Tribal Canoe Journey Returns to Washington State After COVID-19 Break

For thousands of years, canoes were the primary means of travel for the Native Americans known as the Coast Salish peoples. Tribal Canoe Journey, an event celebrating indigenous tribes of the West Coast, is back after a pandemic hiatus. Natasha Mozgovaya has more. Camera: Natasha Mozgovaya.

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Pee-wee Herman Actor Paul Reubens Dies of Cancer at Age 70

 Paul Reubens, the actor and comedian whose character Pee-wee Herman became a cultural phenomenon through films and TV shows, has died.

Reubens died Sunday night after a six-year struggle with cancer that he did not make public, his publicist said in a statement.

“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” Reubens said in a statement released with the announcement of his death. “I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect from my friends, fans and supporters. I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”

The character with his too-tight gray suit, white chunky loafers and red bow tie was best known for the film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” and the TV series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

Herman created Pee-wee when he was part of the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings in the late 1970s. The live “Pee-wee Herman Show” debuted at a Los Angeles theater in 1981 and was a success with both kids during matinees and adults at a midnight show. HBO would air the show as a special.

Reubens took Pee-wee to the big screen in 1985’s “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” The film, in which Pee-wee’s cherished bike is stolen, was said to be loosely based on Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neo-realist classic, “The Bicycle Thief.” The film, directed by Tim Burton and co-written by Phil Hartman of “Saturday Night Live,” sent Pee-wee on a nationwide escapade. The movie was a success, grossing $40 million, and continued to spawn a cult following for its oddball whimsy.

A sequel followed three years later in the less well-received “Big Top Pee-wee,” in which Pee-wee seeks to join a circus. Reubens’ character wouldn’t get another movie starring role until 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” for Netflix. Judd Apatow produced Pee-wee’s big-screen revival.

His television series, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” ran for five seasons, earned 22 Emmys and attracted not only children but adults to Saturday-morning TV.

Both silly and subversive and championing nonconformity, the Pee-wee universe was a trippy place, populated by things such as a talking armchair and a friendly pterodactyl. The host, who is fond of secret words and loves fruit salad so much he once married it, is prone to lines like, “I know you are, but what am I?” and “Why don’t you take a picture; it’ll last longer?” The act was a hit because it worked on multiple levels, even though Reubens insists that wasn’t the plan.

“It’s for kids,” Reubens told The Associated Press in 2010. “People have tried to get me for years to go, ‘It wasn’t really for kids, right?’ Even the original show was for kids. I always censored myself to have it be kid-friendly.

“The whole thing has been just a gut feeling from the beginning,” Reubens told the AP. “That’s all it ever is and I think always ever be. Much as people want me to dissect it and explain it, I can’t. One, I don’t know, and two, I don’t want to know, and three, I feel like I’ll hex myself if I know.”

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China Curbs Drone Exports, Citing Ukraine, Concern About Military Use

China imposed restrictions Monday on exports of long-range civilian drones, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern that drones might be converted to military use. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s government is friendly with Moscow but says it is neutral in the 18-month-old war. It has been stung by reports that both sides might be using Chinese-made drones for reconnaissance and possibly attacks. 

Export controls will take effect Tuesday to prevent use of drones for “non-peaceful purposes,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement. It said exports still will be allowed but didn’t say what restrictions it would apply. 

China is a leading developer and exporter of drones. DJI Technology Co., one of the global industry’s top competitors, announced in April 2022 it was pulling out of Russia and Ukraine to prevent its drones from being used in combat. 

“The risk of some high specification and high-performance civilian unmanned aerial vehicles being converted to military use is constantly increasing,” the Ministry of Commerce said. 

Restrictions will apply to drones that can fly beyond the natural sight distance of operators or stay aloft more than 30 minutes, have attachments that can throw objects and weigh more than seven kilograms (15½ pounds), according to the ministry. 

“Since the crisis in Ukraine, some Chinese civilian drone companies have voluntarily suspended their operations in conflict areas,” the Ministry of Commerce said. It accused the United States and Western media of spreading “false information” about Chinese drone exports. 

The government defended its dealings Friday with Russia as “normal economic and trade cooperation” after a U.S. intelligence report said Beijing possibly provided equipment used in Ukraine that might have military applications. 

The report cited Russian customs data that showed Chinese state-owned military contractors supplied drones, navigation equipment, fighter jet parts and other goods. 

The Biden administration has warned Beijing of unspecified consequences if it supports the Kremlin’s war effort. Last week’s report didn’t say whether any of the trade cited might trigger U.S. retaliation. 

Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared before the February 2022 invasion that their governments had a “no-limits” friendship. Beijing has blocked efforts to censure Moscow in the United Nations and has repeated Russian justifications for the attack. 

China has “always opposed the use of civilian drones for military purposes,” the Ministry of Commerce said. “The moderate expansion of drone control by China this time is an important measure to demonstrate the responsibility of a responsible major country.” 

The Ukrainian government appealed to DJI in March 2022 to stop selling drones it said the Russian ministry was using to target missile attacks. DJI rejected claims it leaked data on Ukraine’s military positions to Russia. 

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‘Barbie’ Tops Box Office Again, ‘Oppenheimer’ in 2nd Place

A week later, the “Barbenheimer” boom has not abated. 

Seven days after Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” conspired to set box office records, the two films held unusually strongly in theaters. “Barbie” took in a massive $93 million in its second weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. “Oppenheimer” stayed in second with a robust $46.2 million. Sales for the two movies dipped 43% and 44%, respectably — well shy of the usual week-two drops. 

“Barbenheimer” has proven to be not a one-weekend phenomenon but an ongoing box-office bonanza. The two movies combined have already surpassed $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore, call it “a touchstone moment for movies, moviegoers and movie theaters.” 

“Having two movies from rival studios linked in this way and both boosting each other’s fortunes — both box-office wise and it terms of their profile — I don’t know if there’s a comp for this in the annals of box-office history,” said Dergarabedian. “There’s really no comparison for this.” 

Following its year-best $162 million opening, the pink-infused pop sensation of “Barbie” saw remarkably sustained business through the week and into the weekend. The film outpaced Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” to have the best first 11 days in theaters of any Warner Bros. release ever. 

“Barbie” has rapidly accumulated $351.4 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters, a rate that will soon make it the biggest box-office hit of the summer. Every day it’s played, “Barbie” has made at least $20 million. 

