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Pope Prays for ‘Seeds of Peace’ for South Sudan, DRC

Pope Francis on Thursday evening led a special prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Earlier this year, he said he was studying the possibility of going to South Sudan, which has been beset by famine and civil war. But he told the faithful during the service that that wasn’t possible.

Francis said that “with prayer we want to sow seeds of peace” in South Sudan and Congo. He called for courageous peace efforts through dialogue and negotiations.

Peace talks are aimed at finding a resolution to South Sudan’s civil war, which has lasted nearly four years.

In DRC, tensions over the continued tenure of President Joseph Kabila, whose official mandate ended in December 2016, have fueled deadly demonstrations. An election official recently said the presidential vote wouldn’t be held until late 2018.


Ukrainian Separatist Chief Accuses Another of Plotting Coup

A separatist leader in Ukraine’s east on Thursday accused a former official of trying to unseat him as a showdown between the two entered its third day.

Breaking almost a week of silence, Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, claimed that former Interior Minister Igor Kornet “tried to seize power by force.”

“It seems that a small man harbored big ambitions,” Plotnitsky said on the separatist television station, adding that he intended to “resolve the conflict with the help of the law.”

More than 10,000 people have been killed and a million displaced in a long-simmering conflict between separatists in Luhansk and in parts of the neighboring Donetsk region since 2014. Parts of the two regions have been under separatist control since spring 2014, and the area has been plagued with infighting among various armed groups and warlords.

Suspicious deaths

Several high-profile commanders have been killed in the region in suspicious circumstances in what was widely viewed as power struggle. While the unruly commanders were dying in car bombings, the leadership of the rebel-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions came to be dominated by bureaucrats with ties to ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The showdown between Plotnitsky and Kornet began on Tuesday with dozens of armed people loyal to Kornet surrounding the main administrative buildings in the regional capital, Luhansk. A convoy of armed vehicles entered the city in the middle of the night in a show of support for Kornet.

In a video released on Thursday, the ousted interior minister lashed out at Plotnitsky, suggesting that “the republic’s leadership” was under the influence of Ukrainian spies. Kornet also acknowledged that he was receiving military support from the neighboring separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.

The rebels originally sought to join Russia but the Kremlin stopped short of annexing the area or publicizing its military support for the rebels. It is widely assumed that Moscow provides the rebels with weapons and funding.


Hungary: Parliament Bans Camerawoman Who Kicked Migrants

Hungary’s parliament has banned a camerawoman from working on the premises after she insulted a lawmaker during an interview.

Parliament press chief Zoltan Szilagyi said Thursday in a statement that Petra Laszlo’s ban would be enforced for the rest of the current legislative period, which ends in mid-December.

In January, Laszlo was sentenced to three years’ probation for disorderly conduct after she was filmed kicking and trying to trip migrants on the border with Serbia in 2015.

Laszlo, who works for a pro-government website, could be seen on video arguing Monday with Gyorgy Szilagyi from the far-right Jobbik party.

Szilagyi said he did not want to talk to reporters from pestisracok.hu because he considered them government “propagandists.”

During the 2015 incident, Laszlo was working for N1TV, which is close to Jobbik.


Coffee-Based Fuel to Power London Buses

A startup is making fuel from waste coffee grounds to power some of London’s buses. VOA’s Steve Baragona reports.


France Seeks UN Meeting on Apparent Slave Auctions in Libya

France is seeking an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the alleged sale of African migrants as slaves.

President Emmanuel Macron called the video footage aired last week by U.S. news network CNN “scandalous” and “unacceptable.”

“It is a crime against humanity,” Macron said after meeting with African Union chief Alpha Conde. “I hope we can go much further in the fight against traffickers who commit such crimes, and cooperate with all the countries in the network to dismantle these networks.”

CNN aired footage of an apparent auction where black men were presented to buyers as potential farmhands and sold off for as little as $400. The video sparked international outrage, with protests erupting across Europe and Africa.

The UNSC meeting will likely be next week, a French diplomat said.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was horrified and that the auctions should be investigated as possible crimes against humanity.

Criticism of EU

Human rights groups have criticized the European Union for pressuring Libya into stopping the flow of migrants to Europe.

Conde also put the blame on the European Union, accusing it of encouraging the Libyans to keep migrants in the North African country despite there being no single, universally recognized government.

“What happened in Libya is shocking, scandalous, but we must establish the responsibilities,” Conde said. “In Libya, there is no government, so the European Union can not choose a developing country and ask that country to detain refugees … when it doesn’t have the means to do so.”

Human rights groups have said the increased vigilance by Libyan maritime forces has forced the migrant smugglers to look for ways to unload their human cargo that can’t be transported to Europe.


Facebook to Let Users See Whether They ‘Liked’ Russian Accounts

Facebook Inc. said Wednesday that it would build a web page to allow users to see which Russian propaganda accounts they have liked or followed, after U.S. lawmakers demanded that the social network be more open about the reach of the accounts.

U.S. lawmakers called the announcement a positive step. The web page, though, would fall short of their demands that Facebook individually notify users about Russian propaganda posts or ads they were exposed to.

Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. are facing a backlash after saying Russians used their services to anonymously spread divisive messages among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections.

U.S. lawmakers have criticized the tech firms for not doing more to detect the alleged election meddling, which the Russian government denies involvement in.

Facebook says the propaganda came from the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization that according to lawmakers and researchers employs hundreds of people to push pro-Kremlin content under phony social media accounts.

As many as 126 million people could have been served posts on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram, the company says. Facebook has since deactivated the accounts.

Available by year’s end

Facebook, in a statement, said it would let people see which pages or accounts they liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017 that were affiliated with the Internet Research Agency.

The tool will be available by the end of the year as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” Facebook said.

The web page will show only a list of accounts, not the posts or ads affiliated with them, according to a mock-up. U.S. lawmakers have separately published some posts.

It was not clear whether Facebook would eventually do more, such as sending individualized notifications to users.

Lawmakers at congressional hearings this month suggested that Facebook might have an obligation to notify people who accessed deceptive foreign government material.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who had asked for notifications, said Facebook’s plan “seems to be a serious response” to his request.

“My hope is that it will be a responsible first step towards protecting against future assaults on its platform,” he said in a statement.

Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, called it a “very positive step” and said lawmakers look forward to additional steps by tech companies to improve transparency.