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Global Rivalries Are Miring the Clean Energy Revolution

Global Rivalries Are Miring the Clean Energy Revolution


KISANFU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just up a red dirt road, across an expanse of tall, dew-soaked weeds, bulldozers are hollowing out a yawning new canyon that is central to the world’s urgent race against global warming.

For more than a decade, the vast expanse of untouched land was controlled by an American company. Now a Chinese mining conglomerate has bought it, and is racing to retrieve its buried treasure: millions of tons of cobalt.

At 73, Kyahile Mangi has lived here long enough to predict the path ahead. Once the blasting starts, the walls of mud-brick homes will crack. Chemicals will seep into the river where women do laundry and dishes while worrying about hippo attacks. Soon a manager from the mine will announce that everyone needs to be relocated.

“We know our ground is rich,” said Mr. Mangi, a village chief who also knows residents will share little of the mine’s wealth.

This wooded stretch of southeast Democratic Republic of Congo, called Kisanfu, holds one of the largest and purest untapped reserves of cobalt in the world.

The gray metal, typically extracted from copper deposits, has historically been of secondary interest to miners. But demand is set to explode worldwide because it is used in electric-car batteries, helping them run longer without a charge.

Outsiders discovering — and exploiting — the natural resources of this impoverished Central African country are following a tired colonial-era pattern. The United States turned to Congo for uranium to help build the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then spent decades, and billions of dollars, seeking to protect its mining interests here.

Now, with more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt production coming from Congo, the country is once again taking center stage as major automakers commit to battling climate change by transitioning from gasoline-burning vehicles to battery-powered ones. The new automobiles rely on a host of minerals and metals often not abundant in the United States or the oil-rich Middle East, which sustained the last energy era.

But the quest for Congo’s cobalt has demonstrated how the clean energy revolution, meant to save the planet from perilously warming temperatures in an age of enlightened self-interest, is caught in a familiar cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship that often puts narrow national aspirations above all else, an investigation by The New York Times found.

The Times dispatched reporters across three continents drawn into the competition for cobalt, a relatively obscure raw material that along with lithium, nickel and graphite has gained exceptional value in a world trying to set fossil fuels aside.

More than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of documents show that the race for cobalt has set off a power struggle in Congo, a storehouse of these increasingly prized resources, and lured foreigners intent on dominating the next epoch in global energy.

In particular, a rivalry between China and the United States could have far-reaching implications for the shared goal of safeguarding the earth. At least here in Congo, China is so far winning that contest, with both the Obama and Trump administrations having stood idly by as a company backed by the Chinese government bought two of the country’s largest cobalt deposits over the past five years.

As the significance of those purchases becomes clearer, China and the United States have entered a new “Great Game” of sorts. This past week, during a visit promoting electric vehicles at a General Motors factory in Detroit, President Biden acknowledged the United States had lost some ground. “We risked losing our edge as a nation, and China and the rest of the world are catching up,” he said. “Well, we’re about to turn that around in a big, big way.”

China Molybdenum, the new owner of the Kisanfu site since late last year, bought it from Freeport-McMoRan, an American mining giant with a checkered history that five years ago was one of the largest producers of cobalt in Congo — and now has left the country entirely.

In June, just six months after the sale, the Biden administration warned that China might use its growing dominance of cobalt to disrupt the American push toward electric vehicles by squeezing out U.S. manufacturers. In response, the United States is pressing for access to cobalt supplies from allies, including Australia and Canada, according to a national security official with knowledge of the matter.

American automakers like Ford, General Motors and Tesla buy cobalt battery components from suppliers that depend in part on Chinese-owned mines in Congo. A Tesla longer-range vehicle requires about 10 pounds of cobalt, more than 400 times the amount in a cellphone.

Already, tensions over minerals and metals are rattling the electric vehicle market.

Deadly rioting in July near a port in South Africa, where much of Congo’s cobalt is exported to China and elsewhere, caused a global jump in the metal’s prices, a surge that only worsened through the rest of the year.

Last month, the mining industry’s leading forecaster said the rising cost of raw materials was likely to drive up battery costs for the first time in years, threatening to disrupt automakers’ plans to attract customers with competitively priced electric cars.

Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive, said the mineral supply crunch needed to be confronted.

“We have to solve these things,” he said at an event in September, “and we don’t have much time.”

Automakers like Ford are spending billions of dollars to build their own battery plants in the United States, and are rushing to curb the need for newly mined cobalt by developing lithium iron phosphate substitutes or turning to recycling. As a result, a Ford spokeswoman said, “we do not see cobalt as a constraining issue.”

Increased mining and refining of cobalt by Chinese companies has helped meet the growing demand and advanced the fight against climate change. But as more electric vehicles are produced by more automakers worldwide, the International Energy Agency expects a cobalt shortage by 2030, based on an analysis of existing mines and those under construction. Other forecasters say a shortage could hit as soon as 2025.

A review by The Times of documents filed with regulatory authorities in China shows the acquisitions in Congo have followed a disciplined playbook, announced with great fanfare by Beijing in 2015, to dominate the world’s emerging clean energy economy.

As of last year, 15 of the 19 cobalt-producing mines in Congo were owned or financed by Chinese companies, according to a data analysis by The Times and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. The biggest alternative to Chinese operators is Glencore, a Switzerland-based company that runs two of the largest cobalt mines there.

These Chinese companies have received at least $12 billion in loans and other financing from state-backed institutions, and are likely to have drawn billions more. In fact, the five biggest Chinese mining companies in Congo had lines of credit from state-backed banks that totaled $124 billion, according to the documents reviewed by The Times, even though one of them, China Molybdenum, described itself as “a pure business entity” traded on two stock exchanges.

China’s goal is to control the global supply chain from the metals in the ground to the batteries themselves, no matter where the vehicles are made. The approach, in part, echoes Henry Ford’s investments in Amazonian rubber plantations as the auto industry turned to mass production in the early 20th century.

The forested mine site at Kisanfu was just one of two major purchases in recent years by China Molybdenum. The first came in 2016, when it took control of Tenke Fungurume, a mine that on its own produces twice as much cobalt as any other country in the world. At least $1.59 billion of the $2.65 billion Tenke Fungurume price tag, financial records show, came from loans provided by Chinese state-owned banks.

As the Chinese were stepping up their focus on green energy in 2016, the soon-to-be U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, was extolling the fossil fuel industry, campaigning in West Virginia with a hard hat and shovel and falsely promising coal miners that “you’re going to be working your asses off!” After taking office, Mr. Trump would roll back requirements on American automakers intended to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, giving the Chinese an even wider lane.

“It is pretty heartbreaking what happened here,” said Nicole Widdersheim, who worked on Africa issues for the National Security Council during the Trump administration. “Just so stupid.”

The frenzy for Congo’s cobalt has attracted an international cast of opportunists, luminaries and shadowy characters eager to benefit. At one point, it also drew in a Chinese-based private equity firm that Hunter Biden helped found and that was later scrutinized in the 2020 presidential campaign.

At the same time, Chinese companies are running into new headwinds from Congo’s government, according to documents obtained by The Times and interviews with current and former senior U.S. officials.

Congolese officials are carrying out a broad review of past mining contracts, work they are doing with financial help from the American government as part of its broader anti-corruption effort. They are examining whether companies are fulfilling their contractual obligations, including a 2008 commitment from China to deliver billions of dollars’ worth of new roads, bridges, power plants and other infrastructure.

Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, in August named a commission to investigate allegations that China Molybdenum, the company that bought the two Freeport-McMoRan properties, might have cheated the Congolese government out of billions of dollars in royalty payments. The company risks being expelled from Congo.

