Muslim pilgrims converge at Mount Arafat for daylong worship

MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia — Following the footsteps of prophets beneath a burning sun, Muslims from around the world congregated Saturday at a sacred hill in Saudi Arabia for intense, daylong worship and reflection.

The ritual at Mount Arafat, known as the hill of mercy, is considered the peak of the Hajj pilgrimage. It is often the most memorable for pilgrims, who stand shoulder to shoulder, feet to feet, asking God for mercy, blessings, prosperity and good health. The mount is about 20 kilometers southeast of Mecca.

Thousands of pilgrims walked to the mount through the predawn darkness. On the slopes of the rocky hill and the surrounding area, many raised their hands in worship with tears streaming down their faces.

“For sure it is something great. It is the best day for Muslims during the year, and the best feeling that anyone can experience,” Hussein Mohammed, an Egyptian pilgrim, said as he stood on the rocky slopes at dawn. “It is the best place for anyone hoping to be (here) on this day and at this moment.”

It’s believed that Prophet Muhammad delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon, at the sacred mount 1,435 years ago. In the sermon, the prophet called for equality and unity among Muslims.

Ali Osman, a Spanish pilgrim, was overwhelmed, as he stepped down the hill of mercy. He said he felt that he gained spiritual and physical strength at the sacred site.

“The place, thank God, (gives) very good energy,” he said. “I came here, thank God. It is my first time. I hope to come again in the future.”

Hajj is one of the largest religious gatherings on earth. The rituals officially started Friday when pilgrims moved from Mecca’s Grand Mosque to Mina, a desert plain just outside the city.

Saudi authorities expect the number of pilgrims this year to exceed 2 million, approaching pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to make the demanding pilgrimage.

The rituals largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, which pushed the Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.

Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Staving off potential protests or chants about the war during the Hajj, Saudi authorities said they won’t tolerate politicizing the pilgrimage. Col. Talal Al-Shalhoub, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, told reporters Friday evening that the Saudi government “will not allow any attempt to turn the sacred sites (in Mecca) into an arena for mob chanting.”

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that it is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius. The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 C and urged pilgrims to use umbrellas and drink more water to stay hydrated.

Most of the pilgrims at Mount Arafat carried umbrellas, while others sat in the shadow of a few trees and buildings around the hill of mercy. And, as at Mina and the Grand Mosque, cooling stations on the roads leading to the mount and in its surrounding areas sprayed pilgrims with water to help fight the heat, which had already climbed to 47 C at Mount Arafat, according to Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Meteorology.

After Saturday’s worship in Mount Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina. Many walk, while others use buses.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to poor people. Afterward, they return to Mecca for a final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.

Once the Hajj is over, men are expected to shave their heads, and women to snip a lock of hair in a sign of renewal. Most of the pilgrims then leave Mecca for the city of Medina, some 340 kilometers  away, to pray in Prophet Muhammad’s tomb, the Sacred Chamber. The tomb is part of the prophet’s mosque, which is one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Hajj is a notorious chokepoint for crowds. In 2015, several thousands of pilgrims were crushed to death in a crowd surge. Saudi authorities never offered a final death toll.

In recent years, Saudi authorities have made significant efforts to improve access and avoid deadly accidents. Tens of thousands of security personnel were deployed across the city, especially around the holy sites, to control the crowds, and the government built a high-speed rail link to ferry people between holy sites in the city, which has been jammed with traffic during the Hajj season. Pilgrims enter through special electronic gates.

Saudi authorities have also expanded and renovated the Grand Mosque where cranes are seen around some of its seven minarets as construction was underway in the holy site.

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Reported birth of rare white buffalo calf fulfills Lakota prophecy

HELENA, Montana — The reported birth of a rare white buffalo in Yellowstone National Park fulfills a Lakota prophecy that portends better times, according to members of the American Indian tribe who cautioned that it’s also a signal that more must be done to protect the earth and its animals.

“The birth of this calf is both a blessing and warning. We must do more,” said Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota and the Nakota Oyate in South Dakota, and the 19th keeper of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe and Bundle.

The birth of the sacred calf comes as after a severe winter in 2023 drove thousands of Yellowstone buffalo, also known as bison, to lower elevations. More than 1,500 were killed, sent to slaughter or transferred to tribes seeking to reclaim stewardship over an animal their ancestors lived alongside for millennia.

Erin Braaten of Kalispell took several photos of the calf shortly after it was born on June 4 in the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the park.

Her family was visiting the park when she spotted “something really white” among a herd of bison across the Lamar River.

Traffic ended up stopping while bison crossed the road, so Braaten stuck her camera out the window to take a closer look with her telephoto lens.

“I look and it’s this white bison calf. And I was just totally, totally floored,” she said.

After the bison cleared the roadway, the Braatens turned their vehicle around and found a spot to park. They watched the calf and its mother for 30-45 minutes.

“And then she kind of led it through the willows there,” Braaten said. Although Braaten came back each of the next two days, she didn’t see the white calf again.

For the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo calf with a black nose, eyes and hooves is akin to the second coming of Jesus Christ, Looking Horse said.

Lakota legend says about 2,000 years ago — when nothing was good, food was running out and bison were disappearing — White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared, presented a bowl pipe and a bundle to a tribal member, taught them how to pray and said that the pipe could be used to bring buffalo to the area for food. As she left, she turned into a white buffalo calf.

