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Democracy In U.S. Weakened Over Years, Says Freedom House

The greatest danger comes from the fact that American democracy is not infinitely durable.

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Donald Trump
Trump supporter holds a T-shirt reading "You Are Fake News" before a rally by President Donald Trump in Rochester, Minnesota, Oct. 4, 2018. Freedom House says that democracy in the U.S. weakened significantly and blames U.S. President Donald Trump for "ongoing attacks." VOA

Freedom House says that democracy in the United States has weakened significantly in recent years and blames U.S. President Donald Trump for “ongoing attacks on the rule of law, fact-based journalism, and other principles and norms of democracy.”

The U.S.-based nongovernmental group warned in its annual report on democracy that it has seen similar patterns in other nations where democracy was ultimately overtaken by authoritarianism.

“The greatest danger comes from the fact that American democracy is not infinitely durable, especially if a president shows little respect for its tenets,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

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The U.S.-based nongovernmental group warned in its annual report on democracy that it has seen similar patterns in other nations where democracy was ultimately overtaken by authoritarianism. VOA

While the group said the freedom rating for the United States shows that the country is still a robust democracy by global standards, it says its democracy has weakened significantly. It says the current U.S. score puts American democracy on a level with Greece, Croatia and Mongolia, well below other long-standing democracies such as Germany, France and Britain.

Around the world, Freedom House said that 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018, with only 50 registering gains. It said this marked the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

The report noted two countries with dramatic declines in 2018 – Hungary and Nicaragua. Hungary fell from “Free” status to “Partly Free” status as Prime Minister Viktor Orban “presided over the most dramatic decline ever charted by Freedom House within the European Union.” Nicaragua dropped to “Not Free” status amid “a ferocious crackdown on a nationwide anti-government protest movement.”

The report also spotlighted several other countries for declines, including China, where over a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and Hui were forced into reeducation centers, and Cameroon, where President Paul Biya extended his more than three decades in office through “deeply flawed elections.”

Donald Trump
Freedom House says that democracy in the United States has weakened significantly in recent years and blames U.S. President Donald Trump for “ongoing attacks on the rule of law, fact-based journalism, and other principles and norms of democracy.” VOA

Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.

The countries that received the worst freedom rating in the report were Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea. Those who received the best scores were Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the Netherlands.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping Shake Hands, Dispute Between The Two Countries Tends To Resolve

Freedom House said the countries that made notable positive changes in their freedom rating in 2018 included Armenia, Ethiopia and Iraq.

It said Armenia made a breakthrough with the victory of “reform-minded” leader Nikol Pashinyan in snap elections, and said in Ethiopia the ruling party installed a reformist prime minister who lifted a state of emergency and released political prisoners. In Iraq, Freedom House said that despite allegations of fraud, the country underwent a peaceful transfer of power following competitive parliamentary elections. (VOA)

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U.S. To Begin Search Through The Remnants Of The Islamic State’s Final Enclave

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

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Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol near the village of Baghuz in the Syrian countryside, March 20, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed forces are starting to search through the remnants of the Islamic State’s final enclave in northeastern Syria, looking for fighters, mines and booby-trapped explosives.

The effort Wednesday to sift through the broken buildings and shredded tents that litter the landscape in the town of Baghuz comes a day after Syrian Democratic Forces took the area from IS fighters in what officials described as a significant blow to the terror group.

SDF officials said as many as 1,500 more people surrendered following Tuesday’s incursion into IS’s final stronghold, including hundreds of injured IS fighters.

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

But concerns run high that fighters lurk in trenches dug all around the former IS enclave, as well as in a complex network of caves and tunnels, which some officials said could run for more than two kilometers.

An unknown number of IS fighters have also retreated to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, and there are no estimates for how many fighters could be hiding in other parts of Baghuz.

“A group of Daesh in Baghuz still fight back and hold their families as human shields,” Zana Amedi, a media official with the YPG militia, which has been supporting the SDF offensive, told VOA Wednesday, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym.

Despite the official caution, small celebrations broke out Wednesday around Baghuz, with some groups of SDF fighters playing music and dancing.

“We have won. We have eliminated the enemy, the terrorists,” Majid Hejjo, an SDF fighter, told the French news agency.

“The comrades are tired, and the battle is over,” said another SDF fighter.

No ‘complete victory’ yet

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump was equally effusive, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that the very last speck of IS-held territory would be liberated within hours.

“There is no red,” Trump said just hours after an intelligence briefing, showing off a map that compared IS-held territory now and the day he was elected. “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

Still, SDF officials and U.S. defense officials have been wary of saying the fight against the terror group’s self-declared caliphate is over.

It has been three months since Trump first announced the defeat of IS in a tweet,and more than a month since he told a meeting of ministers from coalition countries that the end of the caliphate “should be formally announced, probably sometime next week.”

More recently, multiple SDF officials have also forecast the fall of IS within days or even hours, only to see efforts slowed by fierce fighting and the presence of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly the wives, children and family members of IS fighters.

They now say more than 5,000 people have fled Baghuz since SDF resumed its final assault on IS just over a week ago, despite earlier saying only about 1,000 civilians and 300 fighters were holed up in Baghuz shortly after the operation to liberate the town got under way last month.

Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019.
Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019. VOA

In all, SDF says more than 5,000 IS fighters have surrendered or been captured over the past month, while another 1,300 have been killed in the fighting.

The U.S.-led coalition also said Wednesday there has been no letup in efforts to ensure the terror group is defeated.

“The ground offensive, coalition airstrikes and artillery continue as needed,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told VOA. “The SDF feel they are in control of the area, but as long as Daesh puts up any type of fight and hides in tunnels, they cannot declare complete victory.”

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

‘Tens of thousands’ of fighters

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

Thousands of SDF troops have massed around Baghuz for weeks, laying siege to the town in an effort to liberate the final IS enclave in Syria. Officials said Kurdish special forces from Iraq also had been brought in to help with the operations.

Also Read: After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Even once an official announcement is made, U.S. defense officials caution IS still has “tens of thousands” of fighters working either as part of sleeper cells or as part of an active, clandestine insurgency.

Additionally, senior officials believe most of the group’s senior leadership, including its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain at large. (VOA)