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Daily Archives: May 14, 2023

Buffalo Marks 1 Year Since Supermarket Mass Shooting

A bell chimed 13 times after people paused for a moment of silence Sunday to remember the 10 people killed and three wounded in a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket one year ago.

Mayor Byron Brown read the names of the victims outside the Tops Friendly Market, where a gunman opened fire on May 14, 2022. Top New York politicians, including Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, attended the remembrance on Mother’s Day.

“It’s a beautiful day. It’s Mother’s Day,” Hochul said. “And the cruel irony behind the fact is a day we celebrate a life that comes into this world, making someone a mother, is also a day we’re here to think about those who are no longer with us. It’s hard. It’s been a really hard year.”

Earlier in the week, panelists discussed ways to combat racism and social media radicalization and residents were invited to reflect at an outdoor community gathering.

In the year since the shooting, relatives of the victims have spoken before Congress about white supremacy and gun reform and organized events to address food insecurity that worsened when the market, the neighborhood’s only grocery store, was inaccessible for two months.

President Joe Biden honored the lives of those killed in Buffalo in an op-ed published Sunday in USA Today. He called on Congress and state legislative leaders to act by banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks for all gun sales, and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability. His administration passed a landmark gun measure in June following a series of mass shootings.

New York state law already bans the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Gun control organizations and advocates including Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action held nearly 200 events across the country over the weekend, calling on Congress to reinstate a bipartisan assault weapons ban.

In Buffalo, Wayne Jones, whose mother Celestine Chaney, 65, died in the attack, urged the city and its institutions to keep on investing in the area and its residents even after the anniversary events are over.

That’s why he is willing, he said, “to keep opening up this wound that I have” and talk about it.

The son of 63-year-old shooting victim Geraldine Talley on Sunday released a book that he said describes what he went through after losing his mother. He titled it: “5/14 : The Day the Devil Came to Buffalo.”

“I definitely know that she wouldn’t want me to be consumed by sadness and anger,” Talley said of his mother, speaking outside of the store as the anniversary approached, “so I will definitely try to find strength in her memory and use it to fight injustice and racism for the rest of my life in her name.”

Inside the remodeled store, fountains flank a poem dedicated to the victims. A commission is at work designing a permanent memorial for outside. In the meantime, a hand-painted mural overlooking the parking lot promotes unity, with a Black hand and white hand meeting together in prayer.

The store was closed Sunday in remembrance of the shooting.

An 18-year-old white supremacist carried out the attack after driving more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) from his home in rural Conklin, New York.

Besides Chaney and Talley, the dead included Andre Mackneil, who was buying a cake for his son’s third birthday; church deacon Heyward Patterson; community advocate Katherine Massey; Ruth Whitfield, whose son was a Buffalo fire commissioner; Roberta Drury, who had moved back to Buffalo to help a brother diagnosed with cancer; church missionary Pearl Young; Margus Morrison, who was buying dinner for a family movie night; and Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer who was working as a security guard.

The gunman pleaded guilty to murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in February. A federal case against him is pending.

As Net Tightens, Iranians Pushed to Take Up Homegrown Apps

Banned from using popular Western apps, Iranians have been left with little choice but to take up state-backed alternatives, as the authorities tighten internet restrictions for security reasons following months of protests.

Iranians are accustomed to using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to evade restrictions and access prohibited websites or apps, including the U.S.-based Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The authorities went as far as imposing total internet blackouts during the protests that erupted after the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.

Connections are back up and running again, and even those who are tech-savvy are being corralled into using the apps approved by the authorities such as Neshan for navigation and Snapp! to hail a car ride.

As many as 89 million people have signed up to Iranian messaging apps including Bale, Ita, Rubika and Soroush, the government says, but not everyone is keen on making the switch.

“The topics that I follow and the friends who I communicate with are not on Iranian platforms,” said Mansour Roghani, a resident in the capital Tehran.

“I use Telegram and WhatsApp and, if my VPN still allows me, I’ll check Instagram,” the former municipality employee said, adding that he has not installed domestic apps as replacements.


At the height of the deadly Amini protests in October, the Iranian government cited security concerns as it moved to restrict internet access and added Instagram and WhatsApp to its long list of blocked applications.

“No one wants to limit the internet and we can have international platforms” if the foreign companies agree to introduce representative offices in Iran, Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour said last month.

Meta, the American giant that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has said it has no intention of setting up offices in the Islamic republic, which remains under crippling U.S. sanctions.

The popularity of the state-sanctioned apps may not be what it seems, however, with the government encouraging people to install them by shifting essential online public services to the homegrown platforms which are often funded by the state.

In addition, analysts say, Iranian users have online safety concerns when using the approved local apps.

“We have to understand they have needs,” said Amir Rashidi, director of digital rights and security at the New York-based Miaan Group.

“As an Iranian citizen, what would you do if registering for university is only based on one of these apps? Or what would you do if you need access to government services?” he said.

The locally developed apps lack a “clear privacy policy,” according to software developer Keikhosrow Heydari-Nejat.

“I have installed some of the domestic messaging apps on a separate phone, not the one that I am using every day,” the 23-year-old said, adding he had done so to access online government services.

“If they (government) shut the internet down, I will keep them installed but I will visit my friends in person,” he said.


In a further effort to push people onto the domestic platforms, the telecommunications ministry connected the four major messaging apps, enabling users to communicate across the platforms.

“Because the government is going for the maximum number of users, they are trying to connect these apps,” the analyst Rashidi said, adding all the domestic platforms “will enjoy financial and technical support.”