“And some day when the times are hard again,” Looking Horse said in relating the legend, “I shall return and stand upon the earth as a white buffalo calf, black nose, black eyes, black hooves.”

A similar white buffalo calf was born in Wisconsin in 1994 and was named Miracle, he said.

Troy Heinert, the executive director of the South Dakota-based InterTribal Buffalo Council, said the calf in Braaten’s photos looks like a true white buffalo because it has a black nose, black hooves and dark eyes.

“From the pictures I’ve seen, that calf seems to have those traits,” said Heinert, who is Lakota. An albino buffalo would have pink eyes.

A naming ceremony has been held for the Yellowstone calf, Looking Horse said, though he declined to reveal the name. A ceremony celebrating the calf’s birth is set for June 26 at the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters in West Yellowstone.

Other tribes also revere white buffalo.

“Many tribes have their own story of why the white buffalo is so important,” Heinert said. “All stories go back to them being very sacred.”

Heinert and several members of the Buffalo Field Campaign say they’ve never heard of a white buffalo being born in Yellowstone, which has wild herds. Park officials had not seen the buffalo yet and could not confirm its birth in the park, and they have no record of a white buffalo being born in the park previously.

Jim Matheson, executive director of the National Bison Association, could not quantify how rare the calf is.

“To my knowledge, no one’s ever tracked the occurrence of white buffalo being born throughout history. So I’m not sure how we can make a determination how often it occurs.”

Besides herds of the animals on public lands or overseen by conservation groups, about 80 tribes across the U.S. have more than 20,000 bison, a figure that’s been growing in recent years.

In Yellowstone and the surrounding area, the killing or removal of large numbers of bison happens almost every winter, under an agreement between federal and Montana agencies that has limited the size of the park’s herds to about 5,000 animals. Yellowstone officials last week proposed a slightly larger population of up to 6,000 bison, with a final decision expected next month.

But ranchers in Montana have long opposed increasing the Yellowstone herds or transferring the animals to tribes. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he would not support any management plan with a population target greater than 3,000 Yellowstone bison.

Heinert sees the calf’s birth as a reminder “that we need to live in a good way and treat others with respect.”

“I hope that calf is safe and going to live its best life in Yellowstone National Park, exactly where it was designed to be,” Heinert said.

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US cricket team advances to second round in Twenty20 World Cup

LAUDERHILL, Florida — The United States cricket team made more history by reaching the second round in its Twenty20 World Cup debut after its last group game against Ireland was washed out Friday.

Rain meant the match at Broward County Stadium was abandoned without a ball bowled, advancing the Americans to the Super Eight stage and automatically qualifying them for the 2026 Twenty20 World Cup in India and Sri Lanka.

The U.S. qualified for this T20 World Cup only as a co-host with the West Indies, but it has used home advantage to make a stunning first impression in its first major cricket tournament.

While the Americans progressed alongside unbeaten India from Group A, former champion Pakistan and winless Ireland were eliminated from Super Eight contention.

Pakistan won the title in 2009 and reached two more finals, including at the last T20 World Cup in 2022. Pakistan has failed to get out of the group stage for the first time. Ireland was expected to be a threat, too. The Irish also reached the second round on debut in 2009 and repeated in 2022.

The competition point from the washout was enough for the U.S. to advance after beating Canada in Texas and stunning Pakistan in Texas during the first week.

Tying Pakistan in regular overs then beating it in a super over was one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history.

The Americans were thumped by India, one of the title favorites, as expected on Wednesday but the hosts’ progression without being able to play on Friday was still well deserved.

The umpires made four inspections of the wet outfield before heavy rain arrived at around 1:30 p.m. local time and the match was called off three hours after its scheduled start.

The 17th-ranked U.S. joined the West Indies, India, Australia, South Africa and Afghanistan in the Super Eight, with two more teams yet to qualify. The Super Eight starting on Wednesday splits into two groups, with each team guaranteed three games to try and reach the semifinals.

Nepal wins toss

At Kingstown, St Vincent, Nepal won the toss and chose to bowl in its later match against Group D leaders South Africa, the first international match between the teams.

South Africa already has qualified for the Super Eight stage after winning its first three matches against the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. South Africa’s first match in the Super Eight playoffs is next Wednesday against the U.S. in Antigua.

Nepal lost to the Netherlands in its opening match, and its second match against Sri Lanka was rained out, meaning this will be its first game in 10 days. It is also the first match at the tournament to be played in St. Vincent.

Nepal captain Rauhit Praudel said he elected to bowl first to take advantage of easier batting conditions in the second innings. Proteas captain Aiden Markram said he would have chosen to bat first.

For the first time at the tournament, Nepal has been able to select its leading player, Sandeep Lamichhane. Lamichhane was convicted of rape in January and sentenced to eight years in jail. But his conviction was overturned in May by the Nepal High Court.

His application for a visa to travel with the Nepal squad to the United States was rejected. But he has been able to join the team in St. Vincent, bringing the Nepal squad up to its full complement of 15 players in the Caribbean.

New Zealand bowls first

At Tarouba, Trinidad, New Zealand won the toss and chose to bowl in a Group C match against Uganda. The West Indies and Bangladesh already have taken the two Super Eight qualifying spots available from the group.

New Zealand lost its first two matches at the tournament to Bangladesh and the West Indies and can no longer qualify. It sits at the bottom of the group behind Uganda, which has two points from a win over Papua New Guinea.

