05 Jul

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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World Politics

United States

Questions raised as to whether Trump supports coordinated with Moscow to spread bogus stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton

Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, says there was evidence that fake news campaigns appeared to target voters in swing states.

Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, says there was evidence that fake news campaigns appeared to target voters in swing states. Photograph: Jay Laprete/AFP/Getty Images

The spread of Russian-made fake news stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton on social media is emerging as an important line of inquiry in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or paedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook.

The head of the Trump digital camp, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee carrying out a parallel inquiry, has said that at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” were pumping anti-Clinton fake news into social media sites during the campaign.

Warner said there was evidence that this campaign appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states, raising the question over whether there was coordination with US political operatives in directing the flow of bogus stories.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the justice department to oversee the investigation into the Russian role in the election, is thought to be looking into all these issues, as well as possible links between Russian fake news factories and far-right sites in the US.

It is a wide-ranging investigation that is examining the unusually large number of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials during the campaign, as well as the possibility that the Kremlin has personal or financial leverage over members in the Trump camp, including the president himself according to his own remarks on Twitter.

The role of Russian generated fake news is a separate strand which has gained less attention up to now, but the part it played in depressing the Clinton vote in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the critical last days of the 2016 campaign could have helped change the course of recent American history.

We set ourselves up to be victims of an international cyberwarfare campaign. We were very effective pawns

John Mattes

A huge wave of fake news stories originating from eastern Europe began washing over the presidential election months earlier, at the height of the primary campaign. John Mattes, who was helping run the outline campaign for the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders from San Diego, said it really took off in March 2016.

“In a 30-day period, dozens of full-blown sites appeared overnight, running full level productions posts. It screamed out to me that something strange was going on,” Mattes said. Much of the material was untraceable, but he tracked 40% of the new postings back to eastern Europe.

Four of the Facebook members posting virulent and false stories about Clinton (suggesting, for example, that she had profited personally by arming Islamic State extremists) had the same name, Oliver Mitov. They all had a very small number of Facebook friends, including one which all four had in common. When Mattes tried to friend them and contact them there was no reply.

Many websites producing anti-Clinton fake news were based in Albania and Macedonia. A pro-Sanders Facebook page with nearly 90,000 followers was run by an Albanian IT expert who, when interviewed by the Huffington Post, appeared to speak very little English, although his page consistently published polished English prose.

Mattes, a former Senate investigator, did some digging into the sudden phenomenon of eastern European Sanders enthusiasts. He found that was a spike in activity on the anonymous browsing tool Tor in Macedonia that coincided with the launch of the fake news campaign, which he believes could represent Russian handlers contacting potential east European hosts to help them set up automated websites.

“This is a cost-effective hands-free method with no blowback to you if you are in St Petersburg creating this product,” Mattes said. He argued that if the pro-Sanders websites in east Europe had been primarily motivated by maximising clicks they would have moved on to another viral subject.

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All-girl team of robotics students must watch machine compete at international contest in Washington via video link after entry permits refused

Afghan school girls test robot vehicles at a school in Herat. Six Afghan teenage girls have been denied visas to travel to the United States for an international robotics competition.

Afghan school girls test robot vehicles at a school in Herat. Six Afghan teenage girls have been denied visas to travel to the United States for an international robotics competition. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Two Afghan girls refused visas to the United States for a robot-building competition have said they were mystified as the contest’s organisers said teams from Iran and Sudan as well as a de facto Syrian team had gained visas.

The unusual story of the Afghan all-girl team of robotics students emerged as the United States grapples with the legality of President Donald Trump’s order to temporarily ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries.

Afghanistan itself is not on the list and Team Afghanistan’s robot, unlike its creators, has been allowed entry to the United States. Asked by Reuters on Tuesday why the girls were banned, a US State Department spokesperson cited regulations prohibiting the agency from discussing individual visa cases.

