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Afghans Say They Urgently Need Logistical Support for Security Forces



Afghan lawmakers are asking the United States to continue to provide urgently needed maintenance and logistical support for their air force and national armed forces after the U.S. military completes its withdrawal in September. The White House has pledged continued support but stopped short of promising continued maintenance or drone strikes on Taliban equipment. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Myanmar Faces COVID-19 Surge Amid Political Crisis



Myanmar, already on the brink of widespread civil war after February’s coup, is facing another crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.

Cases have spiked, leaving infected patients desperate for medical assistance. Since the pandemic began, Myanmar has suffered over 246,000 COVID-19 cases and over 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

In recent weeks, virus cases have risen extensively, infecting thousands and leaving the country’s medical system on the brink of collapse. In southern Yangon, images have circulated online of patients lining up to refill oxygen cylinders.  

A physiotherapist caring for patients in Yangon, told VOA the shortage of medical assistance is forcing patients to stay home and rely on doctors’ online advice.

“All people are desperately looking for oxygen,” she told VOA.

The opposition Civil Disobedience Movement has attracted a number of health care professionals several doctors who joined the CDM movement spoke with VOA in February.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested and killed, including health care workers.  Meanwhile, as the military continues to grapple for control over the country’s health care systems, widespread distrust from the population remains. Those opposing the coup are refusing to seek military-help, leaving some left with a possible life-or-death decision.

Hein Lay, the founder of Modern Youth Charity Organization, aimed at assisting people with health issues and food shortages, told VOA the oxygen shortage is due to the military’s decision to close oxygen factories.   

Patients are dying for no reason due to shortness of oxygen of breath,” he claimed. 

But the organization says it hopes to set up its own factory that can produce oxygen for patients.  

“We believe in we can save many lives and it will help those in need and save lives that should not die. People should cooperate with civil society organizations even if they hate the military council. Only then can this battle be won,” Hein Lay added.

Myanmar’s hospitals have overflowed with patients, and with limited staff are forced to turn patients away, leaving them without health care, with Yangon particularly affected.

Armed forces spokesperson General Zaw Min Tun responded to questions about the closure of oxygen suppliers, insisting the supply of oxygen is for hospitals and not private purchase. He added the military is adding new medical facilities to treat infected patients.

Nyan Win, a former adviser to ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died Tuesday from COVID-19. Nyan Win was a Myanmar politician that had been jailed in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison following the coup.

The physiotherapist said that that the military coup “ruined” the progress that had been made against COVID-19, and that the current third wave could have been prevented.

“In the second wave [November 2020], the civilian government [the now-removed National League for Democracy party] is leading and care for all patients and patients with COVID 19 confirmed case, everything is running smoothly.”

“Myanmar has already paid for the vaccines. Health workers have also been vaccinated first dose and are waiting for the second dose. If there had been no political change at that time, almost all citizens would have been vaccinated. And the public may not have to face the third wave of COVID 19,” she said.

Myanmar has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine, donated by India, and prior to the coup, had planned to vaccinate all 54 million of its population this year.

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As Olympics Open, Tokyo Residents Yearn for Olympic Crowds, Cheering and Celebrations Nixed by Pandemic



No free-spending foreign spectators. Lots of COVID-19 worries. And as the delayed Olympics begin on Friday, some Tokyo residents are finding it hard to find their game spirit.

“There’s no feeling of lively celebration in the city,” Hiroyuki Nakayama, a member of the Tokyo Citizens First Party, told VOA Mandarin before the Games opened.

“All in all, it’s not very satisfying,” said the member of Tokyo’s governing metropolitan assembly. “There’re no tourists, so there’s no real hope of the Games revitalizing the economy. Although many people opposed the event,” once the government gave the go-ahead, “people knew it was useless to object, so now they hope the Olympics can proceed smoothly and end safely.”

Nakayama is not a rare naysayer. According to a poll released July 13 by Ipsos, a global market research firm, 78% of respondents in Japan believe Tokyo should not host the Olympics during the pandemic. Since then, Tokyo added 1,832 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on July 21, and that was after adding nearly a thousand new cases a day for seven consecutive days in the past week. Only 29% of Japan’s residents have been vaccinated.

