Western Wildfires Calm Down in Cool Weather, But Losses Grow

Cooler weather on Tuesday helped calm two gigantic wildfires in the U.S. West, but property losses mounted in a tiny California community savaged by flames last weekend and in a remote area of Oregon that are both bracing for more hot, dry conditions that have been making the blazes so explosive. 

Teams reviewing damage from the massive Dixie Fire in the mountains of Northern California have so far tallied 36 structures destroyed and seven damaged in the remote community of Indian Falls, said Nick Truax, an incident commander for the fire. It’s unclear if that figure included homes or smaller buildings. 

The assessment was about half done, Truax said in an online briefing Monday night, and the work depends on fire activity. 

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 842 square kilometers (325 square miles), an area bigger than New York City, and it was partially contained Tuesday. More than 10,000 homes were threatened in the region about 282 kilometers (175 miles) northeast of San Francisco. 

A historic drought and recent heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. 

An inversion layer, which is a cap of relatively warmer air over cooler air, trapped smoke over much of the fire Monday, and the shade helped lower temperatures and keep humidity up, incident meteorologist Julia Ruthford said. 

Similar smoke conditions were expected through Tuesday. Monsoon moisture was streaming in over the region, but only light showers were likely near the fire. A return to hotter, drier weather was expected later in the week. 

The Dixie Fire, burning mostly on federal land, is among dozens of large blazes in the U.S. 

With so many fires, officials have to prioritize federal resources, said Nickie Johnny, incident commander for the Dixie’s east section, crediting help from local governments and California’s firefighting agency. 

“I just wanted to thank them for that because we are strapped federally with resources all over the nation,” she said. 

Authorities also were hopeful that cool temperatures, increased humidity and isolated showers will help them make more progress against the nation’s largest wildfire, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon. Crews have it more than halfway contained after it scorched 1,657 square kilometers (640 square miles) of remote land. 

“The mild weather will have a short-term calming effect on the fire behavior. But due to the extremely dry conditions and fuels, as the week progresses and temperatures rise, aggressive fire behavior is likely to quickly rebound,” a situation report said Tuesday. 

The lightning-sparked fire has destroyed 161 homes, 247 outbuildings and 342 vehicles in Klamath and Lake counties, the report said, cautioning that the numbers could increase as firefighters work through the inner area of the fire. 

Elsewhere, high heat was expected to return to the northern Rocky Mountains, where thick smoke from many wildfires drove pollution readings to unhealthy levels. 

Unhealthy air was recorded around most of Montana’s larger cities — Billings, Butte, Bozeman and Missoula — and in portions of northern Wyoming and eastern Idaho, according data from U.S. government air monitoring stations. 

In California, the 275-square-kilometer (106-square-mile) Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe was chewing through timber and chaparral but was more than halfway contained. Evacuation orders for about 2,000 residents on both sides of the California-Nevada line have been lifted. At least 23 buildings have burned. 

ЄСПЛ заборонив Росії видавати на батьківщину жителя Білорусі

ЄСПЛ застосував правило 39 – захисний захід, яка зобов’язує державу вжити невідкладних дій щодо збереження життя і здоров’я заявника. Воно використовується у виняткових випадках

‘About Time’: Gay Athletes Unleash Rainbow Wave on Olympics

When Olympic diver Tom Daley announced in 2013 that he was dating a man and “couldn’t be happier,” his coming out was an act of courage that, with its rarity, also exposed how the top echelons of sport weren’t seen as a safe space by the vast majority of LGBTQ athletes.

Back then, the number of gay Olympians who felt able and willing to speak openly about their private lives could be counted on a few hands. There’d been just two dozen openly gay Olympians among the more than 10,000 who competed at the 2012 London Games, a reflection of how unrepresentative and anachronistic top-tier sports were just a decade ago and, to a large extent, still are.

Still, at the Tokyo Games, the picture is changing.

A wave of rainbow-colored pride, openness and acceptance is sweeping through Olympic pools, skateparks, halls and fields, with a record number of openly gay competitors in Tokyo. Whereas LGBTQ invisibility used to make Olympic sports seem out of step with the times, Tokyo is shaping up as a watershed for the community and for the Games — now, finally, starting to better reflect human diversity.