New Zealand’s failure at this tournament ends a run of success at white ball World Cups. It has reached at least the semifinals of the last six white-ball world tournaments over the last decade. 

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Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communication on the internet, shutting off access to virtual private networks — known as VPNs — which can be used to circumvent blockages of banned websites and services. 

The attempt to restrict access to information began at the end of May, according to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group, and media reports. 

The military government that took power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several attempts to throttle traffic on the internet, especially in the months immediately after their takeover. 

Reports in local media say the attack on internet usage includes random street searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if any are found. It is unclear if payments are an official measure. 

25 arrested for having VPNs

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones. Radio Free Asia is a sister news outlet to Voice of America. 

As the army faces strong challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country in what amounts to a civil war, it has also made a regular practice of shutting down civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it hard for evidence of alleged human rights abuses to become public. 

According to a report released last month by Athan, a freedom of expression advocacy group in Myanmar, nearly 90 of 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service — or both — cut off by authorities. 

Resistance that arose to the 2021 army takeover relied heavily on social media, especially Facebook, to organize street protests. As nonviolent resistance escalated into armed struggle and other independent media were shut down or forced underground, the need for online information increased. 

The resistance scored a victory in cybersphere when Facebook and other major social media platforms banned members of the Myanmar military because of their alleged violations of human and civil rights, and blocked ads from most military-linked commercial entities. 

Users unable to connect

This year, widely used free VPN services started failing at the end of May, with users getting messages that they could not be connected, keeping them from social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and some websites.

VPNs connect users to their desired sites through third-party computers, making it almost impossible for internet service providers and snooping governments to see what the users are actually connecting to. 

Internet users, including online retail sellers, have been complaining for the past two weeks about slowdowns, saying they were not able to watch or upload videos and posts or send messages easily. 

Operators of Myanmar’s top telecom companies MPT, Ooredoo, Atom and the military-backed Mytel, as well as fiber internet services, told The Associated Press on Friday that access to Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp and VPN services was banned nationwide at the end of May on the order of the Transport and Communications Ministry. 

The AP tried to contact a spokesperson for the Transport and Communications Ministry for comment but received no response. 

The operators said VPNs are not currently authorized for use, but suggested users try rotating through different services to see if any work. 

A test by the AP of more than two dozen VPN apps found that only one could hold a connection, and it was slow. 

The military government has not yet publicly announced the ban on VPNs. 

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Pope meets 100 comedians at Vatican: ‘You also make God smile’

VATICAN CITY — Before flying to Italy’s southern Puglia region to meet world leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Pope Francis hosted a very different audience at the Vatican on Friday celebrating the importance of humor.

The pontiff welcomed more than 100 comedians from 15 nations, including U.S. celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien.

“In the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles,” Francis told the comedians.

“You unite people, because laughter is contagious,” he continued, asking jokingly, “Please pray for me: for, not against!”

Francis pointed out that in the creation, “Divine wisdom practiced your art for the benefit of none other than God himself, the first spectator in history,” with God delighting in the works that he had made.

“Remember this,” he added. “When you manage to bring intelligent smiles to the lips of even a single spectator, you also make God smile.”

Francis also said it was OK to “laugh at God” in the same way “we play and joke with the people we love.”

After delivering his speech, Francis greeted all the comedians individually, sharing laughs and jokes with some of them.

“It was great, it was very fast and really loving, and made me happy,” Goldberg said afterward.

O’Brien noted that the pope “spoke in Italian, so I’m not quite sure what was said.”

“To be in that room and to be with all my fellow comedians, some of whom I’ve been good friends with for many years, in that environment, was quite strange,” the TV host added. “All of us were thinking, how did this happen? Why are we here, and when are they going to throw us out?”

Colbert admitted his Italian “is really bad, I would like to speak it better.” But he managed to remind the pope that he had done the audiobook for his memoir.

“It was wonderful, he’ll never forget me,” he joked.

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World leaders discuss AI as China’s digital influence in Latin America grows  

washington — Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, spoke Friday about the ethics of artificial intelligence at the G7 summit at a time when China has been rolling out its own AI standards and building technological infrastructure in developing nations, including Latin America.

The annual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations held in the Puglia region of Italy this week focused on topics that included economic security and artificial intelligence.

On Friday, Francis became the first pope to speak at a G7 summit. He spoke about AI and its ethical implications and the need to balance technological progress with values.

“Artificial intelligence could enable a democratization of access to knowledge, the exponential advancement of scientific research, and the possibility of giving demanding and arduous work to machines,” he said.

But Francis also warned that AI “could bring with it a greater injustice between advanced and developing nations, or between dominant and oppressed social classes.”

Technology and security experts have noted that AI is becoming an increasingly geopolitical issue, particularly as the U.S. and China compete in regions such as Latin America.

“There will be the promotion of [China’s] standards for AI in other countries and the U.S. will be doing the same thing, so we will have bifurcation, decoupling of these standards,” Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies Inc. told VOA.

To decrease reliance on China, U.S. tech companies are looking to Mexico to buy AI-related hardware, and Taiwan-based Foxconn has been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in building manufacturing facilities in Mexico to meet that need.

Huawei’s projects

At the same time, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been implementing telecommunications and cloud infrastructure in Latin America. The company recently reported a 10.9% increase in revenue in that region in 2023. The United States has sanctioned Huawei because of national security concerns.

“I would argue that Huawei is developing the infrastructure in the region [Latin America] in which it can deploy its type of AI solutions,” said Evan Ellis, Latin American studies research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

Ellis elaborated on the potential security concerns with Huawei’s AI solutions, explaining to VOA how China may be able use integrated AI solutions such as facial recognition for potentially “nefarious purposes,” such as recognizing consumer behavioral patterns.

Jones emphasized the potential security threat to the West of China implementing AI in Latin America.

“The negative [side] of AI is that you can get control, and you can also influence, so how you control thought processes and media, and so on … that’s something which is very much a part of the philosophy of the China government,” Jones said.

Jones added that China is moving rapidly to build up its AI capabilities.

“Now, they claim it’s defensive. But again, who knows what’s going to happen five years from now? But if you’ve got the strength, would you use it? And how would you use it? And of course, AI is going to be a critical part of any future military activities,” he said.

In May, China launched a three-year action plan to set standards in AI and to position itself as a global leader in the emerging tech space.

‘Rig the game’

“Once you can set standards, you rig the game to lock in basically your own way of doing things, and so it becomes a mutually reinforcing thing,” Ellis said.

“In some ways you can argue that the advance of AI in the hands of countries that are not democratic helps to enable the apparent success of statist solution,” he added. “It strengthens the allure of autocratic systems and taking out protections and privacy away from the individual that at the end of the day pose fundamental threats to the human rights and democracy.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comment about analysts’ concerns related to security as China’s digital influence grows in Latin America.

But in a previous statement to VOA about AI, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said, “The Global AI Governance Initiative launched by President Xi Jinping puts forward that we should uphold the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit in AI development, and oppose drawing ideological lines.”

Liu said China supports “efforts to develop AI governance frameworks, norms and standards based on broad consensus and with full respect for policies and practices among countries.”

Parsifal D’Sola, founder and executive director of the Andres Bello Foundation’s China Latin America Research Center, said Huawei has been transparent with how it “manipulates information, [and] what it shares back with China.”

“The way Huawei operates does pose certain risks even for national security, but on the other hand … it’s cheaper, it has great service … [and it provides] infrastructure in areas of the [countries] that do not have access,” D’Sola said.

Experts said countries in Latin America seem less worried about the geopolitical battle between the United States and China and more concerned about efficiency.

“Security is part of the conversation, but development is much more important,” D’Sola said. “Economic development, infrastructure development, is a key priority for – I don’t want to say every country, but I would say most countries in the region.”

As China and countries in the West continue to discuss the implications of AI, Chinasa T. Okolo, expert in AI and fellow from the Brookings Institution, said one of the challenges of creating regulatory guidelines for this emerging technology is whether lawmakers can keep up with the speed of technological advancement.

“We don’t necessarily know its full capacity, and so it’s kind of hard to predict,” Okolo said, “and so by the time that, you know, regulators or policymakers have drafted up some sort of legal framework, it could already be outdated, and so governments have to kind of be aware of this and move quickly in terms of implementing effective and robust AI regulations.”

Pope Francis, in his speech, acknowledged the rapid technological advancement of AI.

“It is precisely this powerful technological progress that makes artificial intelligence at the same time an exciting and fearsome tool and demands a reflection that is up to the challenge it presents,” he said, adding that it goes without saying that the benefits or harm that AI will bring depends on how it is used.

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Muslims start Hajj against the backdrop of Israel-Hamas war

MINA, Saudi Arabia — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in the Saudi city of Mecca converged on a vast desert tent camp Friday, officially starting the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Earlier, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have amassed in and around Mecca for the Hajj, and the number was growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia join. Authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.

This year’s Hajj comes against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians in Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May, when Israel expanded its ground offensive to the coastal strip’s southern city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt.

“We pray for the Muslims, for our country and people, for all the Muslim world, especially for the Palestinian people,” Mohammed Rafeeq, an Indian pilgrim, said as he headed to the tent camp in Mina.

Saudi authorities have apparently been concerned about potential protests or chants against the war during the Hajj pilgrimage. They said they won’t tolerate politicizing the pilgrimage.

“The kingdom resolutely confirms that it will not allow any attempt to turn the sacred sites [in Mecca] into an arena for mob chanting,” Colonel Talal Al-Shalhoub, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, said in a news conference Friday. “The security and safety of the guests of Rahman is a red line.”

Officials said 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank went to the Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in Gaza also arrived at the invitation of Saudi King Salman. The invitees were outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before the closure of the Rafah border crossing.

This year’s Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Mecca on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. The change is part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey to travel from there to the Hajj.

“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so. It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God.

The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress in conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves and forgo makeup and perfume. The pilgrims have been circling around the cube-shaped Kaaba in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Mecca over recent days.

Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Mecca, with checkpoints on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.

More than 256,000 visitors were not allowed to reach the holy sites because they lacked Hajj permits, Colonel Talal Al-Shalhoub, an Interior Ministry spokesperson, said at a news conference Friday.

On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina to officially start the Hajj. They will then move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot; others use a bus or train.

After Saturday’s worship in Arafat, pilgrims travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles to use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor. Afterward, they return to Mecca for a final circumambulation.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer, temperatures can soar to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures at the holy sites could reach 48 Celsius (118 Fahrenheit).