As of July 21, there were confirmed cases among the athletes including a Czech table tennis player, a U.S. beach volleyball player, a Dutch skateboarder, a Chilean taekwondo team member, an alternate U.S. women’s gymnast and a U.S. women’s tennis player. Although a full vaccination is not required for the athletes, testing is constant and began before they left their home countries, where many tested positive. Some never made it to Japan, which cancelled the Games last year due to the pandemic.

Ryoko Fujita, a member of the Japanese Communist Party and a local Tokyo lawmaker told VOA Mandarin that according to recent expert simulations, “even if the Olympics are not held, the diagnosis rate in Tokyo will exceed 2,000 a day in August.”

On July 16, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the government was taking measures to control the pandemic and ensure the “safety and peace of mind” of the Tokyo Olympics.

“The government insists on hosting the Olympics and continuously promotes the slogan of ‘safe and secure Olympics’ on various platforms but ignores the surge in public gatherings and has no actual countermeasures or actions,” said Fujita, who was a nurse for two decades.

On July 20, Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who heads a subcommittee on the coronavirus in the Tokyo government said on television that by the first week of August, new confirmed cases in Tokyo could reach a new peak of about 3,000 a day, most likely straining medical resources.

Takashi Sato, an office worker, told VOA Mandarin before the Games began, that with Tokyo under its fourth emergency declaration, residents are so numb to the warnings, they “actually do not abide by the regulations.”

Seiichi Murakami, who owns a patisserie in Tokyo, told VOA Mandarin that he at one time thought the Olympic Games would boost business, which has been in a slump. But as the pandemic worsens, and tourists aren’t coming to town for the Games, he’s now wondering if he should close the patisserie.

“Even if the vaccination rate increases substantially, there is still a long way to go before the economy really recovers,” Murakami told VOA Mandarin.

Takayuki Kojima, who runs a Tokyo cram school, told VOA Mandarin that his students aren’t interested in the Games and he rarely hears anyone discuss them. Mostly he’s concerned with surviving financially now that classes are online. “I hope this will be the last emergency declaration. The government must implement the vaccination coverage rate and control the epidemic, otherwise everyone’s lives will reach a critical point.”

Ikue Furukawa lives near the National Stadium, which was the main stadium for the 1964 Olympic Games and was rebuilt for the 2020 Games. She told VOA Mandarin there are so many restrictions she can’t even get near her neighborhood’s fixture.

“Because of the pandemic, … it really doesn’t feel like we’re the host country. This is completely an online competition, so it’s like it’s all happening in a foreign country,” she said. “People just can’t get excited.”

Takako Koyama, a Tokyo housewife, told VOA, “The Japanese are actually more concerned about foreign players coming from afar and not having spectators to cheer for them. But due to the restrictions, foreign players cannot … feel the enthusiasm of the audience. I’m so sorry for the players.”

Kojima agreed, adding “Major leagues in the United States and European football matches can allow spectators. The Olympics should open up some popular events to at least let the Japanese cheer for all the players.”

Koyama pointed out that after repeated emergency declarations, people had been looking forward to the Games before the declaration of yet another pandemic emergency.

“School activities and trips have been cancelled, but the Olympics are still going to be held,” she said. “The Olympic torch relay has been cancelled and there will be no spectators in the competition. What is the meaning of such an Olympics? What kind of message is conveyed to the future? I can’t explain it to the children either.”

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Ankle Injury Rules Out Kenya’s Kamworor



Kenyan 10,000 metres runner and 2019 New York Marathon winner Geoffrey Kamworor has pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics due to an ankle injury, he told BBC Sport Africa on Thursday.

The 28-year-old is a three times world Half Marathon champion, and previous world record holder, and had hopes of a medal in the 10,000m after winning the national trials.

He won silver at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, behind Britain’s Mo Farah.

The injury comes after he was hit by a motorcycle while training near his home in June last year, suffering a fractured tibia.

“These are obstacles which can come on your way when you come back from a tough injury earlier on. It’s only now extremely bad timing,” the BBC quoted his manager Valentijn Trouw as saying.

