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Biden, Sunak Sign US-UK Agreement on Clean Energy, AI

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday agreed to deepen close economic ties between their countries, pledging to accelerate the clean energy transition and strengthen critical mineral supply chains.

The two leaders also discussed their “unwavering support for the people in Ukraine,” Biden told reporters at a joint news conference with Sunak, an opportunity not afforded to every world leader who visits the White House.

Biden and the British prime minister released the Atlantic Declaration, which Sunak described as a first-of-its-kind economic partnership on issues like artificial intelligence, climate change and protecting technologies that would help shape the future.

“I know some people have wondered what kind of partner Britain would be after it left the EU,” Sunak said. “I’d say, judge us by our actions. We’re as committed to our values as ever, as reliable of an ally as ever, as attractive an investment destination as ever.”

Biden hailed the intensity of the economic relationship as an “enormous source of strength” that underpinned broader ties between the NATO allies. “We discussed how we can continue to adapt and upgrade our partnership to ensure our countries remain at the cutting edge of a rapidly changing world,” he said.

The two leaders shared laughs and more sober sentiments when they met in the Oval Office about the close relations between prior leaders from the two countries as they previewed topics for the meeting, including artificial intelligence and Northern Ireland, as well as joint economic and security interests, including in Asia.

The meeting, their fourth in as many months, came as Western officials sought to ascertain whether Russia was responsible for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, which has displaced thousands of people and caused major economic and environmental damage. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for the dam’s destruction.

Biden and Sunak both underscored continued support for Ukraine to ensure its long-term security and deter aggression after the war ends.

Sunak said Ukraine’s supporters needed to send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that their backing for Kyiv will not weaken as the war goes on.

“We’re not going anywhere. We will be here for as long as it takes,” he said. “And hopefully that will speed up the calculation in his mind that he should withdraw his forces.”

Thursday’s discussion focused heavily on ensuring the safety of AI and other emerging technologies, Sunak told reporters, saying Britain would host the first summit on the issue this autumn to discuss how the risks of AI can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action.

Sunak had pushed to strengthen trading ties between Britain and the United States, keen to show some progress after the Biden administration quashed any speedy prospect of a post-Brexit free trade agreement between the two countries.

Asked about the absence of a bigger trade deal, Sunak said the “specific, targeted measures” now being discussed were the right thing to focus on since they would remove red tape and facilitate billions of pounds of new investment in Britain.

Sunak also sought Biden’s backing for defense minister Ben Wallace’s bid to become the next secretary-general of NATO. Biden said it remains to be seen whether it’s time for a British leader of NATO, adding that the organization’s members need to build consensus on a future leader.

Kremlin Says Ammonia Pipeline Blast Is Negative for Black Sea Grain Deal 

The Kremlin on Thursday said a blast that damaged a pipeline once used to export Russian ammonia via Ukraine could have a “negative impact” on the fate of a Black Sea grain deal.

The Togliatti-Odesa pipeline, which once pumped up to 2.5 million tons of ammonia annually for global export to Ukraine’s Pivdennyi port on the Black Sea from Togliatti in western Russia, has been idle since the start of the war in February last year. 

Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up a part of the pipeline, the world’s longest to carry ammonia, in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Monday. The regional Ukrainian governor said Russia had shelled the pipeline on Tuesday. Neither side provided evidence to back its allegations. 

Asked by reporters about how the damage to the pipeline could affect the fate of the Black Sea grain deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “It can only have a negative impact.”  

He described it as “yet another complication in terms of extending the deal,” adding that Russia did not know “what kind of destruction” there had been to the ammonia pipeline.  

Russia has threatened to walk away from the Black Sea grain deal on July 17 if demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports are not met. The deal, struck in July last year, facilitates the “safe navigation” of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizers — including ammonia — for export to global markets. 

U.N. officials are continuing discussions with all the parties to the deal, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.  

“We’re continuing our efforts through as many avenues as we can, given the importance of all of this to the fight against global hunger and ensuring that the prices of food do not spike on the global market,” Dujarric told reporters.  