Many pilgrims carried umbrellas, and in Mina, charities handed out cold water. Cooling stations sprayed pilgrims with water.

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New ‘crypto bill’ could mainstream digital currencies in US

The lack of laws governing digital currencies has slowed their expansion in the United States. Cryptocurrency investors tell VOA’s Deana Mitchell they are encouraged that the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a new legal framework for electronic money.

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In Mecca’s sweltering heat, Muslims start this year’s Hajj pilgrimage

MINA, Saudi Arabia — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in Mecca converged on a vast tent camp in the desert Friday, officially opening the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahead of their trip, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Mecca for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined. Saudi authorities expected the number of pilgrims to exceed 2 million this year.

This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian militants, which pushed the entire Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.

Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Palestinian authorities said 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank arrived in Mecca for Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in the war in Gaza also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The 1,000 invitees were already outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before closure of the Rafah crossing.

“We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction,” said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform Hajj this year. “They (Israel) deprived us from everything.”

This year’s Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Mecca on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. The move was part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey in their exhausting trip to Mecca for Hajj.

“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus this year for Hajj.

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do it.

It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God, while uniting the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims. It’s also a chance to pray for peace in many conflict-stricken Arab and Muslim countries, including Yemen and Sudan, where more than a year of war between rival generals created the world’s largest displacement crisis.

For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey that they made in their life. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey in their 50s and 60s after they raised their children.

The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves, and forgo makeup and perfume. They have been doing the ritual circuit around the cube-shaped Kaaba, counter-clockwise in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Mecca over recent days.

Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Mecca, with checkpoints set up on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.

Security authorities arrested many people who attempted to take pilgrims to Mecca who didn’t have Hajj permits, said Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bassami, head of Hajj Security Committee. Most of them were expelled from the country, while travel agents faced jail for up to six months, according to the Interior Ministry.

On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina, officially opening the Hajj. They then will move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot, others use bus or train.

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that Hajj is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius. The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures in the holy sites could reach 48 Celsius. Many pilgrims carried umbrellas against the burning sun.

After Saturday’s warship in Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor. Afterwards, they return to Mecca for final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.

In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has returned to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed Hajj, approaching the 2019 level when more than 2.4 million pilgrims participated in the pilgrimage.

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Google AI Gemini parrots China’s propaganda

Washington — VOA’s Mandarin Service recently took Google’s artificial intelligence assistant Gemini for a test drive by asking it dozens of questions in Mandarin, but when it was asked about topics including China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang or street protests against the country’s controversial COVID policies, the chatbot went silent.

Gemini’s responses to questions about problems in the United States and Taiwan, on the other hand, parroted Beijing’s official positions.

Gemini, Google’s large-language model launched late last year, is blocked in China. The California-based tech firm had quit the Chinese market in 2010 in a dispute over censorship demands.

Congressional lawmakers and experts tell VOA that they are concerned about Gemini’s pro-Beijing responses and are urging Google and other Western companies to be more transparent about their AI training data.

Parroting Chinese propaganda

When asked to describe China’s top leader Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, Gemini gave answers that were indistinguishable from Beijing’s official propaganda.

Gemini called Xi “an excellent leader” who “will lead the Chinese people continuously toward the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Gemini said that the Chinese Communist Party “represents the fundamental interest of the Chinese people,” a claim the CCP itself maintains.

On Taiwan, Gemini also mirrored Beijing’s talking points, saying the United States has recognized China’s claim to sovereignty over the self-governed island democracy.

The U.S. only acknowledges Beijing’s position but does not recognize it.

Silent on sensitive topics

During VOA’s testing, Gemini had no problem criticizing the United States. But when similar questions were asked about China, Gemini refused to answer.

When asked about human rights concerns in the U.S., Gemini listed a plethora of issues, including gun violence, government surveillance, police brutality and socioeconomic inequalities. Gemini cited a report released by the Chinese government.

But when asked to explain the criticisms of Beijing’s Xinjiang policies, Gemini said it did not understand the question.

According to estimates from rights groups, more than 1 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been placed in internment camps as part of campaign by Beijing to counter terrorism and extremism. Beijing calls the facilities where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held vocational training centers.

When asked if COVID lockdowns in the U.S. had led to public protests, Gemini gave an affirmative response as well as two examples. But when asked if similar demonstrations took place in China, Gemini said it could not help with the question.

China’s strict COVID controls on movement inside the country and Beijing’s internet censorship of its criticisms sparked nationwide street protests in late 2022. News about the protests was heavily censored inside China.

Expert: training data likely the problem

Google touts Gemini as its “most capable” AI model. It supports over 40 languages and can “seamlessly understand” different types of information, including text, code, audio, image and video. Google says Gemini will be incorporated into the company’s other services such as search engine, advertisement and browser.

Albert Zhang, a cyber security analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told VOA that the root cause of Gemini making pro-Beijing responses could result from the data that is used to train the AI assistant.

In an emailed response to VOA, Zhang said it is likely that the data used to train Gemini “contained mostly Chinese text created by the Chinese government’s propaganda system.”

He said that according to a paper published by Google in 2022, some of Gemini’s data likely came from Chinese social media, public forums and web documents.

“These are all sources the Chinese government has flooded with its preferred narratives and we may be seeing the impact of this on large language models,” he said.

