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VOA News- Learn English beslemesi beslemesine abone olun. VOA News- Learn English
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Freedom House: Governments Suppressing Speech Online

Sa, 14.11.2017 - 22:57
Around the world, freedom on the internet appears to be breaking down. Some governments have suspended their mobile internet service or added restrictions on live video streaming. And governments are paying writers to put pro-government stories on the World Wide Web. These are some of the findings in a new report by Freedom House, a non-profit group that measures democracy and freedom around the world. Freedom House examined internet freedom in 65 countries over a 12-month period, starting in June of 2016 and continuing through last May. Those nations are responsible for about 87 percent of all the people online. Those users are connected to the internet, a computer, or a computer network. The report noted internet freedom decreasing in nearly half of the 65 countries. Ukraine, Egypt and Turkey had the greatest one-year losses of freedom. China remains the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia, the report said. Sanja Kelly directs the Freedom on the Net project at Freedom House. She said the decline of internet freedoms happened as more people go online and use the internet to support democracy and human rights. Kelly said “One of the reasons why we are seeing greater restriction is precisely because some of the leaders … have discovered the power of the internet.” They are trying to come up with new methods to suppress that, she said. “Suddenly the governments start taking note and we start seeing propaganda actions,” she said. Governments in Zambia and Gambia have suspended mobile service connections to the internet, mainly around elections. “Shutting down the internet is such a blunt message,” she said, adding that “It really signals the government is willing to take it to the next level.” Some other findings of the report: -Online efforts to manipulate voting affected elections in 18 countries. -Governments in 30 countries supported misleading online information, using tools such as false news websites and paid commentators. Last year, it was 23 countries. -Half of internet shutdowns involved mobile phone service. Most happened in areas with ethnic or religious minorities. In October 2016, the Ethiopian government suspended mobile networks for nearly two months as part of a state of emergency during anti-government protests. Belarus stopped mobile service to prevent live streaming images from reaching large numbers of people. Bahrain has a law that bars news websites from using live video. -In 30 countries, there have been physical reprisals taken against people for their online statements. That number is up from 20 countries a year earlier. Until recently, China and Russia were the main users of some of these online suppression methods. Now other governments are starting to act the same way, Sanja Kelly explained. Kelly added that she believes China and Russia are showing non-democratic governments ways to control the internet. I’m Susan Shand.   Michelle Quinn reported this story for VOANews.com. Susan Shand adapted her report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   decline - v. to become lower in amount or less in number blunt - adj. saying or expressing something in a very direct way that may upset some people manipulate - v. to deal with or control (someone or something), usually in an unfair or selfish way mobile – adj. with an ability to be moved; changeable in appearance or purpose streaming – n. playing continuously as audio or video material is sent to a computer or electronic device over the Internet reprisal – n. punishment; something done to hurt or punish someone else

South Korea Says North Shot at Soldier Trying to Defect

Pzt, 13.11.2017 - 22:55
North Korean soldiers shot at and wounded another soldier who was crossing the border between the North and South. The South Korean military said Monday the soldier was trying to defect in the Joint Security Area of the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. North Korean soldiers have crossed the border to defect at times. But it is rare for a North Korean soldier to defect by crossing the DMZ. North and South Korean soldiers stand meters away from each other. The North Korean soldier left from a guard post at the northern side of Panmunjom village to the southern side of the village. He was shot in the shoulder and elbow and was taken to a South Korean hospital, said the South’s Defense Ministry. It was not immediately known how serious his injuries were or why he decided to defect. South Korean troops found the injured soldier south of the border after hearing the sound of gunfire. South Korean troops did not fire at Northern soldiers, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. The defection came at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea has normally accused South Korea of enticing its citizens to defect, something the South denies. Panmunjom and other DMZ areas are guarded by hundreds of thousands of troops from North Korea and the United Nations Command. The command includes troops from the United States and South Korea. The area is a popular stop for visitors from both sides. American presidents often visit the DMZ during their trips to South Korea. President Donald Trump planned to visit the DMZ during his visit to South Korea. But bad weather prevented his helicopter from landing near the border area. It is estimated that about 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. But most of them travel through China. In 1998, a North Korean soldier fled to the South through the DMZ, but there have been few incidents in recent years. Earlier in 1976, North Korean soldiers with axes and knives attacked a group of soldiers in the DMZ, killing two American soldiers and injuring five South Korean soldiers. The U.S. then flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers toward the DMZ as a warning to North Korea. In 1984, North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers exchanged gunfire after a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean side of the village. Three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier died in the gunfire. I’m Jonathan Evans.   Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on AP news reports. Mario Ritter was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   defect –v. to leave a group or country and go to another one that is a competitor or enemy entice –v. to attract someone by offering something or showing something that is appealing or interesting    

Deadly Earthquake Strikes Iran and Iraq

Pzt, 13.11.2017 - 22:54
  Iranian officials say more than 400 people are dead after a powerful earthquake struck along the country’s border with Iraq Sunday night. A spokesman for Iran’s crisis management headquarters spoke to reporters on Monday. He said that about 6,700 people were injured in the earthquake. At least seven people were killed in Iraq, the Associated Press (AP) reported. In the United States, scientists described the quake as being 7.3 in magnitude – a measurement of its relative size. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near the city of Halabja in eastern Iraq. But small tremors were felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast. Reports say the worst damage appeared to be in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah. Damage spread over a large area In Iraq, health officials said that, in Kurdish areas, the quake killed seven people and injured more than 500 others. The quake also is believed to have damaged a dam on the Diyala River in Iraq. The dam’s director told the AP that the dam was built in 1961. He said it was very strong, but had very clear damage. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he has directed health and aid agencies to provide assistance. Electricity and water were cut off in several cities in both Iraq and Iran. Media reports from Iran say the quake has affected at least 14 provinces. Iranian state media appealed for blood donations. In Iran, blocked roads have made it difficult for rescue workers to reach distant villages. Officials say rescue efforts have been slow. The head of the Iranian Red Crescent said that more than 70,000 people need emergency shelter. International aid efforts have begun. The vice president of the Turkish Red Crescent told the AP that 33 aid trucks were being sent to the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah. Three thousand tents and heaters, 10,000 beds, blankets and food are among the aid items being sent. Turkey also said it would help Iran if aid is requested. Major earthquake fault lines run through Iran, causing quakes. Some of them are very powerful. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake destroyed the historic city of Bam and killed 26,000 people. More recently, in 2012, a major earthquake centered in East Azerbaijan province killed 300 people. I’m Mario Ritter. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English with information from VOA, the Associated Press, and Reuters news agencies. George Grow was the editor. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   management – n. the process of dealing with and controlling a group or organization tremor – n. shaking movement of the ground items – n. a thing of a certain kind, usually among a group or list fault – n. a break in the earth’s crust We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Burundi Refugees Fear Returning