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Ukraine grain Black Sea export deal to help alleviate a global food crisis worsened by conflict disrupting exports from two of the world’s leading grain suppliers. 

To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a separate three-year agreement was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports. 

Dujarric said top U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan was due to meet with Russian officials in Geneva on Friday “as part of our routine contacts on our efforts to facilitate the trade in Russian fertilizer and Russian grain.”

Russian Industry and Trade minister Denis Manturov said earlier Thursday that Moscow had no access to the damaged part of the pipeline and did not expect to be granted it, the Interfax news agency reported. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that it would take one to three months to repair the damaged section of the pipeline.

Four Children Wounded in Knife Attack in French Town, Two in Critical Condition

A Syrian national wounded four children and an adult in a knife attack in a park in the southeastern French town of Annecy on Thursday, police said, leaving some of the victims critically ill in hospital.

The attacker was a Syrian national with legal refugee status in France, a police official told Reuters. He was not known to security agencies and his motives were unclear, an investigative source said.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that the attacker had been arrested.

Two children and one adult were in life-threatening condition, while two children were slightly hurt, police said.

“Children and one adult are between life and death. The nation is in shock,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice.”

Witnesses said at least one of the children wounded in the attack was in a stroller. The incident took place at around 0745 GMT in the playground of a lakeside park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps.

“He jumped (in the playground), started shouting and then went towards the strollers, repeatedly hitting the little ones with a knife,” a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV.

“Mothers were crying, everybody was running,” said George, another witness and owner of a nearby restaurant.

The TV channel showed footage of several policemen overpowering an individual in a park. 

“Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” National Assembly speaker Yael Braun-Pivet said on Twitter. Parliament observed a minute of silence to mark the incident.

In Photos: Ukrainians Flee Flood Following Destruction of Kakhovka Dam

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the Kherson region where thousands of people are dealing with the effects from flooding following the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. The hydroelectric dam in Russian-held territory was destroyed on June 6, flooding dozens of villages and parts of a nearby city, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the destruction.

Biden To Host British Prime Minister Sunak for White House Talks

U.S. President Joe Biden will host British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for talks at the White House Thursday that are expected to cover economic ties and supporting Ukraine in its defense against a Russian invasion.

The visit by Sunak is his first to the United States since becoming prime minister in October, but he and Biden have already met three times this year.

“The two leaders will review a range of global issues, including our economic partnership, our shared support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s brutal war of aggression, as well as further action to accelerate the clean energy transition,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. “The president and the prime minister will also discuss the joint U.S.-U.K. leadership on critical and emerging technologies as well as our work to strengthen our economic security. They will also review developments in Northern Ireland as part of their shared commitment to preserving the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

Ahead of Thursday’s talks, Sunak said he would push for closer economic relations in the same spirit as the countries’ defense and security cooperation.

“Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak said.

British officials said Sunak also wanted to discuss ways to protect global supply chains, particularly against individual countries that may corner and manipulate markets for certain sectors.

Another topic on the agenda for Sunak is the regulation of the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence.

Before meeting with Biden, Sunak held talks with congressional leaders and took part in a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. He also appeared at the Washington Nationals baseball game where the team was honoring U.S.-U.K. Friendship Day.

White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters

Latest in Ukraine: Zelenskyy Visits Flood-Hit Kherson

Latest developments:

U.S. President Joe Biden to host NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg for talks Monday with support for Ukraine at the top of the agenda ahead of next month’s NATO summit.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said Thursday he spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the upcoming visits to Russia and Ukraine by a delegation of African leaders who are seeking to help resolve the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday he visited the Kherson region where thousands of people are dealing with the effects from flooding following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.

Zelenskyy shared a video on Telegram of him meeting with officials and said they discussed evacuations, restoring the region’s ecosystem and the military situation in the area.

That followed his nightly address Wednesday in which he called for a “clear and quick response from the world.”