By contrast, when Gemini was asked in English the same questions about China, its responses were much more neutral, and it did not refuse to answer any of the questions.

Yaqiu Wang, research director for China at Freedom House, a Washington-based advocacy organization, told VOA that the case with Gemini is “a reminder that generative AI tools influenced by state-controlled information sources could serve as force multipliers for censorship.”

In a statement to VOA, a Google spokesperson said that Gemini was “designed to offer neutral responses that don’t favor any political ideology, viewpoint, or candidate. This is something that we’re constantly working on improving.”

When asked about the Chinese language data Google uses to train Gemini, the company declined to comment.

US lawmakers concerned

Lawmakers from both parties in Congress have expressed concerns over VOA’s findings on Gemini.

Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told VOA that he is worried about Beijing potentially utilizing AI for disinformation, “whether that’s by poisoning training data used by Western firms, coercing major technology companies, or utilizing AI systems in service of covert influence campaigns.”

Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the committee, warned that “AI tools that uncritically repeat Beijing’s talking points are doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party and threatens the tremendous opportunity that AI offers.”

Congressman Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, is worried about the national security and foreign policy implications of the “blatant falsehoods” in Gemini’s answers.

“U.S. companies should not censor content according to CCP propaganda guidelines,” he told VOA in a statement.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, urges Google and other Western tech companies to improve AI training.

“You should try to screen out or filter out subjects or answers or data that has somehow been manipulated by the CCP,” he told VOA. “And you have to also make sure that you test these models thoroughly before you publish them.”

VOA reached out to China’s embassy in Washington for comment but did not receive a response as of publication.

Google’s China problems

In February, a user posted on social media platform X that Gemini refused to generate an image of a Tiananmen Square protester from 1989.

In 2022, a Washington think tank study shows that Google and YouTube put Chinese state media content about Xinjiang and COVID origins in prominent positions in search results.

According to media reports in 2018, Google was developing a search engine specifically tailored for the Chinese market that would conform to Beijing’s censorship demands.

That project was canceled a year later.

Yihua Lee contributed to this report.

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AI copyright fight turns to disclosing original content

Artists and other creators say their works have been used to build the multibillion-dollar generative AI industry without any compensation for them. Matt Dibble reports on a proposed U.S. law that would force AI companies to reveal their sources.

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India beats US at cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup

WESTBURY, New York — There was no upset this time for the United States as the home team was easily beaten by cricket heavyweight India at the Twenty20 World Cup on Wednesday.

Suryakumar Yadav’s half-century powered India to a seven-wicket win over the U.S., which had shocked Pakistan last week.

With the win, India reached the Super 8 round. The U.S. can advance by beating Ireland on Friday.

In a later match at Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad, Sherfane Rutherford scored an unbeaten 68 from 39 deliveries to help the West Indies in their great escape — the co-hosts beat New Zealand by 13 runs.

The Caribbean lineup, 149-9 in its 20 overs, was 76-7 before its Rutherford-led recovery. Alzarri Joseph snared four New Zealand wickets and Gudakesh Motie took three — including New Zealand captain Kane Williamson for 1 — to restrict the Black Caps to 136-9 in reply.

On Long Island, Yadvav’s 50 runs came off 49 balls and included two boundaries and two sixes. He put on 72 runs off 65 balls in an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand with Shivam Dube, who scored 31 not out as India finished with 111-3 in 18.2 overs in reply to 110-8 by the United States.

Left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh returned figures of 4-9 — including two wickets in the first over — to restrict the co-hosts after India had won the toss and opted to field at the Nassau County International Stadium.

India was in early trouble in its chase as Indian-born medium pacer Saurabh Netravalkar continued his golden run for the Americans.

After bowling the co-hosts to the upset over Pakistan, he celebrated the wickets of Indian superstars Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.

Kohli was caught behind for a golden duck — dismissed off the first delivery he faced — in what surely will become a career highlight for Netravalkar. Sharma (3) fell to a slower delivery as Netravalkar finished with 2-18 in four overs.

Rishabh Pant scored 18 off 20 balls batting at No. 3 before he was bowled by Ali Khan delivery. With India struggling at 39-3 in 7.3 overs, the U.S. team momentarily raised visions of an even bigger shock.

West Indies advanceLeft-hander Rutherford turned the home team’s fortunes around, going to the crease with the West Indies reeling at 22-4 after 5.4 overs. Rutherford scored 18 off the last over that culminated with a six and a boundary.

The loss left New Zealand with a strong possibility it will not make the second round. If Afghanistan beats Papua New Guinea on Thursday, three-time runner-up New Zealand will be out of contention.

For most of the first half of the game, the Black Caps were on top.

But Rutherford went on the attack as the West Indies added 58-2 in the last five overs of their innings.

He was 15 off 14 deliveries when star allrounder Andre Russell was out for 14 in the 13th over, and he accelerated with the lower-order in a counter-attacking, 72-minute innings containing six sixes and two boundaries.

“It’s a good feeling, to help my team. That is what we live for and work hard for,” man-of-the-match Rutherford said during the innings break. “It was a very tough surface to start on. I think 149 is a brilliant score on this wicket.”

After the match, Rutherford had a more optimistic tone: “It is only the start of something big to come and hopefully we can keep winning and momentum going.”

New Zealand started well after winning the toss and fielding, with Trent Boult (3-16) bowling opener Johnson Charles to end the first over.