And the “Barbie” effect isn’t just in North America. The film made $122.2 million internationally over the weekend. Its global tally has reached $775 million. It’s the kind of business that astounds even veteran studio executives. 

“That’s a crazy number,” said Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief for Warner Bros. “There’s just a built-in audience that wants to be part of the zeitgeist of the moment. Wherever you go, people are wearing pink. Pink is taking over the world.” 

Amid the frenzy, “Barbie” is already attracting a lot of repeat moviegoers. Goldstein estimates that 12% of sales are people going back with friends or family to see it again. 

For a movie industry that has be trying to regain its pre-pandemic footing — and that now finds itself largely shuttered due to actors and screenwriters strikes — the sensations of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” have showed what’s possible when everything lines up just right. 

“Post-pandemic, there’s no ceiling and there’s no floor,” said Goldstein. “The movies that miss, really miss big time and the movies that work really work big time.” 

Universal Pictures’ “Oppenheimer,” meanwhile, is performing more like a superhero movie than a three-hour film about scientists talking. 

Nolan’s drama starring Cillian Murphy as atomic bomb physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer has accrued $174.1 million domestically thus far. With an additional $72.4 million in international cinemas, “Oppenheimer” has already surpassed $400 million globally. 

Showings in IMAX have typically been sold out. “Oppenheimer” has made $80 million worldwide on IMAX. The large-format exhibitor said Sunday that it will extend the film’s run through Aug. 13. 

The week’s top new release, Walt Disney Co.’s “Haunted Mansion,” an adaptation of the Disney theme park attraction, was easily overshadowed by the “Barbenheimer” blitz. The film, which cost about $150 million, debuted with $24 million domestically and $9 million in overseas sales. “Haunted Mansion,” directed by Justin Simien (“Dear White People,” “Bad Hair”) and starring an ensemble of LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito and Rosario Dawson, struggled to overcome mediocre reviews. 

“Talk to Me,” the A24 supernatural horror film, fared better. It debuted with $10 million. The film, directed by Australian filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou and starring Sophie Wilde, was a midnight premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and received terrific reviews from critics (95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). It was made for a modest $4.5 million. 

While theaters being flush with moviegoers has been a huge boon to the film industry, it’s been tougher sledding for Tom Cruise, the so-called savior of the movies last summer with “Top Gun: Maverick.” “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I,” which debuted the week before the arrival of “Barbenheimer,” grossed $10.7 million in its third weekend. The film starring Cruise and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, has grossed $139.2 million domestically and $309.3 million oveseas. 

Instead, the sleeper hit “Sound of Freedom” has been the best performing non-“Barbenheimer” release in theaters. The Angel Studios’ release, which is counting crowdfunding pay-it-forward sales in its box office totals, made $12.4 million in its fourth weekend, bringing its haul thus far to nearly $150 million. 

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday. 

  1. “Barbie,” $93 million. 

  2. “Opppenheimer,” $46.2 million. 

  3. “Haunted Mansion,” $24.2 million. 

  4. “Sound of Freedom,” $12.4 million. 

  5. “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” $10.7 million. 

  6. “Talk to Me,” $10 million. 

  7. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” $4 million. 

  8. “Elemental,” $3.4 million. 

  9. “Insidious: The Red Door,” $3.2 million. 

  10. “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,” $1.6 million. 

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AM Radio Fights to Keep Its Spot on US Car Dashboards

The number of AM radio stations in the United States is dwindling. Over the decades, mainstream broadcasters have moved to the FM band — especially music stations — to take advantage of FM’s superior audio fidelity. Now, there is a new threat to America’s remaining 4,000 AM stations. Some automakers want to kick AM off their dashboard radios.

In Dimmitt, in the state of Texas, that has Nancy and Todd Whalen worried. For eight years, they’ve owned KDHN-AM 1470, on the air since 1963. The Whalens are heard live on the station’s morning show and are KDHN’s sole employees.

“We came here to Dimmitt and told people that we wanted to give them something to be proud of. And we feel like what we’ve done and what we continue to do is provide that, not just for Dimmitt but for all the small towns in the area that no longer have local radio stations,” Nancy said.

KDHN, known as “The Twister,” also has received a Federal Communications Commission license for an FM (frequency modulation) translator, limited to 250 watts, which simulcasts the AM (amplitude modulation) signal. But the 500-watt AM signal covers more territory — about a 160-kilometer (99-mile) radius — compared with the 30-kilometer (19-mile) reach of the FM signal.

“The AM radio station is everything for us,” Nancy Whalen said. “We just turned on the FM translator, it’ll be two years in September. But the AM signal has been our bread and butter since the beginning.”

Where the profit is

Some urban station owners have decided it is more profitable to sell the real estate on which their antenna towers sit rather than continue to try to make money from commercials targeting a dwindling audience. That is what happened to KDWN in Las Vegas, Nevada, which was authorized by the FCC to transmit the maximum 50,000 watts allowed for AM stations. Corporate owner Audacy sold its 15-hectare (37-acre) transmission site on desert land last year to a real estate developer for $40 million and then switched off the powerful AM station, which had listeners across the entire Western U.S. at night.

Unlike FM band stations, which are limited to line-of-sight reception by the laws of physics, lower-frequency AM signals bounce off the ionosphere after sunset, giving them a range of hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometers. FM stations have a greater audio frequency range, as they are allowed a wider bandwidth compared with AM stations. The most popular formats for the remaining AM stations in the United States are news/talk programming and sports, followed by country music.

Todd Whalen said audio quality is not an issue for his KDHN listeners.

“Our AM signal actually sounds as good as an FM signal because we have a state-of-the-art transmitter and processing,” he explained.

Recently, some major auto manufacturers announced plans to stop including AM radios in new vehicles, contending electric vehicle motor systems cause interference with reception, making stations unlistenable and, thus, the AM band obsolete.

Legislative response

Broadcasters and lawmakers object.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, posted a video to Twitter about legislation she co-sponsored that would require vehicle manufacturers to include AM receivers in all new vehicles.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved via voice vote Thursday the “AM For Every Vehicle Act,” sending it to the Senate floor for consideration.

“Maybe people don’t understand how rural works, but a lot of people drive long distances to get to their town, to visit their friends,” Klobuchar said in her online video. She added she did not think auto manufacturers “understand how important AM radio is to people today.”