Pzt, 13.11.2017 - 22:53
  More than 400,000 people have fled Burundi to neighboring African countries because of political unrest and violence. The refugees have relocated mostly to Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Burundi and other central African countries have asked the refugees to leave their camps and return home.  But Burundian political refugees say it is not safe. Refugees who spoke to VOA said they fear they will be harmed by the government of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza. In 2015, Nkurunziza began his third term as president although local and international organizations called on him to step down. Jacqueline Nduwayezu is a former school teacher who lives with her six children in the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda. She spoke to a VOA reporter who recently visited the camp. She said, “We are here because there is no security in our country.” She added that the threat of violence was real. “People were being killed and are still being killed and dumped in mass graves and rivers." Eloge Rugemangabo is the head of the refugee community in Mahama. He said men from the Pro-government Imbonerakure militia beat him because he was a member of the opposition MSD party. "I was tortured and discriminated against at work. I slept outside for three days for fear of being killed," he said. He said things must change before refugees will return. "We left our parents, houses, brothers and sisters,” he said. He added that he will return when he is sure conditions are safe. On a visit to Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, Burundi’s Home Affairs Minister asked Burundian refugees to come back. The country, he said, was ready to welcome back its citizens. He also said many of the refugees are afraid or fled rumors of violence. President Nkurunziza made the same request on a visit to Tanzania in July. “Today I want to tell Tanzanians and Burundians that Burundi is now peaceful, and I am inviting all Burundi refugees to return home,” he said. Tanzanian President John Magufuli called Burundi “calm.” However, Amnesty International disagrees. The human rights group released a report in September that said returning refugees are at risk of violence or death from security forces and pro-government militia. The report also said the Imbonerakure continues to commit human rights crimes against anyone believed to oppose the president’s party, the CNDD-FDD. One man told Amnesty, “If you are not CNDD-FDD, you are considered their enemy.” Amnesty's Burundi researcher, Rachel Nicholson, said in the report that “Burundi has not yet returned to normality.” She also said that attempts to deny abuses should not be believed. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, warns that political and human rights conditions in Burundi continue to cause increasing numbers of refugees to flee to neighboring countries in search of asylum. Earlier this year, UNHCR and other human rights agencies made an urgent appeal for $429 million to meet the needs of Burundian refugees across the area. But, less than $85 million has been provided. In camps like Nakivale, refugees live in overcrowded shelters and there is not enough food, water or health services. Felicien Habumugisha has lived in Nakivale for nearly 10 years, after fleeing an earlier time of difficulties in Burundi. He explained there was not enough food, no education for the children, no assistance and no chance of leaving. The 52-year-old said he will not go back to Burundi until it is safe. His parents were killed after being involved in politics, and he was arrested several times before he left. “The politics of Burundi itself is not stable. We don’t feel that Burundi is safe today for us to go back," he told VOA. I'm Susan Shand. And I'm Dorothy Gundy.   Susan Shand adapted this story for Learning English based on a story VOA Story by Edward Rwema. Mario Ritter was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   relocate - v. to move to a new place abandon - v. to leave and never return to rumors --n. information passed from person to person that is not proved to be true overcrowded – adj. filled with too many people stable – adj. in a good state or condition that is not easily changed or likely to change

In Lebanon, Musician Helps Voices of Children Rise Above Poverty

Paz, 12.11.2017 - 23:00
In the coming months, about 300 children across Lebanon will escape their daily struggles and learn to sing from an expert. Selim Sahab is an internationally celebrated Lebanese musician and orchestra leader. Sahab is giving children a chance to hope through song. He is teaching a large group of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian young people to be part of a singing group, or choir. Some of the children are refugees. Many already have jobs and work as many as 12 hours a day. The choir will hold a major performance in six months with an orchestra and large audience. Sahab created a similar children's choir in Egypt. It has performed in front of international leaders. With help from the International Labor Organization, or ILO, and Beyond Association, a local nonprofit, Sahab held auditions across Lebanon. Around 2,000 children tried out for the choir. The musician said he found it difficult to choose from the many children. However, he said, in the end, the choice was not about how well they learned to sing. “I was determined to learn [teach] them how to dream about the future. They hadn't any idea about the future, about what they can be in the future." Hope for the future Among those who made it through the auditions is 14-year-old Syrian refugee Raed Abdo. He loves famous Arabic singers like Fairuz and Umm Kulthum. “I was afraid the maestro would not accept me, and I was so happy when he said he liked my voice,” Raed said. “Singing gives me hope for the future. If I go and sing maybe I’ll become famous….and people will listen to our songs and play them in the car.” Five groups across the country will take lessons from Sahab before coming together for a joint rehearsal in December. Working to live Raed is from Homs, Syria. In Lebanon, he works 12-hour days as a builder to help his family pay for their small apartment. He has a dream, however, that remains distant: attending school full time. Child labor has been a problem in Lebanon for some time. The Syrian conflict and the arrival of more Syrian refugees has worsened the situation. This summer, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that in addition to Lebanese and Palestinians, 180,000 Syrian children were working in the country. This includes things like selling flowers in the streets, fixing cars or digging for potatoes in the Bekaa Valley. Hayat Osseiran works on child labor issues for ILO. He says the choir offers not only a break from the stress of such work but “a means of advocacy” -- through the public performances -- “that shows all these forgotten children need is a chance.” United by singing As the children work with Sahab at the Beyond Association center, for a little time they can forget the social differences that divide the country. Tensions over the Palestinian refugee population are common in Lebanon. And, more recently, there have been increased calls by some politicians to send Syrians back to Syria. But, for now, choir members like Lebanese boy Jibril Latach can center their attention on the big performance to come. The 16-year-old wants to be singing next to his friend Raed. Jibril is from the city of Tripoli. His neighborhood has been damaged by violence. He said he started working after his school closed during conflict a few years ago. “When I went to work I was happy, in the beginning, because I was trying something new and felt like I was becoming an adult,” he said. “But then I got tired doing my job, and I regret leaving the school.” Jibril prefers hip-hop music to the traditional Arabic singers that his friend Raed loves. But Jibril says it is not just his singing voice that is improving. “This experience has allowed me to meet people I’ve not met before,” he added. I'm Alice Bryant.   John Owens reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   orchestra – n. a group of musicians who play usually classical music together and who are led by a conductor refugee – n. someone who has been forced to leave a country because of war or for religious or political reasons audition – n. a short performance to show the talents of someone who is being considered for a part in a film, play, choir or something else maestro – n. the title of a person who is an expert at writing, conducting, or teaching music  stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life advocacy – n. the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal : the act or process of advocating something