At the Tenke Fungurume mine, there have long been problems associated with trespassers from nearby villages scavenging for cobalt. After China Molybdenum called on the government to help, Congolese troops fired on a trespasser inside the mine’s gates, killing him, as well as a second person who was shot after riots broke out in protest, witnesses and local officials told The Times.

Separately, at least a dozen employees or contractors at the mine told The Times that Chinese ownership had led to a drastic decline in safety and an increase in injuries, many of which were not reported to management. Two Congolese safety officers said workers were assaulted after they raised concerns and were offered bribes to cover up accidents.

“Things are falling apart in terms of safety,” said Alfred Kiloko Makeba, who retired last year after a decade working as a safety supervisor at the mine.

Vincent Zhou, a spokesman for China Molybdenum, rejected claims that the company had cheated the Congolese government or relaxed safety standards, saying the opposite was true, and questioned if there was an organized effort to undermine the company.

China has an idiom that goes something like: “Where there is a will to condemn, evidence will follow,” Mr. Zhou said in a written response to The Times. “Vaguely I feel that we may be caught in the gaming of greater powers.”

African countries for years have been turning to China for help building infrastructure with loans or trades involving their natural resources — deals that analysts warn provide far more benefit to the Chinese.

A blueprint for those deals, now common across the continent, was sketched out in 2005 when Joseph Kabila walked into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr. Kabila, then just 33, was the new president of Congo after the assassination of his father, another tragic milepost on the poverty-stricken country’s road of violence and political disruption.

China was familiar territory for Mr. Kabila, who had received military training there in the late 1990s. This visit was about enlisting the help of President Hu Jintao in turning around Congo’s economy.

The United States, which had long provided economic and military assistance to Congo, was locked in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and had become increasingly uninterested in the country. Congo’s poor record on graft and human rights was also scaring away many international banks and Western investors.

Mr. Kabila’s wish list was long: He wanted new roads, schools and hospitals as part of a revival plan that, he hoped, would endear him back home to a nation exhausted and dispirited by years of conflict and corruption.

In exchange, he was prepared to offer up his country’s vast mineral wealth — unparalleled in much of the world.

In the imposing hall on Tiananmen Square, the two presidents outlined a deal that would change Central Africa’s balance of power, according to André Kapanga, a former adviser to Mr. Kabila who offered details of the meeting for the first time in an interview with The Times.

Mr. Hu explained that many people in China’s western provinces lived in deep poverty. Developing the area was a cornerstone of his domestic policy, and he needed minerals and metals to build out new industries. Congo was ready to help, Mr. Kabila assured him.

China had already acquired raw materials from Congo’s neighbor, Angola, where it offered generous financial support in exchange for oil.

But this potential deal with Mr. Kabila was more ambitious than any other, and a diplomatic drama would play out at the riverside Palais de la Nation in the capital of Kinshasa before it was sealed.

The setting was Mr. Kabila’s inauguration in 2006, after he stood before voters in a formal election and won the presidency. The Bush administration sent a delegation led by Elaine Chao, then the secretary of labor.

Mr. Kabila liked motorcycles, and she presented him with a Harley-Davidson trinket when she greeted him at a lunch. That would be the extent of their interaction, Ms. Chao believed, but members of her delegation urged her to ask for a private meeting, according to Laura Genero, an associate deputy labor secretary who was on the trip. To her surprise, Mr. Kabila complied with a meeting the next day.

Ms. Chao was so unprepared for the invitation that she had to borrow a beige pantsuit from Ms. Genero. She had packed just one work outfit.

The U.S. delegation congratulated Mr. Kabila on his democratic victory and listened as he talked about wanting to expand access to electricity across the nation. One of his aides characterized the meeting as mostly small talk.

But a similar meeting between the new president and Chinese officials played out differently, according to Mr. Kapanga, who was briefed on both the U.S. and Chinese discussions.

The Chinese used the opportunity to begin formal talks with Mr. Kabila that would result in a $6 billion agreement: China would pay for roads, hospitals, rail lines, schools and projects to expand electricity, all in exchange for access to 10 million tons of copper and more than 600,000 tons of cobalt.

The local media called it the “the deal of the century,” and while Mr. Kabila celebrated the agreement, the global financial community reacted more warily, worried Congo was taking on too much debt.

American officials marveled at the deal’s historic scale. In secret cables made public by WikiLeaks, they noted that previous Chinese investment in Congo had been “an informal, somewhat disorganized collection of Chinese businesses” that did not seriously threaten U.S. interests.

Now something much grander was in the making: “2,000 miles of roadway linking Orientale and Katanga provinces, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers, two large universities and 5,000 government housing units are pledged,” according to a cable in 2008 from the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa to members of the Central Intelligence Agency, the secretary of state and other officials.

“And that’s not all,” the cable continued.

By 2015, China’s presence in Congo had become visible in numerous infrastructure projects: Soccer stadiums rose from the dust, roadways were expanded, work began on water treatment facilities.

But not all of its progress in cornering the cobalt market could be measured in brick and mortar. The Chinese ambassador at the time, Wang Tongqing, kicked off an American-style diplomatic blitz.

Mr. Wang threw out the jump ball that year at a Chinese corporate basketball tournament that drew Congolese spectators.

He gave out scholarships to Congolese students to study in China and was on hand when a Chinese organization donated plane tickets for a Congolese choir to tour his country. At one point, he offered $1 million for Ebola relief in Congo.

Mr. Wang’s activities coincided with the 2015 rollout of his country’s “Made in China 2025” policy, which detailed China’s plan to transform itself into a “manufacturing superpower” in 10 areas, including batteries for electric vehicles.

Almost instantly a tidal wave of government-backed capital poured into Chinese companies in Congo and elsewhere. Deals quickly followed.

That year, the state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group said it would partner with Congo’s state mining company, Gécamines, to develop the Deziwa site, then one of the largest copper and cobalt concessions in the country.

In 2017, Zijin Mining, a Chinese state-backed company with a slogan of “Harmony Begets Wealth,” raised almost $700 million from a sale of private shares to develop its Kolwezi mine.

Public statements about the deals signaled some of China’s ambition, but the history and scale of the effort have not been previously reported.

Corporate filings, including annual reports and bond prospectuses, examined by The Times show that the five biggest Chinese companies in Congo had been given at least $124 billion in credit lines for their global operations. All of the companies are state-owned or have significant minority stakes held by various levels of the Chinese government.

“Unlike the U.S., the Chinese government is always behind Chinese investors in Africa and more specifically in D.R.C.,” said Mr. Kapanga, the former adviser to Mr. Kabila.

The biggest deal came in April 2016, when China Molybdenum, a company whose biggest shareholders are a government-owned company and a reclusive billionaire, made its $2.65 billion offer to buy Tenke Fungurume, an American-owned mine atop one of the biggest cobalt reserves in the world.

There was one complication. Freeport-McMoRan had a Canadian partner that had the right of first offer to buy its stake. China Molybdenum’s solution was to have a Shanghai-based private equity firm buy out the partner, but even that deal relied on money from the Chinese government.

None of the $1.14 billion raised to buy the partner’s share came from private investors, company filings show. Instead, it came from Chinese state-controlled entities, including from bank loans guaranteed by China Molybdenum as well as cash brought to the deal through obscure shell companies controlled by government-owned banks, according to the filings.

The board of the private equity firm, commonly known as BHR, was dominated by Chinese members but also included three Americans: Devon Archer, a businessman who later was convicted of defrauding the Oglala Sioux tribe in a case still working through the legal system, and James Bulger, son of the former president of the Massachusetts State Senate.

Another was Hunter Biden, whose father was vice president at the time.