People like Rodney Hunter, who manages two grain silo sites in Tulia and Edmonson, Texas, said news on AM radio about corn, cotton, wheat and cattle are critical.

“I’ve had at least three farmers that called in today and said they heard on the radio that the markets are up. And without AM radio that would not be possible,” he told VOA on a recent morning at the grain silo in Tulia when a halt to grain shipments from Ukraine was causing a surge in prices of some agricultural commodities.

“Farmers are in their pickups or in their tractors, and they’re going up and down the road,” Hunter said. Relying on AM radio reception in vehicles “is just a lot handier” than trying to get crop-related news online.

Different languages

A five-hour drive southeast of Tulia found Joann Whang, in Carrollton, tuned in to another AM station. She’s not a farmer, but a pharmacist — listening to Korean-language KKDA-AM 730.

“My friend told me about it,” she said. “At first, I thought a Korean radio station is usually for the older generation, but it was actually pretty interesting. You can get all the information and highlights and even K-pop [music].”

The station is owned by the DK Media Group, which also publishes two Korean-language weekly newspapers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The company’s president, Stephanie Min Kim, said having no AM radios in new cars would imperil ethnic broadcasters who cannot afford the limited and more lucrative FM licenses.

“We feel that it is our duty to help and support our Korean immigrants integrate into American society,” said Kim, a former broadcaster at KBS in South Korea. “So, we invite experts from the law, health care and education to provide practical and useful information” over the station’s airwaves.

“More than 40% of radio listening is done in the car,” Kim said. “So, I think AM radio is facing a potential existential threat.”

That existential threat also affects another Dallas-area station — KHSE at 700 on the AM dial.

The station, known as Radio Caravan, with announcers speaking in Hindi, Tamil, English and other languages, plays South Asian music and provides information about community events.

While Radio Caravan also simulcasts on FM from a site 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Dallas, that transmission does not have the reach of the 1,500-watt AM station whose transmitter and antenna array are located at a different site, also about 50 kilometers northeast of downtown Dallas.

“I don’t think AM can ever go away,” said Radio Caravan program host Aparna Ragnan, who suggested that auto manufacturers find a way to minimize the noise interference in electric vehicles instead of stopping installation of AM receivers in new cars and trucks.

Content is key

The inferior audio range of AM is not really an issue, said Radio Caravan’s station manager, Vaibhav Sheth.

“It’s the content that matters,” according to Sheth, who also noted that AM stations are a critical link for the alerts sent by the nationwide Emergency Alert System.

“Those sirens go off and your regular programming is interrupted, and when there’s an emergency, whether it’s a tornado warning, whether it’s a child abduction, whatever it is that’s happening, it goes to the AM frequency,” he said.

Some radio stations, including those struggling with personnel costs to fill 24 hours of programming, are beginning to use artificial intelligence, known as AI, which can grab real-time information, such as weather forecasts and sports scores, and use cloned announcer voices to make the computer-generated content sound live.

Kim at DK Media Group said AI might be valuable for some content, such as commercials, but she did not see it replacing empathetic voices interacting with the community in live programming.

“We are human beings,” Kim said.

The Whalens said they have not considered AI, even though they could use extra help at their “mom ‘n’ pop”-style station, which also broadcasts some local high school sports.

“We like being live in the studio. There’s just a different energy and a different feel,” said Nancy Whalen. “I think people listening can tell that over the radio. Artificial Intelligence is just that, and it’s not going to give the listener what they’re really looking for.”

Her husband, Todd, agreed. “We don’t want to be a canned radio station, because there’s a lot of canned stations out there.”

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AM Radio Fights to Keep Its Spot on US Car Dashboards

There has been a steady decline in the number of AM radio stations in the United States. Over the decades, urban and mainstream broadcasters have moved to the FM band, which has better audio fidelity, although more limited range. Now, there is a new threat to the remaining AM stations. Some automakers want to kick AM off their dashboard radios, deeming it obsolete. VOA’s chief national correspondent, Steve Herman, in the state of Texas, has been tuning in to some traditional rural stations, as well as those broadcasting in languages others than English in the big cities. Camera – Steve Herman and Jonathan Zizzo.

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Morocco Makes History in 1-0 Defeat of South Korea at Women’s World Cup

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA — Morocco made history in multiple ways during its 1-0 victory over South Korea in the Women’s World Cup on Sunday.

Defender Nouhaila Benzina became the first player to wear a Hijab in a World Cup game at the senior level, and her teammate Ibtissam Jraïdi scored the Atlas Lionesses’ first World Cup goal. The Moroccans scored in the 6th minute and were able to make it stand up for the remainder of the match.

After a lopsided 6-0 loss against Germany, the victory keeps No. 72-ranked Morocco in contention to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.

Key moments

Morocco scored its first ever World Cup goal in the sixth minute when Ibtissam Jraïdi met a cross from Hanane Aït El Haj with a glancing header toward the far post.

South Korea had the majority of the possession but was unable to translate the advantage into many scoring opportunities. Its best chance at equalizing came in the 87th minute when 16-year-old New Jersey resident Casey Phair pushed a shot just wide of the post. Phair, the youngest player to appear at a World Cup, went on as a late substitute.

Why it matters

After dropping its opening match 6-0 to Germany, Morocco’s victory temporarily moves it level with Germany and Colombia on three points ahead of the matchup later Sunday between those teams in Sydney. Morocco becomes the first Arab Nation ever to win a game at a Women’s World Cup and remains in contention to advance to the round of 16.

South Korea is all but eliminated from the tournament after its second loss of the tournament.

What’s next

Morocco will take on Colombia on the final day of the group stage Thursday in Perth in a match that may decide which of the two teams advances to the round of 16. South Korea will play Germany in Brisbane. The two matches will kick off simultaneously.

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Millions of Shiite Muslims Mark Mourning Day of Ashoura

TEHRAN, Iran — Millions of Shiite Muslims in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the world on Friday commemorated Ashoura, a remembrance of the 7th-century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, that gave birth to their faith.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban cut mobile phone services in key cities holding commemorations for fear of militants targeting Shiites, whom Sunni extremists consider heretics. Security forces in neighboring Pakistan also stood on high alert as the commemorations there have seen attacks in the past.

Not all Shiites, however, were to mark the day on Friday. Iraq, Lebanon and Syria planned their remembrances for Saturday, which will see a major suburb of Beirut shut down and the faithful descend on the Iraqi city of Karbala, where Hussein is entombed in a gold-domed shrine.

Shiites represent over 10% of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims and view Hussein as the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein’s death in battle at the hands of Sunnis at Karbala, south of Baghdad, ingrained a deep rift in Islam and continues to this day to play a key role in shaping Shiite identity. 

More than 1,340 years after Hussein’s martyrdom, Baghdad, Tehran, Islamabad and other major capitals in the Middle East were adorned with symbols of Shiite piety and repentance: red flags for Hussein’s blood, symbolic black funeral tents and black dress for mourning, processions of men and boys expressing fervor in the ritual of chest-beating and self-flagellation with chains. 

In Iran, where the theocratic government views itself as the protector of Shiites worldwide, the story of Hussein’s martyrdom takes on political connotations amid its tensions with the West over its advancing nuclear program.

Iranian state television aired images of commemorations across the Islamic Republic, tying the event to criticisms of the West, Israel and the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020. Anchor Wesam Bahrani on Iran’s state-run English-language broadcaster Press TV referred to America as the “biggest opponent of Islam” and criticized Muslim countries allied with the U.S.

In the suburb of Sayida Zeinab near Syria’s capital, Damascus, security forces guarded checkpoints after a bomb hidden in a motorcycle exploded Thursday, killing at least six people and wounding dozens more. On Tuesday, another bomb in a motorcycle wounded two people. The suburb is home to a shrine to Zeinab, the daughter of the first Shiite imam, Ali, and granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Friday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the recent attacks in a statement, claiming that Thursday’s attack killed about 10 and wounded about 40 others “during their annual polytheistic rituals.” The group’s extreme interpretation of Islam holds Shiite Muslims to be apostates.

Iraq will see the main observance of the Ashoura on Saturday in Karbala, where hundreds of thousands are expected and many will rush toward the shrine to symbolize their desire to answer Hussein’s last cries for help in battle. Convoys of the faithful arrived throughout the day Friday.

In Pakistan, authorities stepped up security as an Interior Ministry alert warned that “terrorists” could target Ashoura processions in major cities. Security was tight in the capital, Islamabad, where police were deployed at a key Shiite place of worship.

“The Imam’s lesson is … hold on to patience,” said Anam Batool, a mourner who took part in a commemoration in Islamabad. “After that, resist falsehood, stand with the truth. Where you must raise your voice against oppression, raise your voice there.” 

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FBI Warns About China Theft of US AI Technology

China is pilfering U.S.-developed artificial intelligence (AI) technology to enhance its own aspirations and to conduct foreign influence operations, senior FBI officials said Friday.

The officials said China and other U.S. adversaries are targeting American businesses, universities and government research facilities to get their hands on cutting-edge AI research and products.

“Nation-state adversaries, particularly China, pose a significant threat to American companies and national security by stealing our AI technology and data to advance their own AI programs and enable foreign influence campaigns,” a senior FBI official said during a background briefing call with reporters.

China has a national plan to surpass the U.S. as the world’s top AI power by 2030, but U.S. officials say much of its progress is based on stolen or otherwise acquired U.S. technology.

“What we’re seeing is efforts across multiple vectors, across multiple industries, across multiple avenues to try to solicit and acquire U.S. technology … to be able to re-create and develop and advance their AI programs,” the senior FBI official said.

The briefing was aimed at giving the FBI’s view of the threat landscape, not to react to any recent events, officials said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray sounded the alarm about China’s AI intentions at a cybersecurity summit in Atlanta on Wednesday. He warned that after “years stealing both our innovation and massive troves of data,” the Chinese are well-positioned “to use the fruits of their widespread hacking to power, with AI, even more powerful hacking efforts.”

China has denied the allegations.

The senior FBI official briefing reporters said that while the bureau remains focused on foreign acquisition of U.S. AI technology and talent, it has concern about future threats from foreign adversaries who exploit that technology.

“However, if and when the technology is acquired, their ability to deploy it in an instance such as [the 2024 presidential election] is something that we are concerned about and do closely monitor.”

With the recent surge in AI use, the U.S. government is grappling with its benefits and risks. At a White House summit earlier this month, top AI executives agreed to institute guidelines to ensure the technology is developed safely.

Even as the technology evolves, cybercriminals are actively using AI in a variety of ways, from creating malicious code to crafting convincing phishing emails and carrying out insider trading of securities, officials said.

“The bulk of the caseload that we’re seeing now and the scope of activity has in large part been on criminal actor use and deployment of AI models in furtherance of their traditional criminal schemes,” the senior FBI official said.

The FBI warned that violent extremists and traditional terrorist actors are experimenting with the use of various AI tools to build explosives, he said.

“Some have gone as far as to post information about their engagements with the AI models and the success which they’ve had defeating security measures in most cases or in a number of cases,” he said.

The FBI has observed a wave of fake AI-generated websites with millions of followers that carry malware to trick unsuspecting users, he said. The bureau is investigating the websites.

Wray cited a recent case in which a Dark Net user created malicious code using ChatGPT.

The user “then instructed other cybercriminals on how to use it to re-create malware strains and techniques based on common variants,” Wray said.

“And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We assess that AI is going to enable threat actors to develop increasingly powerful, sophisticated, customizable and scalable capabilities — and it’s not going to take them long to do it.”

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Prospect of AI Producing News Articles Concerns Digital Experts 

Google’s work developing an artificial intelligence tool that would produce news articles is concerning some digital experts, who say such devices risk inadvertently spreading propaganda or threatening source safety. 

The New York Times reported last week that Google is testing a new product, known internally by the working title Genesis, that employs artificial intelligence, or AI, to produce news articles.

Genesis can take in information, like details about current events, and create news content, the Times reported. Google already has pitched the product to the Times and other organizations, The Washington Post and News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.

The launch of the generative AI chatbot ChatGPT last fall has sparked debate about how artificial intelligence can and should fit into the world — including in the news industry.

AI tools can help reporters research by quickly analyzing data and extracting it from PDF files in a process known as scraping.  AI can also help journalists’ fact-check sources. 

But the apprehension — including potentially spreading propaganda or ignoring the nuance humans bring to reporting — appears to be weightier. These worries extend beyond Google’s Genesis tool to encapsulate the use of AI in news gathering more broadly.