“It’s about time that everyone was able to be who they are and celebrated for it,” said U.S. skateboarder Alexis Sablone, one of at least five openly LGBTQ athletes in that sport making its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

“It’s really cool,” Sablone said. “What I hope that means is that even outside of sports, kids are raised not just under the assumption that they are heterosexual.”

The gay website Outsports.com has been tallying the number of publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes in Tokyo. After several updates, its count is now up to 168, including some who petitioned to get on the list. That’s three times the number that Outsports tallied at the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. At the London Games, it counted just 23.

“The massive increase in the number of out athletes reflects the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in sports and society,” Outsports says.

Daley is also broadcasting that message from Tokyo, his fourth Olympics overall and second since he came out.

After winning gold for Britain with Matty Lee in 10-meter synchronized diving, the 27-year-old reflected on his journey from young misfit who felt “alone and different” to Olympic champion who says he now feels less pressure to perform because he knows that his husband and their son love him regardless.

“I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now you are not alone,” Daley said. “You can achieve anything, and there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here.”

“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion,” he added. “Because, you know, when I was younger I thought I was never going to be anything or achieve anything because of who I was.”

Still, there’s progress yet to be made.

Among the more than 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo, there will be others who still feel held back, unable to come out and be themselves. Outsports’ list has few men, reflecting their lack of representation that extends beyond Olympic sports. Finnish Olympian Ari-Pekka Liukkonen is one of the rare openly gay men in his sport, swimming.

“Swimming, it’s still much harder to come out (for) some reason,” he said. “If you need to hide what you are, it’s very hard.”

Only this June did an active player in the NFL — Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib — come out as gay. And only last week did a first player signed to an NHL contract likewise make that milestone announcement. Luke Prokop, a 19-year-old Canadian with the Nashville Predators, now has 189,000 likes for his “I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay” post on Twitter.

The feeling that “there’s still a lot of fight to be done” and that she needed to stand up and be counted in Tokyo is why Elissa Alarie, competing in rugby, contacted Outsports to get herself named on its list. With their permission, she also added three of her Canadian teammates.

“It’s important to be on that list because we are in 2021 and there are still, like, firsts happening. We see them in the men’s professional sports, NFL, and a bunch of other sports,” Alarie said. “Yes, we have come a long way. But the fact that we still have firsts happening means that we need to still work on this.”

Tokyo’s out Olympians are also almost exclusively from Europe, North and South America, and Australia/New Zealand. The only Asians on the Outsports list are Indian sprinter Dutee Chand and skateboarder Margielyn Didal from the Philippines.

That loud silence resonates with Alarie. Growing up in a small town in Quebec, she had no gay role models and “just thought something was wrong with me.”

“To this day, who we are is still illegal in many countries,” she said. “So until it’s safe for people in those countries to come out, I think we need to keep those voices loud and clear.”

Afghanistan Government Arrests Four Journalists on Propaganda Charges

Four journalists have been arrested on propaganda charges in Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Tuesday.

They were arrested in the city of Kandahar after traveling to the disputed border town of Spin Boldak to interview commanders of the Taliban, which has been clashing with Afghan security forces, according to the Afghan media watchdog known as Nai.

The watchdog said the location of the journalists on Tuesday was unknown.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the journalists have been charged with spreading propaganda for the Taliban after ignoring a warning from the government’s intelligence agency not to enter the area.

“The government of Afghanistan respects and is extremely committed to freedom of expression, but any propaganda in favor of the terrorist and the enemy, as well as against the interests of the country, is a crime,” interior ministry spokesperson Mirwais Estanikzai said.

Taliban spokesman Mohmmad Naeem denounced the arrests and argued the journalists were simply trying to “follow the events and try to reveal the facts.”

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee called on the government to release the journalists “as soon as possible and to refer the case to the Media Complaints Commission to ascertain whether any violation has taken place or not.”

International rights group Amnesty International also called for release of the journalists, tweeting it is “concerned” about their detention.

The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee identified the journalists as Bismillah Watandoost, Qudrat Soltani, and Moheb Obaidi, employees of the local radio station Mellat Zhagh, and Sanaullah Siam, a cameraman of the Xinhua News Agency.

First Person Charged Under Hong Kong Security Law Found Guilty

The first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law was found guilty on Tuesday of terrorism and inciting secession in a landmark case with long-term implications for how the legislation reshapes the city’s common law traditions. 

An alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm was not considered. The High Court will hear mitigation arguments on Thursday and sentencing will be announced at a later date. 

Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of driving his motorcycle into three riot police while carrying a flag with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which prosecutors said was secessionist. 

The widely anticipated ruling, much of which has hinged on the interpretation of the slogan, imposes new limits on free speech in the former British colony. Pro-democracy activists and human rights groups have also criticized the decision to deny Tong bail and a jury trial, which have been key features of Hong Kong’s rule of law. 

His trial was presided over by judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan, picked by city leader Carrie Lam to hear national security cases. 

Toh read out a summary of the ruling in court, saying “such display of the words was capable of inciting others to commit secession.” 

She added that Tong was aware of the slogan’s secessionist meaning, and that he intended to communicate this meaning to others. He also had a “political agenda” and his actions caused “grave harm to society.” 

Tong had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which stemmed from events on July 1, 2020, shortly after the law was enacted. 

Tong’s trial focused mostly on the meaning of the slogan, which was ubiquitous during Hong Kong’s mass 2019 protests. 

It was chanted on the streets, posted online, scrawled on walls and printed on everything from pamphlets, books, stickers and T-shirts to coffee mugs. 

The debates drew on a range of topics, including ancient Chinese history, the U.S. civil rights movement and Malcolm X, to ascertain whether the slogan was secessionist. 

Two expert witnesses called by the defense to analyze the slogan’s meaning, drawing upon sources including an examination of some 25 million online posts, found “no substantial link” between the slogan and Hong Kong independence. 

The governments in Beijing and Hong Kong have said repeatedly the security law was necessary to bring stability after the often-violent 2019 protests and that the rights and freedoms promised to the city upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997 remain intact. 

The law, imposed by Beijing in June 2020, punishes what China sees as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. 

The government has said that all prosecutions have been handled independently and according to law, and that legal enforcement action has nothing to do with the political stance, background or profession of those arrested. 

Former US Senator Enzi of Wyoming Dies After Bicycle Accident

Retired U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican known as a consensus-builder in an increasingly polarized Washington, has died. He was 77. 

Enzi died Monday surrounded by family and friends, former spokesman Max D’Onofrio said. 

Enzi had been hospitalized with a broken neck and ribs after a bicycle accident near Gillette on Friday. He was stabilized before being flown to a hospital in Colorado but remained unconscious, D’Onofrio said. 

Enzi fell near his home about 8:30 p.m. Friday, family friend John Daly said, around the time Gillette police received a report of a man lying unresponsive in a road near a bike. 

Police have seen no indication that anybody else was nearby or involved in the accident, Lt. Brent Wasson told the newspaper. 

A former shoe salesman first elected to the Senate in 1996, Enzi became known for emphasizing compromise over grandstanding and confrontation to get bills passed. 

His “80-20 rule” called on colleagues to focus on the 80% of an issue where legislators tended to agree and discard the 20% where they didn’t. 

“Nothing gets done when we’re just telling each other how wrong we are,” Enzi said in his farewell address to the Senate in 2020. “Just ask yourself: Has anyone ever really changed your opinion by getting in your face and yelling at you or saying to you how wrong you are? Usually that doesn’t change hearts or minds.” 

Wyoming voters reelected Enzi by wide margins three times before he announced in 2019 that he would not seek a fifth term. Enzi was succeeded in the Senate in 2021 by Republican Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman and state treasurer. 

Enzi’s political career began at 30 when he was elected mayor of Gillette, a city at the heart of Wyoming’s then-booming coal mining industry. He was elected to the Wyoming House in 1986 and state Senate in 1991.  

The retirement of Republican Sen. Alan Simpson opened the way for Enzi’s election to the Senate. Enzi beat John Barrasso in a nine-way Republican primary and then Democratic former Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan in the general election; Barrasso would be appointed to the Senate in 2007 after the death of Sen. Craig Thomas.  

Enzi wielded quiet influence as the Senate slipped into partisan gridlock over the second half of his career there.  

His more recent accomplishments included advancing legislation to enable sales taxes to be collected on internet sales crossing state lines. He played a major role in reforming the No Child Left Behind law that set performance standards for elementary, middle and high school students.  

He fought for Wyoming as a top coal-mining state to receive payments through the federal Abandoned Mine Land program, which taxes coal operations to help reclaim abandoned mining properties.  

Enzi sought to encourage business innovation by hosting an annual inventors conference. He also backed bills involving the U.S. Mint but his proposal to do away with the penny was unsuccessful.  

Enzi was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Bremerton, Washington. His family moved to Thermopolis soon after.  

Enzi graduated from Sheridan High School in 1962 and from George Washington University with a degree in accounting in 1966. He received a master’s in retail marketing from the University of Denver in 1968.  

He married Diana Buckley in 1969 and the couple moved to Gillette where they started a shoe store, NZ Shoes. They later opened two more NZ Shoes stores, in Sheridan and Miles City, Montana.  

From 1985 to 1997, Enzi worked for Dunbar Well Service in Gillette, where he was an accounting manager, computer programmer and safety trainer.  

Enzi served two, four-year terms as mayor of Gillette. He served on the U.S. Department of Interior Coal Advisory Committee from 1976 to 1979. 

Enzi is survived by his wife; two daughters, Amy and Emily; a son, Brad; and several grandchildren. 

СБУ заявляє про викриття схеми продажу немовлят за кордон

За матеріалами спецслужби, до складу організованої групи входили жителі Київської і Харківської областей, у тому числі керівники одного зі столичних центрів репродуктивної медицини

За час дії перемир’я на Донбасі загинули 45 військових, 163 поранені – делегація в ТКГ

«Україна залишається вірною своїм зобов’язанням щодо політико-дипломатичного шляху врегулювання збройного конфлікту на сході України», – йдеться в заяві

North Korea Resumes Dialogue, Restores Hotline with South

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has exchanged several letters since April with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, Seoul announced Tuesday, in a possible sign Pyongyang is ready to resume talks with the outside world. 

As part of the exchange, the two men agreed to restore an inter-Korean hotline at the border village of Panmunjom, with a first phone call occurring at 10 a.m. Tuesday local time, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement. 

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency confirmed the hotline restoration and letter exchange, calling the moves a “big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation” between the two Koreas.  

“Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the north-south relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the KCNA report said.  

The dialogue appears to be the most significant North-South interaction in more than two years. 

Moon and Kim met three times in 2018, signing several agreements to improve inter-Korean relations. The talks broke down after the United States and North Korea failed to make progress on nuclear negotiations.

South Korea’s left-leaning administration, which has less than a year left in office, has consistently pushed for a resumption of talks. It said Tuesday it hopes the hotline restoration will be the first step in a wider improvement of ties.  

Moon and Kim “agreed to restore mutual trust and re-progress the relationship as soon as possible between the two Koreas,” the statement from Seoul’s presidential office read.  

Earlier this month, South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo reported the existence of the Moon-Kim letter exchange, saying the two men were discussing a fourth, virtual summit. South Korean officials have not commented on the possibility of another meeting. 

Iran Protests Spread to Tehran, Which Sees Biggest Anti-Government March in 18 Months

A wave of antigovernment protests that began in Iran’s southwest 11 days ago has spread to the capital, Tehran, where demonstrators have marched and chanted slogans against their Islamist rulers for the first time in 18 months.

Video clips of Monday’s demonstration in central Tehran were widely shared on social media and acknowledged by the deputy governor of the Iranian capital region, Hamidreza Goudarzi.

The clips showed at least dozens of Iranians marching on Tehran’s Jomhuri Islami Avenue, or “Islamic Republic Avenue,” chanting slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamist ruling system over which he presides, and his practice of using the recession-plagued nation’s wealth to pay and arm allied Islamist militias in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Bold chants by protesters

The Tehran protesters’ chants included “Death to the dictator,” “Shame on Khamenei, let go of the country,” “Cannons, tanks, fireworks, mullahs must go,” and “Neither for Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life only for Iran.”

Another social media video appeared to show protesters marching and chanting anti-government slogans on the grounds of a hospital in the northern city of Karaj on Monday. VOA could not independently verify the clip because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.

Iranian state media noted the Tehran demonstration but did not reference any of its anti-government chants. They quoted the Tehran official, Goudarzi, as saying the protest was prompted by a power outage at a nearby shopping center.

“Now there is no gathering and the situation is normal,” Goudarzi said, apparently after the march concluded. There were no reports of Iranian security forces taking action to stop it.

Largest display of discontent in months

The streets of the Iranian capital had not seen such a public display of discontent and anti-establishment chants since January 2020, said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, in a message to VOA Persian.

Tehran last witnessed several days of antigovernment protests in response to Iranian security forces’ January 8, 2020, downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane shortly after it took off from the Iranian capital. The crash killed all 176 people on board, most of them Iranians and Iranian Canadians who were flying to Kyiv en route to Canada.

After three days of blaming the crash on mechanical problems with the plane, Iranian officials admitted that their forces shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jet. They said those forces mistook the plane for an enemy threat hours after launching missiles at an Iraqi base that houses U.S. troops. Iran had attacked the U.S. troops, wounding dozens, in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad five days previously.

Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu told VOA Persian that Monday’s Tehran protest was the “most significant outpouring” of antigovernment demonstrators in the Iranian capital since early 2020.

Citizens are standing with protesters

“Tehran citizens are standing in unity with protesters who over a week ago bravely took to the streets in southwest Iran’s Khuzestan province over lack of access to water,” Taleblu said. “Shows of unity like these are precisely what the regime fears most, as it relies on divide and conquer to survive.”

Nightly street protests against water shortages began in drought-stricken Khuzestan on July 15 and spread in the following days to several other Iranian provinces, with protesters chanting slogans increasingly critical of the government. Social media videos that VOA also could not verify appeared to show Iranian security forces firing bullets and tear gas to try to clear the streets.

Iranian state media have reported the killings of at least four people in the protests, including a police officer, and blamed the deaths on saboteurs.

London-based rights group Amnesty International said last Friday  that video footage and “consistent accounts” from sources in Iran led it to conclude that security forces had killed at least eight protesters and bystanders, including a teenage boy, in seven different cities. It accused Iran of deploying “unlawful force, including by firing live ammunition and birdshot, to crush mostly peaceful protests.”

Khamenei offers warning

In a statement on his official website last Friday, Khamenei expressed sympathy with the water-deprived residents of Khuzestan but warned them against playing into the hands of Iran’s enemies.

Experts have blamed Iran’s drought not only on significantly lower-than-usual rainfall in recent months but also on years of Iranian government mismanagement of water resources. 

Taleblu said Iran’s street protests have been slowly growing in momentum, scale and scope.

“If past is prologue, Tehran is likely to employ lethal force once again against protesters. This cycle of protest and crackdown cannot be ignored by the Biden administration,” he said.

U.S. continues to track unrest

Asked by VOA Persian whether the Biden administration believes Iran’s response to the protests has been harsh, State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter repeated a comment issued several times since the unrest began, telling a Friday press briefing that the U.S. was following reports of the protests and fatalities and believes Iranians should be free to assemble and express themselves without fear of violence or arbitrary detention by security forces.

“We’re also monitoring reports of government-imposed internet shutdowns in the region,” Porter added. “We urge the Iranian government to allow its citizens to exercise their universal rights of freedom of expression, as well as [to] freely access information online.”

Guita Aryan contributed to this article, which originated in VOA’s Persian Service . Click here for the original Persian version of the story.