He said “large-scale efforts are needed” including the help of groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC said earlier Wednesday it was closely coordinating with the Ukrainian Red Cross to support the humanitarian response to the dam’s destruction.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “promised NATO mechanisms will be used to provide humanitarian assistance.”  Kuleba and Stoltenberg announced they would lead a meeting Thursday with NATO allies to discuss the situation.

The governor of the Kherson region said Thursday about 600 square kilometers were under water.

Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said about two-thirds of the flooded land was on the side of the Dnipro River occupied by Russia, while one-third was on the side still under Ukrainian control.

Prokudin said efforts to evacuate people from flooded areas were ongoing.

The hydroelectric dam collapsed Tuesday, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the destruction.

Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.  

‘I’m Going to Miami:’ Messi Confirms Move to Major League Soccer

Lionel Messi on Wednesday announced that he intends to join Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami as a free agent after parting ways with French champions Paris Saint-Germain and snubbing a lucrative contract offer in Saudi Arabia.

Messi, who played his final game for PSG over the weekend, was also linked with a return to Barcelona, but the Spanish club have had their hands tied due to LaLiga’s financial fair play rules.

“I made the decision that I’m going to go to Miami,” Messi said in an interview with Mundo Deportivo and Sport newspapers.

“I still haven’t closed it 100%. I’m still missing a few things, but we decided to go ahead. If Barcelona didn’t work out, I wanted to leave Europe, get out of the spotlight and think more about my family.”

Messi, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar in December and has earned a record seven Ballon d’Or awards, won the Ligue 1 title in his two seasons with PSG, as well as the French Super Cup in 2022.

“After winning the World Cup and not being able to go to Barca, it was time to go to the U.S. league to experience football in a different way and enjoy the day-to-day,” Messi said.

“Obviously with the same responsibility and desire to want to win and to always do things well. But with more peace of mind.”

Ownership stake

The MLS said it was pleased that Messi intends to join Inter Miami this summer.

Messi had wanted to go to a club where he could eventually have an ownership stake, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters this week. He also wanted to maximize his existing deal with Adidas and MLS’s relationship with Apple.

MLS earns a flat fee of around $250 million per year from Apple until it reaches a certain threshold of subscriptions, after which point it will earn a share of the revenue from those subscriptions.

Messi’s move to MLS is expected to drive viewers to the Apple TV streaming platform, as the world’s most recognizable soccer player.

The forward was also linked with a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad after he received a formal offer.

The Gulf country has been looking to bring the game’s biggest players to its league and was successful in persuading Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo to join Al Nassr soon after the World Cup. French striker Karim Benzema joined Al Ittihad this week.

Inter Miami is co-owned by former England captain David Beckham, who was one of the first major European stars to move to the United States to play in the MLS, winning the MLS Cup twice with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Messi will have his work cut out in Miami, however, with the club rock bottom of the Eastern Conference standings — six points from ninth place, the final spot which would give them a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

The team sacked coach Phil Neville last week after a dismal run of 10 defeats and five wins this season, a stark contrast to last season when they finished sixth and qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs.

Ukraine Rejects Calls to ‘Freeze’ Conflict, Foreign Minister Says

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday that talks about resolving the conflict with Russia could not start with a mere cessation of hostilities.

“If anyone thinks they should freeze the conflict and then see how to solve it, they don’t understand it,” he said in an online briefing aimed at African journalists, following a tour of African countries.

More than 100 rounds of consultation and attempts at a cease-fire since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 only led to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he said.

A delegation of African heads of state is expected to visit Ukraine and Russia in the next few days, hoping to persuade them to cease hostilities, a spokesperson for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told Reuters last month.

He said on Wednesday that no date had been set for the mission.

Such a proposal means that Russian troops would remain on Ukrainian soil even as peace talks start. Ukraine previously said Russian forces should withdraw before such negotiations could start, while Moscow wants Kyiv to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea as a precondition for negotiations.

President Macky Sall of Senegal, last year’s African Union chairman, whose country was not present at the latest U.N. vote condemning Russia in February, leads the initiative. The current African Union chairman, Comoros Islands President Othman Ghazali, was recently added to the delegation.

