New Holographic Technology Provides Transportive Experience

A company in suburban Washington, D.C., is using cutting-edge technology to create lifelike video avatars to drop into music and training videos, games and other immersive environments. It’s an entry point to the so-called metaverse, as VOA’s Arzouma Kompaoré discovered while touring Avatar Dimension’s new studio.

Turkey Eyes Economic Bonanza in Nagorno-Karabakh

As Armenia and Azerbaijan mark the one-year anniversary of the start of their campaign in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Baku is vowing to rebuild the region, and Turkish companies see an economic bonanza. Dorian Jones in Istanbul reports.

London Policeman Sentenced to Life for Sarah Everard Murder

A London Metropolitan Police officer has been sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty in July to the murder of Sarah Everard, whose disappearance and death in March sparked nationwide grief and outrage.

Wayne Couzens confessed to abducting Everard on the evening of March 3, 2021, during a 50-minute walk home from her friend’s house in south London. Prosecutors said he falsely accused her of violating COVID-19 restrictions to lure her into his car.  

Everard’s body was discovered a week later near Ashford in County Kent, about 90 kilometers southeast of London.  

Following Couzen’s sentencing Thursday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick told reporters she was “absolutely horrified” Couzens used his position as a police officer to deceive and coerce Everard into his vehicle. She said his actions were “a gross betrayal of everything policing stands for.” 

 

She said she knows for some, the bond of trust in the police has been damaged, but she pledged the police department’s dedication to the public remains undiminished.  

Sarah Everard’s disappearance caused a nationwide outcry in Britain, with thousands expressing grief and anger regarding the safety of women in London and elsewhere. Women also then began sharing experiences of being threatened or attacked – or simply facing the everyday fear of violence when walking alone.

The incident prompted British opposition Labour Party lawmaker Jess Phillips to pay tribute to the 118 women in Britain who have died at the hands of men over the last 12 months by reading their names aloud in Britain’s House of Commons.

 

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Editor Who Investigated Navalny Poisoning Says Russia Declares Him Wanted Man

The editor of a Russian news outlet that angered the Kremlin with its investigations, including into the poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, said the authorities had declared him a wanted man.

Roman Dobrokhotov, editor-in-chief of The Insider, told Reuters the authorities had accused him of illegally crossing the border to leave Russia.

He said he was currently outside Russia and did not want to disclose his location. He did not say how he had left Russia.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. There was no other confirmation of Dobrokhotov’s status from the authorities.

Media outlets and journalists critical of the authorities faced mounting pressure before a parliamentary election this month and the campaign against people the authorities deem as threats to political stability shows no signs of letting up.

The Insider angered authorities by helping identify state security officials it said were behind the poisoning of Navalny in August last year. The Kremlin denies any responsibility for Navalny falling ill.

The Insider is one of several media outlets that Russia has this year declared “foreign agent” media, a designation that carries negative Soviet-era connotations, affects advertising revenue and imposes labeling requirements on the outlets.

The Kremlin denies media outlets are targeted for political reasons. It says action against them is solely based on the law and media labeled as foreign agents can continue their work in Russia.

On Thursday morning, police searched two Moscow apartments belonging to Dobrokhotov’s family and parents and seized mobile phones and computers, Dobrokhoyov said on Twitter. Police officers also took his wife in for questioning, The Insider reported.

His lawyer Yulia Kuznetsova told Reuters he had been declared a wanted man on Sept. 23.

Dobrokhotov said police confiscated his passport in July after officers searched his home and named him as a witness in an unrelated slander case.

He accused the police of acting illegally by taking his passport and told Reuters he had every right to travel outside Russia. He also said he considered the allegation he had illegally crossed the border to be absurd.

“This is obviously a tool to put pressure on me in the first place and secondly an attempt to find out where I am and what kind of investigations I am currently engaged in,” he said.

Dobrokhotov earlier this month accused the Russian state of destroying the media and said he and his colleagues faced a choice about whether to leave Russia or stay and become political prisoners.

Dobrokhotov attended a conference in Estonia’s Tallinn in early September that was attended by allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Belarus Blocks News Site After Deaths of Dissident, KGB

Belarusian authorities on Wednesday blocked access to another news site, the latest in a series of steps restricting independent media in the country after it was shaken by a wave of anti-government protests.

The Belarusian Ministry of Information blocked access to the Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus website, the Belarusian subsidiary of a popular Russian newspaper of the same name. The ministry didn’t provide any reasons for the decision to block the popular website, which is visited by some 20,000 users daily.