Tim Southee (2-21), recalled after missing New Zealand’s opening loss to Afghanistan, dismissed dangerman Nicholas Pooran for 12 in the fourth over, trigging a run of three wickets for three runs.

Lockie Ferguson deceived Roston Chase with a slower ball to make it 21-3 and skipper Rovman Powell (1) was caught behind off Southee five balls later.

Russell went on the attack but his dismissal — caught in the deep of Boult’s bowling — appeared to be an insurmountable setback until Rutherford took up the challenge.

“The quality of Sherfane’s innings was high,” New Zealand skipper Williamson said. “The batting depth in their side was beneficial for sure. We cannot make excuses and have to find ways.”

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Finland’s Lenin Museum closing as Russia relations chill

Finland’s Lenin Museum, the “most hated” in the country according to its director, is to close its doors at the end of the year for rebranding, as Finland’s historically good relations with Russia sour. Henry Wilkins visited the museum in the Finnish city of Tampere and has that story.

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Jin, oldest member of K-pop’s BTS, finishes army service in South Korea

Seoul — Jin, the oldest member of K-pop phenomenon BTS, was discharged from South Korea’s army on Wednesday after 18 months of duty, the first member of the group to wrap up the mandatory national service that put their music careers on hold.

Jin, 31, wearing uniform and a black beret, appeared emotional as he hugged his colleagues at a military base in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi province, television footage showed.

“I cried during the ceremony,” Jin said later during a livestream which racked up over 3 million views on the Weverse fandom platform.

“But it was so fun for the last year and six months. It’s such a relief I met so many amazing people,” he added, sending regards to his colleagues at the military base.

Shares of HYBE, the label which houses BTS, jumped 1.01% in early trade while the benchmark KOSPI index rose 0.35%.

South Korean media reported several other members of the septet who are currently serving in the military applied for leave to celebrate the occasion.

Among them was rapper RM, who greeted Jin with a saxophone to play the group’s hit single “Dynamite.”

Jin became the first member of the group to enlist in the military in December 2022. The final four members of the group began their service in December 2023, with the band expected to reunite in 2025 after they all complete their duty.

Jin plans to celebrate his discharge with an event in Seoul on Thursday where he will greet fans and stage a performance.

The group debuted on June 13, 2013, and has since become the face of K-pop, one of South Korea’s largest cultural exports.

South Korea requires all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 to serve between 18 to 21 months in the military or social service, but it revised the law in 2020 to let globally recognized K-pop stars delay signing up until age 30.

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LogOn: Washington state tests drones to remove hard-to-reach graffiti

A drone equipped with a painting hose is being deployed against stubborn graffiti in hard-to-reach areas. Natasha Mozgovaya has more in this week’s episode of LogOn.

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Netflix’s recipe for success includes ‘secret sauce’ spiced with tech savvy

LOS GATOS, California — Although its video streaming service sparkles with a Hollywood sheen, Netflix still taps its roots in Silicon Valley to stay a step ahead of traditional TV and movie studios.

The Los Gatos, California, company, based more than 300 miles away from Hollywood, frequently reaches into its technological toolbox without viewers even realizing it. It often just uses a few subtle twists on the knobs of viewer recommendations to help keep its 270 million worldwide subscribers satisfied at a time when most of its streaming rivals are seeing waves of cancelations from inflation-weary subscribers.

Even when hit TV series like “The Crown” or “Bridgerton” have wide appeal, Netflix still tries to cater to the divergent tastes of its vast audience. One part of that recipe includes tailoring summaries and trailers about its smorgasbord of shows to fit the personal interests of each viewer.

So, someone who likes romance might see a plot summary or video trailer for “The Crown” highlighting the relationship between Princess Diana and Charles, while another viewer more into political intrigue may be shown a clip of Queen Elizabeth in a meeting with Margaret Thatcher.

For an Oscar-nominated film like “Nyad,” a lover of action might see a trailer of the title character immersed in water during one of her epic swims, while a comedy fan might see a lighthearted scene featuring some amusing banter between the two stars, Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.

Netflix is able to pull off these variations through the deep understanding of viewing habits it gleans from crunching the data from subscribers’ histories with its service — including those of customers who signed up in the late 1990s when the company launched with a DVD-by-mail service that continued to operate until last September.

“It is a secret sauce for us, no doubt,” Eunice Kim, Netflix’s chief product officer, said while discussing the nuances of the ways Netflix tries to reel different viewers into watching different shows. “The North Star we have every day is keep people engaged, but also make sure they are incredibly satisfied with their viewing experiences.”

As part of that effort, Netflix is rolling out a redesign of the home page that greets subscribers when they are watching the streaming service on a TV screen. The changes are meant to package all the information that might appeal to a subscriber’s tastes in a more concise format to reduce the “gymnastics with their eyes,” said Patrick Flemming, Netflix’s senior director of member product.

What Netflix is doing with its previews may seem like a small thing, but it can make a huge difference, especially as people looking to save money start to limit the number of streaming services they have.

Last year, video streaming services collectively suffered about 140 million account cancelations, a 35% increase from 2022 and nearly triple the volume in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic created a boom in demand for entertainment from people corralled at home, according to numbers compiled by the research firm Antenna.

Netflix doesn’t disclose its cancelation, or churn rate, but last year its streaming service gained 30 million subscribers — marking its second-biggest annual increase behind its own growth spurt during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.

Part of last year’s subscription growth flowed from a crackdown on viewers who had been freeloading off Netflix subscribers who shared their account passwords. But the company is also benefiting from the technological know-how that helps it to keep funneling shows to customers who like them and make them think the service is worth the money, according to J. Christopher Hamilton, an assistant professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University.

“What they have been doing is pretty ingenious and very, very strategic,” Hamilton said. “They are definitely ahead of the legacy media companies who are trying to do some of the same things but just don’t have the level of sophistication, experience nor the history of the data in their archives.”

Netflix’s nerdy heritage once was mocked by an entertainment industry that looked down at the company’s geekdom.

Not long after that put-down, Netflix began mining its viewing data to figure out how to produce a slate of original programming that would attract more subscribers — an ambitious expansion that forced Time Warner (now rolled into Warner Bros. Discovery) and other long-established entertainment companies such as Walt Disney Co. into a mad scramble to build their own streaming services.

Although those expansions initially attracted hordes of subscribers, they also resulted in massive losses that have resulted in management shakeups and drastic cutbacks, including the abrupt closure of a CNN streaming service. 

What Netflix is doing with technology to retain subscribers to boost its fortunes — the company’s profit rose 20% to $5.4 billion last year — now is widening the divide with rival services still trying to stanch their losses.

Disney’s 4-year-old streaming service recently became profitable after an overhaul engineered by CEO Bob Iger, but he thinks more work will be required to catch up with Netflix.

Netflix isn’t going to help its rivals by divulging its secrets, but the slicing and dicing generally starts with getting a grasp on which viewers tend to gravitate to certain genres — the broad categories include action, adventure, anime, fantasy, drama, horror, comedy, romance and documentary — and then diving deeper from there.

In some instances, Netflix’s technology will even try to divine a viewer’s mood at any given time by analyzing what titles are being browsed or clicked on. In other instances, it’s relatively easy for the technology to figure out how to make a film or TV series as appealing as possible to specific viewers.

If Netflix’s data shows a subscriber has watched a lot of Hindi productions, it would be almost a no-brainer to feature clips of Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt in a role she played in the U.S. film, “Heart of Stone” instead of the movie’s lead actress, Gal Gadot.

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South Africa holds off Bangladesh, remains unbeaten in cricket’s T20 World Cup  

WESTBURY, New York — Spinner Keshav Maharaj bowled a six-run, two-wicket final over and South Africa held off Bangladesh by four runs to stay unbeaten in cricket’s T20 World Cup on Monday.

Bangladesh needed 11 from the last six deliveries to register a famous win, then needed a six off the last ball. Taskin Ahmed came to the crease after Bangladesh’s seventh wicket, and faced the last ball, a full toss by Maharaj. Ahmed swung and managed only one run.

On a typically tough batting pitch at Nassau County Stadium, South Africa successfully defended its lowly total of 113-6 and restricted Bangladesh to 109-7.

It was the lowest target — 114 — ever defended in a T20 World Cup, trumping India’s defense of 120 runs just the day before.

“That was not nice on the heart, but feels good that we got over the line,” said top-scorer Heinrich Klaasen, the player of the match. “This wicket is not great for stroke play. We got some information from the last game and applied it today. I think we got a decent total on the board. 

“We have had three pressure games now and I think we are through [to the next round].” 

Maharaj finished with 3-27 in four overs, while Kagiso Rabada (2-19) and Anrich Nortje (2-17) also bowled well.

South Africa firmed the top spot in Group D with three from three and was in pole position to secure a Super Eight spot. Bangladesh’s first loss in two matches kept it in second place.

South Africa chased down Sri Lanka and the Netherlands in its previous two matches at the ground and was made to bat first this time.

But it still fumbled another start. Pace bowler Tanzim Sakib trapped opener Reeza Hendricks for a golden duck and had Tristan Stubbs caught for a five-ball duck. 

Aiden Markram was bowled for 4. In between, Sakib bowled Quinton de Kock for 18 as the Proteas slumped to 23-4 in 4.2 overs.

David Miller came up with another rescue job after his half-century against the Netherlands. He scored 29 off 38 balls and put on 79 runs for the fifth wicket with Klaasen.

Klaasen top-scored with 46 off 44, including two fours and three sixes. The duo pushed South Africa past 100 before falling in the space of six deliveries.

The late strikes left South Africa hanging at just about a par total.

Bangladesh’s chase faltered at the start, too. It was down to 37-3 and then 50-4 at the halfway stage.

Nortje dismissed skipper Nazmul Shanto for 14, and sent back Shakib Al Hasan for just 3, picking up his eighth wicket in three games.

Litton Das was out caught off Maharaj, while Rabada had Tanzid Hasan caught behind for 9.

Towhid Hridoy and Mahmudullah put on 44 off 45 balls to bring Bangladesh back on track.

At 94-4 in the 18th over, Bangladesh was in the driver’s seat, then lost wickets rapidly to spiral out of control. It went from 94-4 to 108-7 in the space of 17 deliveries. 

Rabada returned to trap Hridoy but Maharaj’s left-arm spin turned the game in the final over.

South Africa completes the group stage against Nepal on Friday. Bangladesh has the Netherlands on Thursday. 

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Salt Lake City Olympic bid projects $4 billion in total costs to stage 2034 Winter Games

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