If AI-produced articles are not carefully checked, they could unwittingly include disinformation or misinformation, according to John Scott-Railton, who researches disinformation at the Citizen Lab in Toronto.  

“It’s sort of a shame that the places that are the most friction-free for AI to scrape and draw from — non-paywalled content — are the places where disinformation and propaganda get targeted,” Scott-Railton told VOA. “Getting people out of the loop does not make spotting disinformation easier.”

Paul M. Barrett, deputy director at New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, agrees that artificial intelligence can turbocharge the dissemination of falsehoods. 

“It’s going to be easier to generate myths and disinformation,” he told VOA. “The supply of misleading content is, I think, going to go up.”

In an emailed statement to VOA, a Google spokesperson said, “In partnership with news publishers, especially smaller publishers, we’re in the earliest stages of exploring ideas to potentially provide AI-enabled tools to help their journalists with their work.”

“Our goal is to give journalists the choice of using these emerging technologies in a way that enhances their work and productivity,” the spokesperson said. “Quite simply these tools are not intended to, and cannot, replace the essential role journalists have in reporting, creating and fact-checking their articles.”

The implications for a news outlet’s credibility are another important consideration regarding the use of artificial intelligence.

News outlets are presently struggling with a credibility crisis. Half of Americans believe that national news outlets try to mislead or misinform audiences through their reporting, according to a February report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

“I’m puzzled that anyone thinks that the solution to this problem is to introduce a much less credible tool, with a much shakier command of facts, into newsrooms,” said Scott-Railton, who was previously a Google Ideas fellow.

Reports show that AI chatbots regularly produce responses that are entirely wrong or made up. AI researchers refer to this habit as a “hallucination.”

Digital experts are also cautious about what security risks may be posed by using AI tools to produce news articles. Anonymous sources, for instance, might face retaliation if their identities are revealed.

“All users of AI-powered systems need to be very conscious of what information they are providing to the system,” Barrett said.

“The journalist would have to be cautious and wary of disclosing to these AI systems information such as the identity of a confidential source, or, I would say, even information that the journalist wants to make sure doesn’t become public,” he said. 

Scott-Railton said he thinks AI probably has a future in most industries, but it’s important not to rush the process, especially in news. 

“What scares me is that the lessons learned in this case will come at the cost of well-earned reputations, will come at the cost of factual accuracy when it actually counts,” he said.  

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Leading Tech Companies Pledge to Develop AI Safeguards Set by White House

Seven leading tech companies recently agreed to abide by a request from President Joe Biden to develop their artificial intelligence technologies in a safe and transparent way. But are their promises realistic? VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

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Vietnam Orders Social Media Firms to Cut ‘Toxic’ Content Using AI

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM – Vietnam’s demand that international social media firms use artificial intelligence to identify and remove “toxic” online content is part of an ever expanding and alarming campaign to pressure overseas platforms to suppress freedom of speech in the country, rights groups, experts and activists say.

Vietnam is a lucrative market for overseas social media platforms. Of the country’s population of nearly 100 million there are 75.6 million Facebook users, according to Singapore-based research firm Data Reportal. And since Vietnamese authorities have rolled out tighter restrictions on online content and ordered social media firms to remove content the government deems anti-state, social media sites have largely complied with government demands to silence online critiques of the government, experts and rights groups told VOA.

“Toxic” is a term used broadly to refer to online content which the state deems to be false, violent, offensive, or anti-state, according to local media reports.

During a mid-year review conference on June 30, Vietnam’s Information Ministry ordered international tech firms to use artificial intelligence to find and remove so-called toxic content automatically, according to a report from state-run broadcaster Vietnam Television. Details have not been revealed on how or when companies must comply with the new order.

Le Quang Tu Do, the head of the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, had noted during an April 6 news conference that Vietnamese authorities have economic, technical and diplomatic tools to act against international platforms, according to a local media report. According to the report he said the government could cut off social platforms from advertisers, banks, and e-commerce, block domains and servers, and advise the public to cease using platforms with toxic content.

“The point of these measures is for international platforms without offices in Vietnam, like Facebook and YouTube, to abide by the law,” Do said.

Pat de Brun, Amnesty International’s deputy director of Amnesty Tech, told VOA the latest demand is consistent with Vietnam’s yearslong strategy to increase pressure on social media companies. De Brun said it is the government’s broad definition of what is toxic, rather than use of artificial intelligence, that is of most human rights concern because it silences speech that can include criticism of government and policies.

“Vietnamese authorities have used exceptionally broad categories to determine content that they find inappropriate and which they seek to censor. … Very, very often this content is protected speech under international human rights law,” de Brun said. “It’s really alarming to see that these companies have relented in the face of this pressure again and again.”

During the first half of this year, Facebook removed 2,549 posts, YouTube removed 6,101 videos, and TikTok took down 415 links, according to an Information Ministry statement.

Online suppression

Nguyen Khac Giang, a research fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told VOA that heightened online censorship has been led by the conservative faction within Vietnam’s Communist Party, which gained power in 2016.

Nguyen Phu Trong was elected as general secretary in 2016, putting a conservative in the top position within the one-party state. Along with Trong, other conservative-minded leaders rose within government the same year, pushing out reformists, Giang said. Efforts to control the online sphere led to 2018’s Law on Cybersecurity, which expands government control of online content and attempts to localize user data in Vietnam. The government also established Force 47 in 2017, a military unit with reportedly 10,000 members assigned to monitor online space.

On July 19, local media reported that the information ministry proposed taking away the internet access of people who commit violations online especially via livestream on social media sites.

Activists often see their posts removed, lose access to their accounts, and the government also arrests Vietnamese bloggers, journalists, and critics living in the country for their online speech. They are often charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

According to The 88 Project, a U.S.-based human rights group, 191 activists are in jail in Vietnam, many of whom have been arrested for online advocacy and charged under Article 117.

“If you look at the way that social media is controlled in Vietnam, it is very starkly contrasted with what happened before 2016,” Giang said. “What we are seeing now is only a signal of what we’ve been seeing for a long time.”

Giang said the government order is a tool to pressure social media companies to use artificial intelligence to limit content, but he warned that online censorship and limits on public discussion could cause political instability by eliminating a channel for public feedback.

“The story here is that they want the social media platforms to take more responsibility for whatever happens on social media in Vietnam,” Giang said. “If they don’t allow people to report on wrongdoings … how can the [government] know about it?”