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New Era of Olympic Champions Eye Tokyo Glory



When the flame is finally lit at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, a new era of athletes have a chance to make history in the absence of a host of established stars.

So much has changed in the Olympic landscape in the five years since the Rio Games — three-time double sprint champion Usain Bolt is now making music and building a family in Jamaica, while 28-medal winner Michael Phelps has retired from the pool.

In Tokyo, Caeleb Dressel is the most likely successor to Phelps in the medal-gathering stakes.

The 24-year-old American is aiming to become just the fourth swimmer in history to win seven medals in a single Games.

Dressel is no rookie, having already won two relay golds at the 2016 Rio Games, but now his focus is firmly on individual glory.

Bolt left a gaping hole in the world of athletics when he retired in 2017, but a new generation of stars is emerging.

Charismatic Norwegian 400 meters hurdler Karsten Warholm smashed one of the longest-standing men’s track world records this month and Sydney McLaughlin overhauled the women’s record in the same event at the US trials.

Athletics-watchers looking for a sprint gold medalist of the future will be keeping a close eye on 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton.

The fleet-footed American erased the 200m world age-group records set by Bolt this year, running a dazzling 19.84sec in the US trials to secure his place at the Olympics.

In the field, Sweden’s Armand Duplantis is the undisputed new king of the pole vault aged just 21.

Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey’s battle with Dutch runner Sifan Hassan is also keenly awaited after each broke the 10,000m world record within two days. Gidey, 23, now holds the marks at that distance and 5,000m.

Sky’s the limit

Sky Brown will be just 13 years and 11 days old when the Briton, who was born in Japan, competes in the skateboarding in Tokyo.

A strong performance by the teenager who gained fame in the US in 2018 by winning the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” would be the perfect way to launch skateboarding on its Olympic debut.

American golfer Collin Morikawa could cap a heady few weeks by winning an Olympic gold to add to the British Open title that the 24-year-old scooped last weekend. Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian who is one year younger, could also be in with a shout.

While the new names will shine, Simone Biles will be one of the few returning superstars from Rio, leading a team considerably younger than the 24-year-old.

Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast in history, has a strong chance of equaling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.

In essence, the biggest challenger to Biles is herself as she has not lost an all-around competition since 2013, re-defining her sport along the way.

Frustratingly for any young challengers, Biles has suggested she could be persuaded to continue until the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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New Sport Explainer: 3×3 Basketball



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The latest stop on the perennial search for the younger, attention-span-challenged audience for the Olympics might look familiar — the blacktop, and 3-on-3 basketball.

Not a pickup game, mind you. Once the Olympics gets hold of this version of street hoops, it will only share a faint resemblance to anything happening on an urban playground.

For one, there will be no Americans — at least none playing in the men’s tournament. Another difference is that these games will have refs, a scoreboard and each team gets one sub.

But some of it might look familiar. Games are first to 21 (Or whoever is winning after 10 minutes.) Teams have to clear the ball back to around the 3-point line after rebounds. Inside buckets are worth one, and “3s” are worth two. The teams have coaches but they are for behind-the-scenes stuff, not allowed on the court.

“For me, the best thing is, it’s always been fun to play,” said Dusan Bulut, widely considered the best in the world, who will lead Serbia into the tournament as a favorite. “When you play 3-‘x’-3, you have all the freedom in the world and it was so much fun for me because I can show everything I am.”


In addition to trying to capture more young eyes, one of the IOC’s stated missions in bringing 3-on-3 basketball to the big stage was to expose more of the world to the sport. In at least one respect, this mission has been accomplished. Mongolia will bring one of the eight teams in the women’s field.

Mongolia is not a newcomer to the Olympics, but it has always fielded competitors in individual sports, such as wrestling and boxing. This will be the first time the country has entered a team sport into the Summer Games.


It seemed a foregone conclusion that the U.S. would field a team in the sport it invented. Not to be on the men’s side.

Unlike the 5-on-5 version, a win at the World Cup for the U.S. in 2019 did not secure an Olympic spot. And the Americans, led by former Purdue star Robbie Hummel, suffered a stunning upset to the Netherlands in May that knocked them out of the race for one of the last Olympics spots. It means the world’s second-ranked team, behind Serbia, will be watching the Olympic debut of 3×3 from home.