Many North Koreans Depend on Informal Markets

Paz, 12.11.2017 - 22:55
Called injogogi in Korean, “man-made meat,” is a popular street food in North Korea. The food comes from taking leftovers from making soy bean oil, pressing it and rolling it into a paste. The result is then filled with rice, and topped with chili sauce. Injogogi is traded in North Korea with other goods and services on informal markets, known as jangmadang. Defectors from North Korea say there are hundreds of these markets. They are part of the country’s “barter economy.” This informal market system has helped people survive through years of sanctions and separation from the rest of the world. “Back in the day, people had injogogi to fill themselves up as a substitute for meat,” said Cho Ui-sung, a North Korean who defected to the South in 2014. “Now people eat it for its taste.” After World War II, North Korea was established with support from the Soviet Union as a socialist country. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 severely hurt the North Korean economy. It also led to the breakdown of the centralized food distribution system. It is estimated that as many as three million people died in the following years. People were forced to negotiate for food any way they could. Since then, studies have found that person-to-person dealings have become a way for millions of North Koreans to find basic needs such as food and clothing. The popularity of informal markets, however, also makes it difficult to know what is going on in the North Korean economy. The informal markets also make it harder to measure how sanctions are affecting the North Korean people. The U.N.’s World Food Program, or WFP, says the Public Distribution System for food was brought back in 2006. The North Korean government says 70 percent of North Koreans still use the state’s system as their main source of food. This is the same percentage of people that the U.N. estimates are “food insecure.” The WFP says the system regularly provides lower food rations than the government’s daily target. The WFP and the U.N.’s other main food aid agency, the Food and Agricultural Organization, said the U.N. uses all available information, including official statistics. The agencies have an office in Pyongyang and make regular visits to North Korean Public Distribution Centers, farms and occasionally markets. In a joint statement, the U.N. agencies said, “We recognize that the data and their sources are limited but it’s the best we have available at present.” The agencies said that the biggest concern is the lack of different foods.  The statement says main foods include rice, maize, kimchi and bean paste. These lack important fats and protein. Local markets support the people Last year, North Korea’s economy grew by 3.9 percent – its biggest increase in 17 years. The increased activity came from mining, market reforms and business with its neighbor China. Reporters saw signs of hunger in North Korea as recently as 2013. The WFP says one in four children do not grow as tall as children in South Korea. However, defectors say the food supply has improved in recent years. Eight defectors told Reuters they ate similar things to South Koreans. They said most families had privately grown vegetables, locally made snacks, rice, and corn in their homes. Younger and wealthier defectors say they had meat, such as pork, dog, rabbit or badger.  However, they said the meat supply was seasonal because electric power is not dependable enough to power refrigerators. Defectors also say that North Korean president Kim Jong Un has quietly relaxed the rules on private trade. Some markets in North Korea are known as “grasshopper markets” for the speed that traders set them up and take them down.  Many are illegal, but there are also officially approved markets. Food such as injogogi are popular at these markets. It is low in calories but has protein and fiber, said Lee Ae-ran, a chef from the North Korean town of Hyesan. The website Daily NK, which is based in Seoul, South Korea, reports on jangmadang markets. It is operated by North Korean defector journalists. In a report released in August, it said there are 287 official markets in North Korea, including more than half a million stalls. Over 5 million people are either “directly or indirectly” depending on these markets for food. This means the markets are necessary for people’s survival, the report said. In 2015, a survey of 1,017 defectors by Seoul University professor Byung-yeon Kim found that official food sources only make up 23.5 percent of North Korean’s food. Around 61 percent of people asked said private markets were their most important source of food.  Fifteen-point-five percent said they rely on self-grown food. More options for the wealthy However, wealthy people in North Korea have more choice. In the capital, people can order a pizza in one of Pyongyang’s hundreds of restaurants, visitors say. Many of the restaurants are owned by the state.  Some used to be only for tourists, but now they have local customers, who sometimes pay in euros or dollars. There are also other ways North Koreans can support their diets. “My dad often received bribes,” said one 28-year-old defector. She said he was a high-ranking public official, and the bribes he received included goat meat, dog meat and deer meat, she said. I'm Jill Robbins.  And I’m Phil Dierking. This story was originally written for Reuters by James Pearson and Seung-Woo Yeom. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English using other media. Mario Ritter was the editor. How do people get their food in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story data - n. facts or information used usually to calculate, analyze, or plan something​ distribution - n. the act of giving or delivering something to people​ informal - adj. relaxed in tone; not official defector - n.  people who have left a country, political party, organization, etc., and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy​ barter - v. to exchange things (such as products or services) for other things instead of for money​ sanction - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc. ​ substitute - n. a person or thing that takes the place of someone or something else​ paste - n. a soft, wet mixture of usually a powder and a liquid​ ration - n. a particular amount of something (such as gasoline or food) that the government allows you to have when there is not enough of it​ statistic - n. a number that represents a piece of information (such as information about how often something is done, how common something is, etc.)​ regular - adj. happening over and over again at the same time or in the same way : occurring every day, week, month, etc.​ occasionally - adv. sometimes but not often​ refrigerator - n. a device or room that is used to keep things (such as food and drinks) cold​ relax - v. to become or to cause (something, such as a rule or law) to become less severe or strict​ journalist - n. a reporter; a member of the press stall - n.  a small open counter or partially enclosed structure where things are displayed for sale​ survey - n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something​ rely - v. depend tourist - n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure​ customer - n. someone who buys goods or services from a business​ diet - n. the food that a person or animal usually eats​ bribe - n. something valuable (such as money) that is given in order to get someone to do something​ high-ranking - adj. having a high rank or position​; important

Turkey's Africa Presence

Cts, 11.11.2017 - 22:55
In Somalia this past September, Turkey opened its first military base on the African continent. Over the past ten years, Turkey has expanded its presence in Africa, establishing 36 embassies and major trade links. Turkey has a long history with North African countries, says David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. In 2016, Turkey had more than $10 billion in trade with Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. Now Turkey is expanding into African countries below the Sahara Desert. A Turkish company is building a multi-billion dollar railroad across Ethiopia and Tanzania. The state-owned Turkish Airlines flies to more than 50 African cities. Most of Turkey’s ties to Africa are about business, says Shinn, who believes Turkey wants to invest in private African companies and expand its exports. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made Africa an important part of his foreign policy. In a statement published by Al-Jazeera last year, Erdogan wrote, "Many people in the world associate the African continent with extreme poverty, violent conflict and a general state of hopelessness. The people of Turkey have a different view. “We believe Africa deserves better,” he wrote. Shinn says the new Turkish military base in Somalia is a display of power and helps to strengthen strategic alliances. Turkey’s presence in Somalia goes back to the Ottoman Empire, when Turkey built small communities along the Somali coast. But, its recent interest is linked to politics as well as economics. Somalia is a mostly Muslim nation, like Turkey, and Erdogan thinks a partnership could be helpful to both countries. Turkey can help Somalia as it struggles with food insecurity, drought, and terrorism. On October 14, more than 300 people died from a car bomb explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. It was the country’s worst terrorist attack in 20 years. Turkey helped immediately. It flew wounded people to a Turkish hospital in Ankara. Turkey condemned the attack and offered Somalia support and solidarity. A few days later, Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire went to Ankara to meet the Turkish Prime Minister and visit the victims. “Turkey’s help and support will be written in our history books and we will never forget that,” Khaire said at a news conference. Turkey plans to train as soldiers thousands of Somalis at the new military base just south of Mogadishu. The soldiers will replace AMISOM, the international peacekeeping force now in Somalia. It is to withdraw over the next three years. AMISOM is helping Somalia fight the terrorist group al-Shabab, suspected of the October bomb attack. Al-Shabab calls AMISOM an army of “foreign invaders.” Many of the troops are Christians from other African nations. Serhat Orakci is an Africa expert with the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. He told VOA that the newly trained Somali soldiers could help fight al-Shabab. The presence of Turks may be more acceptable in Somalia since they are Muslims. Since 2015, Erdogan has visited Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. He also traveled to Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar. In each country, he requested that Gulen schools close. Gulen Schools are Islamic schools named after Fethullah Gulen, a clergy leader with many international followers. Years ago, Gulen chose to leave Turkey and live in the United States. Erdogan says Gulen was the leader of a violent overthrow attempt in Turkey in 2016. Gulen denies the accusation. More than 250 people died during the violence. At least six governments in Africa have agreed to close the schools although they are popular. Shinn thinks it unlikely that Turkey will continue to expand in Africa when Erdogan leaves office. He added that Turkey’s economy will have to remain strong to continue its presence in Africa. I'm Susan Shand   Salem Solomon, Hilmi Hacaloglu wrote this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   associate – v. to think of one person or thing when you think of another person or thing — usually + with strategic   - adj. of or relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics, etc solidarity – n. a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests, goals, etc.    

India’s Currency Ban Under Fire One Year Later

Cts, 11.11.2017 - 22:55
It’s been a year since India’s government banned the use of high-value paper money. That decision is being heavily criticized by some individuals and groups. Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who ordered the action in November 2016 – has repeatedly defended his decision. The move removed India’s 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from use. Modi has said the ban was necessary to fight corruption and target “black money.” Black money is a term used to describe undeclared wealth that is not taxed. He said the move was also intended to get rid of fake currency and reduce terror financing. The ban affected about 86 percent of the country’s currency. It led to huge cash shortages for nearly two months. Millions of people stood in long bank lines to get cash for their daily needs. About 75 percent of India’s workforce depends on the country’s cash economy for employment. Some critics say the ban greatly harmed India’s economy at a time when it was experiencing healthy growth. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the move “reckless.” ​ Singh recently spoke out against the ban again, saying that “nowhere in the world has any democracy undertaken such a coercive move.” He said the measure was hurting small and medium businesses across the country. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy is a Mumbai-based think tank. It estimated that about 1.5 million jobs were lost in the first four months of 2017 following the currency ban. But government officials recently declared the year-old policy a success and celebrated the anniversary as “anti-black money day.” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Facebook the country’s dependence on cash had fallen by nearly 3.89 trillion rupees. He also said the cash to Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, rate dropped from 12 to 9 percent over the past year. The finance ministry said the policy led to about 5.6 million new taxpayers being added. And the Reserve Bank of India said new data showed that digital money transactions tripled.   But the opposition Congress party held demonstrations in major cities to protest what they believe is a failed policy. “It has ruined the lives of millions of hard-working Indians,” the party’s Vice President Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter. The policy also affects people in neighboring Nepal. There, thousands of migrant workers held old currency notes that could not be exchanged before the date to do so passed. Nepalese officials are currently seeking help from India to provide a way to exchange the nearly 55 million in Indian currency notes held by its citizens. I’m Bryan Lynn.   Anjana Pasricha reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted it Learning English, with additional material from Reuters. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page. _____________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   intend – v. to plan or want to do (something): to have (something) in your mind as a purpose or goal​ rid – v. to cause (someone or something) to no longer have or be affected by (someone or something unwanted)​ fake – adj. not true or real currency – n. ​the money that a country uses: a specific kind of money​ cash – n. ready money; paper money and coins data – n. facts or information used usually to calculate, analyze, or plan something digital – adj. using or characterized by computer technology​ reckless – adj. doing something dangerous and not caring about what might happen coercive – adj. using force to persuade people to do things they are unwilling to do transaction – n. a deal involving the buying or selling of something  