It is not clear if Mr. Biden, who had helped found the firm in 2013, was involved in the deal. Mr. Biden did not respond to requests for comment. A former member of the BHR board, who was not authorized to speak about internal business matters, said that none of the Americans had played a role and that the fees generated for the work had not been distributed to Mr. Biden or others. A spokesman for President Biden on Friday said he had not been made aware of his son’s connection to the sale.

How and why the firm had become involved was a mystery to the chief executive who negotiated the sale for Freeport-McMoRan’s Canadian-based partner, Lundin Mining.

“Were they a partner, their adviser or a financier? I don’t know,” said Paul Conibear, then Lundin’s chief executive.

An elaborate event under white tents in Kinshasa celebrated China’s new ownership in May 2017. Mr. Wang was there along with Chinese officials who had helped finance the purchase — and a host of Chinese government-affiliated bankers looking to make even more mining deals.

Within a few years, they would help orchestrate China Molybdenum’s purchase of Kisanfu, the huge untapped cobalt reserve, from the same American mining giant. Together the sales marked a changing of the guard in Congo as the United States abandoned its mining interests — a problem that now weighs on President Biden as he and his aides have come to realize the extent of China’s dominance in clean energy.

“The D.R.C. has a vast territory, rich natural resources and great investment potential,” Mr. Wang told the crowd. “A Chinese proverb says, ‘Build a beautiful nest to attract the phoenix.’”

At first, the changes seemed almost trivial at Tenke Fungurume — a 24-hour operation that employs more than 7,000 across a landscape the size of Los Angeles marked by deep craters and dust kicked up by earth-moving vehicles.

The new Chinese managers showed up in shorts and sneakers, a shock to employees who had been required to wear steel-toed boots and safety goggles.

“We were like, ‘Oh, this is not possible,’” said Pierrot Kitobo Sambisaya, who worked as a metallurgist at the mine for a decade until 2019 and had grown accustomed to a stricter environment.

Soon, work anniversaries came and went with no recognition. Holiday parties where workers’ families were invited to tour the mine no longer took place. Dozens of janitor and driver jobs once held by Congolese citizens went to the Chinese.

That was just the start. Employees were concerned that the mine was also becoming more dangerous, according to interviews with workers in communities surrounding the mine, current and former safety inspectors, Congolese government officials and mining executives.

Workers climbed into acid tanks to conduct repairs without checking the air quality. Others drove bulldozers and other heavy equipment without training or did dangerous welding jobs without proper oversight.

Last year, a worker was sitting in his truck while it was being towed, and it flipped. The worker tried to jump to safety, but the truck landed on him and crushed him to death, according to an annual operations report from China Molybdenum.

All of it was an extreme departure from the company’s American predecessor, which had “zero tolerance” for risky activities and safety violations, according to Alfred Kiloko Makeba, the veteran safety supervisor, and 10 other current and former employees, managers and contractors.

Freeport-McMoRan, which had built the mine, had learned some hard lessons years before at its copper and gold mine in Indonesia, facing international protest over its dumping toxic mine waste into a river in the rainforest as well as violent conflicts over its operations there.

In Congo, the company had its own struggles as it moved to build Tenke Fungurume, displacing more than 1,500 residents in a haphazard process. But once the mine opened, it gained an unusual amount of respect for its commitment to worker safety, both among local officials and U.S. diplomats.

Worker safety is an issue at other industrial mines in Congo, but under Freeport, employees who violated rules were immediately disciplined or fired, safety officers said. Records examined by The Times show just one reported death among workers during the eight years Freeport-McMoRan ran the mine, although it repeatedly published accounts of near-fatal accidents as cautionary guides.

When safety inspectors discovered violations after China Molybdenum took over, they were sometimes told to overlook them, or offered bribes to do so, workers and supervisors said. And when they did try to enforce the rules, violence sometimes followed.

One safety officer said he was thrown to the ground by a worker he had called out for improperly using welding equipment. The man twisted his arm and broke his cellphone and work-issue camera.

An executive at Gécamines, the Congolese agency that is a minority shareholder in the mine, said employees had reported confrontations and safety problems to the agency’s board. Safety issues are now part of a broader review of China Molybdenum’s operations.

Mr. Zhou, the China Molybdenum spokesman, denied that any inspectors had been assaulted. The allegations, he suggested, were probably being fabricated by fired employees.

In a statement to The Times, he said the mine had “a robust occupational health and safety framework in place and continues to exercise its zero tolerance rules.” In fact, he said, “internal statistics” published in a company report this year showed that worker injuries had declined since the company took over.

But employees who said they had been repeatedly told not to report injuries believed the data was being fixed as part of a campaign to cover up rising hazards.

That suggestion, which The Times was not able to independently confirm and which China Molybdenum disputed, was crystallized for Mr. Makeba one evening last year when he received an urgent phone call. A worker at the mine had fallen from a high perch after not wearing the required safety harness, he said.

Mr. Makeba rushed to the site and was shocked to learn, he said, that the worker, who had broken his leg, had been taken to a private clinic instead of the mine’s.

Mr. Makeba said the employee told him that his supervisors had paid him to keep quiet so that it would not be reported to management, where it would show up on the company’s audited injury tally.

When Mr. Makeba alerted his own boss, he said, he was told to drop the matter.

Mr. Zhou rejected Mr. Makeba’s account, adding that “any form of cover-up in disclosures is against rules, and corporate values.”

But according to Mr. Makeba and another safety manager still working at the mine, labor conditions have become increasingly important to automakers sensitive to consumer and shareholder demands. So China Molybdenum, they said, has blocked them from reporting near fatalities and routinely ignored other injuries.

“Safety is just on paper now,” Mr. Makeba said.

Problems at Tenke Fungurume are not just limited to employees’ complaints inside the mine.

Freeport-McMoRan had struggled with trespassers who carted off bags of cobalt. Some even died when hand-dug tunnels flooded or collapsed.

With China Molybdenum in charge, the conflict became much worse.

The company, faced with thousands of newly arriving trespassers, asked the government to send soldiers to help control the situation, one executive who worked at the mine back then told The Times.

The military arrived and began patrolling Tenke Fungurume and other local mines, bulldozing depots where trespassers were selling their cobalt rocks to traders.

The troops remained for months, and the situation eventually turned deadly. A soldier at Tenke Fungurume opened fire, killing an unauthorized digger, according to an employee who told The Times he had witnessed the encounter.

Riots then erupted in the man’s home village when friends arrived carrying his body. In the melee, a protester was shot dead, according to three local officials and the mine employee.

China Molybdenum paid for the burials, they said.

Troops with AK-47s were posted outside the mine this year, along with security guards hired from a company founded by Erik Prince, the former Navy SEAL turned private security consultant.

Even as this crackdown on theft was underway, the new managers at the mine were looking for ways to cut costs while increasing production.

China Molybdenum said it had saved more than $130 million a year through its “cost and efficiency” programs. “New management revitalizes the business by bringing ‘Chinese efficiency and Chinese elements,’” the company boasts on its website.

China Molybdenum is steadily growing its output. Last December, it snatched up Kisanfu, paying Freeport-McMoRan $550 million for what is considered one of the world’s largest untapped supplies of cobalt. The ground underneath the site contains enough cobalt, according to China Molybdenum’s estimates, to power hundreds of millions of long-range Teslas.

And then in August, China Molybdenum announced plans to spend $2.5 billion at Tenke Fungurume to double production over the next two years. When the expansion is complete, the mine will produce nearly 40,000 tons a year. Last year, the United States produced just 600 tons.

This rush to expand, however, has drawn scrutiny from top government officials in Congo, reaching all the way to Mr. Tshisekedi, the president.