France’s Laetitia Guapo was still playing 5-on-5 in 2018.

“I wanted to have a backup,” she said.

Turns out, 3×3 fits her game quite nicely. She’s the top-ranked female player in the world.

She calls the ranking “a reward for my determination,” and says Tokyo could just be an appetizer. The next Olympics are in Paris, and Guapo says she hasn’t ruled out a shot at the marathon, maybe at the Los Angeles Games in 2028.


Part of the fun of 3×3 is the constant soundtrack that plays while the games go on.

One player, Italy’s Rae Lin D’Alie, who goes by “Rae Rae,” is part of the soundtrack.

She recorded a song, “3×3 Anthem,” that the sport’s international federation, FIBA, named its official song in 2020.

The Wisconsin native played for the Badgers and left the school in 2010 as leader in career games played. She has dual citizenship in Italy and, last month, helped her team secure the final Olympic berth.

“For two hours straight, I said, ‘I am an Olympic athlete, I am an Olympic athlete,'” D’Alie told the Racine Journal-Times.


Teams will play round robin, sometimes two games a day, from July 24-27. The semifinals and finals all take place July 28. All the action is at Aomi Urban Sports Park, an outdoor venue with a covered half court. Its also the home of the new sport of climbing.

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New Sport Explainer: Sport Climbing



HIGHLIGHTS FROM RIO: None. Sport climbing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in a format that has rankled many climbers. Lead and bouldering are disciplines most climbers are familiar with because both are similar to what they experience in the outdoors. Because the IOC is only awarding two medals — one for men, one for women — it decided to include speed climbing in the combined competition. Speed climbing is a more specialized event, climbers scaling a 15-meter wall with standardized holds as fast as they can. Lead and bouldering athletes have had to play catch up on speed, but may only have to have an average finish if they do well in lead and bouldering.

TOKYO EXPECTATIONS: Climbing has been touted as the embodiment of the Olympic motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger). Speed offers the fast element, with the quickest men racing up the wall in less than 6 seconds and the women in the low 7s. Lead hits the higher mark, points awarded to who can climb the highest on the 15-meter wall in six minutes. Bouldering requires strength as climbers try to work their way up four ”problems” that include overhangs and fingertip-width holds. Some problems require climbers to hang upside to make their way up the 4.5-meter wall. The Tokyo Games will show the world climbing is much more difficult than it appears.

ATHLETES TO WATCH: Czech climber Adam Ondra has been hailed as the best climber in the world, tackling outdoor routes that seem impossible. He’s a threat to win bouldering and lead, which could be enough with relatively slow times in speed. Austria’s Jakob Schubert will likely contend for a medal and the Japanese duo of Kai Harada and Tomoa Narasaki should give the host country a shot at adding to its medal total. American Nathaniel Coleman is one of the world’s best in bouldering and is rounded into a strong all-around climber. Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, like Ondra, has tackled difficult routes other climbers wouldn’t even consider attempting. She’s won six world championships and is the only climber to finish a World Cup season undefeated (2019). Like their male teammates, Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi and Miho Nonaka will likely be in the mix to medal. Brooke Raboutou may be the US team’s best shot to medal.

GOLD MEDAL MOMENT: Finals in all three disciplines will be Aug. 6 at Aomi Urban Sports Park.

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Is Polarized America Primed for a Breakout Third Party?



The ouster of Republican Liz Cheney from her leadership position in the House of Representatives could provide fertile ground for the emergence of an alternate party, according to political scientist Bernard Tamas.  

“I would say that the time is basically ripe for a third-party challenge, and, largely, the reason is because of the level of polarization in American politics, especially the movement to the right by the Republican Party,” says Tamas, an associate professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia and the author of The Demise and Rebirth of American Third Parties.  

But even if a third party were to emerge, Tamas says, the history of American politics suggests it could be short-lived and enjoy limited success at the polls.

House Republicans stripped Cheney, from Wyoming, of her post as conference chair after she publicly broke with former President Donald Trump, rejecting his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the November 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.     

“If you look at the two parties right now, what the Democrats do is much more with opposition is kind of integrate them. … It’s very much of a big net strategy,” Tamas says. “But the Republicans have been moving more and more towards pushing out moderates and pushing out anyone who challenges former President Trump.” 

