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Monday
Today
Dozens Killed in New Zealand Mosque Attacks Dozens of people were killed Friday in mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand. More than 40 others were injured.

One man was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the attacks, which happened in the city of Christchurch. Two other suspects were also being held.

Officials said that, as of Friday night, 49 people were confirmed dead. Health officials said at least 48 other people were being treated for gunshot wounds. Injuries ranged from minor to serious.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the shootings as a terrorist attack. She said Friday was one of her country’s “darkest days.” Ardern said the government raised the national security threat level from low to high, the second-highest level.

By late Friday, officials had not named the suspect who was charged or the others being held. Police said none had been on any terrorist watch list. Police also said they had found explosive devices in a vehicle.

A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto. In it, he identified himself as a 28-year-old white Australian. He used the term “white genocide.” The term is often used by racist groups to describe the effects of immigration and the growth of minority populations. The manifesto cited white genocide as a motivation for the attacks.

The man who claimed responsibility wrote that he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the shootings. He said he acted alone and that no group ordered the attacks. He said he chose New Zealand to show that even the most distant parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”

Ardern told a news conference that many people affected by the shootings may have been migrants or refugees. “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home,” she said. “They are us.”

Ardern said of the suspects, “These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.

The gunman reportedly broadcast live footage of one of the attacks. The video shows him shooting for more than two minutes inside a mosque, the Associated Press reported. The gunman is shown taking repeated shots at people gathered to attend religious services.

The video continues as the shooter walks out of the mosque and onto the street, where he fires at people there, the AP reported. Later, he is shown going back into the mosque, where at least 20 people are seen lying on the ground. After walking outside again and shooting more, he gets into a car and drives away.

I’m Bryan Lynn.
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Tuesday
Ethiopian Airlines Flight Recorders Sent to France for Examination The flight recorders from an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed Sunday have arrived in France to be studied.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737 Max 8, went down six minutes after leaving Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. All 157 people on the plane were killed. The crash has led more than 40 countries to ground 737 Max 8 planes or refuse to let the aircraft fly into their airspace.

Another 737 Max 8 crashed similarly in Indonesia last October. The Lion Air plane went down 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, killing 189 people.

Some countries began grounding Boeing’s 737 Max 8 hours after the Ethiopian Airlines crash. The United States Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, did so Wednesday. Officials said they had discovered new satellite information and evidence showing that movements of the Ethiopian Airlines plane were very similar to the Lion Air aircraft that crashed.

Officials at Lion Air have said sensors on the 737 Max 8 had been producing false information on flights that took place before the crash. The sensor issue caused the plane to go into a downward position, the officials said.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said its pilots had received special training on how to deal with the sensor problem. “After the Lion Air crash, questions were raised, so Boeing sent further instructions that it said pilots should know,” he said.

Boeing said it supported the FAA’s decision to ground 737 Max 8 planes, even though it continues to have what it called “full confidence” in the safety of the model.

Ethiopia is leading the investigation of Sunday’s crash. But France’s air accident investigation group, the BEA, will examine the plane’s flight information recorders, or black boxes. The BEA has a lot of experience with international air crashes, and is often sought in Airbus plane crashes because Airbus is based in France.

A BEA spokesman told Reuters he did not know what condition the black boxes were in. “First we will try to read the data,” he said. He added that the examination could take several days.

The victims in Sunday’s crash came from 35 counties.

On Thursday, about 200 angry family members walked out of a briefing by officials from Ethiopian Airlines. They said the airline was not providing enough information. Officials said a call center had been operating 18 hours a day to serve the families’ needs.

Some family members who lost loved ones decided to go to the crash site themselves.

I’m Bryan Lynn.
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Wednesday
Malaysia Continues Case Against Vietnamese Woman in Kim Killing Malaysia's attorney-general ordered the continuation of the murder case against a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Government lawyers announced the decision in court Thursday.

Prosecutor Iskandar Ahmad did not explain the decision to continue the trial of Doan Thi Huong. She is now the only person on trial for the murder, following the decision earlier this week to drop charges against an Indonesian woman, Siti Aisyah.

Huong’s lawyer and Vietnam's ambassador to Malaysia both criticized the decision. They had hoped the charges would also be dropped for Huong.

Ambassador Le Quy Quynh said he was "very disappointed" with the decision. He said Vietnam's justice minister had written to Malaysia’s chief attorney asking for Huong’s release. He added that Vietnam would continue to ask for her release.

Huong's lawyer, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, told the court that the decision was "perverse." He said government lawyers were being unfair to Huong, because her case was similar to Aisyah’s situation.

Teh said, "Very obviously, there is discrimination.”

Both Huong and Aisyah were accused of putting a poisonous nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam's face at the Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13, 2017.

Both women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a television show. They were the only people arrested for the crime, after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed.

Both women were charged separately, but the charge against them is the same -- that they worked with the four North Korean suspects to murder Kim.

Last August, a High Court judge found there was enough evidence to show that Aisyah, Huong and the four North Koreans had worked together on a plan to kill Kim.

Lawyers for both women argued that they were pawns in a political assassination with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. They also said that government lawyers failed to prove that the women had aimed to kill Kim. Under Malaysian law, intent to kill is critical to a murder charge.

Huong's lawyer had sought a delay for the trial Thursday. Teh said Huong was unwell and needed medical treatment. He said Huong only slept one hour each night since Aisyah's release. He added she was not in a position to answer questions from both sides.

When the judge asked Huong if she was unwell, Huong said she was suffering from tension and stress.

"I have no idea what is going on," Huong said in the courtroom Thursday.

The judge agreed to delay the trial until April 1, but warned there should not be any more delays after that. The defense part of the trial was to have started Monday.

Huong cried as she spoke to Vietnamese Embassy officials after Thursday's court hearing ended.

In Huong's village in Vietnam, her family was extremely sad and disappointed.

"I had hoped for good news today, but…there is none…I had hoped my daughter would be freed like the Indonesian woman," said her father, Doan Van Thanh.

Huong could face a death sentence if she is found guilty of the charges.

Another lawyer for Huong urged Malaysia’s attorney-general to explain why he dropped the case against Aisyah but not Huong.

During the prosecution part of the trial, expert witnesses said that poisoning caused Kim's death. The nerve agent was found on his face, in his eyes and on his clothes. It was also found on the women’s clothes.

Experts have said the case against Aisyah appeared weaker since there was no video evidence of her with Kim at the airport. There was security camera video of Huong with Kim.

Prosecutors have said the women were trained killers who knew they were holding poison. They said the women held their hands away from their bodies and went to separate restrooms to wash their hands afterwards.

The defense part of the trial is expected to discuss the role of the four North Koreans, who fled the country and are believed to now be home in Pyongyang.

I'm Susan Shand.
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Thursday
Rain Brings Second California Super Bloom in Two Years Some desert flowers stay dormant for many years until the right weather conditions come along. That is exactly what is happening right now in the state of California. It is experiencing a “super bloom” – a rare happening in which huge amounts of desert flowers open at the same time.



The state’s rainy winter – which was followed by warm weather – has brought endless fields of wildflowers to its Anza-Borrego desert. The colors are so bright that they can be seen from hundreds of meters high in the mountains.

This is the state’s second super bloom in two years. Usually, super blooms are much rarer. In California, super blooms usually happen about once every 10 years in one area. They have been happening even less often because of years-long drought conditions.

The 2017 super bloom was the best and brightest the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park had seen in 20 years. It was so big that it could be seen from outer space. The bloom brought huge crowds to Borrego Springs, a town of 3,500 people that sits next to the park.

There is a chance that the 2019 super bloom could create an even bigger, better show of nature’s beauty.

Betsy Knaak is executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, which follows the blooms. She told the Associated Press, “There’s just an abundance in where it’s blooming and it’s coming in waves.”

Knaak recently saw hundreds of people in the fields trying to capture the beauty in pictures.

Stephen Rawding drove to the desert with his girlfriend from the city of Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The two were there to take pictures after a friend told Rawding that this year’s super bloom was better than the one in 2017.

“It’s unreal,” Rawding said. “It’s just like they said — so beautiful.”

Many of the flowers are pink, purple, yellow and white.

There are the bright pink Bigelow’s Monkeys, purple Sand Verbena, white and yellow Evening Primrose and the desert lilies. The lilies bloomed extremely early this season – in December. That was a sign that a super bloom might come.

Bright orange poppy flowers are also covering the sides of Southern California highways.

Jim Dice is with the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, part of the University of California Natural Reserve System. He said that, right now, the flowers are “a painting of colors…in many of the areas.”

So far, six times the amount of rain has fallen in the Anza-Borrego desert this weather season compared to last year, Dice said.

If insects and freezing temperatures stay away, the beautiful flowers could spread to other areas into the spring.

The Anza-Borrego is California’s largest state park. It has hundreds of kinds of plants, such as the tall ocotillo, which produces bright orange-red flowers.

A researcher at Dice’s center recently went to the top of Anza-Borrego’s Coyote Mountain to take a picture of purple fields 914 meters below.

“It was pretty spectacular to see that from up above,” Dice said.

I’m Alice Bryant.
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Friday
Indonesian Art Group Named to Lead Documenta Documenta is one of the most respected art events in the world. The art program is held every five years in Kassel, Germany.

Recently, organizers chose a group of Indonesian artists to curate the next program. They asked ruangrupa, an Indonesian art collective, to serve as the show’s artistic director.

This is the first time documenta has picked a group of people, instead of an individual, as its curator. The announcement has helped bring attention to Indonesia’s lively yet struggling art scene.

Documenta is now preparing for its 15th show, which will open in June 2022. The art program was launched in 1955 to crush support for Germany’s Nazi Party after the end of World War II.

In a statement, the committee said it chose ruangrupa for its ability to interest many communities.

Ruangrupa was founded in 2000. The group is known for making art in many forms, such as paintings and installations. The collective’s work has been shown around the world, including art biennials in Singapore and Istanbul. The group also curated an art show in the Netherlands in 2016.

At the last documenta event, ruangrupa worked on part of a radio project called Every Time a Ear di Soun.

The next event is called documenta 15. Two ruangrupa members said in a statement the show might explore things like new forms of education and “the importance of art in social practice.”

Another member, Argus FS, told VOA he hopes their curation will improve people’s understanding of modern art. He added ruangrupa is one of few art groups supporting art scenes in cities like Yogyakarta and Jakarta.

Argus explained that many Indonesians do not understand modern art and said there are few art collectors in Jakarta.

Art and government

He thinks the Indonesian government is not doing enough to help the country’s contemporary art scene.

Slamet Aji Pamungkas is with the Creative Economy Agency, a government organization in Indonesia. He told VOA that the agency has always supported the contemporary art scene. He said it offers guidance, improves performance spaces and helps artists get the technology they need.

Tubagus ‘Andre’ Sukmana is a former head of the National Gallery of Indonesia. He now heads the media art department at the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. Sukmana told VOA that the ministry is ready to offer ruangrupa financing if the group requests it.

Sukmana said the government has put together a plan that will support 10 cultural projects, including contemporary art. He said it also plans to give financial aid to artists outside major cities.

Indonesian art scene

The Indonesian contemporary art scene has grown in places like Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung in West Java. In a 2014 book, Yvonne Spielmann describes Indonesia’s art movements, such as the New Art Movement in the 1970s. It was born from protest against the narrow “understanding of art at the nation’s academies.”

Today, artists like Heri Dono and Handiwirman Saputra have received attention, both international and local. Handiwirman has been chosen to represent Indonesia at the Venice Biennale in Italy in 2019.

Argus says there are still issues for Indonesian artists, such as overdependence on private museums to show their work. But, he said, Indonesia has the potential to be the leader of contemporary art in Southeast Asia.

I’m Alice Bryant. And I'm Jill Robbins.
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