Questions have surfaced over payments Tenke Fungurume’s operators may owe to Congo, dating back to when the American company controlled the mine. When new deposits are confirmed at Tenke Fungurume, the owners are required to notify Gécamines, the Congolese agency, and pay $12 for every additional ton.

The accusations have provoked a bitter dispute between Congolese officials and the mine managers, with China Molybdenum’s spokesman calling the allegations “unbelievable, wrong calculations” based on an accounting error.

Gécamines executives have discussed forcing out the management at Tenke Fungurume or even taking the mine out of China Molybdenum’s control, according to two Congolese mining executives involved in confidential discussions as well as a government official briefed on the talks.

Robert North, a New Mexico-based geologist who has helped prepare reserve estimates at the mine for Freeport and China Molybdenum, said both companies as well as Gécamines knew of large amounts of cobalt underground at the site. China Molybdenum has been cautious in declaring it, he said, until the company knows it wants to go to the expense of extracting the deeper layers.

Mr. Tshisekedi’s commission is still investigating the allegations, and the president himself recently presided over a tense, six-hour meeting with top company executives.

Separately, the Congolese government, with financial assistance from the United States, is examining numerous mining contracts to determine whether Congo has been shortchanged more broadly. While the Chinese-funded infrastructure projects got off to a flashy start, many have not been built, officials said.

During a visit to the cobalt-mining region this year, the president acknowledged that corrupt or incompetent government officials in Congo might deserve some blame for deals that have left the nation feeling shortchanged.

“Some of our compatriots had badly negotiated the mining contracts,” he said. “I’m very harsh on these investors who come to enrich themselves alone. They come with empty pockets and leave as billionaires.”

Chinese government officials insist that the relationship is still on track and that the benefits to Congo are substantial.

The countries have a “longstanding friendship, and the bilateral practical cooperation has yielded fruitful win-win results and enjoys broad prospects,” Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference in September.

In an interview in Kinshasa, Mr. Tshisekedi said that his focus was not on which foreign power would dominate mining in Congo, but rather on how his country could share in the wealth generated by the clean energy revolution.

“We have an amazing potential for renewable energy, be it through our strategic metals or through our rivers,” he said, referring to both mining and hydroelectric power. “Our idea is, how can we put this amazing resource at the disposal of the world, but while making sure that it first benefits Congolese and it benefits Africans?”

Dionne Searcey reported from Kisanfu, Michael Forsythe from New York and Eric Lipton from Washington. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Shanghai.



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Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Is Highly Effective in 5- to 11-Year-Olds

Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Is Highly Effective in 5- to 11-Year-Olds


Pfizer reported data on Friday showing that its coronavirus vaccine had a 90.7 percent efficacy rate in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in a clinical trial of children ages 5 to 11.

The company submitted the information to the Food and Drug Administration, which was expected to release its own analysis of the data later in the day.

Children in the trial received a dose of 10 micrograms, smaller than the 30-microgram dose given to adults. The company said that the dosage was safe, and that trial participants had seen only mild side effects.

Of 2,268 children in the trial, twice as many were given the vaccine as received a placebo. Sixteen children who received the placebo got Covid-19, compared with three who received the vaccine.

The F.D.A. released the data before a meeting next week at which expert advisers to the F.D.A. will decide whether to recommend that the agency authorize the vaccine for children in this age group. Federal regulators have already made the vaccine available for those 12 and older.

If the F.D.A. authorizes the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 — a move that could help protect more than 28 million people in the United States — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will then make recommendations to the agency next month on how the shots should be administered.

According to federal data, 66 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, while 57 percent are fully vaccinated.



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Afghan Uyghurs Fear Taliban Will Deport Them to China

Afghan Uyghurs Fear Taliban Will Deport Them to China


Ibrahim’s parents fled political turmoil in China for Afghanistan more than 50 years ago. At that time, Mao Zedong had unleashed the Cultural Revolution, and life was upended for many Uyghurs, the mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang that included Ibrahim’s parents.

Ibrahim was born in Afghanistan. But now he, too, is trying to escape the clutches of Chinese authoritarianism.

He and his family have been afraid to leave their home in Afghanistan since the Taliban, the country’s new rulers, took control last month, venturing outside only to buy essentials. “We are extremely worried and nervous,” said Ibrahim, whose full name is being withheld for his safety. “Our children are worried for our safety, so they have asked us to stay home.”

For years, Chinese officials have issued calls for leaders in Afghanistan to crack down on and deport Uyghur militants they claimed were sheltering in Afghanistan. The officials said the fighters belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist organization that Beijing has held responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in China since the late 1990s.

The United States removed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement from its list of terrorist groups during the Trump administration, angering Beijing. But the Taliban, in their new role as diplomats, have been eager to establish warm relations with China, meeting most recently on Thursday with Chinese officials. Many Uyghurs in Afghanistan fear they will be branded terrorists and sent to China as pawns in the Taliban’s effort to win favor and economic aid from the country.

It is unclear whether Uyghurs in Afghanistan face an immediate threat to their safety, but some say they dread the future that would await them if they were sent to Xinjiang. Since 2017, the Chinese government has locked up close to a million Uyghurs in camps and subjected those outside to constant surveillance. China says the camps are necessary to weed out extremism and to “re-educate” the Uyghurs.

Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the Chinese government said it had received assurances from the insurgents that the country would not become a staging ground for terrorist attacks. Anxious Uyghurs in the country watched television footage of Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, standing side by side with leaders of the Taliban in July. Earlier this month, Mr. Wang pledged $30 million in food and other aid to the new government, as well as three million coronavirus vaccine doses; on Thursday, he said Afghanistan’s overseas assets “should not be unreasonably frozen or used as a bargaining chip to exert pressure,” obliquely referencing American control of billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank.

Since the late 1990s, Beijing has succeeded in pressuring several countries to deport Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, has counted 395 cases of Uyghurs being sent to China since 1997. The group said in an August report that journalists and human rights organizations have documented 40 cases of detentions or renditions from Afghanistan to China, though it has verified only one of them.

Khorsid Hasan, a Uyghur retiree living in Virginia, said that after she contacted the Uyghur Human Rights Project in August, the group wrote a letter to the State Department urging American officials to address the vulnerability of Uyghurs in Afghanistan. Uyghurs in the country “fear more for their lives than ever before,” Ms. Khorsid said in an interview. “They hope to be evacuated as soon as possible.”

The rights group’s letter to the State Department warned of the grave fear that the Taliban “will now make secret agreements with China to extradite Uyghurs to the P.R.C.”

The Uyghur population in Afghanistan is estimated to be around 2,000 to 3,000. They arrived in waves, some as early as the 18th century. Many are second-generation immigrants with few links to China. Their parents joined an outflow of refugees from Xinjiang in the late 1970s, ending up in neighboring Afghanistan, where they settled and had families.

Those families are once again seeking to uproot their lives. Even though they are Afghan citizens, their identity cards show that they are either Chinese refugees or members of the ethnic group, making them easy to track should the Taliban decide to round them up.

The Taliban did not respond to requests for comment.

In the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Mohammad, a 39-year-old Uyghur farmer whose full name has been withheld to avoid reprisals, said he was so desperate to flee Afghanistan with his young family that he contacted human traffickers to help them get into Iran. He was told that it was impossible to do with the Taliban in charge, he said.

He has also contacted exile Uyghur groups in Germany and Turkey, and organizations providing refugee assistance in the United States and Canada with no success, he said.

Well before the Taliban took control, life was difficult for Uyghurs in Afghanistan, who often faced discrimination. Ibrahim, 54, said he kept a low profile as a businessman. “We tried our best to erase our identity as Uyghurs,” he said.

He and his wife, who is also Uyghur, live with their two daughters, 28 and 20, and a 25-year-old son, who has a 1-year-old baby. He said his children were depressed and passed their days surviving on food that they had stored away before the government collapsed.

Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan has been battered by food and cash shortages. People have been unable to withdraw money from banks. Grocery prices have shot up. The Taliban have also looked to China for help avoiding a possible economic collapse.

Andrew Small, a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund who studies China’s policy in Afghanistan, said the Taliban had not previously demonstrated an “obvious willingness” to hand over Uyghurs to the Chinese, though he believed their fears were legitimate.

“The lines are blurred on China’s part between who constitutes a terrorist and who constitutes someone who has simply been politically active,” Mr. Small said. “Individuals who are politically and economically connected with any activities they find problematic” are likely to be targeted, he said.

The uncertain future of Uyghurs in Afghanistan has caught the attention of Abdul Aziz Naseri, a Uyghur activist who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in Turkey. Mr. Abdul Aziz said he had compiled a list of roughly 500 Afghan Uyghurs who want to leave the country.

“They say to me: ‘Please save our future, please save our children,’” he said.

He shared the names and photographs of these people with The New York Times, but asked that their information be kept private. At least 73 people on the list appeared to be under the age of 5.

Shabnam, a 32-year-old Uyghur, her mother and two sisters managed to get out of Afghanistan last month. The women rushed to the airport in Kabul during the frenzied United States evacuation. Her sisters boarded one flight, her mother another. Shabnam said she was the last to leave.

In an interview, she described being separated from her husband while getting through the chaotic security lines at the airport. She was holding his passport and begged the security guards to deliver it to him. No one helped, she said.

Shabnam waited for her husband for four days, while the people around her at the airport encouraged her to leave.

She finally did — boarding a U.S. military plane with hundreds of other Afghans late last month. Her trip took her to Qatar, Germany and finally the United States, where she landed on Aug. 26. She is now in New Jersey and still trying to get her husband out of Afghanistan.

“I was happy that I got out of there, thank God,” Shabnam said. “I like it here. It’s safe and secure.”

Nilo Tabrizy contributed reporting.



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Did the War in Afghanistan Have to Happen?

Did the War in Afghanistan Have to Happen?


Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, was adamant that although the Taliban had been left out of Bonn, they should at least be included in the next step in forming a transitional government: a loya jirga, bringing together tribes, sub-tribes and other groups to determine the country’s way forward.

A few people close to the Taliban ideologically, but not part of the group, brought binders with their nominees’ resumes to a United Nations office where rising Afghan leaders were reviewing potential representatives. But some of the potential representatives were dismissed as terrorists and later detained, and one was shipped to the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, where he spent more than six years even though he had never supported the Taliban, Mr. Rubin said.

“A number of Afghans with the Taliban offered to surrender and, when they did, we put them in prison, in Bagram and Guantánamo, and there was never any discussion if that was a good idea,” recalled Mr. Dobbins, who worked with the transitional Afghan government.

At the time, he said, “I was dismissive of the idea that the Taliban would ever be a factor in postwar Afghanistan. I thought they had been so beaten and brushed aside that they would never come back.”

Looking back, he said: “I should have known. But what we didn’t understand, didn’t pick up on for five years, was that Pakistan had abandoned the Taliban government, but had not abandoned the Taliban. That was a critical distinction. So they could re-recruit, re-fund, re-train and project themselves back into Afghanistan. That was a major missed opportunity.”

While it is not clear that a deal with the Taliban in 2001 would have been possible — or that the Taliban would have kept their word — some former diplomats say that by repeatedly shutting the door to talks, the United States may have closed off its best chance of avoiding a prolonged and extremely costly war.



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Nepal Covid Crisis Worsens as Workers Pay the Price

Nepal Covid Crisis Worsens as Workers Pay the Price


KATHMANDU, Nepal — Ram Singh Karki escaped the first wave of India’s pandemic by boarding a crowded bus and crossing the border home to Nepal. Months later, as the rate of new infections fell, he returned to his job at a printing press in New Delhi, which had sustained his family for two decades and helped pay the school fees of his three children.

Then India was swept by a second wave, and Mr. Karki wasn’t as lucky.

He was infected last month. Hospitals in New Delhi were overwhelmed. When his oxygen level dropped, his manager arranged for an ambulance to take him back to the border. He crossed into Nepal, carrying with him just the clothes on his back — and the virus.

Nepal is now considering declaring a health emergency as the virus rampages virtually unchecked across the impoverished nation of 30 million people. Carried by returning migrant workers and others, a vicious second wave has stretched the country’s medical system beyond its meager limits.

Nepal has recorded half a million Covid cases and 6,000 deaths, numbers that experts believe deeply undercount the toll. Testing remains limited. One figure could indicate the true severity: For weeks now, about 40 percent of the tests conducted have been positive.

A government in disarray has compounded the trouble. K.P. Sharma Oli, Nepal’s embattled prime minister, has been pushing for an election in November after the country’s Parliament was dissolved this month, an event that could worsen the spread.

This past week Hridyesh Tripathi, Nepal’s minister for health and population, said the government was considering declaring a health emergency as infections rise.

But such a declaration could be caught up in politics. The move would allow officials to limit people’s movements — a level of control that opposition groups worry could be used to quell dissent.

In the meantime, officials in Kathmandu, the capital, have urged people to store food for at least a week and stay home.

The impact is rippling beyond those infected. Remittances from migrant workers have slowed. Tourism and the economy have been damaged.

“Millions of people continue to feel the increasing pressure not just with the direct health impact of Covid-19, but also with food, jobs, medical bills, kids out of school, payback loans, mental pressure, and much more,” said Ayshanie Medagangoda Labe, the resident representative of the United Nations Development Program in Nepal.

Nepal’s close relationship with India helped make it vulnerable. India has long been its most important trade and transit partner. The two nations share a deep cultural bond across a porous 1,100-mile border. Nepal’s devastation mirrors that of its big neighbor — from patients spilling out into hospital corridors and onto lawns, to long lines at oxygen refilling facilities, to a government unprepared for crisis.

Officials say laborers like Mr. Karki who were forced to come home by the second wave brought the virus with them. Villages along the border are some of the worst hit. Nepal’s health ministry said about 97 percent of the cases sent for genome sequencing show the B.1.617.2 variant found in India, which the World Health Organization has classified as a “variant of global concern.”

Nepal’s leaders were unprepared. During India’s first wave last year, when about one million Nepali migrant workers returned home, Nepal instituted testing and quarantine measures at border crossings.

But during this spring’s second wave, those measures were too little too late. By the time Nepal shut two-thirds of its border crossings in early May, hundreds of thousands of laborers had made it back, trickling into their villages without proper testing or quarantine. Thousands continue to return daily.

The government’s attention had shifted elsewhere. In February, when the virus seemed to be in retreat, Mr. Oli held rallies of thousands of supporters in Kathmandu and other cities. Opposition parties held their own rallies. Last year, Mr. Oli said the health of the Nepali people would deter the disease.

The government’s defenders say that the pandemic is a global problem and that officials are doing the best they can with few resources or vaccines.

Mr. Oli has called for international aid, though it won’t be enough to meet Nepal’s needs. China has donated 800,000 vaccine doses, 20,000 oxygen cylinders and 100 ventilators. The United States and Spain have sent planeloads of medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators, antigen tests, face masks and surgical gloves. The United States provided $15 million this month to scale up Nepal’s Covid testing. Nepali migrant workers in Persian Gulf nations have arranged for oxygen cylinders to be sent home.

But Nepal can’t fight the pandemic without help from India. Already, an Indian vaccine manufacturer has told Nepal it can’t deliver a promised one million doses.