Vietnamese singer and dissident Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, now living in the United States, has been contacting Facebook since 2018 for activists who have lost accounts or had posts censored, or are the victims of coordinated online attacks by pro-government Facebook users. Although she has received some help from the company in the past, responses to her requests have become more infrequent.

“[Facebook] should use their leverage,” she added. “If Vietnam closed Facebook, everyone would get angry and there’d be a big wave of revolution or protests.”

Representatives of Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company, did not respond to VOA requests for comment.

Vietnam is also a top concern in the region for the harsh punishment of online speech, Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific policy counsel at Access Now, a nonprofit defending digital rights, said.

“I think it’s one of the most egregious examples of persecution on the online space,” she said.

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Argentina Escapes 2-Goal Hole, Rallies to Draw With South Africa

Sophia Braun and Romina Nunez scored goals in a five-minute span late in the second half, rallying Argentina to a 2-2 draw with South Africa in the Women’s World Cup on Friday (local time).

Linda Motlhalo put South Africa in front in the 30th minute, and Thembi Kgatlana doubled the lead in the 66th minute before Australia rallied.

In the 74th minute, Braun fired a right-footed shot from 20 yards out and found the top right corner.

Argentina’s Yamila Rodrigues delivered a cross from the top of the box on the right side in the 79th minute, and Nunez ran onto the ball and headed it in from near the penalty spot to tie the score.

The result still leaves the teams tied for third place in Group G, both with one point at 0-1-1. The other two teams in the group, Sweden and Italy, both 1-0-0 with three points, will meet Saturday in Wellington, New Zealand.

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Portugal Beats Vietnam 2-0 for First World Cup Win

Portugal’s Telma Encarnacao scored one goal and set up the other in a 2-0 win over fellow Women’s World Cup debutants Vietnam, sending the Southeast Asian side out of the tournament at Waikato Stadium on Thursday.

Portugal is third in Group E with three points and will face the U.S. in their final group game in Auckland while Vietnam, yet to score or pick up a point, take on the Netherlands in Dunedin. Both matches will be played Tuesday.

The U.S. are level on four points with the Netherlands but top the table on goal difference after the teams drew 1-1 earlier Thursday.

Portugal coach Francisco Neto made seven changes to the team that lost 1-0 to the Netherlands in their Group E opener and the decision paid off as first-half goals from Encarnacao and Francisca Nazareth earned them a first ever World Cup win.

Neto will be thrilled with Thursday’s accomplished performance as Portugal dazzled under the floodlights — a stark contrast to their struggling first display — although the scoreline did not reflect their dominance.

Encarnacao swept Portugal in front after seven minutes with a smart first-time finish from Lucia Alves’ cross before turning provider for Nazareth, who fired the ball past goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh in the 21st minute.

Only 11 places separate the two teams in the world rankings, with Portugal sitting higher at 21, but the contest was one-sided and the Europeans were firmly on top throughout with five attempts on target in the first half alone.

They could not add more gloss to the result, however, as Kim Thanh, who helped restrict holders the United States to three goals in Vietnam’s opening defeat, was once again key in ensuring they did not concede more than two.

However, despite Kim Thanh’s efforts, Vietnam struggled to create chances and managed only one shot on target in the match when Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy drew a save from Patricia Morais just before the break.  

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Ambassador: China Will Respond in Kind to US Chip Export Restrictions 

If the United States imposes more investment restrictions and export controls on China’s semiconductor industry, Beijing will respond in kind, according to China’s ambassador to the U.S., Xie Feng, whose tough talk analysts see as the latest response from a so-called wolf-warrior diplomat.

Xie likened the U.S. export controls to “restricting their opponents to only wearing old swimsuits in swimming competitions, while they themselves can wear advanced shark swimsuits.”

Xie’s remarks, made at the Aspen Security Forum last week, came as the U.S. finalized its mechanism for vetting possible investments in China’s cutting-edge technology. These include semiconductors, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, all of which have military as well as commercial applications.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is also considering imposing new restrictions on exports of artificial intelligence (AI) chips to China, despite the objections of U.S. chipmakers.

Wen-Chih Chao, of the Institute of Strategic and International Affairs Studies at Taiwan’s National Chung Cheng University, characterized Xie’s remarks as part of China’s “wolf-warrior” diplomacy, as China’s increasingly assertive style of foreign policy has come to be known. 

He said the threatened Chinese countermeasures would depend on whether Beijing just wants to show an “attitude” or has decided to confront Western countries head-on.

He pointed to China’s investigations of some U.S. companies operating in China. He sees these as China retaliating by “expressing an attitude.”

Getting tougher

But as the tit-for-tat moves of the U.S. and China seem to be “escalating,” Chao pointed to China’s retaliation getting tougher.

An example, he said, is the export controls Beijing slapped on exporters of gallium, germanium and other raw minerals used in high-end chip manufacturing. As of August 1, they must apply for permission from the Ministry of Commerce of China and report the details of overseas buyers.

Chao said China might go further by blocking or limiting the supply of batteries for electric vehicles, mechanical components needed for wind-power generation, gases needed for solar panels, and raw materials needed for pharmaceuticals and semiconductor manufacturing.

China wants to show Western countries that they must think twice when imposing sanctions on Chinese semiconductors or companies, he said.

But other analysts said Beijing does not want to escalate its retaliation to the point where further moves by the U.S. and its allies harm China’s economy, which is only slowly recovering from draconian pandemic lockdowns.

No cooperation

Chao also said China could retaliate by refusing to cooperate on efforts to limit climate change, or by saying “no” when asked to use its influence with Pyongyang to lessen tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“These are the means China can use to retaliate,” Chao said. “I think there are a lot of them. These may be its current bargaining chips, and it will not use them all simultaneously. It will see how the West reacts. It may show its ability to counter the West step by step.”

Cheng Chen, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany, said China’s recent announcement about gallium, germanium and other chipmaking metals is a warning of its ability, and willingness, to retaliate against the U.S.

Even if the U.S. invests heavily in reshaping these industrial chains, it will take a long time to assemble the links, she said.

Chen said that if the U.S. further escalates sanctions on China’s high-tech products, China could retaliate in kind — using tariffs for tariffs, sanctions for sanctions, and regulations for regulations.

Most used strategy

Yang Yikui, an assistant researcher at Taiwan National Defense Security Research Institute, said economic coercion is China’s most commonly used retaliatory tactic.

