 million acres scorched and nearly 2,500 homes destroyed, according to New South Wales Rural Fire Service. At least 25 people were killed across the country, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

More than one billion animals were killed in the fires, according to estimates from January 2020 by the University of Sydney. At least 800 million of those animals were in New South Wales.

After months of blazes, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported in March that there were "currently no active bush or grass fires in [New South Wales]."

As represented by her name, this new baby koala stands to represent hope for the wildlife that is beginning to rise from the ashes left by the devastating fire season.

The Australian Reptile Park, where Ash will make her debut, was closed due to coronavirus restrictions, but plans to reopen on June 1 with new social distancing precautions in place for visitors.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


pawel.gaul/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Hong Kong has lost its autonomy from the Chinese government, the Trump administration said in a historic report to Congress Wednesday, laying the groundwork for the territory to lose its special status under U.S. law and threatening its economic power.

The certification from the State Department marks a dramatic turning point for the territory as the Chinese government moves to implement a series of national security laws that it says is aimed to outlaw secession, subversion and foreign interference in Hong Kong, but that critics see as the death knell of the "one country, two systems" that makes the territory unique.

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The change in policy position does not yet have any effect, but it lays the legal groundwork for President Donald Trump to take executive actions to terminate Hong Kong's special status under U.S. law, including looser export controls than mainland China; agreements on taxation, currency exchange and sanctions; and law enforcement cooperation, like extradition.

The end of those agreements could sink the estimated $66.8 billion of trade between the U.S. and Hong Kong, imperil the offices hundreds of U.S. companies have there and spell the death of Hong Kong's status as an international financial capital.

Trump himself is determining the next steps now that the certification has been made, according to the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific, but it will be "considered" and "as targeted as possible to change behavior" by Beijing.

"We'll do our best to ensure that the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected to the best we can," said Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell. "Our approach is to mitigate the impact globally, on the Hong Kong people, while at the same time helping Beijing understand our concerns."

But they are "not hopeful that Beijing will reverse itself," he added -- blaming the Chinese government for whatever comes next.

"This decision was made by the government in Beijing and not by U.S.," Stilwell said. "We're simply responding to what the PRC is doing."

Some critics say that any steps to end Hong Kong's special status, as opposed to sanctioning Chinese or Hong Kong officials, would play right into Beijing's hands by punishing Hong Kong economically, while giving Beijing grounds to further tighten control.

"Changing Hong Kong's status will not only undercut Hong Kong's exports and harm its economy, but also invite Chinese retaliation, like changing the rules benefiting U.S. firms there. Mainland China will suffer a bit but probably not enough to substantially change Beijing's calculus," said Benjamin Friedman, policy director for Defense Priorities, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

But some of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement leaders welcomed the announcement as a key leverage point against Beijing.

"Our hope is that a drastic change of American policy will encourage them to reverse course on Hong Kong. For the past year, we've been fighting, first, against extradition arrangements with China and, now, a sweeping national-security law. The world must not turn a blind eye.," tweeted Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders.

The Chinese government has not yet responded to Pompeo's announcement. The editor of the Global Times, the Communist Party's tabloid that often serves as a mouthpiece, bashed Pompeo on Twitter, a platform banned for the Chinese public, accusing the "habitually lying Secretary of State" of telling "the US Congress what Hong Kong national security law is before it's even enacted."

China's National People's Congress is expected to ratify Thursday a bill that set guidelines for national security legislation for Hong Kong, which would possibly deploy Chinese government security to the territory and bypass Hong Kong's legislature by crafting and approving laws in Beijing.

Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Hong Kong was promised a certain level of autonomy, but also required to pass its own national security law, known as "Article 23." That law has faced fierce public opposition in the last two decades, however, and it's never been passed.

Last June, the territory's chief executive Carrie Lam attempted to pass an extradition bill that sparked massive protests, with critics casting it as "Article 23-light." After weeks of demonstrations and clashes with police that fueled more anger, Lam and the pro-Beijing bloc stood down on the extradition bill.

In the face of that opposition, the Chinese government is now using the National People's Congress to take matters into its own hands and force the laws on the territory without the local legislature's input.

"This is the end of Hong Kong. This is the end of one country, two systems. This is it. Make no mistake about it," pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok said last week.

The certification to Congress is required annually under last year's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which could also bring sanctions on Chinese or Hong Kong officials for their crackdown on democratic protests against creeping rule by Beijing. Although Pompeo's statement said he made the certification, one congressional aide told ABC News that Congress has yet to receive the report.

"As usual with this administration, Congress has been kept out of the loop, in spite of strong, demonstrated bipartisan support for Hong Kong," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "As the administration considers next steps, it is essential for Secretary Pompeo to work with Congress as is required by law."

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said "it is time" for all U.S. service members to exit Afghanistan, undermining his administration's agreement with the Taliban that stipulates any withdrawal below 8,600 troops be based on conditions on the ground.

His latest comments come as that deal, signed in February, endangered by a sharp spike in Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces, faces a precarious path forward. The militant group and Afghan government have agreed to a 10-day truce to reduce violence and to the release of hundreds of prisoners, laying the groundwork for peace negotiations nearly three months after they were scheduled.

"We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan," the president tweeted on Wednesday. "After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!"

The peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban called for a reduction in the number of American forces from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July. At the height of the nearly two-decade conflict, there were approximately 100,000 troops in the country.

A U.S. official told ABC News on Wednesday that the number of U.S. service members currently in Afghanistan is between 8,600 and 10,000, despite the president telling reporters on Tuesday that "we are down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now." A second official said that the U.S. draw down is "well ahead of schedule" and "close to reaching" that 8,600 number.

The U.S. is set to withdraw all forces in 14 months if the Taliban also uphold their commitments in the agreement -- to sit with an Afghan national delegation for peace negotiations and to break ties with terror groups like al-Qaida.

"Any reductions under (8,600) will be conditions-based, after the U.S. government assesses the security environment and the Taliban's compliance with the agreement, and in coordination with our NATO allies and partners," said chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman during a briefing on Tuesday.

But there is concern that Trump, who has pledged to "end America's endless wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq, will push for a quicker withdrawal or one that disregards those conditions on the ground.

His public statements on Afghanistan followed a New York Times report that senior military officials were preparing to brief Trump this week about options for pulling troops out of Afghanistan, including an option for a full withdrawal before the U.S. presidential election in November -- though the officials would not advocate for that option, the Times said.

Asked about a November target date for a withdrawal, Trump said on Tuesday, "No, I have no target but as soon as reasonable."

The aftermath of the U.S.-Taliban agreement got off to a rocky start with an escalation in violence by the Taliban against Afghan forces, domestic political squabbles, and an inability to agree on a prisoner exchange. However, there has been positive momentum in the last couple weeks as the Taliban and Afghan government work toward face-to-face peace talks of their own.

Over the weekend, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the Eid holiday, and the Afghan government agreed to release 2,000 Taliban fighters it held in custody. Earlier this month, Afghan government leadership also committed to a power-sharing agreement.

Hoffman called these steps "promising" but refused to say whether current conditions on the ground would warrant a further draw down in U.S. troops. Meanwhile, senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, continue to call for a reduction in violence.

Eight American service members have died and 11 have been wounded serving in Afghanistan this year, according to Defense Department data.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Marilyn Nieves/iStockBy AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- A former member of the Venezuelan National Assembly and an ally of disputed President Nicolas Maduro was charged Wednesday in New York with narco-terrorism offenses that include cocaine trafficking and coordination with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Adel El Zabayar was part of Maduro's Cartel de Los Soles that sought support from FARC, Hezbollah and Hamas to achieve the objective of "flooding" the United States with cocaine, according to federal prosecutors.

"Today's charges against Adel El Zabayar for trading arms for cocaine, and recruiting extremists, further demonstrates the corruption inside the Maduro regime," said DEA acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea.

El Zabayar, of Syrian descent, was photographed in Syria in 2013 alongside troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad, and the criminal complaint portrays him as a go-between in an alliance that involved drug runners, the Venezuelan military and groups the U.S. considers terrorist organizations.

Prosecutors said El Zabayar was one of several cartel members that received a planeload of military grade weaponry from Lebanon.

"The men received a Lebanese cargo plane that was full of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-103s, and sniper rifles, that El Zabayar had obtained while he was in the Middle East," the criminal complaint said.

"We further allege today, for the first time, that the Cártel de Los Soles sought to recruit terrorists from Hizballah and Hamas to assist in planning and carrying out attacks on the U.S., and that El Zabayar was instrumental as a go-between," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said.

Court records described a 2014 meeting at the presidential palace in Caracas during which El Zabayar, Maduro and others "discussed, among other things, and in substance and in part, arranging a meeting between the leaders of the FARC and the leaders of Hizballah and Hamas."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Aaron Chown - Pool/Getty ImagesBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Kensington Palace on Wednesday issued an extraordinary rebuttal of a cover story that will appear in the British society magazine, Tatler.

The article, "Catherine the Great," is a profile of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, describing her as a “King maker” and “the ultimate power player” in the British royal family.

The author, Anna Pasternak, paints a largely positive picture of the duchess, charting her rise to prominence, the steadfast role she has played in Prince William’s life and her deep sense of duty toward the monarchy and her role within it.

“She doesn’t create press headaches or court scandal, which, given everything else that is going on, is an almighty relief,” one source told Pasternak.

Kensington Palace has taken issue with the story and is publicly rebutting some of the claims made by sources.

"This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication," the palace said in a statement Wednesday.

The in-depth look at Duchess Kate touches upon more controversial topics like her relationship with her sister-in-law, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and what Meghan and Prince Harry's departure from royal duties has meant for the Cambridges.

The palace is pushing back against comments made by one source who said the Cambridges are not pleased with the increased work load caused by the Sussexes' move to Los Angeles last month. The source describing Kate as feeling “exhausted and trapped” was something Kensington Palace immediately refuted, calling it false.

Tatler’s Editor-in Chief Richard Dennen is standing by Pasternak’s reporting and her sources, telling ABC News, "Kensington Palace knew we were running the 'Catherine the Great' cover months ago and we asked them to work together on it. The fact they are denying they ever knew is categorically false."

The Cambridges have stayed busy with work over the past two months while following stay-at-home orders in the U.K. due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both William and Kate have participated in several video calls with everyone from teachers to students and health care workers while staying at their Anmer Hall home in Norfolk with their three young children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Kate also recently launched a photography project to commemorate this period in history.

It is an unusual move for Kensington Palace to take on a publication like Tatler.

The Cambridges have a much smoother relationship with the media than the Sussexes, who are both embroiled in lawsuits with several British tabloids.

“The headline suggested this was a positive profile about Kate but clearly many of the details were not well-received behind palace walls," said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. "The royals don’t make a habit of issuing statements about stories so it’s obvious that they felt strongly about this one and wanted to make sure people are aware that they absolutely refute these representations.”

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Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty ImagesBy SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, put her acting skills to the test to help out in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Camilla, the wife of Prince Charles, read and acted out the Roald Dahl classic children's book James and the Giant Peach as part of a web series called "James and the Giant Peach, with Taika and friends," hosted by Oscar-winning screenwriter and director, Taika Waititi.

"I'm thrilled to do it," Camilla said in a clip of the reading that aired Wednesday on Good Morning America. "Not that I'm much of an actor, but I shall do my best."

The Duchess of Cornwall has joined @TaikaWaititi and The @roald_dahl Story Company for her first character reading in Episode 6 of James and The Giant Peach with #TaikaAndFriends. 📖

— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) May 27, 2020

The Duchess of Cornwall joins a growing list of celebrities who have shared their voices to help raise money in the fight against COVID-19. The 10-episode "James and the Giant Peach with Taika and Friends" series features characters voiced by Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cara Delevingne, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Ryan Reynolds and Meryl Streep.

The series, seen in full on Dahl's official YouTube page, raises money for Partners in Health, a medical and social justice organization fighting COVID-19 and providing health care to the most vulnerable people around the world.

New episodes of the series air every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. EST, 10 a.m. PST.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


omersukrugoksu/iStockBy GUY DAVIES and BRUNO ROEBER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Sweden has pursued its own distinct path when it comes to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. By choosing to stay open rather than instituting a policy of lockdown, Sweden's policies have drawn both international praise and criticism.

While Sweden's decision early in the pandemic to allow bars, restaurants, schools and shops to remain open was almost unthinkable for the rest of the world under lockdown, the Scandinavian country is now being looked at by some as a model for the future.

Recently, Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the U.S. must “keep an open mind” when it comes to the Swedish approach, as governments across Europe and the U.S. chart a way out of lockdown.

Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the architect behind Sweden’s policy, has repeatedly doubled down on the merits of his country's approach. Sweden, he said, is playing the long game despite the country having a much higher death rate than its neighbors.

“In the autumn, there will be a second wave. Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low,” Tegnell told The Financial Times earlier this month. “But [neighboring] Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?”

Only time will test Tegnell’s hypothesis, but as countries around the world, and particularly the U.S., ponder what the coming months will look like, the case of Sweden is a fascinating case study. According to one sociologist, the country’s alternative path is a chance to “learn more” where so many others have shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 deaths

Tegnell’s approach to the pandemic has proved highly controversial. Social distancing was encouraged by government officials but for the most part Swedes have continued on with their lives. They were still able to send their children to school and visit bars and restaurants, although gatherings of over 50 people remain banned.

Sweden, with a population of 10 million, has so far had 4,029 officially recorded COVID-19 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. But the country has a far higher rate of infections and deaths than its Scandinavian counterparts.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden has an estimated 328.6 cases and 39.3 deaths per 100,000 of the population. Norway has 156.4 cases and just 4.4 deaths respectively. Denmark and Finland have similarly low figures. Those same statistics still indicate that Sweden has a lower number of deaths per capita than Italy, Spain and the U.K., all countries that have enacted stringent lockdowns.

This is a “stark difference” to the rest of Scandinavia, according to Stefan Hanson, a Swedish infectious disease expert and signatory to a letter from top scientists criticizing the health authorities' response.

"When we compare the other Nordic countries in terms of mortality, it is clear that we are having roughly 500 deaths per week, and in Norway they had seven deaths last week,” Hanson told ABC News. “If we see the mortality per million, we are five times higher than all the other Nordic countries, taken the number of inhabitants into consideration."

“There is no doubt that this strategy is causing a lot of unnecessary deaths,” he added.

Tegnell and other government officials have repeatedly dismissed the idea of going into lockdown and reversing Sweden’s course.

The government has not said it explicitly, but the strategy of staying open has the de facto goal of “herd immunity” -- the view that if enough people have become immune to the virus, the spread will slow, Hanson said. In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has dismissed the idea, saying the first step is to develop a vaccine.

Herd immunity would require between 60% and 80% of the population becoming immune to the virus. But new data shows that only 7.3% of the inhabitants of Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, has COVID-19 antibodies, meaning the pursuit of immunity, given the likely increase in deaths, is a “dangerous approach,” Hanson said.

"Even those [countries] who have had very severe epidemics, lots of deaths, lockdowns ... they have had very low immunity levels in the population," he said.

Stockholm will not have herd immunity by the end of this month, Tegnell noted.

Yet Sweden, like the U.S. and the rest of Europe under lockdown, has suffered from the virus entering nursing homes, or care home facilities. Residents of these homes account for almost half of coronavirus deaths in Sweden. But in mainland Europe, the percentage of nursing home deaths is remarkably high, according to data compiled by the European Center of Disease Control. That problem is not unique to Sweden’s approach.

With warnings that Europe will experience a second wave of infections this fall, there is arguably a long-term rationale behind the Swedish model: that over time infection and death rates will equalize between comparable countries that locked down and those that did not.

‘Wealth is health’

In the U.S., Fauci has been adamant that the development of a vaccine, rather than "herd immunity," is crucial in defeating the virus. But with a minimum of 12-18 months before a vaccine could be ready, if at all, and a further period allocated for the distribution of the vaccine, it’s clear that the coronavirus is going to be a part of our daily lives for a long time, according to Tegnell.

In the rest of Europe, the economic impact of the lockdown is already being felt, although the true extent is being masked by generous government loan schemes. In the U.K., the government has pledged to pay 80% of furloughed workers' wages until October, but that hasn’t stopped the Bank of England from forecasting the worst recession in three centuries. The European Commission has warned that the continent’s economy will contract by 7.4% this year.

A number of economists have supported the government’s policy. Lotta Stern, a professor of sociology at Stockholm University who recently co-authored an article suggesting that Sweden’s approach would soon be the world’s, told ABC News that the country has taken “the least bad option” and the issue is more complex than a simple trade of health and economics.

“That framing is entirely wrong,” she said. “Wealth is health. Whichever way you count, freedom and flexibility usually perform better than central command.”

Sweden’s economy has too suffered, she said. But by keeping schools, bars and restaurants open, the country has not seen the same rise in unemployment figures elsewhere in the world.

“As surreal as things are here in Sweden, it seems so much more surreal in the U.S. and U.K.,” she said. “Swedes don’t realize how oppressive other countries have become. What is their exit strategy? The more we learn about the disease the more it seems that they have overreacted.”

Ordinary Swedes in general have been very supportive of the government. Fredrick Kahånsson, a risk management consultant at a construction company in Stockholm, told ABC News that despite how the country’s policy is perceived, there is “no right or wrong,” and it must be up for ordinary people to decide how to live their lives.

“I do support Sweden’s general approach because what you see in the other countries when they open up it starts spreading again,” he said. “So if you can’t really terminate it with a complete lockdown this is just going to be a prolonged process.”

A viable model?

Sweden benefits from a number of favorable conditions when it comes to encouraging individuals to take responsibility for how they interpret social distancing. The country has a strong public health and education systems as well as near unparalleled levels of public trust in the government.

Yet for Hanson, the stand-off approach has proved too costly and he argued the country is “definitely not a model” for the international community to emulate in the long run.

"First of all you have to focus on the disease, to get that under control," he said. "The control is in the other Nordic countries. We don't have to have the lockdown, we just have to be a little bit stricter with the rules."

The economic consequences of lockdown will be felt with a greater intensity than the coronavirus pandemic itself, according to Stern.

“Other countries will have to let up on lockdowns, yes,” she said. “They panicked and hoped to buy enough time. But I think they will increasingly see that their medicine was worse than the disease.”

Early indications suggest that Sweden’s GDP fell by just 0.3% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 3.8% in the rest of the Eurozone, the European economic bloc which holds the Euro as currency, according to The Financial Times. It is still too early to say whether Sweden will reap the economic benefits of "lockdown-lite" in the coming years.

But with a vaccine still at the very least a year away, there may be a matter of inevitability in how countries like the U.S. and U.K., so badly hit by the pandemic, chart their future.

'We are going to have second wave and third wave -- I think the rest of the world is going to have to do more of the Swedish approach because there is not going to be a world to save if we shut everything down again, and again, and again,” Kahånsson said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Shailesh Bhatnagar/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty ImagesBy LAUREN EFFRON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As millions of people around the world continue to live with quarantine lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and other similar restrictions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Dalai Lama is no exception.

His Holiness, who spoke with ABC News' Dan Harris for his podcast, "Ten Percent Happier," said he has spent the past few months in isolation "in order to protect" himself.

"Usually I [am giving] some lecture and some teaching from time to time, now [I] no longer [have] the opportunity," said the Tibetan spiritual leader.

While in isolation, the Dalai Lama said he watches "1 hour or 2 hours" of television, he "sometimes is reading" and he'll do a daily online meditation for "4 or 5 hours."

"Very helpful," he said. In addition, he shared watching videos of “animals” have been a source of relaxation for him.

“Sometimes the animal, tigers or leopard, these -- sometimes [can be] a little bit uncomfortable. But deers and [similar animals are], very peaceful, very peaceful,” he said. “I found to look animal… you appreciate this your life.”

For those who are struggling with being in isolation or having a hard time managing the anxiety that goes along with adjusting to life around a global pandemic and restrictions, the Dalai Lama suggested doing meditation in the early mornings.

Even if "in the beginning" it starts with a 1-second mediation, he said, work your way up to "1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes."

He also encouraged people to practice compassion towards one another and to "decay" their own "selfish interests" to build a community.

"Taking care [of] other[s] is actually taking care of yourself," His Holiness said. "To just take care of yourself is narrow, foolish, shortsighted. As much as you love yourself ... you should take care of [others] more."

The interview, which was conducted remotely over video, was set up through The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and the center's founder, has collaborated with the Dalai Lama for years on research studying the impact meditation can have on the human brain. Even as a spiritual leader, His Holiness believes it's important to have scientific research into meditation.

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 350,000 people worldwide. The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 1.6 million diagnosed cases and at least 98,929 deaths.

Over 5.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with the disease, which is caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations' outbreaks.

The first known cases of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan, China, in December. The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India since he fled from Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, said he believes this global pandemic "will change" China.

"I am always praying for one billion Chinese people to see -- [they] should enjoy more freedom and more religious freedom and practice study," the spiritual leader said. "You see a friendly sort of feeling here, that gives me more inner peace."

He added that he believes the virus "will change basic human nature."

The Dalai Lama said Trump’s expression of “America First” made him feel “a little uncomfortable.” He considers the U.S. to be the “leading nation of the free world,” and with that comes an opportunity to be a leader in reaching out and being kinder to other people and other countries, regardless of position or socio-economic status.

“If you think only [of] America and isolate yourself, then sometimes you feel … lonely,” His Holiness said. “Whether you’re this neighbor or that neighbor, if you feel a little bit of distrust [or] fear, then [you] will never be happy.”

"It's unrealistic," he continued, adding that we are social animals and each individual depends on their neighbor.

Now is the time, the Dalai Lama said, to have "no feeling of oneness and to come closer" to each other.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



(PARIS) -- After decades on the run, Félicien Kabuga, who allegedly was a mastermind of the Rwanda genocide in the 1990s, was arrested by French police and will appear in court this week.

The 84-year-old lived under a false identity in a Paris suburb "with the complicity of his children," according to authorities. Kabuga was the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Mechanism, the body responsible for completing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. According to a statement from French authorities, he was one of the "most wanted fugitives in the world" and the United States had promised a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

According to Paris prosecutors, Kabuga is accused of creating the Interahamwe militias that were responsible for numerous massacres between April 1990 and July 1994. He is also accused of starting Radio-Television Mille Collines, which supported and encouraged the genocide.

At the end of a bloody civil war that started in 1990, around 800,000 Rwandans died under attack from neighbors or militias that used machetes, hoes and studded clubs. The clashes between two of Rwanda's ethnic groups started under Belgian occupation, which granted Tutsis access to education and positions of governance over the Hutus.

Olivier Olsen, who managed the apartment building where Kabuga lived outside Paris, told local news agency AFP that Kabuga was "very discreet" and someone "who whispers when you greet him."

On Wednesday, judges will decide whether to surrender Kabuga to the International Criminal Court in Arusha, Tanzania.

But Kabuga’s lawyers want Kabuga to remain in France and be tried there.

"With regard to his condition and his age, Mr. Kabuga is not in the capacity to be transferred," attorney Laurent Bayon told ABC News. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kabuga could be first transferred to The Hague before being sent to Arusha.

Bayon said Kabuga denies his involvement in the genocide. Kabuga has been hospitalized multiple times since 2016, according to Bayon, who is asking for a complete "psychiatric and psychological expertise to see to what extent [Kabuga] is able to understand" the facts of the case.

Since 1994, Kabuga had lived in various countries including Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya and Switzerland, according to French authorities.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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