Nepal is also dependent on India for half of its medical equipment needs, according to the Chemical and Medical Suppliers Association of Nepal, but the latter country is keeping just about everything for its own urgent domestic needs. Equipment from China, already costly, has become more difficult to obtain because of Chinese pandemic restrictions.

“For a month now, India has stopped the supply of medical equipment and medicine also, not just vaccines,” said Suresh Ghimirey, the association’s president.

In some provinces that experienced the return of many migrant laborers in India, hospitals have run out of beds. In Surkhet district, the main provincial hospital said that it couldn’t admit more patients. Small outlying villages are quietly mourning their dead. Testing has been slow.

“Except a few villagers, many are unable to come out and do daily agricultural work,” said Jhupa Ram Lamsal, ward chief of the village of Gauri, where nine people died of Covid over 10 days earlier this month. “The worrying thing is that even symptomatic people aren’t ready for Covid tests.”

Mr. Lamsal said he had recently reached Gauri, which is remote and lacks health facilities, along with a team of doctors to conduct antigen tests. Locals turned down health professionals’ plea for Covid tests, he said, arguing they would be dispirited if they found out they were positive.

“The situation is out of control,” Mr. Lamsal said. “We are hopeless, helpless.”

Mr. Kakri, the printing press worker, hailed from a village in the Bhimdatta Municipality, in Nepal’s western corner. The area of 110,000 people has officially recorded 3,600 infections, according to the health chief there, Narendra Joshi. But lack of measures at the border mean that the data may not fully measure the severity.

“More than 38,000 people have returned from one of the two border points in the district since the second wave started in India,” said Mr. Joshi. “It’s hard to manage them.”

Mr. Karki was a high school dropout who went to India to work as a laborer when he was still a teenager, his wife, Harena Devi Karki, said. On his visits home twice a year, he was the life of gatherings — cracking jokes, making fun. The $350 a month he sent home covered his family’s household costs as well as the private school fees of their two teenage daughters and a 12-year-old son.

Even when the lockdown last year meant Mr. Karki was stuck at home for months with no earnings, he insisted the children continue with private school. He would repay the debts once the printing press opened again. He dreamed of seeing his eldest daughter — “she’s the most talented” — grow up to be a doctor.

“I couldn’t complete my studies,” Ms. Karki remembers her husband saying. “Let me eat less, but we should send them to a better school for their education.”

When Mr. Karki received her husband at the border around 2:30 a.m. on April 29, she said, he was frail and lacked the energy to even stand up. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.

“‘Everything is OK. Go home,’” her husband told her, Ms. Karki said. “But he never came home.”



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Decorating Scandal Engulfs Boris Johnson and Puts Fiancée in Spotlight

Decorating Scandal Engulfs Boris Johnson and Puts Fiancée in Spotlight


LONDON — Of all the unsavory ethical questions swirling around Prime Minister Boris Johnson these days, the one that has stuck is how he paid for the costly makeover of his apartment in Downing Street. And it has put his 33-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, under a particularly scorching spotlight.

Mr. Johnson has been accused in news reports of secretly using funds from a Conservative Party donor to supplement his public budget for redecorating the apartment — a charge that, although Mr. Johnson says he has repaid the money, has prompted an investigation by Britain’s Electoral Commission. But it is Ms. Symonds and her purportedly expensive taste in wallpaper and designer furniture that has become a running theme on social media and in British tabloids.

“#CarrieAntoinette” is trending as a Twitter hashtag, while the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, had himself photographed studying wallpaper at the British department store John Lewis — a labored stunt meant to make light of reports that Ms. Symonds derided the Downing Street décor left by Mr. Johnson’s no-nonsense predecessor, Theresa May, as a “John Lewis furniture nightmare.”

Never mind that Ms. Symonds has not actually been quoted saying anything about John Lewis. The reference, in a profile of her in Tatler magazine, is attributed to an unnamed person who once visited her in the apartment. Tatler did report that Ms. Symonds oversaw the renovation project, and her involvement means she, too, may have to turn over evidence to the Electoral Commission.

For Ms. Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications chief who now works for an animal-rights group, it is the latest trial in a year overstuffed with dramatics: the near-fatal illness of Mr. Johnson after he contracted the coronavirus; the birth of their son, Wilfred; and the bitter purging of Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, in which she is reported to have played a behind-the-scenes role.

It all has put Ms. Symonds at the heart of a familiar narrative, one replete with sexism and double standards: the grasping, manipulative politician’s partner. She joins a parade of women, from Hillary Clinton to Cherie Blair, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose murmurings to their men were the subject of fevered suspicion.

The fact that her relationship with Mr. Johnson coincided with the breakup of his 25-year marriage, and that she became the first unmarried partner to move into Downing Street, only adds to Ms. Symonds’ tabloid portrayal as a libertine Lady Macbeth or an upwardly mobile Marie Antoinette — choose your cliché.

“The outsized fascination with Carrie Symonds’ role in the prime minister’s circle reflects outdated sexist tropes that regard women in positions of influence as inherently devious,” said Sophia Gaston, director of the British Foreign Policy Group and a research fellow at the London School of Economics.

Her defenders say that as an accomplished political player in her own right, Ms. Symonds has no less right to offer advice to the prime minister than any other unpaid adviser — and he would be wise to take it.

And yet, others say, there are legitimate questions to ask about Ms. Symonds’ influence, which goes beyond the news media’s obsessive focus on home improvements at Downing Street. Her ardent defense of animal rights was reported to have contributed to the government’s decision to halt a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, which contradicted the advice of scientists and veterinarians.

Friends of Ms. Symonds have been installed in key positions in Downing Street and, in the telling of Mr. Cummings, protected by her even after evidence of wrongdoing. On his blog, he claimed that Mr. Johnson wanted to shut down a leak investigation after it became clear that the culprit was Henry Newman, a close adviser to Ms. Symonds.

Mr. Cummings quoted Mr. Johnson as saying to him, “If Newman is confirmed as the leaker, then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie, as they’re best friends.”

Downing Street has denied that Mr. Johnson tried to shut down the investigation, but it did not comment about Ms. Symonds’ role.

Her defenders say she has a savvy political sense and could well have aspired to a seat in Parliament if she hadn’t begun a relationship with Mr. Johnson. To the extent that she is giving him advice, some say, it is helpful: cutting loose Mr. Cummings and other hard-core Brexiteers softened the prime minister’s image and improved his popularity before the recent ethics issues pulled him back to his more familiar role as a political scalawag.

“She was fantastic — she is very loyal and was hugely supportive,” said John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary for whom Ms. Symonds served as a special adviser. He described her as “a strongly committed Conservative” and a “very strong Brexit supporter” at a time when that was a less popular position.

“The people who are attacking Carrie clearly see a route to damage the prime minister by attacking her,” he said.

Ms. Symonds labors under a few handicaps, one of which is the lack of a job description for a prime minister’s partner. The role has no constitutional status, and unlike that of first lady in the United States, little administrative support. Successful spouses have usually had strong identities outside Downing Street.

Margaret Thatcher’s husband, Denis, was a businessman, as is Mrs. May’s husband, Philip. David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, ran a fashion company, while Ms. Blair, who once had her own political ambitions, worked as a high-level barrister during her husband’s decade in office. Though Ms. Blair’s influence came under criticism early on, the scrutiny subsided as she built a flourishing legal career.

“She always knew she could go back to her job at the bar, which made it less demeaning to be the appendage,” said Fiona Millar, a journalist and onetime aide to Ms. Blair. Ms. Symonds, she said, “doesn’t seem to have that life outside politics, which the people who’ve been successful at it did have.”

The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a co-founder of The Independent newspaper, and a lawyer for the paper, Josephine McAfee, Ms. Symonds was raised by her mother (both parents were married to other people at the time).