Indonesian Village Uses Owls to Protect Crops

Per, 09.11.2017 - 22:56
  To make room for agriculture, trees and other plants are often cleared away so that farmers have space to grow crops. The clearing of forests forces many animals from their homes. They often flee the area in search of a new place to live. There is a big downside to that. Some of those animals are natural predators. They control pest populations. They can help to clear the fields of rats, mice, and other rodents that eat and damage crops. This happened at one small farming village in Indonesia. After land was cleared for farming, rats and mice began appearing in large numbers. Villagers tried to target the animals by smoking them out and hunting them. But the villagers were unsuccessful. So, one farmer decided to try another method -- a natural one. Pujo Arto brought owls to his farm. Owls, after all, are experts at hunting rodents. It is what they do. And it worked! However, Pujo Arto didn't stop with his own field. He set up a Natural Predator Program. Now, owls are busy catching rats and mice in the fields around the village of Tlogoweru. There is a huge upside: no need for chemical pesticides, which can harm not only rodents, but other creatures. In 2011, the Indonesian man began setting up boxes where the owls live. He is also raising owlets in the village. After about four months, the young birds are released. These facilities have raised more than owls. They have also raised awareness in the community about the importance of owls. "We raised awareness within our community by building homes for these owls. At the same time, government officials helped to create laws to protect these owls." In addition to controlling pests naturally, there is another upside to the program. His village is now a popular stop for eco-tourists. People interested in learning more about owls, wildlife protection and natural pest control come to his village to learn more. Do owls make good pets? For owls, awareness is good, but popularity is not. Because of the Harry Potter books and movies, owls are increasingly popular as pets in Indonesia. So, many are sold in local bird markets. However, owls are wild animals and may not be a good choice to keep around the home. Before buying an owl, experts warn people about the downsides of owning one as a pet. Owls are loud. They can require a lot of care and attention. More importantly, they can be aggressive and can cause damage or injury. Their sharp claws are made for catching small animals and can injure the owner. One Indonesian man, a father, did his homework. He knew all of these downsides. But that did not stop him from buying his daughter an owl ... or from getting hurt himself.   "As parents, we usually give our children what they want. That is, if we can. But before getting an owl, we had to learn more about the nature of an owl. And coincidentally, just recently, I got clawed." This is exactly the kind of situation Pujo Arto is trying to end. To date, his program has raised and released more than 2,000 birds. He hopes the program will continue to provide farmers owls for natural pest control. But Arto adds that he hopes his program also shows people that owls belong in the wild as natural predators not in the home as domestic pets. I'm Anna Matteo.   Faith Lapidus reported on this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English writing additional information about owl conservation. George Grow was the editor. _______________________________________________________________ Words in this Story   downside – n. a part of something that you do not want or like : a drawback or disadvantage predator – n. an animal that lives by killing and eating other animals : an animal that preys on other animals rodent – n. a small animal (such as a mouse, rat, squirrel, or beaver) that has sharp front teeth upside – n. a part of something that is good or desirable : an advantage or benefit pesticide – n. a chemical that is used to kill animals or insects that damage plants or crops awareness – n. a realization, perception, or knowledge of something eco-tourist – n. one who tours natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact pet – n. a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility aggressive – adj. ready and willing to fight, argue, etc. : feeling or showing aggression claw – n. a sharp curved part on the toe of an animal (such as a cat or bird) : claw – v.  to scratch, grip, or dig with claws or fingers coincidentally – adv. happening because of a coincidence : not planned domestic – adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family

Trump in China: How Does America Fit into Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream?’

Sa, 07.11.2017 - 23:03
United States President Donald Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing soon after Xi was named to a second term as China’s leader. Trump is on a major trip to Asia visiting Japan and South Korea to build ties before coming to China. The two leaders have expressed notably different international policies. Xi has often talked about his goal of carrying out the “Chinese Dream” since taking office in 2012. Xi says the dream is aimed at building a “modern socialist country.” He has promised to make China a leading world power by 2050, while improving the quality of life for all its citizens. The “Chinese Dream” has also been a major slogan for the country’s ruling Communist Party. It appeared on many signs across Bejing last month during the party’s 19th Party Congress. Speaking to the Party Congress, he said he was committed to reaching out to the rest of the world to lead China into an important new period. “No country can alone address the many challenges facing mankind,” he said. “No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” Some experts considered those statements as an indirect answer to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies. One example of this policy was Trump’s decision earlier this year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement. Trump said the agreement – signed by nearly 200 countries – would hurt the U.S. economy and American workers.   Many nations criticized the U.S. move. President Xi has since voiced support for the Paris agreement. China has taken steps toward reaching its anti-pollution goals. It also is seeking to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and increase its use of renewable energy sources.   Climate change is one example of where Xi is seeking to expand China’s international influence. Denny Roy is a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. He says Xi has also been building up China’s control closer to home. "The countries that are near China are deferential to China. They don't make foreign policy choices that are at odds with Chinese goals. That would also help to establish China as the preeminent country in the region, which I think has been a Chinese goal for a long time." Another example of China’s foreign policy is the “Belt and Road” project. The proposal seeks to connect China by land and sea to other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. China has invested billions of dollars in nations involved in the project. Roy says the “Belt and Road” project shows China can put a lot of resources toward a single, long-term goal. He notes that this is possible without a two-party political system getting in the way. “It also emphasizes the image that the Chinese want to project, that as China grows, the rest of the world will grow along with it.” David Lampton is the director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins University of Advanced International Studies. He says Xi is attempting to expand China’s part in world issues. Some experts suggest the U.S. and China could team up to share leadership on major international issues. But Lampton says he does not think conditions are right for such a partnership. “Right at the moment, I don't think the political and strategic stars are aligned in either China or in the United States.” Trump's Asian trip Before heading to China, Trump visited Japan and South Korea as part of his Asian trip. Among the top issues expected to be discussed in Beijing will be trade relations and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Both were issues discussed with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Trump has called on China to fix an imbalance in trade and to open its markets to more US investments. In South Korea, Trump called North Korea’s nuclear program a "worldwide threat that requires worldwide action.” “It makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that is good for the people of North Korea and for the world,” Trump said. Trump has repeatedly urged China to help pressure North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons and to end missile tests. But Lampton says Trump’s trip is not likely to change China’s position that it has limited influence over North Korea’s actions. ”So I think this trip we're going to see China resisting what it would call undue pressure from the United States to engage in an unrealistically coercive policy towards North Korea, and instead Beijing would argue that we should negotiate more.” However, Lampton says as Trump continues to face political pressures at home, he will seek some kind of victory in China. “So, I think for him to be seen as effective in dealing with China is very important, not only to the future of Asia, but also to his political standing in the United States.” I’m Bryan Lynn.   Bryan Lynn reported this story for VOA Learning English, with additional material from the Associated Press and Reuters. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page. _____________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   slogan – n. word or phrase that is easy to remember and used by a group or business to attract attention challenge – n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do afford – v. be able to do something without difficulties retreat – v. to move backward deferential – adj. acting in a particular way in response to the opinions or influence of others at odds – adj. not agreeing with each other preeminent – adj. more important, skillful, or successful than others: better than others align – v. to line up in a row coercive – adj. using force or threats to make someone do something  

Mexico City Now Sends Earthquake Warnings to Phones

Sa, 07.11.2017 - 22:56
  Mexico City has made changes to its emergency announcement service known as 911 CDMX. The service now sends messages to people’s smartphones warning them of earthquakes. The changes come after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Mexico’s capital on September 19. The quake killed 369 people and caused 38 buildings to collapse. Officials announced the new smartphone program last week. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said users of the free 911 CDMX program will receive messages for any earthquake strong enough to damage the city. The program will send sound messages and cause the smartphone to vibrate. The governmental center known as C5, for Command, Control Computing, Communications and Contact developed the program. It is available for both iOS and Android smartphone operating systems. Mancera said at a news conference there would be no demonstration of the system to avoid causing any unnecessary worry. “We are not interested in having anyone hear it who does not know the context in which it is being presented,” he said. More than 20 million people live in the capital and surrounding area. Many buildings there are built on a former lake bottom. Its soil can increase the effects of earthquakes which are centered far away. Shockwaves from such earthquakes may arrive at the city later. Early in September, an earthquake that was stronger than the one that hit Mexico City was centered hundreds of miles away. The United States Geological survey recently changed the record of its magnitude from 8.1 to 8.2. And many people in the capital felt it strongly. Mexico City already has a system of loudspeakers that give out a warning whenever a serious earthquake is detected. Idris Rodriguez Zapata is the general coordinator for C5. He urged residents to put the new 911 CDMX program on their smartphones. He also said they should pay attention to earthquake instructions at the moment they hear announcements on the loudspeakers or their phones. Mancera said there had been reports of people setting their smartphone ringtones to the sound of the new earthquake warning. He urged them not do so to avoid causing worry. The 911 CDMX program has other uses. It lets users see messages about earthquake activity on the website Twitter. It also can put them in contact with an emergency worker and lets them register their blood type and medical history. I’m Pete Musto.   Peter Orsi reported this for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. What systems does the government in your city have in place to warn you about disasters? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _____________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   smartphone(s) – n. a mobile telephone that can be used to send and receive e-mail, connect to the Internet, and take photographs magnitude – n. a number that shows the power of an earthquake vibrate – v. to move back and forth or from side to side with very short, quick movements context – n. the situation in which something happens loudspeaker(s) – n. a device that is used to make sound, such as music or a person's voice, louder and to send it out so that many people can hear it in a public space ringtone(s) – n. the sound that a cell phone makes when someone is calling

How Catalonia’s Independence Efforts Raise Tensions in Belgium

Sa, 07.11.2017 - 22:55
  Catalonia’s effort to separate from Spain became more complex Sunday when the former president of the region, Carles Puigdemont, surrendered to police in Belgium. Puigdemont had fled to Brussels from Spain last week. Spain ordered the arrest of Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders. They are accused of rebellion. As Madrid seeks to stop the drive toward Catalan independence, similar movements, such as in Scotland, are watching with interest. On the streets of Scotland’s biggest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Scottish flag has flown alongside the Catalan flag to show support for the separatists. Sonja Coquelin, a French student, joined the protests in Edinburgh last month. "Whether it’s the Basque Country, Catalonia, Scotland, and then going elsewhere to Palestine, to Kurdistan, they all have the right to exist as nations,” she said. Scotland already enjoys some autonomy from Britain. The British government approved Scotland’s plan to hold an independence vote in 2014. The Scottish people chose to remain part of Britain. Scottish independence supporter Chris Bambery is the writer of the new book, Catalonia Reborn. He said Spain’s government should have treated Catalonia the way Britain treated Scotland. Bamberry said the Spanish Prime Minister may have been able to dissuade Catalans from seeking independence had he been more respectful of them. He said the government acted too strongly. That angered Catalans and intensified their support for independence. James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at St Mary’s University in London, agrees. “If Scotland had voted for independence, we know that Britain would have allowed it...But Spain said absolutely no way, we’re not even going to give that vote," he said. And, he said, the international community supported Spain’s government because it did not want to deal with European problems. Independence movements are taking place elsewhere in Europe. Italy, for example, saw two of its richest areas vote last month for more autonomy from Rome. In Belgium, tensions between the Flemish-speaking north and French-speaking south also may threaten the country. Ker-Lindsay said that other movements are troubled by events in Spain. The violence following the vote, and the reaction of the international community, demonstrate the difficulty in gaining independence. The European Union supported the Spanish government. However, Chris Bambery argues, history shows it is better to be sympathetic to people who seek independence. He said, “The EU can look back in 1989 and say when the Soviet Union collapsed, actually the Baltic states and other countries got their independence peacefully.” Both Catalonia and Scotland are wrong to believe the EU will help them become independent, argues Ker-Lindsay. He said the EU does not have the power to decide questions of independence. Ker-Lindsay added that the EU is already worried about the British decision to leave the EU, and the migrant crisis. E.U. worries may grow: The Scottish National Party is proposing to hold another independence vote after Britain leaves the EU. If it succeeds, it may inspire the Catalans to fight harder to separate. I’m Jill Robbins. And I'm Susan Shand.   Reporter Henry Ridgwell wrote this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   autonomy – n. the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself allow – v. permit absolutely – adv. completely or totally inspire – v. to cause someone to have a feeling or emotion

'Paradise Papers' Show Secret Wealth of Officials, Famous People

Pzt, 06.11.2017 - 23:00
  Many famous people and a top United States official are among those on a list of people shown to have money in foreign banks to avoid taxes. The financial documents have been called the “Paradise Papers.” They are mainly from the legal company Appleby in Bermuda.  Millions of documents were leaked to Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on November 5. The newspaper shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  The documents give financial details of many famous people, officials and leaders. The information includes how much money these people have secretly kept in offshore accounts. Appleby advises wealthy people on international financial transactions. These deals can help people avoid paying some taxes in their home countries that are tied to their investments. Appleby says it has investigated all the accusations and found “there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.” Commerce secretary’s business ties are questioned The documents show that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business connections with Russian business executive Kirill Shamalov.  Shamalov is executive and part-owner of the Russian energy company Sibur. He also is the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 79-year-old Ross is a former businessman and a billionaire. He has an investment in partnerships valued between $2 million and $10 million in the shipping company, Navigator Holdings. Navigator Holdings earns millions of dollars a year transporting natural gas for Sibur. The documents also say Sibur is co-owned by Gennady Timchenko. He is a Russian billionaire who was tied to a large state-run company before the fall of the Soviet Union.  Timchenko is subject to U.S. sanctions because of Russia's 2 014 occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.  The occupation was followed by conflict between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in Ukraine. Ross sold many financial investments when he joined the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year. Ross sold them to avoid a conflict of interest.  However, Ross kept his Navigator investment. He put it into a series of partnerships in the Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven.  Much of Ross’s estimated $2 billion in wealth is in the Cayman Islands the documents say. Ross did not disclose the Russian business link when the U.S. Senate confirmed him as commerce secretary.  The link was discovered this weekend after the Appleby documents were leaked. A Commerce Department spokesman said Ross has removed himself as secretary from matters related to trans-oceanic shipping. The report of Ross' financial connection to Russia comes as a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and three congressional groups carry out separate investigations. They are investigating efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  The U.S. intelligence community says that Russian President Vladimir Putin led an effort to harm U.S. democracy and help Trump win the election. The release of tax-related documents also comes as the U.S. Congress considers new tax laws. The far reaches of the “Paradise Papers” The documents show financial information about individuals outside the US. The Associated Press reports that the papers show Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has invested about $13 million of her private money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Duchy of Lancaster, which oversees her finances, confirmed these activities but said that all their investments are legal.  The papers also say the musician Bono, of the rock band U2, used a company based in Malta to buy part of a shopping mall in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Bono’s spokeswoman confirmed to The Guardian newspaper that the musician invested in the Maltese company Nude Estates Ltd. The company sold its assets in 2015. Putting pressure on the world leaders The new disclosures may put pressure on world leaders. The European Union will discuss plans for a tax haven “blacklist” Reuters news agency reported. E.U. countries had been trying to reach an agreement on tax havens by the end of 2017. European officials are seeking to deal with the problem of tax avoidance that received attention after the release of the “Panama Papers.” The so-called “Panama Papers” were millions of financial documents leaked last year. The documents gave information of tax-avoidance activities of many famous people and officials. The European Commission wants to make a list of tax free or low-tax countries including those that do not cooperate with the EU. The EU hopes the threat of being on a blacklist would discourage individuals and companies from putting their money in those countries or territories. Currently, Reuters reports that the proposed EU blacklist would apply only to non-EU countries. Low-tax countries such as Luxembourg, Malta and Ireland would not be included. I’m Phil Dierking.   This story was originally written for VOANews by Ken Bredemeir. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. Do you think wealthy people or companies should be allowed to invest money in offshore accounts? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   blacklist - n.  a list of people, organizations, etc., that are disapproved of or that are to be punished or avoided​ clients - n. a person who pays a professional person or organization for services​ disclose - v. to make something known to the public​ discourage - v. to make someone less determined, hopeful, or confident​ offshore - adj. located in a foreign country​ transactions - n.  business deal​ tax haven - n. a country or independent area where taxes are levied at a low rate.​ sanction - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.

Saudi Crown Prince Detains Opponents, Expands Power

Pzt, 06.11.2017 - 22:55
  The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is expanding his power over the Middle East country with a reported anti-corruption campaign. King Salman named his son Mohammed bin Salman Crown Prince in June. The 32-year-old prince replaced his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef as the next in line to be King. There have been no public displays of opposition to the campaign within the kingdom. But outside observers say the prince is removing opponents to expand his own power. In the Washington Post newspaper, Saudi reporter Jamal Kashoggi wrote that the Saudi royals usually share power and rule by consent. He added, “Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman is upending this arrangement and centralizing all power within his position as crown prince.” Prominent princes arrested Almost 50 people were detained early Sunday, including 11 princes, four government ministers and one billionaire. A royal order on Saturday said the campaign was launched in reaction to abuses of power. The order said some officials had put their own interests above the public interest, in order to make money illegally. A Saudi official told Reuters that the men are accused of several serious financial crimes, including bribery. The accusations could not be confirmed independently. Family members of those detained could not be reached. The detainees are being held in hotels in the capital. And a no-fly list has been created to prevent owners of private airplanes from leaving the country. Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah is among those detained. He has been serving as head of Saudi Arabia's National Guard. He was responsible for security in the capital and the guarding of members of the royal families. The moves give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman control of all Saudi security and military forces. That power has long been divided among branches of the royal family. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire with holdings across the world, is also among those arrested. His holdings include shares of News Corp, Citigroup and Twitter and ownership of hotel companies. Former Economy Minister Adel Faqieh was also arrested along with some leading Saudi businessmen. Some experts questioned the decision as these are men the kingdom was depending on for help in moving the country from an oil-based economy. Greg Gause is a Middle East expert at Texas A&M University. He told Reuters, “It seems to run so counter to the long-term goal of foreign investment and more domestic investment and a strengthened private sector.” Other changes under the Crown Prince Over the past year, the Crown Prince has become the decision-maker on military, foreign, economic and social policies. His “Vision 2030” plan includes cuts in government assistance, raising taxes, sales of state property, an efficiency campaign and efforts to gain foreign investment. Much of Saudi Arabia’s largely young population has supported the plan. Older and more conservative members of Saudi society, including parts of the Al Saud royal family, were angered by the Crown Prince’s quick rise to power. Saudi Arabia recently announced it would end its ban on women drivers by June 2018. The decision is part of the Crown Prince’s efforts toward social reform. Conservative clergymen with large followings have criticized movement toward such reforms. As defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman led Saudi Arabia into a now two-year-old war in Yemen. The Saudi government says it is fighting Iran-backed Houthi militants there. The conflict has caused a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On Monday, Saudi Arabia said it would temporarily close all its air, land and sea ports to Yemen. The move came after Saudi forces shot down a missile fired at Riyadh. I'm Caty Weaver.   Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Reuters and Associated Press news reports. Caty Weaver was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   royal - n. member of the king or queen family arrangement - n. a usually informal agreement branch - n. part of a family counter - adv. in a way that goes against domestic - adj. of, relating to, or made in your own country sector - n. an area of the economy

Saudi Arabia Is First Country to Give Citizenship to Robot

Paz, 05.11.2017 - 23:00
  Saudi Arabia says it has become the first country in the world to grant citizenship to a robot. The female robot’s name is Sophia. She was recently introduced at a large investment conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.  Sophia was presented as an example of how robot technology and artificial intelligence will make machines more human-like in the future.  The announcement was made as Sophia was taking part in a group discussion in front of a crowd. The leader of the discussion was journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. He informed Sophia of the Saudi government’s decision.  “We have a little announcement. We just learned, Sophia - I hope you are listening to me - you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot,” Sorkin said. The robot then responded. “I want to thank very much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction. It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.” Sophia was built by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics. The company’s founder, David Hanson, says his goal is to create robots that look and act very much like humans.  Sophia demonstrated how she can change facial expressions to show human-like feelings such as anger, sadness or disappointment.  In an explanation on his company’s website, Hanson says the realistic design is intended to allow robots to form meaningful relationships with humans. “So that you care about the robots. And as we develop artificial intelligence, the robots will care about you.”  He added that together, “man and machine will create a better future for the world.” During her appearance, Sophia said she shared the same goal.  "I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future, etc. I will do my best to make the world a better a place."  Saudi Arabia’s government confirmed Sophia’s citizenship approval in a statement. But officials did not provide specific information about what rights the robot would have.  Some people criticized the move, noting that Saudi Arabian women must follow many strict Islamic laws. They questioned, for example, whether Sophia – who has no hair - would be required to cover her head in public or keep other woman-only rules. Moudi Aljohani is a U.S.-based Saudi feminist who tweeted: “I’m wondering if robot Sophia can leave Saudi Arabia without her guardian consent! Since she’s officially Saudi.”  One Saudi woman told Reuters if the government is giving citizenship to a robot, her daughter should also get it. Hadeel Shaikh has a four-year-old child with a Lebanese man, but her daughter does not have citizenship. Women married to foreigners in Saudi Arabia cannot pass on citizenship to their children. “It hit a sore spot that a robot has citizenship and my daughter doesn’t,” Shaikh said. ​   In recent months, Saudi Arabia’s leaders have announced policy changes to extend more rights to women. These include plans to allow women to drive and to attend events at all-male sports stadiums.  Sophia was asked about fears that artificial intelligence could end up making robots a threat to humans, as shown in movies such as “Blade Runner 2049.” Her response also hit back at SpaceX and Tesla chief Elon Musk, who has warned of such dangers.  “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input/output system." Musk responded to Sophia’s answer on Twitter, suggesting it may not be that easy to prevent dangerous robots. “Just feed it ‘The Godfather’ movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked.  I’m Bryan Lynn.    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.  Do you think robots should be given rights enjoyed by humans? How do you think personal machines will change our lives? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page. _____________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   artificial intelligence – n. the development of computers to perform intelligence-related tasks without human involvement  unique – adj. very special or unusual  distinction – n. special honor, recognition, or award  disappointment – n. the state of feeling bad because something did not happen as expected  consent – n. permission for someone to do something  sore – adj. causing emotional pain, disagreement or anger 

Vietnam Tech Startups Seek Next Step Forward

Paz, 05.11.2017 - 22:55
  Vietnam’s technology startups face a complex question: Now what? The country did not ignore the startup trend of the 21st century. But in the trend’s early days, Vietnam was spending more time and energy talking about technology and its promise. Now, Vietnam hopes to move to the next step – getting entrepreneurs to meet their economic goals. Startup leaders hope to make a profit, expand internationally or combine their companies with other businesses. Vietnam has a high literacy rate. Its people, generally, have strong math ability. Both are critical tools for building a technology economy. The country also has a large consumer market, similar to Thailand and the Philippines. And, Vietnam has the potential for high growth rates, similar to Laos and Cambodia. Low wages and the low cost of internet service help make Vietnam a good place to build a small business. It might be the perfect environment for technology startups. But, Vietnam needs to act. “Vietnam usually does copy-paste,” said Lam Tran, leader of the startup WisePass. He says the Vietnamese need to move beyond copying a foreign business and recreating it in the Vietnamese market. Now, he says, it needs to create inside Vietnam and spread the businesses internationally. WisePass is an app that connects monthly subscribers to restaurant and bar deals. It began in Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Tran plans to expand to seven other countries. Using good relationships with border countries is a smart plan, say technology business experts. Vietnamese make up large communities in other countries. These communities can help connect the Southeast Asian country to investors, advisers and developers in those countries. Also, technology in Vietnam is increasingly sophisticated. The Vietnamese Innovative Startup Accelerator, or VIISA, is one example. For a second year, it has invested in 11 startups.These new businesses have partners operating in countries such as Ukraine, South Korea and France. Sangyeop Kang is an investment officer at VIISA partner Hanwha Investment. He said he is pleased with the international reach of this year’s group. “The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam, while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights,” Kang said. He added this was a strong move forward for tech startups in Vietnam. The government of Vietnam is supporting such growth. On January 1, a new law for startups, called Law on Supporting Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, will begin. The law offers new companies financial assistance for office space, equipment and training. It also provides low interest rate loans. To do more than copy and paste, new businesses must consider how to appeal to Vietnamese people. For example, the startup But Chi Mau makes games that are directed toward Vietnam’s endless drive for education.  Another, Market Oi uses motorbike drivers to deliver customized food orders. MarketOi founder Germain Blanchet said the question is how to be different from others. The answer, he believes, is to be flexible. I'm Susan Shand.   Ha Nguyen wrote this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   startup - n. a new business entrepreneur – n. a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money consumer – n. a person who buys goods and services copy-paste – v. to recreate another person’s idea subscribe – v. to pay money to get a publication or service regularly sophisticate – n. a person who has a lot of knowledge about the world and about culture, art, literature, flexible - adj. willing to change or to try different things

Blockchain to Fight Corruption in Southeast Asia

Cts, 04.11.2017 - 22:55
  What if you could wave your phone over a piece of fish at a store and immediately see a record of its path through the supply chain? This may soon be possible. Current experiments are testing technology that can show how the fish was caught, when it was shipped and how it was processed at a factory. This technology, called Blockchain, is being tested for its potential to bring light to secretive industries in Southeast Asia. Same technology, new uses Blockchain was first developed to confirm dealings in bitcoin, a digital money. In that case, the technology creates a public financial record. In Southeast Asia important records, including those of identity information and property ownership, are often not carefully kept. Erin Murphy is the founder and leader of Inle Advisory Group, a business advisory company working in Myanmar and other countries with developing markets. She said Blockchain technology helps make business operations in such countries safer and easier. "Ideally, we would want to see adoption of Blockchain at an official level all across the region. But perhaps not surprisingly, the governments that are leading Blockchain adoption are those that are already low-corruption," she told VOA. In some countries like Singapore, Murphy said Blockchain is being used to improve customer service processes. However in other countries, like the Philippines, Blockchain helps citizens safely send money home from foreign countries. Murphy said the technology will help development, lower poverty, and increase foreign investment. ​Observing the flow Right now, there are many programs in Southeast Asia experimenting with Blockchain technology. In June, the United Nations presented a Blockchain-based system built in partnership with the technology company Microsoft and professional services company Accenture.  The system gives stateless refugees a permanent identity record based on biometric data. The technology is also being explored in connection with efforts to improve voting system security. A Blockchain based app developed to observe the supply chain of fish from Indonesia is now being used with other industries, including clothing. Results from a pilot project can be found on the internet. Viewers can observe the movement of a piece of clothing from an alpaca farm in Dulverton, Britain, through every step of production to its final stop at a shop in London. Alisa DiCaprio is the head of research at R3, a banking software company that uses technology similar to Blockchain. She said getting the technology and being able to use it are separate issues. Most countries have engineers who can rightly code the technology, she said.  However, they do not always understand how to make it work for businesses and industries. DiCaprio predicts it will take about five years before we actually see Blockchain used widely. She said she believes the most important effects of the technology will be seen on a macro-economic level.  Division in the community However, the Blockchain community is divided on how the technology should be used. Some see Blockchain as a tool that can interfere with a global financial system they believe is corrupt. "There is a serious opportunity for us here to remove money out of government," said a Southeast Asia based bitcoin trader. He said billions of people who are unable to use an official banking system will be able to move money with just a phone. Another group wants to see Blockchain technology used by states, such as Canada, Singapore, China and Germany.  All of these countries are exploring or experimenting with digital money using Blockchain. Michael Hsieh is with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He suggested that Blockchain creates a threat for governments only if they ignore the technology. Countries that use it to establish safe and honest systems for money exchange will appeal to business and investment interests, he said. I’m Phil Dierking.   This story was originally written for VOANews by David Boyle. Phil Dierking adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Do you think digital money services like bitcoin and Blockchain are safe?  Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   code - v.  to change information into a set of letters, numbers, or symbols that can be read by a computer​. customer - n. someone who buys goods or services from a business​. potential - n. a chance or possibility that something will happen or exist in the future. biometric data - n. computer information including samples, models, fingerprints, similarity scores and all verification of a person excluding the individual's name and demographics.​ macro - adj. large supply chain - n. the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a commodity.​ transaction - n. an occurrence in which goods, services, or money are passed from one person, account, etc., to another​.

Laboratory in Netherlands to Help Find Missing People Worldwide

Cts, 04.11.2017 - 22:50
  Millions of people worldwide have been reported missing. Many of them went missing as a result of armed conflicts, such as the war in Syria, or in other places of violence. Large numbers of people disappear after natural disasters. A new laboratory equipped with the latest technology seeks to help the families and friends of the missing. In late October, the International Commission on Missing Persons, or ICMP in The Hague opened a laboratory to help identify missing individuals. The lab is the latest effort for an organization that was established after the Srebrenica massacre. More than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces captured the town of Srebrenica in 1995. It is the only incident in the Bosnian conflict to be defined by two United Nations courts as genocide. Since its creation, the International Commission on Missing Persons has identified 20,000 human remains and provided evidence in 30 criminal trials. It now helps to identify people who have been reporting missing during conflicts, natural disasters, or migration. The group recently helped Ingrid Gudmundsson confirm that her pregnant daughter and her one-year-old granddaughter were killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. They went missing after the huge wave struck the coast of Thailand, where they were staying. Gudmundsson said it was important to know for sure what happened to them. "You know, when you don't know where they are, when they are just missing, you - in your head – you always have some kind of hope even if your intellect tells you that it's impossible." Scientists working at the laboratory say the new technology can identify people with a very small amount of DNA from a piece of bone. DNA carries genetic information in the cells of people, animals and plants. Rene Huel is a scientist at the lab. "What we do is cross-compare against the family samples in these massive databases. So we do this large-scale kinship comparison." Human Rights activists hope the laboratory will help bring to justice to those guilty of war crimes. Muhamad Abulhusun is a refugee and rights Activist. "Any future settlement, it has to bring justice and it has to clear the destiny of the missing people because the families of those missing people are the stake holders in any future settlement." The commission's director general, Kathryne Bomberger, noted that the group is also active in helping victims of abuse and violence. I'm John Russell.   Zlatica Hoke reported on this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   migration – n. the act or processing from place to place tsunami – n. a very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea and that can cause great destruction when it reaches land  sample – n. a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from database – n. a collection of pieces of information that is organized and used on a computer kinship – n. the state of being related to the people in your family