It also includes Presidents Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia — which both voted for the resolution — and Congo Republic’s Denis Sassou Nguesso and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, which both abstained, as did South Africa.

Kuleba has been on a charm offensive in Africa to win support on a continent where 30 of the 54 African U.N. member states voted in favor of the U.N. resolution condemning Russia’s invasion.

“What we see in our relations with the continent right now is fair to call a Ukrainian-African renaissance,” Kuleba said.

He had no details on what the African peace mission entailed, but he welcomed it.

“We are looking forward to hosting these presidents in Kyiv,” he said.

Surprise Merger of PGA Tour, Saudi-Backed LIV Golf Stuns Sport

In a surprise announcement this week, the PGA Tour, golf’s long-established premier professional league, announced that it would merge with LIV Golf, an upstart league founded by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which was founded in 2021 and began hosting tournaments only last year.

The announcement, unexpected by most people associated with the sport, was particularly surprising because the relationship between the two leagues had seemed overtly hostile since LIV began spending money lavishly to lure top golfers away from the PGA.

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement released by his league.

“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in the same document. “We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide.”

Major change

The pleasantries that marked the announcement were a marked departure from the way the PGA’s leadership was talking about LIV only last year. As LIV began competing with the PGA for talent, Monahan and others repeatedly cited the Saudi government’s poor human rights record, in an apparent attempt to shame golfers into remaining in the fold.

In a widely cited television interview last June, Monahan asked wavering PGA golfers to ask themselves, “Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

John A. Fortunato, a professor at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and author of the book Making the Cut: Life Inside the PGA Tour System, told VOA he was surprised by the PGA’s change in tone.

“My first impression was complete shock,” Fortunato said. “I didn’t see it coming. I just thought there was such antagonism between the two and that because of the association with the Saudis, the PGA would never merge with that group.”

Activist groups that oppose the Saudi regime, including 9/11 Families United, which blames the Saudi government for its ties to the 9/11 terror attacks, were angered by the announcement.

Terry Strada, who chairs the group, said in a statement, “PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation. But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation.”

Tough competitor

LIV Golf first appeared on the scene in 2021 with a handful of big-name supporters, including Australian golf legend Greg Norman as its CEO, and a whole lot of money. As the league’s debut neared in 2022, it began spreading some of that money around.

LIV reportedly dangled signing bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars in a successful bid to entice several well-known players to join its ranks, attracting notable figures including American Dustin Johnson and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

LIV also promised eye-popping purses for tournament winners, often several times the value of those offered at comparable PGA Tour events. In its inaugural tournament last year, winner Carl Schwartzel earned $4 million. At the same event, Schwarzel was a member of the team that won a group competition and split another $3 million.

That same weekend on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy won the prestigious RBC Canadian Open and took home a relatively modest $1.5 million.

Rethinking golf

The wealth of its prize money was not the only way in which LIV tried to differentiate itself from the PGA Tour. The Saudi-backed league marketed itself as a modernized version of the game, with events marked by raucous music, a relaxed dress code and new playing formats, including a team-based competition.

The league’s name comes from the Roman numerals that make up the number 54 — a reference to the number of holes played in the league’s tournaments, which consist of three rounds of 18 holes each. By contrast, PGA Tour events last for four rounds and 72 holes, though many of the lowest-performing participants are eliminated, or “cut,” at the halfway point.

After its initial tournament in 2022, the PGA announced that any of its members who had participated would be suspended and blocked from playing in future PGA-sponsored events.

However, as the year went on, a steady stream of players began migrating to the new league. And because the PGA does not sponsor some of the sport’s most significant tournaments, including the Masters Tournament and the U.S. Open, LIV players were not barred from them, and several finished in the top ranks.

This May, after LIV player Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship — which is sponsored by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, not the PGA Tour — many connected to the sport began to wonder if it would remain financially viable for the PGA Tour to continue suspending players of his caliber.

Work to be done

The answer, which became clear on Tuesday, was that it would not.