Her young adulthood was deeply affected by an incident in 2007 when she was targeted by a taxi driver who served her spiked drinks while driving her home. Ms. Symonds testified against the man, John Worboys, who was jailed as a serial sexual predator.

Well connected and social, Ms. Symonds became a public relations aide for the Conservative Party, eventually rising to chief communications officer, where she encountered Mr. Johnson. The couple had hoped to get married last summer, after his divorce from Marina Wheeler became final, but delayed the date because of coronavirus restrictions.

Life in Downing Street is less glamorous than it might appear, Ms. Millar said. While the job comes with a spacious Westminster apartment, a baronial weekend home, Chequers, and an annual decorating budget of £30,000 ($41,600), the government does not pay for food or household staff. Outside of public occasions, the couple are expected to cook for themselves or get takeout.

Living above the office, as Mr. Johnson struggled with the pandemic and his own illness, was challenging, people who know Ms. Symonds said. She contracted Covid herself, while pregnant, and then cared for their baby while Mr. Johnson, 56, was still shaking off his illness.

“There were times last week that were very dark indeed,” Ms. Symonds tweeted after he was released from an intensive care unit. Despite that, she retained her interest in environmental protection.

“Since having Wilf & not being able to get to the shops during lockdown,” she posted four months later, “I’ve relied on Amazon for lots of baby essentials, but I’ve been dismayed at the amount of plastic packaging. Please sign this petition to ask Amazon to give us plastic-free options too.”

Political commentators say they see Ms. Symonds’ fingerprints in Mr. Johnson’s embrace of green policies. They say she has played to his pragmatic instincts by nudging him toward a more conciliatory politics.

Few prime ministerial partners have been so deeply immersed in politics. Not only does she know the Conservative Party well, she also has strong contacts among its lawmakers, political journalists and the special advisers who play a powerful role in Downing Street and elsewhere in the government.

Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said people have questioned Ms. Symonds’ influence “because of her specific insights and connections and background as a political operative and because of Boris Johnson’s malleability, and the fact that no one is sure what in his head.”

Some of the uneasiness about Ms. Symonds is as much about Mr. Johnson as her. With few fixed positions and a lack of ideological moorings, he leaves the impression that his decisions can be swayed by those with greatest access to him. During a year of lockdowns, that circle sometimes shrank to Ms. Symonds.

“The reason we’re fussing over this is that we think we have an inadequate figure as prime minister,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who is a senior research fellow at the U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London think tank. “If we thought we had a really good prime minister, would we really care who his spouse is, beyond hoping he has a happy personal life?”



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Women Are Calling Out ‘Rape Culture’ in U.K. Schools

Women Are Calling Out ‘Rape Culture’ in U.K. Schools


LONDON — For weeks, the harrowing anonymous testimonies have poured in, one after another.

Accusations of sexual assault of girls as young as 9. Girls shamed by classmates after intimate photos were circulated without their consent. One girl was blamed by classmates after she reported being raped at a party.

On a platform called Everyone’s Invited, thousands of young women and girls in Britain have recently been sharing frank accounts of sexual violence, sexism and misogyny during their time as students — accusations of everything including criminal sexual attacks to coercive encounters to verbal harassment to unwanted touching — offering raw and unfiltered discussions of their personal trauma.

But when taken together, the accusations paint a troubling picture of widespread sexual violence by students both within the school walls and outside, particularly at parties. In addition to reports of violence, the accounts also included claims of sexism and misogyny.

“This is a real problem,” said Soma Sara, the 22-year-old Londoner who founded Everyone’s Invited. “Rape culture is real.”

The powerful testimonies, while heart breaking and often infuriating, are unfiltered and remain unconfirmed. But they have nevertheless exploded into a national examination of sexual violence in schools, highlighting what accusers call a toxic culture of shame, silencing and victim blaming that they say school officials have done little or nothing to combat. And it comes amid a broader reckoning in Britain after the killing of Sarah Everard, whose abduction from a London street in early March set off a national conversation about violence women face.

Schools, local and national officials have begun investigations. On Wednesday, the government tasked an education body with conducting an immediate review of safeguarding policies in both public and private schools.

Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council leader for child protection, told the BBC on Monday, “We have a real problem here.”

A helpline will be launched on Thursday, and criminal allegations investigated, the Department of Education said. London’s Metropolitan Police encouraged victims to report crimes to the authorities.

While the accounts omit the names of both victims and perpetrators, they identify the schools the students attended, whether the alleged assaults took place on school grounds or elsewhere. Some were prestigious private schools that soon made headlines.

Current and former students at elite institutions — including Dulwich College, King’s College School, Highgate School, Latymer Upper School and more — have now written open letters to school leaders by name, detailing a culture of silence and victim blaming. In one instance, a former student said she was discouraged from taking legal action in a sexual assault case. In another, girls described being groped in a school hallway.

King’s College School and Highgate School issued statements saying they have begun independent reviews of the accusations and school policies, and Latymer Upper School said it had encouraged students to come to school authorities directly. Some of the schools named did not respond directly to requests for comment, but in local news reports similarly said they were taking the matter seriously and investigating in some cases.

Accusations of sexual abuse are not the province only of elite prep schools. Dozens of schools, universities and state-run schools have been named, though testimonies received after March 23 no longer identify the institutions. The thousands of stories speak to a pervasive problem facing young women and girls, Ms. Sara said, adding she hoped the focus on certain prominent schools would not distract attention from the bigger issues.

“If we point the finger at a person, at a place, at a demographic, you’re actually making it seem like these cases are rare or just anomalies, when really, they’re not rare,” she said.

Experts agree that the accounts, while troubling, are part of a long overdue conversation about attitudes and behavior around gender and sexuality at institutions that have the effect of normalizing and trivializing sexual violence, or rape culture.

Aisha K. Gill, a professor of criminology at the University of Roehampton in London and an expert on violence against women and girls, said that the “tsunami of disclosures” highlighted a need for change and for accountability, and that it was “unreasonable to say it’s just happening in private schools.”

But she stressed that schools have to examine every accusation to determine whether a criminal act took place and whether it was addressed.

The schools themselves “have a duty of care in terms of their function, and there’s a duty there to safeguard and promote the welfare of all pupils,” she said. “So something is going badly wrong.”

The killing of Ms. Everard became a symbol of all the women who have been attacked but whose cases have gone largely unnoticed. Much of the discussion revolved around shifting the focus from women needing to protect themselves to the responsibility of the police, institutions and men to collectively bear the burden of ensuring safety.

It was against this backdrop that Ms. Sara posed a question this month on the Everyone’s Invited Instagram account and website she started last year, as she grappled with her own experiences of sexual violence while a student.

She asked if others had experienced sexual violence during their school years or knew someone who had. Nearly every respondent said yes.

While the accounts vary, and are anonymous and unverified, the sheer numbers — more than 11,500 and counting — could not easily be ignored. When she shared the accounts, Ms. Sara withheld the names of the victims and the accused, but not the schools they attended.

“We did feel that an important place where rape culture is pervasive is in schools, and we felt all schools have a responsibility of safeguarding their children,” Ms. Sara said. “These are incredibly formative years.”

Many of the accusations “might not reach the threshold for criminality,” but were distressing nevertheless, Jess Phillips, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, told the BBC this week. She said the onus was on the government to collect data about sexual violence in schools, saying it had failed to act on a recommendation to do just that after a 2016 inquiry.

“We need a better inspection regime, we need to have a proper inquiry, we need the government to actually be collecting the data — they’re not actually currently collecting this data anywhere,” Ms. Phillips said.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said in a statement that the accusations were “shocking and abhorrent” and that they must be dealt with properly.

“While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward,” he said.

Government agencies and the police are in contact with Everyone’s Invited to provide support to those who are reporting abuse.

Sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults often go unreported worldwide, so crime data can give only a partial picture of the scale of the problem. But in Britain other statistics show that sexual violence against school-age girls and young women is endemic.

Data released this month by Britain’s Office of National Statistics showed that women and girls aged 16 to 19 were the most common victims of sexual assault in England and Wales, followed by women aged 20 to 24. The statistics also show that Black people and people with mixed ethnicity in England and Wales were even more likely to be sexually assaulted.

A new survey from Plan International UK, a children’s charity, showed that 58 percent of girls ages 14 to 21 in Britain have been publicly sexually harassed in their learning environments.

Ms. Sara and other activists in Britain are not alone in using social media to call out sexual violence in school settings. In Australia, amid a broader national conversation about violence against women, Chanel Contos, 23, started an online petition in February that included thousands of testimonies of sexual violence among students.

The petition called for an overhaul of sex education with a holistic, early and consent-based approach and is being discussed in the Australian Parliament.

“The fact that two girls on opposite sides of the world, who didn’t know each other, experienced the exact same thing,” is telling, Ms. Contos said in an interview.

Dr. Gill, the criminology professor in London, pointed out that conversations about rape culture in institutions — or environments where attitudes or behavior about gender and sexuality have the effect of normalizing and trivializing sexual violence, like assault or rape — are not new. Successive waves of the feminist movement have called attention to it, she said.

But schools have a duty to safeguard students, she said, from creating safe spaces for victims of sexual violence to come forward to educating other students about their behavior.

“How do they teach choice?” Dr. Gill said. “How do they teach respect? How do they encourage young people to build healthy relationships?”

She noted that sex education curriculum should focus on intersectionality and consent. “I think there’s an opportunity now for transformative change.”





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Myanmar Soldiers, Aiming to Silence Coup Protests, Target Journalists

Myanmar Soldiers, Aiming to Silence Coup Protests, Target Journalists


Ten days after seizing power in Myanmar, the generals issued their first command to journalists: Stop using the words “coup,” “regime” and “junta” to describe the military’s takeover of the government. Few reporters heeded the Orwellian directive, and the junta embraced a new goal — crushing all free expression.

Since then, the regime has arrested at least 56 journalists, outlawed online news outlets known for hard-edge reporting and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded while taking photographs of the anti-coup demonstrations.

With professional journalists under pressure, many young people who came of age during a decade of social media and information sharing in Myanmar have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to help document the military’s brutality. They take photographs and videos with their phones and share them online when they get access. It is a role so common now they are known simply as “CJs.”

“They are targeting professional journalists so our country needs more CJs,” said Ma Thuzar Myat, one of the citizen journalists. “I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.”

Ms. Thuzar Myat, 21, noted that few people were able to document the protests in 1988, when the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, stamped out a pro-democracy movement by massacring an estimated 3,000 people. She said she saw it as her duty to help capture evidence of today’s violence even though one soldier had already threatened to kill her if she didn’t stop.

The regime’s apparent goal is to turn back the clock to a time when the military ruled the country, the media was firmly in its grip and only the wealthiest people had access to cellphones and the internet. But the new generation of young people who grew up with the internet say they are not giving up their freedoms without a fight.

“What we are witnessing is an all-out assault on the centers of democracy and liberty,” said U Swe Win, co-founder and editor in chief of Myanmar Now, one of the banned outlets. “We are very concerned that Myanmar will become North Korea. They will crush any form of information gathering and sharing.”

The Tatmadaw has a history of suppressing opposition. When it seized control in 1962, it reigned for nearly half a century before deciding to share power with elected civilian leaders and opening the country to the outside world.

In 2012, under a new quasi-civilian government, inexpensive cellphones began flooding in and Facebook became the dominant online forum. A vibrant media sprouted online and newsstands overflowed with competing papers.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, protests have erupted almost daily — often with young people at the forefront — and a broad-based civil disobedience movement has brought the economy to a virtual halt. In response, soldiers and the police have killed at least 536 people.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, the special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that “a blood bath is imminent.” The regime has arrested thousands, including the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On Thursday, one of her lawyers said she had been charged with violating the official secrets act, adding to a list of alleged offenses.

While the U.N. Security Council has not penalized Myanmar’s military, it has spoken in increasingly negative terms about the repression. In a statement issued Thursday evening, the council “expressed deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation and strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children.”

While the military uses state-owned media to spread its propaganda and fire off warnings, attacks on journalists have increased drastically in recent weeks, as have arrests.

To keep from being targeted, journalists have stopped wearing helmets or vests emblazoned with the word “PRESS” and try to blend in with the protesters. Many also keep a low profile by not receiving credit for their published work and avoiding sleeping in their own homes. Even so, their professional-quality cameras can give them away.

At the same time, soldiers and the police routinely search civilians’ phones for protest photographs or videos.

“If you are arrested with video clips, you can go to prison,” said U Myint Kyaw, who was secretary of the Myanmar Press Council, an independent advocacy organization for the news media, before quitting in protest in February along with most of the board.

At a recent news conference, a spokesman for the junta said it was up to journalists to avoid behavior that could be construed as breaking the law.

“Only the journalist’s action itself can guarantee that they will not be arrested,” said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun. “If their actions violate the law, then they will be arrested.” All three journalists who have been shot and wounded say they were targeted by security forces.

The freelance journalist Ko Htet Myat Thu, 24, was taking pictures of protests on Saturday in Kyaikto, a town in southern Myanmar, when a soldier shot him in the leg, he said. A video of his arrest taken by a citizen journalist from a nearby building shows soldiers beating him and forcing him to hop on his good leg as they lead him away.

Another photojournalist shot that day, U Si Thu, 36, was hit in his left hand as he was holding his camera to his face and photographing soldiers in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city. He said he believes the soldier who shot him was aiming for his head.

“I had two cameras,” he said, “so it was obvious that I am a photojournalist even though I had no press helmet or vest.”

“I’m sure that the military junta is targeting journalists because they know we are showing the world the reality on the ground and they want to stop us by arresting or killing us,” he added.

Of the 56 journalists arrested, half have been released, according to a group that is tracking arrests. Among those freed were reporters for The Associated Press and the BBC.

But 28 remain in custody, including at least 15 who face prison sentences of up to three years under an unusual law that prohibits the dissemination of information that might induce military officers to disregard or fail in their duties.

Ma Kay Zon Nway, 27, a reporter for Myanmar Now, live streamed her own arrest in late February as she was running from the police in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Her video shows the police firing in the air as protesters flee. The sound of her labored breathing is audible as the police catch up and take her away.

She is among those who have been charged under the vague and sweeping statute. She has been allowed to meet just once in person with her lawyer.

Mr. Swe Win, the Myanmar Now editor, himself served seven years in prison for protesting in 1998. “All these court proceedings are being done just for the sake of formality,” he said, adding, “We cannot expect any fair treatment.”

With mobile communications blocked, Facebook banned and nightly internet shutdowns, Myanmar’s mainstream media has come to rely on citizen journalists for videos and news tips, said Mr. Myint Kyaw, the former press council secretary.

One of them, Ko Aung Aung Kyaw, 26, was taking videos of the police arresting people in his Yangon neighborhood when an officer spotted him. The officer swore at him, aimed his rifle and fired, Mr. Aung Aung Kyaw’s video shows.

The bullet hit a wall in front of him.

“I know that recording these kinds of things is very risky and I might get shot to death or arrested,” he said. “But I believe I need to keep doing it for the sake of having a record of evidence to punish them.”

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.





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