So the six team members will watch the ball-sorting machine compete in Washington DC via video link during the 16-18 July event from their hometown of Herat, in western Afghanistan, according to the First Global contest organisers.

“We still don’t know the reason why we were not granted visas, because other countries participating in the competition have been given visas,” said 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan, part of the team that made two journeys to the US embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to apply for their papers.

“No one knows about the future but … we did our best and we hope that our robot could get a position along other robots from other countries,” Qaderyan said.

Most of the female team members were either infants or not yet born at the time of the US-backed military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime whose ultra-hardline interpretation of Islamic sharia law banned girls from school, women from working outside the home and all females from leaving home without a male relative.

More than 15 years later around 10,000 US and allied international troops remain in Afghanistan to support an elected government in Kabul that constitutionally guarantees women’s rights but is increasingly losing ground to a Taliban insurgency that now controls or contests some 40% of territory.

Qaderyan’s teammate from Herat, 17-year-old Lida Azizi, was less forgiving of the US visa decision. “All of the countries can participate in the competitions, but we can’t. So it’s a clear insult for the people of Afghanistan,” Azizi said.

First Global’s president, Joe Sestak, said in a post on its Facebook page that he was “saddened” by the US decision but the Afghan team would be able to connect with the competition via a live Skype video link.

“That is how we must now honour our fellow teammates, those brave girls from Afghanistan,” he said.

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Assault on daughter of environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who leads indigenous rights group, heightens fears of violence against campaigners in Honduras

Indigenous Lenca women protest against the murder of Berta Cáceres last year.

Indigenous Lenca women protest against the murder of Berta Cáceres last year. Now her daughter has been attacked. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The daughter of the murdered Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres has survived an armed attack, just weeks after being named leader of the indigenous rights organisation formerly led by her mother.

Bertha Zuñiga, 26, was attacked along with two other members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) as they drove back from a community visit in central Honduras on Friday.

Three assailants tried to attack the Copinh members with machetes after a black pickup truck forced them to stop by blocking the road. They managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pickup tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.

Activists championing women’s rights around the world are being systematically targeted with threats and abuse. To mark International Women Human Rights Defenders’ Day, we hear from four campaigners who have come under attack for their work. Women from Honduras, Nepal, China and Egypt share their stories of persecution

Zuñiga, the second of Cáceres’s four children, was travelling with Sotero Chavarría and Asunción Martíne, who are members of Copinh’s leadership committee.

The group escaped unharmed but the incident has again heightened fears about the violence against human rights defenders in Honduras.

Cáceres was shot dead in her home in March 2016 after years of intimidation and deaths threats linked to her activism. Her friend who was with her during the attack, the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, survived by pretending to be dead. Cáceres fought to defend the ancestral land rights of the Lenca people from big mining, dam-building and logging projects.

Her murder brought international condemnation, but the violence has continued. Two of her colleagues – Nelson García and Lesbia Urquia – have been murdered since her death; several others have survived assassination attempts.

The latest attack took place around 2.30pm on Friday, not long after the Copinh delegation left Cancire, a small rural community in the Santiago de Puringla municipality of La Paz.

Copinh believes the attacks could be connected to a dispute over access to a local water source for Cancire and surrounding villages. The Zazagua hydroelectric dam has led to water shortages in the area, which has generated conflict between neighbouring communities.

The incident has been reported to authorities, but no arrests have so far been made.

Cáceres co-founded Copinh with her former husband 24 years ago. While best known for her environmental work, she was also a staunch defender of women’s and LGBT rights.

She was set to stand for vice-president on an independent ticket when the country was thrown into chaos by a military-backed coup in July 2009.

The subsequent rightwing government initiated a range of pro-business policies, sanctioning hundreds of licences for environmentally destructive projects in rural areas without any prior consultation with communities.

At least 124 environmental and land activists have been murdered in Honduras since the coup, making it the most dangerous country in the world in which to defend natural resources, according to the anti-graft NGO Global Witness.

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