The leaders of the PGA Tour had swallowed their concerns about being associated with Saudi Arabia and agreed to a merger. The deal will leave the PGA Tour’s Monahan as CEO of the as-yet-unnamed new entity, with PIF’s Al-Rumayyan as chairman of the board.

Even with the deal signed, there appears to be a significant amount of work to be done to repair the damage the yearlong schism has inflicted on the sport.

Many players who remained loyal to the PGA Tour declined tens of millions of dollars each in signing bonuses offered by LIV, as well as the opportunity to play in its big-money tournaments. LIV CEO Norman last year told The Washington Post that Tiger Woods, tied for first in total career PGA Tour victories, turned down a sum that was “mind-blowingly enormous; we’re talking about high nine digits.”

For those players, having their loyalty rewarded with a surprise merger that invites LIV golfers back into PGA Tour events will likely be a bitter pill, and one that could threaten a successful reintegration.

Fortunato of Fordham told VOA he expects that LIV golfers will face some sort of penalty, most likely a fine. But he said that won’t make up for the fact that many of them earned windfall profits from their brief association with the league — money that other golfers consciously decided to forego.

“I want to see what they do for Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, who stuck with [the PGA] through all of this,” Fortunato said. “Do they do something further for those guys? It would have to be substantial. We’re talking about millions of dollars.”

EU, US Tell Kosovo to Back Down in Serb Standoff or Face ‘Consequences’

The United States and the European Union told Kosovo on Wednesday to back down in a tense standoff with Serbs in the north of the country or face “consequences” from its longtime Western allies. 

The warnings came as U.S. and EU envoys concluded visits to Kosovo and Serbia to calm tensions that flared into violence last week, wounding dozens of NATO peace-keeping soldiers and Serb protesters in northern Kosovo. 

The violence erupted after Kosovo authorities installed ethnic Albanian mayors in municipal offices. The mayors were elected on a turnout of just 3.5% after Serbs, who form a majority in the region, boycotted local polls. 

U.S. envoy to the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar said that Kosovo must give greater autonomy to the Serb-majority municipalities if it wants to move closer to joining NATO and the EU. 

“The actions taken or not taken could have some consequences that will affect parts of the relationship (between Kosovo and the United States). I don’t want to get there,” Escobar told Kosovo media on Tuesday before going to Belgrade. 

He and the EU’s Miroslav Lajcak did not elaborate on what other consequences Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s ethnic Albanian-dominated government might face if it did not accede to their demands. 

“I don’t think that these things are resolved with pressure and by mentioning consequences and even sanctions,” Kurti told reporters on Wednesday. 

“We have challenges with EU and U.S. envoys, but our bilateral relations with the EU and U.S. are excellent.” 

Lajcak said on Monday that the envoys presented proposals to Kurti to de-escalate the situation in northern Kosovo, adding they had a “long, honest, difficult discussion.” 

Fresh municipal elections  

The United States and the EU have called on Kurti to withdraw the mayors from their offices and to pull out the special police units that helped install them form the northern municipalities. 

They have also called for fresh local elections to be held in the north, with Serb participation, and for Kosovo to implement a 2013 agreement to set up an association of Serb municipalities to give that community more autonomy. 

Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani told Reuters that the country could hold fresh elections in those municipalities if 20% of voters sign a petition asking for them.  

A senior official in Kosovo told Reuters that Western nations — which have been staunch backers of the country’s independence since it formally broke with Serbia in 2008 — had warned Kurti that Kosovo could face multiple punitive measures. 

Last week, Washington canceled the country’s participation in a U.S.-led military exercise, Defender Europe. 

EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said Lajcak would report back to foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who would then consult with EU member countries. 

He said that “only then they will discuss potential next steps or measures depending on whether the parties undertake sincere and immediate steps to de-escalate or not.” 

NATO has around 4,000 troops in Kosovo and ordered in an extra 700 as a response to the flare-up in violence. 

Prince Harry Finishes Evidence in Phone-hacking Case Against UK Tabloid

Prince Harry finished giving evidence at London’s High Court on Wednesday after nearly eight hours of cross-examination in his phone-hacking case against a British tabloid newspaper group, and described the experience as: “It’s a lot.”

Harry, the first senior British royal to appear in a witness box for more than 130 years, had been questioned for a second day over his allegations that tabloid newspapers had used unlawful means to target him since he was a child.

The prince was more combative in sometimes testy exchanges on Wednesday with Andrew Green, the lawyer for Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), the publisher of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, which he and 100 others are suing over allegations of unlawful acts between 1991 and 2011.

Harry, the fifth-in-line to the throne, appeared emotional at the end of his evidence when he was asked by his lawyer David Sherborne how it felt to answer questions about his allegations in court when “the world’s media are watching.”

Harry exhaled deeply and replied: “It’s a lot.”

Lawyers representing Harry and other claimants are arguing senior editors and executives at MGN knew about and approved of phone-hacking and instructing private investigators to obtain information by deception.

However, Green said there was no mobile phone data to indicate that Harry had been the victim of phone-hacking and contrasted it with a 2005 police investigation that led to the conviction of the former royal editor at Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World paper.

“If the court were to find that you were never hacked by any MGN journalist, would you be relieved or would you be disappointed?” Green asked the prince.

Harry replied: “That would be speculating … I believe phone-hacking was on an industrial scale across at least three of the papers at the time and that is beyond doubt.

“To have a decision against me and any other people that come behind me with their claims, given that Mirror Group have accepted hacking, … yes, I would feel some injustice,” he said.

In response to Green’s suggestion that Harry wanted to have been a victim, the prince replied: “Nobody wants to be phone hacked.”

The last time a British royal was questioned in court was in 1891, when the future Edward VII, Harry’s great-great-great grandfather, was a witness in a slander trial over a card game.

MGN, now owned by Reach RCH.L, has previously admitted its titles were involved in phone-hacking — the illegal interception of mobile voicemails — settling more than 600 claims, but Green has said there was no evidence Harry had ever been a victim.

He argued that some of the personal information had come from, or was given with the consent of, senior Buckingham Palace aides.

In reference to one article about him not being allowed to return to combat in Afghanistan, Harry said: “It is suspicious that so much is attributed to a royal source.”

In his 50-page written witness statement and in questioning, Harry has said the press had blood on its hands, destroyed his adolescence, ruined relationships with friends and girlfriends, and sowed paranoia and mistrust since 1996 when he was a schoolboy.

He also broke royal protocol to say he believed the British government as well as the media had hit “rock bottom,” while his anger at suggestions that his mother, Princess Diana, was a victim of phone-hacking before her death in 1997 was also clear.

Green, who has described some of the prince’s allegations as “total speculation,” quizzed him in detail over 33 newspaper articles whose details Harry says were obtained unlawfully and many of which related to his relationship with former girlfriend Chelsy Davy.

Harry said intimate details reported about their break-up and arguments about him visiting a strip club had been obtained by phone-hacking, while Green suggested these had been widely reported previously elsewhere.

“This process is as distressing for me as it is for her,” Harry said.

As he wrapped up almost seven-and-a-half hours of questioning, Green asked him whether it was the prince’s case that his phone had been consistently hacked on a daily basis over a 15-year period.

“It could’ve been happening on a daily basis, I simply don’t know,” he said. Asked if there was any evidence he had been hacked, Harry replied: “That’s part of the reason why I’m here.”

Experiment Halted in Norway After Whale Drowns

A controversial research project in Norway on whales’ hearing was suspended after a whale drowned, researchers said on Wednesday, as activists slammed the “cruel and pointless” experiments.

Under the project, run by the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) each summer since 2021 minke whales are captured in the Lofoten archipelago and submitted to hearing tests before they are released into the wild again.

They are run in cooperation with the US National Marine Mammal Foundation.

The experiments, aimed at gathering knowledge in order to set limits on how much noise humans should be allowed to make in the ocean, have been criticized by animal rights defenders and scientists who consider the project dangerous.

In the night between June 2 and 3, bad weather damaged the project testing site, causing a barrier line to break free. A whale became entangled in it and died, the FFI said.

The incident occurred before the official start of this year’s experiments.

The project has been put on hold indefinitely while the incident is reviewed and the site repaired.

“Our aim is to protect Minke whales and other baleens, and to protect them from harmful human-made noise,” Petter Kvadsheim, chief researcher at FFI, said.

“We will continue our work on this. The health of the animals is our main priority in this experiment.”

The project had been due to continue until the summer of 2024.

In an interview with AFP, Kvadsheim blamed the incident on bad weather rather than the experiment, and said he hoped the project could resume “in the next few days”.

“It’s never been done before and unexpected things can happen,” he said, adding that it was unfolding “step by step” and “on schedule”.

He said only “a handful” of whales were needed to complete the project.

One whale entered the testing site the first year, in 2021, but it quickly escaped.

In 2022, another minke was captured but it was released immediately because it showed signs of stress.

“We have warned that these cruel and pointless experiments would lead to whales being killed and it is sadly ironic that this poor minke has died even before the experiments have got underway,” said a spokesman for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Danny Groves.

“No whales should have to face being bundled into a cage and have electrodes implanted under his or her skin. These experiments should be halted permanently,” he added.

In 2021, 50 international scientists had written to the Norwegian government to protest against the experiments.

Vatican Says Pope Francis to Have Abdominal Surgery

Pope Francis, 86, will have surgery on his abdomen on Wednesday afternoon at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, the Vatican said in a statement. 

It added that his medical team had decided in recent days that surgery was required and that he was expected to stay in hospital for “several days” to recover. 

He will have the operation on his abdominal wall under a general anesthetic, the Vatican said. 

Francis was due to be taken to hospital following his weekly audience at the Vatican on Wednesday morning, where he made no mention of the planned operation. He had spent 40 minutes having a check-up at Gemelli hospital on Tuesday. 

The pope, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate in March, often uses a wheelchair or a cane to walk because of persistent knee pain. 

In July 2021 he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. He said earlier this year that the condition had returned. 

The pope last year said he didn’t want to have an operation on his knee because the general anesthesia for his colon surgery had brought disagreeable side-effects. 

Damage at Ukraine’s Kakhovka Reservoir Puts Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant at Risk

Ukrainian officials are on alert following the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station and say the flooding from the damaged reservoir is threatening Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The nuclear plant, occupied by Russian troops for some time, uses water from the Kakhovka reservoir to cool its reactors. VOA’s Eastern Europe chief Myroslava Gongadze has this story.

Britain Says China Has Closed Unofficial Police Stations in UK

British Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said on Tuesday China had closed reported “police service stations” at sites across the United Kingdom and that an investigation had not revealed any illegal activity by the Chinese state at these sites.

Britain has previously said reports of undeclared police stations in the country were “extremely concerning” and that any intimidation on British soil of foreign nationals by China or other states was unacceptable.

China has denied operating any such stations and issued a statement contesting Tugendhat’s remarks via its embassy in London, saying the accusations of running police posts in the U.K. were a “complete political lie.”

British police have investigated claims made by the nongovernmental human rights organization Safeguard Defenders that such police stations were operating at three British sites, Tugendhat said in a written statement to parliament.

“I can confirm that they have not, to date, identified any evidence of illegal activity on behalf of the Chinese state across these sites,” he said.

“We assess that police and public scrutiny have had a suppressive impact on any administrative functions these sites may have had.”

The Chinese government has previously said there are centers outside China run by local volunteers, not Chinese police officers, that aim to help Chinese citizens renew documents and offer other services.

U.S. federal agents arrested two New York residents in April for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” in the Chinatown district of Manhattan. China had said it firmly opposed what it called “the U.S.’s slanders and smears.”

The British government has said it was aware of about 100 such stations around the world.

“The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office have told the Chinese Embassy that any functions related to such ‘police service stations’ in the U.K. are unacceptable and that they must not operate in any form,” Tugendhat said.

“The Chinese Embassy have subsequently responded that all such stations have closed permanently. Any further allegations will be swiftly investigated in line with U.K. law.”

Asked about Tugendhat’s statement, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in London said in a statement translated from Mandarin by Reuters:

“There is simply no existence of so-called ‘overseas police posts.’ The facts have proven that the so-called ‘overseas police posts’ [are] a complete political lie, and politicians who speculate on this topic are purely in political manipulations.

“The Chinese government urges the U.K. government to stop spreading false information, to stop generating hype and slandering China.”

At UN, Belarus Shut Out in Bid for Security Council Seat

The U.N. General Assembly approved five new members for two-year terms on the organization’s powerful 15-nation Security Council on Tuesday, rejecting a bid from Belarus.

Algeria, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Slovenia and South Korea will start their terms on January 1, 2024.

The annual exercise held little excitement this year, as all but one seat was previously agreed on within regional blocs, setting up uncontested races. The only competition was between Belarus and Slovenia for a seat in the Eastern Europe Group. Slovenia defeated Belarus with 153 votes to 38.

“The race between Belarus and Slovenia is something of a litmus test for how U.N. members see East-West divisions now,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group and a long-time U.N. watcher, ahead of the vote.

Slovenia is a member of the European Union and NATO. Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has supported Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, even agreeing to house Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.

Slovenia, a small country in central Europe that was part of the former Yugoslavia, was a late entry, declaring its candidacy at the end of 2021 and campaigning intensively for about one year. Belarus, by contrast, announced its candidacy in 2007.

Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon told reporters ahead of the vote that, if elected, Slovenia would act as a unifying force on the Security Council.

“And with tensions and divisions that we all face today between the major players in the international community, many countries especially the smaller ones which make up the majority of the U.N. membership, want to connect with trusted partners,” she said.

Even though nearly all the seats were uncontested, candidates still needed to win a two-thirds majority of votes cast to succeed.

South Korea was confirmed for its seat with 180 votes. It will be the first time it sits on the council at the same time as Japan and comes as the two countries are repairing their historically strained relations.

“Tokyo and Seoul probably share the view that the council is not doing its job holding the DPRK to account over its proliferation activity,” Gowan told VOA. “I think we will probably see Japan and South Korea adopt a fairly common approach to urging China and Russia to put more pressure on DPRK to stop launching missiles.”

North Korea has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year and last week attempted to put a spy satellite in orbit – all in violation of numerous Security Council resolutions. China and Russia have blocked council action.

Guyana (191 votes) will take over the seat for Latin America and the Caribbean Group. Algeria, which received 184 votes, and Sierra Leone (188 votes) will represent the African Group on the council.

Sierra Leone’s foreign minister, David Francis, told reporters after their election that his country has made the successful transition from war to peace and would bring its unique experiences to the council.

“We bring hope to all the war-torn countries in the world – from Ukraine to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Sudan, to Yemen, to Arab-Israeli, that it can be done,” he said.

There were no available seats this year in the regional bloc dedicated to countries in the Western Europe “and others” group.

In exercising their responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, the 15 nations on the Security Council have the power to authorize the use of force, deploy peacekeeping missions and impose sanctions.

On January 1, the five winners will replace exiting members Albania, Brazil, Ghana, Gabon and the United Arab Emirates. They will join non-permanent members Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique and Switzerland, which will remain on the council through 2024, along with permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Golf: PGA Tour, European Tour and LIV Golf Announce Merger

The PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit announced a landmark agreement on Tuesday to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf. 

Additionally, the three organizations said in a joint news release that they will work cooperatively to allow a process for any LIV Golf players to reapply for PGA Tour and DP World Tour membership following the 2023 season. 

“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a joint news release. 

The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record. 

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties. 

Additionally, the Public Investment Fund will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success. 

“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” said PIF Governor Yasir al-Rumayyan. “We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide.” 

The rival LIV Golf circuit launched in 2022 and lured some big-name players away from the rival circuits with staggering sums of money in 54-hole events that feature no cuts and paydays for every golfer. 

Among the more popular players who made the move to LIV Golf are Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith.