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Trump and Macron Agree Russia Should Join G-8 in 2020 But Will It?

Will Russia join next year’s G-7 summit? The question is being considered after U.S. President Donald Trump raised the idea ahead of the group’s annual summit this week in France. The group voted to suspend Moscow’s membership in 2014 after it annexed Crimea, which Russia continues to hold. Trump says it’s time for them to rejoin. Anna Rice reports on whether that’s likely to happen.
 

Development Agencies Welcome Trump’s Retreat from Foreign Aid Cuts

President Donald Trump has abandoned his fight with Congress over slashing $4 billion in foreign aid and will allow the appropriated funds to be spent. But the State Department says it agreed with the White House to “redirect all funding that does not directly support our priorities.” VOA Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from Washington.
 

US, China Boost Tariffs on Each Other; Trump ‘Always Open to Talks’

VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

WHITE HOUSE — The trade war between Washington and Beijing further escalated Friday.

The United States will additionally hike tariffs on Chinese products, President Donald Trump announced.

Terming China’s announcement Friday of additional tariffs on $75 billion worth of American products “politically motivated,” Trump said he is retaliating by increasing the 25% tax, effective October 1, on $250 billion on goods of products from China to 30%.

Additionally, Trump announced on Twitter, the tariffs on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese goods to be imposed September 1 will rise from the 10% level to 15%.

….Sadly, past Administrations have allowed China to get so far ahead of Fair and Balanced Trade that it has become a great burden to the American Taxpayer. As President, I can no longer allow this to happen! In the spirit of achieving Fair Trade, we must Balance this very….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

…Additionally, the remaining 300 BILLION DOLLARS of goods and products from China, that was being taxed from September 1st at 10%, will now be taxed at 15%. Thank you for your attention to this matter!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

Trade talks between the United States and China are tentatively set to resume next month in Washington.

VOA asked Trump Friday night if he still wanted those negotiations to proceed.

“At this moment they want to do that,” the president replied before he boarded the Marine One helicopter for the start of his trip to the G-7 leaders’ summit in France. “I’m always open to talks.”

FILE – China Shipping Company containers are stacked at the Virginia International’s terminal in Portsmouth, Va., May 10, 2019.

Ordering companies to leave China

Hours earlier, Trump declared he is “ordering” American companies “to immediately start looking for alternatives to China” after Beijing announced it is raising tariffs on $75 billion of U.S. goods and resuming 25% tariffs on American autos, in retaliation against Trump’s September 1 duty increase.

In a series of tweets, the U.S. president said the companies should bring their manufacturing home. 

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

Asked, as he departed the White House, under what authority he could do that, Trump told reporters to look up the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, enacted in 1977, which authorizes the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to extraordinary threats originating outside the United States.

“I have the absolute right to do that,” Trump stated.

FILE – Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell speaks at a news conference following a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, May 1, 2019, in Washington.

Markets drop

The escalating trade war unsettled markets Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average of the New York Stock Exchange closed down more than 620 points, a loss of 2.37%.

Trump, before boarding the helicopter Friday night, brushed off the plunge in share prices, saying that since the time of his November 2016 election “we’re up 50 percent or more.”

Trump, earlier on Twitter, also criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, both before and after he made a closely watched speech at the institution’s annual symposium in the state of Wyoming.

Powell indicated that the Federal Reserve, which cut interest rates last month for the first time in a decade, is willing to make another reduction to keep the U.S. economy growing, but he did not specify the amount or the timing of such action.

That angered the president, who tweeted: “As usual, the Fed did NOTHING! It is incredible that they can speak’ without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly.” The president then added: “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or (Chinese Communist Party) Chairman Xi?”

Xi is also China’s president.

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

Trump has repeatedly referred to Xi as a friend and touted his relationship with Xi as a way to achieve significant breakthroughs on trade and other major issues.

China’s commerce ministry, earlier Friday, stated it will be imposing additional tariffs of 5% or 10% on a total of 5,078 products originating from the U.S., including agricultural products, crude oil, small aircraft and cars.

Chinese tariffs on some U.S. products would take effect September 1 and on others December 15.

“America’s manufacturing workers will bear the brunt of these retaliatory tariffs, which will make it even harder to sell the products they make to customers in China,” said Jay Timmons, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers.

“While we share the president’s frustration, we believe that continued, constructive engagement is the right way forward,” said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Time is of the essence. We do not want to see a further deterioration of U.S.-China relations.”

Rick Helfenbein, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said: “This is not how you negotiate. This is tit-for-tat exercise that is hurting Americans and distracting from the task at hand — creating a sustainable trade agreement that solves long-standing and deep-seated issues.”

“The administration needs to rise above the fray and start negotiating for the American people,” Helfenbein added.

Analysts are expressing fears that if there is no truce soon in the trade war with China, it could lead to a recession in the United States.

However, Trump is holding firm to his policies.

“Our economy is doing great. We’re having a little spat with China and we’ll win it …” he said Friday night. Adding, “I think that our tariffs are working out very well for us, people don’t understand that yet…”

“We’re not going to lose close to a trillion dollars a year to China,” Trump told reporters Friday. “This is more important than anything else right now, just about, that we’re working on.”
 

51 Homes, 3 Businesses Lost in Alaska Wildfire

A wildfire burning north of Anchorage has destroyed 51 homes and three businesses, officials said Friday.

Another 84 buildings between the communities of Willow and Talkeetna, about 70 miles north of the state’s largest city, also have been destroyed, fire information manager Kale Casey said.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated because of the fire that started Sunday night along the Parks Highway, the main thoroughfare that connects Anchorage to Denali National Park and Preserve and Fairbanks. 

The exact cause of the fire is under investigation, but officials have said it was human-caused.

Homeowners at one of two evacuation centers had closed-door meetings Friday with officials from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to learn the fate of their homes, Casey said. Others who were not at evacuation centers have not been notified.

The wildlife is one of two major blazes in Alaska.

The fire had blackened nearly 6 square miles (16 sq. kilometers) and was 10% contained, said Tim Mowry, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry. 

About 100 firefighters, 20 engine crews and three helicopters were fighting the fire, he said. Another 100 firefighters were expected to arrive Sunday.

“They’re dropping water and retardant on and around it, but we really need people on the ground to reinforce those aerial assets,” Mowry said.

Conditions were dry, giving the fire ample fuel, Casey said. A forecast of increased winds for Saturday has fire managers on edge, and additional residents were told to be ready to evacuate if needed.

“With conditions so dry in this area, a 15 mph (24 kph) wind is a significant event,” Casey said. “The ground fuels are extremely resistant to control.”

Alaska’s fire season is usually over by now, but hot, dry conditions have extended it. Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July.

It’s unusual for firefighters to be sent to Alaska from other states this time of the year.

“Usually, our crews are in the Lower 48 by now, helping out there,” Mowry said.

Another large wildfire is burning south of Anchorage, in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It started in June but was reinvigorated. It had burned about 222 square miles (575 square kilometers) and was 20% contained.

Smoke from the two fires has made Anchorage smoky, prompting health warnings and leading schools to cancel outdoor activities.

Blasts Injure 120 Civilians This Week in Eastern Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, a stronghold of Islamic State’s Khursan branch, was hit with more than a dozen bomb blasts recently, wounding more than 120 people, including 30 children. Among those children was Basharyar, who fled Afghanistan with his family years ago to neighboring Pakistan. VOA’s Zia Urahman Hasrat reports from Nangarhar.

Baltics Mark 30th Anniversary of Key Anti-Soviet Protest

The three Baltic countries on Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the 1989 “Baltic Way,” a historic anti-Soviet protest that involved nearly 2 million people forming a human chain more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) long.

On Aug. 23, 1989, as the Soviet Union was weakening, the gesture was a powerful expression on the part of Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians that they were not giving up on their independence even after decades of Soviet occupation.

“People holding hands can be stronger than people holding guns,” said Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas in a tweet.
 
The celebrations come as the inhabitants of the three nations _ and many beyond _ worry about Russia’s renewed ambitions to influence the region.

“We must remember the courage and dreams of the participants. But let it also be a reminder that freedom and democracy can never be taken for granted,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement.

The Baltic News Service recalled Friday that then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Moscow “started realizing very clearly that the three Baltic nations were moving toward political independence.”

The main commemorations are taking place in Vilnius, the capital of the southern-most Baltic country, and along the Lithuania-Latvia border, with a relay-race and an exhibition. In the evening, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda will host a concert in central Vilnius.

In the Latvian capital of Riga, the three Baltic prime ministers will lay wreaths at the foot of a freedom monument.
 
The chain has inspired others, including a 2008 human chain in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where a crowd of at least 100,000 people jammed Tbilisi’s main avenue.

In Hong-Kong, protesters planned Friday to form a 40-kilometer (25-mile) human chain to demand more freedoms from China, saying it was inspired by the “Baltic Way.”

The Baltic countries declared their independence from Russia in 1918 but were annexed to the Soviet Union in 1940. Friday’s events also marked the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that led to the occupation of the Baltic states and Poland.

The Baltic nations remained part of the Soviet Union until 1991.

Putin Orders ‘Symetric’ Measures After US Missile Test

President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian military to find a quid pro quo response after the test of a new U.S. missile banned under a now-defunct arms treaty.
 
In Sunday’s test, a modified ground-launched version of a Navy Tomahawk cruise missile accurately struck its target more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away. The test came after the U.S. and Russia withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
 
The U.S. has explained its withdrawal from the treaty by Russian violations, a claim Moscow has denied. Speaking Friday, Putin charged that the U.S. wanted to “untie its hands to deploy the previously banned missiles in different parts of the world.”
 
He ordered the Defense Ministry and other agencies to “take the necessary measures to prepare a symmetrical answer.”

 

Yemeni Government Forces Rout Separatists from Southern City

Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government have taken full control of a key southern city after overnight clashes with separatists, Yemeni security officials said Friday.
 
Clashes over Etq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province erupted late Thursday night and lasted until Friday morning, said the security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because there were not authorized to talk to the media.
 
The city of Etq was previously divided between Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government forces and a separatist militia, trained and armed by the United Arab Emirates.
 
The infighting between Hadi’s forces and the UAE-backed separatists,ostensibly allies in Yemen’s war against the Shiite Houthi rebels, erupted earlier this month. It has threatened to fracture the Saudi-led coalition, a group of Arab states that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, to help restore Hadi’s government to power. The previous year, the rebel Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and gained control of much of the country’s north.   
 
Separatist militiamen of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, have so far seized strategic southern areas, including the city of Aden and much of the nearby Abyan province.  
 
A Saudi-Emirati commission flew to southern Yemen last week to negotiate a truce between the government forces and separatists but has so far made no progress.
 
In a tweet posted early Friday, Hani Ben Braik, a separatist leader, would not admit defeat at Etq but said his militiamen chose not to pursue a battle in the city out of “respect” for the truce efforts. However, Ben Baraik warned his forces would fight back if they were attacked again.

Global Worry Over Amazon Fires Escalates; Bolsonaro Defiant

Amid global concern about raging fires in the Amazon, Brazil’s government complained Thursday that it is being targeted in smear campaign by critics who contend President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough to curb widespread deforestation.
 
The threat to what some call “the lungs of the planet” has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who has described Brazil’s rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development and who traded Twitter jabs on Thursday with France’s president over the fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an international crisis and said the leaders of the Group of 7 nations should hold urgent discussions about them at their summit in France this weekend.
 
“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest, the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen is on fire,” Macron tweeted.

This satellite image provided by NASA shows the fires in Brazil on Aug. 20, 2019. As fires raged in the Amazon rainforest, the government denounced critics who say President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough.

Bolsonaro fired back with his own tweet: “I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem.”

Onyx Lorenzoni, the president’s chief of staff, earlier in the day accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in Brazil in order to disrupt its commercial interests.

“There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say,” said Lorenzoni, according to the Brazilian news website globo.com.

His allegation came after Germany and Norway, citing Brazil’s apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazilian forests.

The debate came as Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84 percent over the same period in 2018. Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
 
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”
 
Federal prosecutors in Brazil’s Amazon region launched investigations of increasing deforestation, according to local media. Prosecutors said they plan to probe possible negligence by the national government in the enforcement of environmental codes.

Bolivia is also struggling to contain big fires, many believed to have been set by farmers clearing land for cultivation.

Bolsonaro said there was a “very strong” indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.

Bolsonaro, who won election last year, also accused media organizations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.

“Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela,” he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighboring South American country.
 
London-based Amnesty International blamed the Brazilian government for the fires, which have escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The rights group this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s secretary general.

“nstead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires,” Naidoo said.
 
The WWF conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro’s allegations about NGOs, saying they divert “the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon.”

Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, won office after channeling outrage over the corruption scandals of the former government.

Filipe Martins, an adviser to Bolsonaro, said on Twitter that the Brazilian government is committed to fighting illegal deforestation and that many other countries are causing environmental damage.

The Amazon will be saved by Brazil and not “the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs,” Martins said.

Sergio Bergman, Argentina’s environment minister, appealed for people to overcome political or ideological divisions to protect the environment. He spoke at a five-day U.N. workshop on climate change in Brazil’s northern state of Bahia.

“We all, in a way, understand that it is not possible to keep using natural resources without limits,” Bergman said.

Security Squeeze in French Resort Hosting G-7 Summit

BIARRITZ, France – Security is getting tighter in the southern French beach resort of Biarritz ahead of the G-7 leaders’ summit beginning this weekend.
 
The airport and train station are closing down Friday afternoon and residents used to bustle at the height of summer vacations say the streets are empty.
 
The city center is almost deserted, and the seaside around the casino where leaders will meet is under lockdown.
 
Cars are thoroughly checked and tourists can no longer access their usual haunts.
 
Philippe Haguet says the gift shop he owns has been empty for the past two days.
 
Leaders of the Group of Seven countries arrive on Saturday to discuss issues including the struggling global economy and climate change until Monday. They include the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy.