West Africa’s historic slave sites bear witness to brutal trade

Women in procession dance outside a slavery memorial site near the Bodo river in Kanga Nianze village, in Tiassale, Ivory Coast, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

By Zohra Bensemra and Luc Gnago

KUNTA KINTEH ISLAND, Gambia (Reuters) – When Gambian boat captain Abdoulie Jabang ferries visitors to Kunta Kinteh island he tells them that the waves lapping the shores of the former slave site threaten to wash history away.

Situated at the mouth of the Gambian river, the island is home to one of the many forts that dot the West African coast – crumbling reminders of the centuries-long transatlantic slave trade that tore millions of Africans from their homes.

As Jabang steered his blue-painted wooden boat through the water, he gestured towards Kunta Kinteh, whose ruined fortress shaded by giant baobab trees is threatened by erosion.

“You see the island is very small now,” he said.

Emmanuel Mouti Dongo from Cameroon visits the “Maison Des Esclaves” slave house on Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, July 7, 2019.  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Emmanuel Mouti Dongo from Cameroon visits the “Maison Des Esclaves” slave house on Goree Island off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, July 7, 2019.  REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

“We have to preserve this island for the young coming generations – we need to let them know about it. We should never forget what this land has been used for.”

From Senegal’s Goree Island at Africa’s western-most point to the Nigerian port of Badagry on the Gulf of Guinea, the sites where slaves spent their final days on African soil have turned into places of pilgrimage and remembrance.

Many have seen a surge in visitors this year, which marks 400 years since the first record of African slaves arriving in North America.

Tourists can walk along the cannon-studded ramparts of slave fortresses or pass through the points of ‘No Return’, where slaves were marched in chains to waiting ships.

Some who live and work in the shadow of the landmarks see the sites as a reminder not to let history repeat itself.

Canons are seen at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts build along the Gold Coast in Ghana, July 28, 2019. Picture taken July 28,2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Canons are seen at the Cape Coast Castle, one of several slave forts build along the Gold Coast in Ghana, July 28, 2019. Picture taken July 28,2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Future generations need to know what is happening so that it does not happen again,” said Chief Seraphin Kpissi, whose village in Ivory Coast lies near a slave site on the banks of the Bodo river.

A tall stone slab wrapped in chains now stands as a memorial to the slaves who were forced to take a last bath in the Bodo’s muddy waters towards the end of their march to the coast.

The memorial was erected with the participation of UNESCO, which has granted world heritage status to Kunta Kinteh island and several other West African sites due to the important testimony they provide of the slave trade.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Don’t take this North Korea guidebook with you, warns publisher

The North Korea Petit Fute touristic guide book is displayed during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By John Irish and Noemie Olive

PARIS (Reuters) – A French publisher has produced a rare guide to North Korea, highlighting its history, cultural wealth and beautiful landscapes but advising tourists not to take the politically sensitive book with them.

Tourism is one of the few remaining reliable sources of foreign income for North Korea after the U.N. imposed sanctions targeting 90 percent of its $3 billion annual exports including commodities, textiles and seafood.

Dominique Auzias, co-founder of the Petit Fute French touristic guide book, poses during an interview with Reuters for the launching of their North Korea guide book in Paris, France, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Dominique Auzias, co-founder of the Petit Fute French touristic guide book, poses during an interview with Reuters for the launching of their North Korea guide book in Paris, France, March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Tensions over North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles spiked on the Korean peninsula last year and there were fears of a U.S. military response to North Korea’s threat to develop a weapon capable of hitting the United States.

“There are a lot of people that are interested in this country be it for nuclear and military reasons, but also economically so … it’s important to provide information,” said Dominique Auzias, president of the Petit Fute, which publishes some 800 guides.

“As it’s a country that’s closed and forbidden everybody dreams of going there,” he said.

Some 400 French tourists visit the country each year with trips costing about 2,000 euros ($2,267).

The reclusive communist state has no official diplomatic relations with France.

Talks in June last year between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provided a detente even if in recent weeks tensions have once again flared.

North Korean authorities would probably confiscate the printed edition given some of the material, Auzias said.

“You don’t go for adventure, but to discover,” he said.

The guide, which took three years to put together, touches little on where to stay or eat because accessing the country as a tourist can only be done through specific travel agents who determine what visitors see.

In some cases, however, they respond to requests and Auzias said the guide helps people decide what they would like to see.

It makes clear it is imperative to stick to the country’s strict rules or face dire consequences as American student Otto Warmbier did in 2016 when he was sentenced to 15 years of forced labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster in his hotel.

He was returned to the United States in a coma 17 months later, and died shortly after. A coroner said he died from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

“The first time I went 10-12 years ago I was proud because I was one of the rare French citizens to get in … but my second moment of happiness was about three weeks later when I left because it was suffocating and mind-boggling,” Auzias said.

(Reporting by John Irish and Noemeie Olive; Editing by Bate Felix and Alexandra Hudson)

Why is the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem?

A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians.

On Monday, road signs directing traffic there went up around the neighborhood where it will be situated, and next week’s opening ceremony is timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

The initiative was driven by President Donald Trump, after he broke last year with decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump said his administration has a peace proposal in the works, and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of America’s closest ally had “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, celebrated Trump’s decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “slap in the face” and said Washington could no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.

Initially, a small interim embassy will operate from the building in southern Jerusalem that now houses U.S. consular operations, while a secure site is found to move the rest of the embassy operations from Tel Aviv.

WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL, AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?

There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a signature promise of his 2016 election campaign.

The decision was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, many of whom support political recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.

Trump acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but to which other presidents since then – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – consistently signed waivers.

WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?

Religion, politics and history.

Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders.

It is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The city even has different names. Jews call it Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds, which means “The Holy”.

But the city’s significance goes further.

At the heart of the Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains of them above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Within yards of the wall, and overlooking it, are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The city is also an important pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.

WHAT IS THE CITY’S MODERN HISTORY AND STATUS?

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the then British-ruled Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab state and a Jewish state. But it recognized that Jerusalem had special status and proposed international rule for the city, along with nearby Bethlehem, as a ‘corpus separatum’ to be administered by the United Nations.

That never happened. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it.

In 1980 the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the “complete and united” city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. But the United Nations regards East Jerusalem as occupied, and the city’s status as disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

DOES ANY OTHER COUNTRY HAVE AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM?

In March Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, said that his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.

Netanyahu said in April that “at least half a dozen” countries were now “seriously discussing” following the U.S. lead, but he did not identify them.

In December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.

WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN NEXT? HAS JERUSALEM BEEN A FLASHPOINT BEFORE?

Since Trump’s announcement there have been Palestinian protests and wider political tensions.

Arab leaders across the Middle East have warned the move could lead to turmoil and hamper U.S. efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week border protest due to culminate on May 15, the day after the U.S. Embassy move and when Palestinians traditionally lament homes and land lost with Israel’s creation.

Although the clashes have not been on the scale of the Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, violence has erupted before over matters of sovereignty and religion.

In 1969 an Australian Messianic Christian tried to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque. He failed but caused damage, and prompted fury across the Arab world.

In 2000, the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, led a group of Israeli lawmakers onto the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. A Palestinian protest escalated into the second intifada.

Deadly confrontations also took place in July after Israel installed metal detectors at the complex’s entrance after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by John Stonestreet)

Florida city to say goodbye to streets named for Confederate generals

By Bernie Woodall

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Three streets in Hollywood, Florida named for Confederate generals were changed to Freedom, Hope and Liberty, the city’s commission voted on Wednesday.

The commission voted unanimously to change the names from Forrest, Hood and Lee, named for leader of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee, and fellow generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood. Officials did not say when the signs would be switched.

The planned change highlights a persistent debate in the U.S. South over the display of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side who fought for the preservation of slavery in the 1861-1865 Civil War.

Several cities including New Orleans, Dallas, St. Louis, and Lexington, Kentucky, have recently removed or relocated statues and memorials.

Such efforts gained momentum after violence at an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The violent protests over the planned removal of a statue of Lee renewed the national debate over whether the memorials are symbols of heritage or hate.

In Hollywood, about 20 miles (32 km) north of downtown Miami, the issue led to three protests, two in support of the street name changes, and one against. There were several heated city commission meetings, the most recent in late August when the city voted that the streets would be renamed.

On Wednesday, the new names for the streets were finalized.

In August, people who supported keeping the Confederate street names – which date from the 1920s – said they did not think of Confederate generals but rather their own personal histories as they drove, or resided, on them.

Linda Anderson, who asked in June for the city to change the names, said she was part of an unsuccessful effort to rename them 15 years ago. She lives on the newly named Hope Street.

“It’s good to finally remove those names because they were for slavery,” said Anderson in a phone call with Reuters. “I’ll be glad when the new signs go up.”

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump releases some JFK files, blocks others under pressure

Trump releases some JFK files, blocks others under pressure

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered the unveiling of 2,800 documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy but yielded to pressure from the FBI and CIA to block the release of other records to be reviewed further.

Congress had ordered in 1992 that all remaining sealed files pertaining to the investigation into Kennedy’s death should be fully opened to the public through the National Archives in 25 years, by Oct. 26, 2017, except for those the president authorized for further withholding.

Trump had confirmed on Saturday that he would allow for the release of the final batch of once-classified records, amounting to tens of thousands of pages, “subject to the receipt of further information.”

But as the deadline neared, the administration decided at the last minute to stagger the final release over the next 180 days while government agencies studied whether any documents should stay sealed or redacted.

The law allows the president to keep material under wraps if it is determined that harm to intelligence operations, national defense, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations would outweigh the public’s interest in full disclosure.

More than 2,800 uncensored documents were posted immediately to the National Archives website on Thursday evening – a staggering, disparate cache that news outlets began poring through seeking new insights into a tragedy that has been endlessly dissected for decades by investigators, scholars and conspiracy theorists.

The rest will be released “on a rolling basis,” with “redactions in only the rarest of circumstances,” by the end of the review on April 26, 2018, the White House said in a statement.

In a memo to government agency heads, Trump said the American people deserved as much access as possible to the records.

“Therefore, I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted,” he wrote, adding that he had no choice but to accept the requested redactions for now.

A Central Intelligence Agency spokesman told Reuters that every single one of approximately 18,000 remaining CIA records in the collection would ultimately be released, with just 1 percent of the material left redacted.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo was a lead advocate in arguing to the White House for keeping some materials secret, one senior administration official said.

While Kennedy was killed over half a century ago, the document file included material from investigations during the 1970s through the 1990s. Intelligence and law enforcement officials argued their release could thus put at risk some more recent “law enforcement equities” and other materials that still have relevance, the official said.

Trump was resistant but “acceded to it with deep insistence that this stuff is going to be reviewed and released in the next six months,” the official added.

QUELLING CONSPIRACY THEORIES?

Academics who have studied Kennedy’s slaying on Nov. 22, 1963, said they expected nothing in the final batch of files would alter the official conclusion of investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin who fired on the president’s open limousine that day in Dallas from an upper window of the Texas Book Depository building overlooking the motorcade route.

They likewise anticipated that the latest releases would do little to quell long-held conspiracy theories that the 46-year-old Democratic president’s killing was organized by the Mafia, by Cuba, or a cabal of rogue agents.

Of the roughly 5 million pages of JFK assassination-related records held by the National Archives, 88 percent have been available to the public without restriction since the late 1990s, and 11 percent more have been released with sensitive portions redacted. Only about 1 percent have remain withheld in full, according to the National Archives.

Thousands of books, articles, TV shows and films have explored the idea that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of an elaborate conspiracy. None have produced conclusive proof that Oswald, who was fatally shot by a nightclub owner two days after killing Kennedy, worked with anyone else, although they retain a powerful cultural currency.

“My students are really skeptical that Oswald was the lone assassin,” said Patrick Maney, a professor of history at Boston College. “It’s hard to get our minds around this, that someone like a loner, a loser, could on his own have murdered Kennedy and changed the course of world history. But that’s where the evidence is.”

Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a string of politically motivated killings, including those of his brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., that stunned the United States during the turbulent 1960s. He remains one of the most admired U.S. presidents.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

Final trove of documents to offer new details on JFK assassination

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas, Texas less than an hour before his assassination in this November 22, 1963 photo by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton obtained from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. JFK Library/The White House/Cecil Stoughton/File Photo via REUTERS

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – More than half a century after U.S. President John F. Kennedy was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, the United States is due on Thursday to release the final files on the investigation into the killing that rattled a nation.

Academics who have studied Kennedy’s slaying on Nov. 22, 1963, said they expected the final batch of files to offer no major new details on why Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down the first and only Irish-American Roman Catholic to hold the office.

They also feared that the final batch of more than 5 million total pages on the Kennedy assassination held in the National Archives will do little to quell long-held conspiracy theories that the 46-year-old president’s killing was organized by the Mafia, by Cuba, or a cabal of rogue agents.

Thousands of books, articles, TV shows and films have explored the idea that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of an elaborate conspiracy. None have produced conclusive proof that Oswald, who was shot dead a day after killing Kennedy, worked with anyone else, though they retain a powerful cultural currency.

“My students are really skeptical that Oswald was the lone assassin,” said Patrick Maney, a professor of history at Boston College. “It’s hard to get our minds around this, that someone like a loner, a loser, could on his own have murdered Kennedy and changed the course of world history. But that’s where the evidence is.”

In 1992, Congress ordered that all records relating to the investigation into Kennedy’s death should be open to the public, and set a final deadline of Oct. 26, 2017 for the entire set to be made public.

President Donald Trump on Saturday confirmed that he would allow the documents to be made public.

The documents to be released on Thursday will likely focus on efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine what contact Oswald had with spies from Cuba and the former Soviet Union on a trip to Mexico City in September 1963, experts said.

“There was a real concern that Oswald was maybe in league with the Soviet Union,” Maney said.

Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a string of politically motivated killings, including those of his brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., that stunned the United States during the turbulent 1960s. He remains one of the most admired U.S. presidents.

(Reporting by Scott Malone)

Kentucky city removes two Confederate statues

Kentucky city removes two Confederate statues

(Reuters) – Statues of two leaders of the Confederacy will be moved from public places in Lexington, Kentucky, to a cemetery where the men they represent are buried, an action that began quietly on Tuesday in the midst of a national debate about memorials to those who fought for the South in the U.S. Civil War.

The city council in August voted to remove the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, a U.S. vice president and Confederate secretary of war, the Lexington Herald Leader reported, showing video of the removal work that began without advance notice.

The Kentucky vote came soon after a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists angered at the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee clashed with counter-protesters.

The Kentucky statues, which have been in the city for about 130 years, will be taken to a private storage facility as the city works on an arrangement with the Lexington Cemetery about placing them there, it said.

The Lexington mayor’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Breckinridge and Morgan are buried at the cemetery, and private donors are providing funds to pay for the upkeep and security of the statues there, the newspaper reported.

Opponents of Confederate memorials view them as tributes to the South’s slave-holding past, while supporters argue that they represent an important part of history.

Kentucky was a slave-holding state at the time of the Civil War but it did not join the Confederacy.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)