And those circumstances, he says, are historically consistent with other times when third parties have emerged in the United States.  

Third-party disrupters 

The Populist Party, which championed poor farmers, emerged in the 1890s and was gone by 1900. During its brief time, however, it posed enough of a threat to Democrats that the party eventually adopted some of the Populist Party’s ideals.   

In 1912, the more progressive wing of the Republican party, led by former President Teddy Roosevelt, split with the Republican Party to form the Progressive Party. Roosevelt went on to win a bigger share of the popular vote than William Taft, the Republican nominee, but both lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. While the division hurt Republicans at the polls, the move did eventually push the Republican Party more to the center. 

It is the fear of splitting the vote that can work against third-party candidates, which helps the two major parties retain their dominance in politics.  

“When a voter enters a voter booth, they have to make a calculation, and they may prefer somebody who they don’t think is going to win, and it makes no sense to throw away your vote,” says Alexander Cohen, an assistant professor of political science at Clarkson University in New York. “And the people who donate money to campaigns, the people who operate in politics, they, in turn, recognize that this is a pattern and so they very seldom throw their support behind a third-party candidacy, because it’s not going to succeed.” 

Deeply entrenched 

Cohen says it’s difficult to transition away from a two-party system without fundamentally changing the structure of government, as well as rules for campaigns and campaign finance.  

“In America, the two parties have spent a lot of time and energy, and written laws that favor their own continuation and make it very difficult for third parties to emerge,” Cohen says. “In some states, there are laws that mean that third parties require more signatures to get on the ballot than the major parties, for whom it’s automatic. So, the two major parties don’t want competitors, and they’ve designed a system that further makes it difficult.” 

It’s possible that a third-party candidate could prove victorious in smaller local elections, according to Cohen, but he says the two-party system is here to stay in the more significant contests.  

“You’ll note that Liz Cheney isn’t leaving the Republican Party. As soon as she does, she’s done in politics,” he says. “The players who you would most expect to say, ‘I’m stepping away, we’re creating a new movement,’ aren’t doing so because they know that is not the way to get their policies represented.” 

Tamas agrees that it is unlikely that third parties will ever consistently win key elections. Their key influence, he says, has always been through disruption that leads to more moderation in the major parties. 

“Compared to most other countries, third parties (in the U.S.) are weak, so this leaves open one particular strategy that they have, which is to attack one of the parties, disrupt the politics, temporarily, and with the expectation that this is not going to have a permanent position in politics,” says Tamas. “It’s going to be just creating a course correction.” 

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Afghan Ambassador’s Daughter Briefly Kidnapped in Pakistan



Afghanistan said Saturday the daughter of its ambassador to neighboring Pakistan was briefly abducted and “severely tortured” by unknown assailants.

A foreign ministry statement issued in Kabul condemned the incident, saying Silsila Alikhil was on her way home in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when she was taken captive “for several hours” by unknown individuals.

“After being released from the kidnappers’ captivity, Ms. Alikhil is under medical care at the hospital,” the statement added.

Kabul urged the Pakistani government to immediately “identify and prosecute the perpetrators.” It demanded full security and protection for Afghan diplomatic missions, along with their staff and their families.

The ministry later said it summoned the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul and formally lodged “a strong protest” over the incident.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the Afghan embassy had informed it that Alikhil “was assaulted while riding in a rented vehicle.” He noted in his statement that police immediately launched an investigation into “this disturbing incident,” and law enforcement agencies are trying to “trace and apprehend the culprits” to bring them to justice.

“Such incidents cannot and will not be tolerated,” Chaudhri said, adding that security of the Afghan ambassador and his family has been increased.

Traditionally strained diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated in the wake of stepped-up attacks by Taliban insurgents against Afghan government forces amid the drawdown of U.S.-led forces in region.

Kabul has long accused Islamabad of allowing the Taliban to use Pakistani soil for directing insurgent attacks on the other side of the long border between the two countries.

Pakistani officials accuse the neighboring country of sheltering fugitive militants and allowing them to plot cross-border attacks in Pakistan.

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