He said China imposed trade sanctions on salmon imported from Norway when the late pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Beijing tightened restrictions on imports of Philippine bananas, citing quarantine issues, during a 2012 maritime dispute with Manila over a shoal in the South China Sea.

Yang said studies show that since 2018, China’s sanctions have become more diverse and detailed, allowing it to retaliate directly and indirectly. It can also use its economic and trade relations to force companies from other countries to participate.

Yang said that after Lithuania agreed in 2021 to let Taiwan establish a representative office in Vilnius, China downgraded its diplomatic relations from the ambassadorial level to the charge d’affaires and removed the country from its customs system database, making it impossible for Lithuanian goods to pass customs.

Beijing then reduced the credit lines of Lithuanian companies operating in the Chinese market and forced other multinational companies to sanction Lithuania. Companies in Germany, France, Sweden and other countries reportedly had cargos stopped at Chinese ports because they contained products made in Lithuania. 

When Australia investigated the origins of COVID, an upset China imposed tariffs or import bans on Australian beef, wine, cotton, timber, lobster, coal and barley. But Beijing did not sanction Australia’s iron ore, wool and natural gas because sanctions on those products stood to hurt key Chinese sectors. 

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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Horan’s Goal Helps US Get 1-1 Draw with Netherlands at Women’s World Cup

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — Lindsey Horan, angry over being knocked down minutes earlier by Danielle Van de Donk, scored a revenge goal minutes later in the second half Thursday to help the United States squeeze out a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands at the Women’s World Cup.

The Dutch struck first with a goal from Jill Roord in the first half to surprise the Americans, who remained unbeaten in 19 consecutive matches with Horan’s second-half score.

Horan’s goal on a header off a corner kick in the 62nd minute followed several minutes of jawing between the two teams: Horan was angry after she was knocked off her feet and even cursed in the direction of Van de Donk — her teammate for club team Lyon.

The Americans tried to calm Horan, who responded with her 29th international goal, fourth in the World Cup, and second consecutive in this tournament.

Before the ball even crossed the goal line, Horan’s expression showed she knew she was on target.

With the draw, neither team secured a spot in the knockout round yet with one group match remaining. Both the Americans and the Dutch sit atop the Group E standings with a win and a draw, but the U.S. has the edge for the lead with more goals.

The game was a rematch of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, a 2-0 win for the Americans in a game played in Lyon, France. It was the Americans’ second straight trophy in the tournament, and fourth overall.

Roord’s strike from atop the box went through Horan’s legs to put the Dutch ahead in the 17th minute.

Dominique Janssen had a good chance from distance in the 29th minute, but U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher jumped for it and the ball skirted above the crossbar and into the netting.

Horan’s header off a cross in the 36th minute went wide left as the pace became more frenzied with halftime looming.

Rose Lavelle, who was hampered by a knee injury in the run-up to the World Cup, was subbed in for the United States at the half. Lavelle scored one of the goals in the World Cup final four years ago, replaced Savannah DeMelo.

The Netherlands went into halftime with that single goal lead. It was just the sixth time the United States had trailed at the half in 52 World Cup matches, and first time since trailing Sweden at the break in the opening round in 2011.

Skies were sunny but temperatures were in around 12 degrees Celsius in New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, and there was a stiff breeze for the match. The crowd was announced at 27,312.

The Americans, vying for a record third consecutive World Cup title, defeated Vietnam 3-0 in their tournament opener. Sophia Smith scored a pair of goals and Horan added the other.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski used the same lineup for the Dutch that he used against Vietnam. He’s turned to Julie Ertz, normally a midfielder, to play at center back in the absence of veteran Becky Sauerbrunn, who injured her foot and was not able to play in the World Cup.

The Dutch were without forward Lineth Beerensteyn, who was hurt early in her team’s 1-0 victory over Portugal to open the tournament. Katja Snoeijs replaced her in the starting lineup against the United States.

The Dutch was also missing leading scorer Vivianne Miedema, who ruptured her ACL while playing for Arsenal in December. She has 95 career goals for the Dutch.

The United States was undefeated in all but one of its meetings with the Dutch — the first game in 1991.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the team at their hotel on the eve of the match and was at the game. Blinken was in Wellington for a formal bilateral meeting with New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta, and he will also meet with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

The top finisher in Group opens the knockout round in Sydney against the second-place finisher in Group G, which includes Sweden, South Africa, Italy and Argentina.

The second-place finisher heads to Melbourne against the top Group G team. 

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Provocative Irish Singer Sinead O’Connor Dies at 56

Sinead O’Connor, the gifted Irish singer-songwriter who became a superstar in her mid-20s but was known as much for her private struggles and provocative actions as for her fierce and expressive music, has died at 56.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinead. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time,” the singer’s family said in a statement reported Wednesday by the BBC and RTE. No cause was disclosed.

She was public about her mental illness, saying that she’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. O’Connor posted a Facebook video in 2017 from a New Jersey motel where she had been living, saying that she was staying alive for the sake of others and that if it were up to her, she’d be “gone.”

When her teenage son Shane died by suicide in 2022, O’Connor tweeted there was “no point living without him” and was soon hospitalized.

Recognizable by her shaved head and elfin features, O’Connor began her career singing on the streets of Dublin and soon rose to international fame. She was a star from her 1987 debut album “The Lion and the Cobra” and became a sensation in 1990 with her cover of Prince’s ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a seething, shattering performance that topped charts from Europe to Australia and was heightened by a promotional video featuring the gray-eyed O’Connor in intense close-up.

She was a lifelong nonconformist — she would say that she shaved her head in response to record executives pressuring her to be conventionally glamorous — but her political and cultural stances and troubled private life often overshadowed her music.

A critic of the Catholic Church well before allegations sexual abuse were widely reported, O’Connor made headlines in October 1992 when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II while appearing live on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and denounced the church as the enemy. The next week, Joe Pesci hosted “Saturday Night Live,” held up a repaired photo of the pope and said that if he had been on the show with O’Connor, he “would have gave her such a smack.”

Days later, she appeared at an all-star tribute for Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden and was immediately booed. She was supposed to sing Dylan’s “I Believe in You,” but switched to an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War,” which she had sung on “Saturday Night Live.”

Although consoled and encouraged on stage by her friend Kris Kristofferson, she left and broke down, and her performance was kept off the concert CD. (Years later, Kristofferson recorded “Sister Sinead,” for which he wrote, “And maybe she’s crazy and maybe she ain’t/But so was Picasso and so were the saints.”)

She also feuded with Frank Sinatra over her refusal to allow the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at one of her shows and accused Prince of physically threatening her. In 1989 she declared her support for the Irish Republican Army, a statement she retracted a year later. Around the same time, she skipped the Grammy ceremony, saying it was too commercialized.

In 1999, O’Connor caused uproar in Ireland when she became a priestess of the breakaway Latin Tridentine Church — a position that was not recognized by the mainstream Catholic Church. For many years, she called for a full investigation into the extent of the church’s role in concealing child abuse by clergy.

In 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI apologized to Ireland to atone for decades of abuse, O’Connor condemned the apology for not going far enough and called for Catholics to boycott Mass until there was a full investigation into the Vatican’s role, which by 2018 was making international headlines.

“People assumed I didn’t believe in God. That’s not the case at all. I’m Catholic by birth and culture and would be the first at the church door if the Vatican offered sincere reconciliation,” she wrote in The Washington Post in 2010.

O’Connor announced in 2018 that she had converted to Islam and would be adopting the name Shuhada’ Davitt, later Shuhada Sadaqat — although she continued to use Sinead O’Connor professionally. 

“Her music was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement on social media. 

O’Connor was born on December 8, 1966. She had a difficult childhood, with a mother whom she alleged was abusive and encouraged her to shoplift. As a teenager she spent time in a church-sponsored institution for girls, where she said she washed priests’ clothes for no wages. But a nun gave O’Connor her first guitar, and soon she sang and performed on the streets of Dublin, her influences ranging from Dylan to Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Her performance with a local band caught the eye of a small record label, and, in 1987, O’Connor released “The Lion and the Cobra,” which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and featured the hit “Mandinka,” driven by a hard rock guitar riff and O’Connor’s piercing vocals. O’Connor, 20 years old and pregnant while making “Lion and the Cobra,” co-produced the album.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” received three Grammy nominations and was the featured track off her acclaimed album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” which helped lead Rolling Stone to name her Artist of the Year in 1991.

O’Connor announced she was retiring from music in 2003, but she continued to record new material. Her most recent album was “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” released in 2014 and she sang the theme song for Season 7 of “Outlander.”

The singer married four times; her union to drug counselor Barry Herridge, in 2011, lasted just 16 days. O’Connor had four children: Jake, with her first husband John Reynolds; Roisin, with John Waters; Shane, with Donal Lunny; and Yeshua Bonadio, with Frank Bonadio.

In 2014, she said she was joining the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party and called for its leaders to step aside so that a younger generation of activists could take over. She later withdrew her application.

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Jury Acquits Kevin Spacey in London on Sexual Assault Charges Dating Back to 2001

A London jury acquitted Kevin Spacey on sexual assault charges on Wednesday after a four-week trial in which the actor said he was a “big flirt” who had consensual flings with men and whose only misstep was touching a man’s groin while making a “clumsy pass.”

Three men accused the Oscar winner of aggressively grabbing their crotches. A fourth, an aspiring actor seeking mentorship, said he awoke to the actor performing oral sex on him after going to Spacey’s London apartment for a beer and either falling asleep or passing out.

All the men said the contact was unwanted but Spacey testified that the young actor and another man had willingly participated in consensual acts. He said a third man’s allegation that he grabbed his privates like a striking “cobra” backstage at a theater was “pure fantasy.”

He said he didn’t remember a fourth incident at a small party at a home he rented in the country but accepted that he touched the groin of a man he had met at a pub during a night of heavy drinking. He said he had misread the man’s interest in him and said he had probably made an awkward pass.

Defense lawyer Patrick Gibbs said three of the men were liars and incidents had been “reimagined with a sinister spin.” He accused most of them of hopping on a “bandwagon” of complaints in the hope of striking it rich.

Prosecutor Christine Agnew told jurors that Spacey was a “sexual bully” who took what he wanted when he wanted. She said he was shielded by a “trinity of protection”: he knew men were unlikely to complain; they wouldn’t be believed if they did complain; and if they did complain, no action would be taken because he was powerful.

Spacey, who turned 64 on Wednesday, faced nine charges, including multiple counts of sexual assault and one count of causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent.

The accusations date from 2001 to 2013 and include a period when Spacey — after winning Academy Awards for “The Usual Suspects” and “American Beauty” — had returned to the theater, his first love. During most of that period he was artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in London.

The men came forward after an American actor accused Spacey of an incident of sexual misconduct as the #MeToo movement heated up in 2017.

Several of the men said they had been haunted by the abuse and couldn’t bear to watch Spacey’s films.

One of the men broke down when speaking with police as he provided details in a videotaped interview about the oral sex incident that he said he’d never told anyone before. Another man said he was angry about the abuse that occurred sporadically over several years and began to drink and work out more to cope with it.

Spacey choked up and became teary eyed in the witness box as he described the emotional and financial turmoil that the U.S. accusations brought and the barrage of criticism that followed on social media.

“My world exploded,” Spacey testified. “There was a rush to judgment and before the first question was asked or answered I lost my job, I lost my reputation, I lost everything in a matter of days.”

Gibbs said Spacey was being “monstered” on the internet every night and became toxic in the industry.

Spacey was booted from “House of Cards” and his scenes in “All the Money in the World,” were scrubbed and he was replaced by Christopher Plummer. Aside from some small projects, he has barely worked as an actor in six years.

A New York jury last year swiftly cleared Spacey in a $40 million lawsuit by “Star Trek: Discovery” actor Anthony Rapp on allegations dating back three decades.

Spacey had viewed the London case as a chance for redemption, telling German magazine Zeit last month that there were “people right now who are ready to hire me the moment I am cleared of these charges in London.”

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Media Academy in Somalia Hopes to Empower Women Through Film

Founders of the Somali Digital Media Academy say women’s involvement in the Mogadishu film industry is surging. Abdiaziz Barrow spoke to women who are contributing to the visual history of their country in this report from the Somali capital, narrated by Salem Solomon. Camera — Abdulkadir Zubeyr

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Japan Imposes Microchip Export Ban, Angering China

Japan imposed export controls on advanced microchip technologies this week, mirroring recent moves by the United States and the Netherlands. As Henry Ridgwell reports from Tokyo, the controls are widely seen as targeting China

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