The access to it was restricted several hours after it ran a story about an alleged shootout in an apartment in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, during which two people — an opposition supporter and a KGB officer — were killed. The news outlet published a comment from the opposition supporter’s friend, who described him a positive light.

Belarusian authorities reported the incident on Tuesday night, alleging that “an especially dangerous criminal” opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities.” Authorities said one of the KGB officers was killed and the perpetrator was killed by “retaliatory fire.”

Footage aired by Belarusian state TV channels showed men in plainclothes, trying to break into an apartment.

The authorities haven’t revealed the name of the man that allegedly shot at the security officers, but said his wife, who was in the apartment at the time, was arrested.

State news agency Belta reported that “members of an extremist group with ties to the opposition, supposedly, lived in the apartment.” 

Belarus’ authorities often referred to protesters at anti-government demonstrations last year as “extremists” and “terrorists.” The huge protests came after election officials gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in the August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and the West have denounced as a sham.

Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and badly beating thousands of them.

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, identified the man killed as opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser, 32-year-old employee of one of the biggest IT companies in Belarus. Tsikhanouskaya called his death “a tragedy” in a statement Wednesday.

The chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vladimir Sungorkin, said Wednesday that access to its Belarusian website was blocked after it ran a short story containing “four sentences” from the man’s classmate “about the fact that he was good guy when they studied together, always stood up for the truth.” Sungorkin added that it has become “very difficult” for journalists to work in Belarus.

After the disputed presidential election last year, authorities in Belarus have shut down the biggest independent media outlets, blocked access to popular news sites and targeted journalists with raids and detentions.

A total of 27 journalists in Belarus are currently behind bars, either already convicted and sentenced or awaiting trials. 

Russia Threatens YouTube Block After RT TV’s German Channels Are Deleted

Russia threatened Wednesday to block Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube after Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels were deleted, and said it was considering retaliating against German media.

YouTube said on Tuesday that RT’s channels had breached its COVID-19 misinformation policy, a move Russia’s Foreign Ministry described as “unprecedented information aggression.”

Russian state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said it had written to Google and demanded the restrictions be lifted. It said Russia could seek to partially or fully restrict access to YouTube if it failed to comply.

Google declined to comment Wednesday.

The Kremlin said it may have to force YouTube to comply with Russian law, saying there could be zero tolerance for breaches.

“Of course there are signs that the laws of the Russian Federation have been broken, broken quite blatantly, because of course this involves censorship and obstructing the spread of information by the media,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The foreign ministry said Russian authorities had been approached with “a proposal to develop and take retaliatory measures against the YouTube hosting service and the German media.”

Christian Mihr, executive director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany, said the threat of action against German journalists was “completely inappropriate.”

Moscow has increased pressure on foreign tech firms in the past year, fining social media companies for failing to delete content Russia deems illegal and punitively slowing down the speed of Twitter.

That pressure led Google and Apple to remove an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores on the first day of a parliamentary election earlier this month, Kremlin critics said.

Berlin denied an allegation by the Russian foreign ministry that YouTube’s decision had been made with clear and tacit support from the German authorities and local media.

“It is a decision by YouTube, based on rules created by YouTube. It is not a measure [taken by] the German government or other official organizations,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters.

YouTube Will Ban All Content Containing What it Calls Vaccine Misinformation

YouTube will ban any video that claims vaccines are ineffective or dangerous, including those that question vaccines for measles and chickenpox, the company announced Wednesday.  

“Specifically, content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed,” the Google-owned company said in a blog post announcing the new enforcement measures.

The company said “vaccines in particular have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness.”  

“Today, we’re expanding our medical misinformation policies on YouTube with new guidelines on currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.”

The company said it “will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials and historical vaccine successes or failures.”  

YouTube’s COVID-19 vaccine policy has met with some backlash for being overly aggressive.

On Tuesday, the company removed Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels, saying they violated the company’s COVID-19 policy.

On Wednesday, Russia threatened to block YouTube, calling the channel removals “unprecedented information aggression.”

YouTube said it has removed over 130,000 videos over the past year for violating its COVID-19 policies.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

 

British Government to Use Army to Help Ease Fuel Trucker Shortage

Britain’s business minister said Wednesday the army would begin driving fuel tankers in response to shortages at gas stations around the nation brought on by a dearth of truck drivers.

For about a week now, a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers in Britain has made it difficult for oil companies to get gasoline from refineries to fueling stations. The British Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) reported Wednesday that more than a third of the nation’s 8,500 gas stations remain without fuel.

The situation has left long lines of motorists trying to buy fuel at stations that did have gasoline.