Iran has placed restrictions on apps such as Facebook and Twitter since 2009, following protests over disputed presidential elections.

In November 2019, Iran imposed nationwide internet restrictions during protests sparked by surprise fuel price hikes.

A homegrown internet network, the National Information Network (NIN), which is around 60% completed, will allow domestic platforms to operate independently of global networks.

One platform already benefiting from the highly filtered domestic network is Snapp!, an app similar to U.S. ride-hailing service Uber that has 52 million users — more than half the country’s population.

But Rashidi said the NIN will give Tehran greater control to “shut down the internet with less cost” once completed.

Mayorkas: No Asylum Ban, But Lawful Pathways Incentivized

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas denied the U.S. has imposed a ban on asylum-seekers, but he also emphasized that there is a lawful and orderly way to reach the U.S. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has the details.

Off-Grid Solar Brings Light, Time, Income to Remotest Indonesia Villages

As Tamar Ana Jawa wove a red sarong in the fading sunlight, her neighbor switched on a light bulb dangling from the sloping tin roof. It was just one bulb powered by a small solar panel, but in this remote village that means a lot. In some of the world’s most remote places, off-grid solar systems are bringing villagers like Jawa more hours in the day, more money and more social gatherings.

Before electricity came to the village, a little less than two years ago, the day ended when the sun went down. Villagers in Laindeha, on the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia, would set aside the mats they were weaving or coffee they were sorting to sell at the market as the light faded.

A few families who could afford them would start noisy generators that rumbled into the night, emitting plumes of smoke. Some people wired lightbulbs to old car batteries, which would quickly die or burn out appliances, as they had no regulator. Children sometimes studied by makeshift oil lamps, but these occasionally burned down homes when knocked over by the wind.

That’s changed since grassroots social enterprise projects have brought small, individual solar panel systems to Laindeha and villages like it across the island.

For Jawa, it means much-needed extra income. When her husband died of a stroke in December 2022, Jawa wasn’t sure how she would pay for her children’s schooling. But when a neighbor got electric lighting shortly after, she realized she could continue weaving clothes for the market late into the evening.

“It used to be dark at night, now it’s bright until morning,” the 30-year-old mother of two said, carefully arranging and pushing red threads at the loom. “So tonight, I work … to pay for the children.”

Around the world, hundreds of millions of people live in communities without regular access to power, and off-grid solar systems like these are bringing limited access to electricity to places like these years before power grids reach them.  

Some 775 million people globally lacked access to electricity in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are home to some of the largest populations without access to electricity. Not having electricity at home keeps people in poverty, the U.N. and World Bank wrote in a 2021 report. It’s hard for very poor people to get electricity, according to the report, and it’s hard for people who don’t have it to participate in the modern economy.

Indonesia has brought electricity to millions of people in recent years, going from 85% to nearly 97% coverage between 2005 and 2020, according to World Bank data. But there are still more than half a million people in Indonesia living in places the grid doesn’t reach.

While barriers still remain, experts say off-grid solar programs on the island could be replicated across the vast archipelago nation, bringing renewable energy to remote communities.

Now, villagers frequently gather in the evening to continue the day’s work, gather to watch television shows on cellphones charged by the panels and help children do homework in light bright enough to read.

“I couldn’t really study at night before,” said Antonius Pekambani, a 17-year-old student in Ndapaymi village, east Sumba. “But now I can.”

Solar power is still fairly rare in Indonesia. While the country has targeted more solar as part of its climate goals, there has been limited progress due to regulations that don’t allow households to sell power back to the grid, ruling out a way of defraying the cost that has helped people afford solar in other parts of the world.

That’s where grassroots organizations like Sumba Sustainable Solutions, based in eastern Sumba since 2019, saw potential to help. Working with international donors to help subsidize the cost, it provides imported home solar systems, which can power light bulbs and charge cellphones, for monthly payments equivalent to $3.50 over three years.

The organization also offers solar-powered appliances such as wireless lamps and grinding machines. It said it has distributed over 3,020 solar light systems and 62 mills across the island, reaching more than 3,000 homes.

Imelda Pindi Mbitu, a 46-year-old mother of five living in Walatungga, said she used to spend whole days grinding corn kernels and coffee beans between two rocks to sell at the local market; now, she takes it to a solar-powered mill shared by the village.

“With manual milling, if I start in the morning I can only finish in the afternoon. I can’t do anything else,” she said sitting in her wooden home. “If you use the machine, it’s faster. So now I can do other things.”

Similar schemes in other places, including Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa, have helped provide electricity for millions, according to the World Bank.

But some smaller off-grid solar systems like these don’t provide the same amount of power as grid access. While cellphones, light bulbs and mills remain charged, the systems don’t generate enough power for a large sound system or a church.

Off-grid solar projects face hurdles too, said Jetty Arlenda, an engineer with Sumba Sustainable Solutions.

The organization’s scheme is heavily reliant upon donors to subsidize the cost of solar equipment, which many rural residents would be unable to afford at their market cost. Villagers without off-grid solar panels are stuck on waitlists while Sumba Sustainable Solutions looks for more funding. They’re hoping for support from Indonesia’s $20 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership deal, which is being negotiated by numerous developed nations and international financial institutions.

There’s also been issues with recipients failing to make payments, especially as the island deals with locust outbreaks diminishing crops and livelihoods of villagers. And when solar systems break, they need imported parts that can be hard to come by.