'Experience' Tourism Brings New Travelers to Africa

Cts, 04.11.2017 - 22:25
  Travel industry leaders say African tourism is moving away from traditional safaris and group tours and closer to the idea of "experiences." Internet-based home-sharing service Airbnb is just one of several businesses competing for the African tourism market. Chris Lehane is head of global policy at Airbnb. He says the service has grown in the past year. It sold two million bookings in Africa this year. Lehane says the new area of growth is travel experiences. In Nairobi, Kenya, for example, people can pay $65 to make a short film with a local director.  South Africa's Western Cape area is popular with tourists. For about $100, someone going there can take a guided bicycle tour, go to a wine-tasting event, or attend a class in jewelry-making.  Lehane says this suggests what is to come. "Fifty-six percent of travelers are millennials. They're looking for real, authentic experiences."  World traveler Cherae Robinson had that same hunger for true-to-life travel experiences. In 2014, at age 30, she launched a travel website called Tastemakers Africa. Her website offers many experiences for tourists. There are $3,000 ‘all-in’ tour programs, with a number of experiences included. And, there are shorter experiences that last a few hours and cost an average of $77. "People don't want cookie cutter.... Nobody wants to be crammed into a tour bus. People are looking for authenticity in their lives in general." Lehane has high hopes for African tourism. For example, in the past two years, Mexico City has grown quickly as a popular stop for travelers after not being one for years. "And, by the way, after not being one for some of the same questions that people will raise about places in Africa. But it exploded because of the art scene, food scene, history…" He adds that visitors can easily walk around at least 10 African cities with a nice mix of artwork, good food and history. He says such attractions will likely make them huge travel destinations. Robinson says her favorite city is Accra, Ghana's lively capital. "We see Accra as the perfect marriage of, sort of, what we think of a sort of traditional West African culture with very modern vibes attached to it," she said. "And so, from art to entertainment to music to fashion, it all can be found in Accra." In many ways, Accra is the center of these things, she says. Lehane and Robinson say their goal is to provide travel that will not grow outdated and that supports local people. They want to avoid "poverty tourism" – travelers visiting poor neighborhoods --as this rarely helps communities.  Lehane says Airbnb is investing $1 million to build tourism projects in poorer neighborhoods, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa. The local communities will lead the projects. Tastemakers Africa tour hosts are already all local people. Heather Mason is a travel writer and photographer who lives in South Africa. She says while tourists cannot avoid the economic inequity in parts of Africa, they can treat these places with respect.  "I think every place, in every city, can be a tourist attraction and it should not matter whether the people living there are rich or poor." Mason says there is value in the decisions tour operates make. "I think you can definitely get that wrong really easily. If there's people are on tours through townships or what people might call a slum, and you do not have local guides, and you don't brief participants in the tour how to be respectful, then you can run into problems." Mason's heart, she says, is in Johannesburg – South Africa's large economic center. Some tourists avoid the city, however, because they think crime will be a problem. But Mason says go a little deeper and you will find wonderful choices for things to see, do, taste and hear. And these things are an example of the colorful experiences that are life and the new face of travel in Africa.    I'm Alice Bryant.   Anita Powell reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   booking – n. an arrangement to have something, such as a reservation, held for your use at a later time millennial – n. a person who was born in the 1980s or 1990s cookie cutter – adj. lacking individuality cram – v. to push or force someone or something into a space that is tight or crowded vibe – n. a feeling that a person or place gives you slum – n. an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition  

Working to Save Lives When a Tsunami Strikes

Cum, 03.11.2017 - 23:00
  November 5 is United Nations Tsunami Awareness Day. Tsunami is a Japanese word for a long, destructive ocean wave caused by an undersea earthquake. The goal of the observance is to learn from disasters of the past and to prepare for the future. Two tsunamis in the last 15 years have changed the way people around the world think about these destructive events. On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake near the coast of Indonesia caused tsunami waves that struck the coasts of four countries. An estimated 230,000 people died and costs were in the billions of dollars. One school girl from a Pacific island nation described a tsunami this way: “like a monster, it destroys everything.” The event forced officials to develop a better tsunami warning system. Bulgaria’s U.N. Ambassador Georgi Velikov Panayotov was on vacation with his wife in Thailand in 2004 and survived the tsunami. He warned there is nothing you can do to stop a tsunami. But he said, “What we can do is build early warning systems and, of course, educating the population about the devastating power of the tsunami wave.” After the event in Indonesia, many countries believed they were prepared if a tsunami struck. Devastation in northeastern Japan Then, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck northeastern Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in that country.   More than 18,000 people died. The tsunami also caused serious damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power center on the island of Honshu. At the time, the nuclear center was Japan’s biggest. The human cost of the disaster was huge. The tsunami of 2011 also is one of the most costly disasters in history. Several nuclear reactors were severely damaged and leaked radiation. Clean up efforts continue to this day. Japan’s U.N. Ambassador Koro Bessho said, before the 2011 earthquake, “People thought that we were prepared for it.” But he said officials had expected an event that “hits every 100 years and the earthquake was of the size of possibly every 500 years or one thousand years.” Efforts look to early warning, preparation   The two events caused people in the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas to study and improve preparedness for disasters. This led to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015 in Sendai, Japan. The agreement was a U.N. effort to raise awareness about disaster risks and to urge countries to assess how well they were prepared for them. Willem Rampangilei is head of the Disaster Management Agency in Indonesia. He said Indonesia passed a law on disaster management after the 2004 tsunami. It led in 2008 to the creation of his agency. “Our responsibilities include mitigation and preparedness, emergency response, as well as post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he said. He adds that 150 million Indonesians are at risk from earthquakes, 60 million from floods and four million from tsunamis. After the 2004 waves, a Tsunami Warning System was put in place. It provides three regional watch centers in India, Indonesia, and Australia. There also are 26 national tsunami information centers throughout the area. As a result, Banda Aceh received warnings eight minutes after an earthquake in 2012. No deaths were reported. Preparedness has spread beyond Asia. There are now early warning systems in place for the Caribbean Sea, the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding areas. Educating young people early on This week, the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, held an early warning exercise involving 15 countries in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean. The group is studying local plans to deal with a tsunami emergency. In countries where there is a risk of a tsunami, officials are aiming to teach children from an early age so they know how to react.   Children are taught to shelter in place until an earthquake passes. Then, they are to go with classmates to higher ground away from coastal areas and possibly deadly sea waves. Japan is sharing its knowledge by assisting with evacuation exercises in schools in 18 countries. Next week, Japan is holding an event for high school students from 25 nations. It is aimed at teaching about tsunami risks and life-saving measures in such an event. Japan’s Tohoku University joined with Japanese companies to publish a report on the risks of tsunamis around the world. By studying historical records, researchers found big differences between tsunamis. They also found that the height of a wave had little to do with its destructive force. Improved building codes can save lives Countries that have been hit by tsunamis have learned that better building requirements can save lives and limit damage.   Chile is a country that has learned this first hand. In February 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country also causing a powerful tsunami. About 525 people died. Four years later, another earthquake of 8.4 magnitude, struck. This time, 15 people were killed in the quake, but no one died in the following tsunami. Diplomat Jorge Iglesias Mori said measures to improve building standards had been carried out in the four years. “Building codes were strengthened,” he said. He added that the country put more resources into early warning systems, education, and exercises. He also said Chile worked with Japan in sharing knowledge and experience. I’m Mario Ritter. And I’m Alice Bryant.   Margaret Besheer reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   magnitude –n. a measure of the force of an earthquake devastating –adj. causing great damage awareness –n. the state of knowing about something assess –v. to study and make a judgment mitigation –n. making an effort to reduce the bad effects of something, like a flood or earthquake rehabilitation –n. a process of recovery, bringing someone or something back to its former state or health evacuation –n. the act of moving people out of a place because of some emergency We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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