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng told reporters they could expect to see soldiers driving tanker trucks to help get gasoline to the stations in a few days. He added that he felt the situation was stabilizing, noting that the inflow of gasoline matched sales on Tuesday. 

The situation had been exacerbated by panic buying among some motorists, but Kwarteng said people were “behaving quite responsibly” over the last day or so, and he encouraged them to continue buying fuel as they normally would.

The British business minister said Britain was not alone in facing a truck driver shortage. He said Poland is facing a shortage of about 123,000 drivers, and the United States is facing a similar situation. 

In a release on their website, the PRA reported “early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending,” with more of the association’s members reporting they are now receiving deliveries of fuel. 

They expect the percentage of stations without fuel is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours.

The driver shortage, however, is raising fears in Britain’s retail sector that if it continues much longer, it could create problems for the holiday season.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

Massive North Sea Wind Farm Could Power Denmark, Neighbors

Weeks before a high-profile climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Danish officials are talking up an ambitious program to develop the world’s largest offshore wind energy complex, with the potential to provide enough green energy to power not just Denmark, but some of its neighbors as well. 

The complex, to sit on and around an artificial North Sea island about 80 km off Denmark’s coast, would span an area up to the size of 64 soccer fields and support thermal storage facilities, HVDC converters, a heliport, and a research and visitor center.

Energy Island Envisioned by Denmark

“You can have hundreds of wind turbines around this island,” said Dan Jorgensen, Denmark’s climate and energy minister, during a visit to Washington this month. His government calculates that the energy island could yield up to 10 gigawatts of electricity — enough for 10 million households. 

“Since we’re only 5.8 million people in Denmark, that’s far more electricity than we’ll need for ourselves, so we want to find other countries to be part of this,” Jorgensen said, adding that Denmark is in talks with other European countries. 

The 10-gigawatt estimate is at the high end of what might finally be built. Current planning allows for a range of from three to 10 gigawatts, according to Jorgensen. But even at the low end, the energy island would dwarf the largest existing offshore wind farm — Britain’s Walney Extension Offshore Wind Farm in the Irish Sea that has a capacity to generate 0.66 gigawatts and provide power to 600,000 homes. 

The world’s largest wind farm of any kind is a 10-gigawatt complex completed this summer and based in the northwestern Gansu province of China. The next largest of any kind is a 1.6-gigawatt wind farm in Jaisalmer, India. 

“It’s the biggest infrastructure investment in the history of my country, but we foresee it will be a good business model,” Jorgensen told VOA. 

“There will be some initial costs there, but we’re willing to bear them because this will also mean that we will get the project itself, but also the development know-how, the skills, and the expertise that we want.” 

The project is remarkable not just for its size but also for its innovative approach to some of the most difficult obstacles to weaning the world off fossil fuels. These include finding an effective way to store energy generated from wind turbines, and a way to transform the electricity into fuels to power transportation systems. 

Denmark’s plan is to transform the electricity into hydrogen, which can be used directly as an energy source or turned into fuels for use “in ships, planes and trucks,” as Jorgensen put it. 

“This sounds a bit like science fiction, but actually it’s just science; we know how to do it,” he said. 

While talks between the Danish government, industry, scientists and potential investors are still in the early stage, one decision has already been made, Jorgensen said. 

“We want at least 50.1% of the island to be publicly owned,” he said, calling the island “critical infrastructure because it’ll be such a huge part of our energy supply.” He added that the actual wind turbines will be owned by investors. 

“So far we have seen interest from Danish companies and investment funds; we’ve also seen interest from the governments of several European countries. We expect, of course, this will also mean interest from companies from other countries, definitely European, but probably also others.” 

Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a Danish economist based in Brussels, says the ambitious plan is plausible in light of Denmark’s track record in developing green energy. 

“There are already many days in which Denmark gets all its electrical power from wind energy, so rapid electrification is coming as are further rapid expansions of offshore wind farms,” he told VOA in an exchange of emails. 

He said he has “no doubt” that Denmark will achieve full decarbonization by 2050, “probably even considerably before” that date, thanks to broad public support, especially from the young. 

According to the Danish embassy in Washington, more than 50% of Denmark’s electrical grid is already powered by wind and solar energy, and the government projects that renewables will meet 100% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2028. 

New Technologies Aim to Reduce Carbon in Atmosphere

A bunch of new technologies are popping up that could help bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050, and all need investment. Governments worldwide are having to decide which one suits their geography and how much they can spend on a given technology. More with VOA’s Mariama Diallo.

Produced by: Kimberlyn Weeks