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Roy Siemens

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Roy likes politics. Knowledge is power, Roy constantly says, so he spends nearly all day gathering information and writing articles about the latest events around the globe. He likes history and studying about war techniques, this is why he finds writing his articles a piece of cake. Another hobby of his is horse – riding.

Six people have been killed and eighty one wounded in an explosion in a busy area of central Istanbul, Turkish authorities have said.

The explosion happened at about 16:20 local time on November 13 in the shopping area of the Istiklal street, in the Taksim Square area. Turkey has blamed Kurdish rebels.

A suspect – a Syrian woman – has been arrested, the interior minister said.

Vice-President Fuat Oktay earlier said the blast was thought to be a terrorist attack carried out by a woman.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the perpetrators would be punished.

Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, he condemned what he called the “vile attack” and said “the smell of terror” was in the air.

(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told Turkish media a woman had sat on a bench in the area for more than 40 minutes, leaving just minutes before the blast took place.

On November 14, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said a Syrian national – Ahlam Albashir – suspected of having left the bomb had been arrested by police. She was among 47 people detained by police. He accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of responsibility.

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The PKK denied any role in the bombing, saying “we will not directly target civilians”. The militant group has been battling for decades to achieve Kurdish self-rule in south-east Turkey. Turkey, the EU and US regard it as a terrorist organization.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the blast.

Government minister Derya Yanik wrote in a tweet that a government ministry employee and his young daughter were among the victims.

In the wake of the attack, condolences to Turkey have poured in from around the world.

The US said it stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with its NATO ally in “countering terrorism,” according to a statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tweet in Turkish: “We share your pain… We are with you in the fight against terrorism.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also writing in a tweet in Turkish, said: “The pain of the friendly Turkish people is our pain.”

Countries including Pakistan, Italy and Greece also expressed their solidarity.

Istiklal street – one of Istanbul’s main arteries which is usually packed with shoppers – was previously targeted by a suicide bomber in 2016.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed an accord to annex four more areas of Ukraine, after self-styled referendums condemned by Ukraine and the West as a sham.

So-called votes were held in Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.

Photo Reuters

Vladimir Putin has delivered a major speech at the Kremlin.

A stage was set up in Moscow’s Red Square, with billboards proclaiming the four regions as part of Russia and a concert planned for the evening.

The event echoes Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which also followed a discredited referendum and was heralded by a Kremlin signing followed by a presidential victory speech in parliament. That initial annexation has never been recognized by the vast majority of the international community, and nor will this.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the “pseudo-referendums” were worthless and did not change reality.

“The territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored. And our reaction to recognition of the results by Russia will be very harsh.”

No independent monitoring of the Russian process took place and election officials were pictured going from door to door escorted by armed soldiers.

Separate agreements will be signed with the two Russian-backed separatist leaders from the east and the two Russian-appointed officials from the south.

As with Crimea, Russia’s two houses of parliament will formally ratify the annexation treaties next week. Vladimir Putin is expected to address to the upper house of parliament on October 4, three days before his 70th birthday.

The US has said it will impose sanctions on Russia because of the staged referendums, while EU member states are considering an eighth round of measures, including sanctions on anyone involved in the votes.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on September 29 that people in occupied regions of Ukraine had been taken from their homes and workplaces by threat and sometimes at gunpoint.

“This is the opposite of free and fair elections. And this is the opposite of peace, it is a dictated peace,” she said.

The exercise began across 15% of Ukraine on September 23 with only a few days’ notice. Russian state media argued that the use of armed guards was for security purposes, but it was clear that it had the added effect of intimidating residents.

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Russia does not fully control any of the four regions it has decided to annex. Although most of Luhansk remains in Russian hands, Moscow only controls 60% of Donetsk.

Seven months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine from the north, east and south, war is still raging on front lines in all four areas. The capital of the southern region of Zaporizhzhia is firmly under the control of Ukraine’s government, and a counter-offensive is under way in Kherson.

Although Russian-appointed officials have been calling for annexation for several months, Ukraine’s series of military successes in September appear to have forced the Kremlin’s hand.

The Ukrainian army has recaptured large swathes of the north-east and on September 29 said its forces were encircling Russian troops in the strategically important city of Lyman, in Donetsk.

Last week, Vladimir Putin announced a military call-up and threatened to use all means at his disposal, including nuclear weapons, to defend what he considered Russian land. By annexing occupied areas of Ukraine, he will be able to argue that Russian territory is coming under attack from Western weapons, in the hope that some governments may halt their military aid to Kyiv.

However, Ukraine’s foreign minister has warned the sham votes will not have any influence on the battlefield.

Vladimir Putin has admitted that mistakes have been made in his drive to mobilise hundreds of thousands of Russians to bolster his troops on the front lines. Some 2,400 protesters have been arrested in dozens of cities and there has been an exodus of Russian men streaming across the border.

Kazakhstan alone reported 98,000 arrivals by September 27, and there have been long queues on the border with Georgia. From September 30, Finland has announced it will significantly restrict Russians entering for tourism or for onward travel to other EU countries.

Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe has been killed after being shot twice at a political campaign event.

Shinzo Abe, 67, was in the process of giving a speech when a gunman attacked him from behind.

The event was taking place in the southern city of Nara. The former prime minister was making a campaign speech outside a railway station for Kei Sato, an incumbent member of the upper house of parliament.

Image source kremlin.ru

Kei Sato is standing for the ruling party, the Liberal Democrats, in elections for the Upper House scheduled for July 10.

The above image shows Shinzo Abe stepping up to make his speech as aides applaud.

But they are seemingly unaware of another figure in the background, a casually dressed youngish man with a black cross-body bag.

At 11:30 local time footage of the event shows the man moving forward, minutes after the former prime minister starts his speech. Shots ring out and Shinzo Abe falls to the ground, visibly bleeding.

As terrified spectators duck down, security officials tackle the 41-year-old suspect, who makes no attempt to run. They wrestle him to the ground and take him into custody.

Bystanders care for Shinzo Abe as he lies bleeding and he is airlifted to Nara Medical University Hospital for treatment. Media reports say he is able to speak in the minutes after the attack but subsequently loses consciousness.

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The former prime minister was in cardiac arrest on arrival at the hospital. Unsuccessful attempts were made to resuscitate him and he was given a blood transfusion, but was pronounced dead at 17:03.

Doctors say he received two wounds that damaged an artery, and suffered major heart damage.

Both wounds were deep, and blood loss was the cause of death, they add.

No bullets were found during surgery.

Eyewitnesses say they saw the man carrying what they describe as a large gun and firing twice at Shinzo Abe from behind.

The weapon, which was reportedly a handmade gun, was seized when the suspected attacker was arrested. Strict firearms laws in Japan make purchasing a gun extremely difficult.

The suspect has been identified as Nara resident Tetsuya Yamagami. Local media reports say he is believed to be a former member of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, Japan’s equivalent of a navy.

When questioned, he said he had been “dissatisfied” with Shinzo Abe and had intended to kill him.

Media reports say that an explosives team later raided the suspect’s house to gather evidence.

It is unclear how the suspect came to know about Shinzo Abe’s attendance at the rally as it was confirmed only late on Thursday night.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has visited Turkey for the first time since the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embraced the prince before they held talks aimed at repairing a deep rift.

Turkey’s president once indirectly accused Prince Mohammed of ordering Saudi agents to kill Jamal Khashoggi. He denied any involvement.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Turkey is currently seeking trade, investment and assistance to help it deal with a worsening economic crisis.

It has also worked to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel after years of tensions.

Following their talks, a joint statement said the two men discussed improving relations and investment in sectors from energy to defence, among others.

The Saudi crown prince wants to end his international isolation and restore his powerful regional role.

He also visited Jordan and Egypt this week as part of a Middle East tour and next month will meet President Joe Biden, who promised in 2019 to make Saudi Arabia “the pariah that they are” over Khashoggi’s murder.

Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of Prince Mohammed, was last seen entering the Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to get papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

A UN investigator concluded Khashoggi had been “brutally slain” by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, and that his body had been dismembered.

She made that judgement after listening to purported audio recordings of conversations inside the consulate made by Turkish intelligence.

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While President Erdogan did not directly accuse Prince Mohammed, he claimed he knew the order to kill Jamal Khashoggi had come “from the highest levels of the Saudi government”.

US intelligence agencies concluded that the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi prosecutors blamed “rogue” agents and said the prince had had no knowledge of the operation.

A year after the killing, a Saudi court found five unnamed people guilty of directly participating in the killing and handed them death sentences that were later commuted to 20-year prison terms, while three others were jailed for seven to 10 years for covering up the crime.

Hatice Cengiz condemned the decision to welcome Prince Mohammed to Turkey and vowed to continue her fight for justice.

“The political legitimacy he earns through the visits he makes to a different country every day doesn’t change the fact that he is a murderer,” she tweeted.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A Russian-owned superyacht was ordered to leave Fiji for the US after a court upheld a FBI warrant.

The vessel allegedly sailed to Fiji to escape seizure.

US police had for months been tracking the 350ft Amadea – linked to sanctioned oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.

Agents had boarded the boat upon its arrival in Fiji in April, but the boat’s owner had launched a legal battle to stop the seizure.

They had argued the warrant contravened the Pacific island’s local law.

However on June 7, Fiji’s Supreme Court dismissed that argument and ordered the boat’s removal, pointing out the giant yacht’s docking in the port of Lautoka had cost the local government “dearly”.

US authorities in their submission had argued that the $300 million boat was estimated to cost about $25-30 million to keep running per year.

For the public benefit, it was better for the boat to be removed, Chief Justice Kamal Kumar said.

The judge found the vessel had sailed into Fiji waters “without any permit and most probably to evade prosecution by the United States”.

The defence team for the boat’s registered owners, Millemarin Investments, had argued the boat was not the property of Suleiman Kerimov’s and instead belonged to another Russian businessman, who is not facing sanctions.

However, US authorities allege that Suleiman Kerimov still has a beneficial connection to the boat.

The FBI alleged the boat had also tried to escape detection “almost immediately” after the war began by turning off its automated tracking system.

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US authorities first sanctioned Suleiman Kerimov in 2018 over a slew of money-laundering charges. The Russian has been sanctioned by other nations since, including by the EU block after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On June 7, Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions said the court ruling demonstrated his nation’s commitment to external assistance requests and international law.

The court accepted the validity of the US warrant and agreed that issues concerning money laundering and ownership need to be decided in the court of original jurisdiction,” said Christopher Pryde.

Western authorities have stepped up a crackdown on the assets of dozens of Russian oligarchs in the wake of the Ukraine invasion in February.

Israeli police have attacked mourners at the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, whose killing in the occupied West Bank has caused a surge of anger.

The journalist’s coffin almost fell as police, some using batons, waded into a crowd of Palestinians gathered around it.

Police said they acted after being pelted with stones.

Image source: Twitter

Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead in disputed circumstances on May 11, with Israel and Palestinians trading blame. The killing has been widely condemned.

Footage showed a standoff between police and Palestinians gathered around the coffin in the hospital compound, before officers push the crowd back, with some beating and kicking mourners. Police said officers “were forced to use riot dispersal means”.

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply disturbed” by the confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians and the behavior of some police.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said the images of police hitting mourners were disturbing.

“We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession,” she said.

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The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera claim Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces, while Israel said it was not yet possible to determine what happened and that she could have been killed by Palestinian gunfire.

An Israeli military interim report on May 12 said the fatal shot could have come from “massive fire from Palestinian gunmen”, or possibly from “a few bullets” fired by a soldier “at a terrorist who was firing at his vehicle”.

Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian American, was a veteran correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel and had reported on the Israel-Palestinian conflict for two decades.

The journalist was given the rarity of a funeral at the compound of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 12, where her coffin was brought draped in the Palestinian flag. President Abbas paid tribute to her, describing her as a “martyr of the free word” who “sacrificed her life” to defend the Palestinian cause.

He said Israel was “fully responsible for her killing” and that he would refer the case to the International Criminal Court, which investigates potential war crimes.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett has accused President Abbas of “throwing blame at Israel without any basis”.

Shireen Abu Akleh was in the Jenin refugee camp early on May 11 to report on the Israeli raid. The Israeli military said the operation was to apprehend “terrorist suspects”.

It said: “Tens of Palestinian gunmen fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers. The soldiers responded with fire toward the gunmen and hits were identified.”

Another Palestinian journalist, Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi, was shot and wounded during the violence.

Image source: Reuters

The first war crimes trial since the beginning of Russia’s invasion has been started in Ukraine.

A 21-year-old soldier appearing in the dock is accused of killing an unarmed civilian.

Vadim Shishimarin appeared at a preliminary hearing in Kyiv. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Ukraine says it has identified thousands of potential war crimes committed by Russia.

Russia has denied targeting civilians and made no comment on the trial.

Prosecutors say Vadim Shishimarin was driving in a stolen vehicle with other soldiers in the north-eastern Sumy region when they encountered a 62-year-old cyclist using a phone.

According to the prosecutors, the soldier was ordered to shoot the civilian to stop them from telling Ukrainian defenders about their location.

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It is not clear how the Russian was captured or what the nature of the evidence against him is.

Vadim Shishimarin spoke to confirm basic details such as his name. He is yet to enter a plea, and the trial will reconvene next week.

Hundreds of bodies have been found in regions previously occupied by Russia.

Some of Ukraine’s allies, such as the UK and US, have joined the country in accusing Russia of carrying out genocide.

After the hearing, state prosecutor Andriy Synyuk told Reuters: “This is the first case today. But soon there will be a lot of these cases.”

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On the 63rd day of Ukraine’s defense against a full-scale Russian invasion, Moscow has decided to cut off gas exports to Poland and Bulgaria.

Hours after this decision, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president,warned that the Țera of Russian fossil fuel in Europe” is coming to an end.

Ursula von der Leyen said it showed Russia’s “unreliability” as a supplier.

Political leaders in Warsaw and Sofia had already said Russian energy giant Gazprom’s move amounted to “blackmail”.

However, the Kremlin said Russia had been forced into the action by the “unfriendly steps” of Western nations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov added that Russia remains a reliable energy partner.

Gazprom’s cut-off follows Poland and Bulgaria’s refusal to pay for gas in Russian roubles – a demand made by President Vladimir Putin in March, which was designed to shore up the faltering currency battered by Western sanctions.

In a statement issued on April 27, Gazprom said it had “completely suspended gas supplies” to Poland and Bulgaria in line with the decree issued by President Putin.

Gazprom also warned the countries – which are transit states for Russian gas – that any unauthorized withdrawal of gas intended for other European nations would see supplies reduced by an equivalent amount.

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Polish state gas company PGNiG confirmed that Gazprom’s supplies to the country had been halted and warned that it reserved “the right to seek compensation”.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said “appropriate legal steps” will be taken against Gazprom.

Russia was seeking to “foster divisions” between Western allies.

Bulgarian PM Kiril Petkov said the country was reviewing all of its contracts with Gazprom, including for transit of Russian gas to Serbia and Hungary, emphasizing that “one-sided blackmail was not acceptable”.

Sofia, which relies on Gazprom for more than 90% of its gas supply, said overnight it had taken steps to find alternative sources but no restrictions on gas consumption were currently required for Bulgarians.

Ursula von der Leyen, speaking in Brussels, said Gazprom’s move was “unjustified and unacceptable,” but emphasized that the bloc was “prepared for this scenario”.

She also hit out against reports carried by the media outlet Bloomberg which alleged 10 European energy companies are preparing to make payments for Gazprom gas in roubles, and that four energy companies have done so already.

The EU leader said such moves would be “high risk” for the corporations and would constitute “a breach of our sanctions”.

“Our guidance here is very clear,” she said.

While the EU has been firm that it will not comply with Vladimir Putin’s demands that payments be made in roubles, Hungary has reached a workaround deal with Gazprom.

The countries will pay into a euro-denominated account with Gazprombank, a subsidiary of the energy giant, which in turn will deposit the amount in roubles.

Dmitry Peskov refused to say how many other countries have agreed to make payments in this way.

Ahead of Gazprom’s announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff accused Russia of “beginning the gas blackmail of Europe”.

Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Duma – the lower house of Russia’s parliament – praised Gazprom’s move and urged it to take similar action against other “unfriendly” countries.

Europe depends on Russia for more than a third of its gas needs and Gazprom holds a monopoly on pipeline supplies in Russia.

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Russian warship Moskva that was damaged by an explosion on April 13 has sunk, Russia’s defence ministry has said.

According to a ministry message, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was being towed to port when “stormy seas” caused it to sink.

The 510-crew missile cruiser was a symbol of Russia’s military power, leading its naval assault on Ukraine.

Kyiv says its missiles hit the warship. Moscow has not reported any attack. It says the vessel sank after a fire.

The blaze caused the explosion of the warship’s ammunition, Russia says, adding that the entire crew were later evacuated to nearby Russian vessels in the Black Sea. It provided no further details.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

After saying initially the warship was afloat, late on Thursday, April 14, Russian state media broke the news that the Moskva had been lost.

“While being towed… towards the destined port, the vessel lost its balance due to damage sustained in the hull as fire broke out after ammunition exploded. Given the choppy seas, the vessel sank,” state news agency Tass quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.

Ukrainian military officials said they struck the Moskva with Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles – a weapon designed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the naval threat to Ukraine in the Black Sea grew.

A senior Ukrainian official said as many as 510 crew could have been on board the Moskva.

On the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Moskva gained notoriety after calling on a small garrison of Ukrainian border troops defending Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender – to which they memorably radioed an expletive-laden message of refusal.

Originally built in the Soviet-era, the Moskva entered service in the early 1980s. The vessel was actually laid down in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv, which has been heavily bombed by Russia in recent days.

The guided missile cruiser was previously deployed by Moscow in the Syria conflict where it supplied Russian forces in the country with naval protection.

It reportedly had 16 Vulkan anti-ship missiles and an array of anti-submarine and mine-torpedo weapons.

If the Ukrainian attack is confirmed, the 12,490-tonne Moskva would be the biggest warship to be sunk by enemy action since World War Two.

It is the second major vessel Russia has lost since the start of its invasion. In March, the Saratov landing ship was destroyed by a Ukrainian attack in the harbour of Berdyansk, a Sea of Azov Ukrainian port seized by Russia.

US journalist Brent Renaud has been shot dead in the town of Irpin, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, police say.

The 50-year-old was a journalist and filmmaker who was working in the region for Time.

Kyiv’s police chief Andriy Nebytov said Brent Renaud had been targeted by Russian soldiers. Two other journalists were injured and taken to hospital.

It is the first reported death of a foreign journalist covering the war in Ukraine.

One of the injured journalists, Juan Arredondo, told an Italian reporter he had been with Brent Renaud when they came under fire.

Photographs are circulating online showing a press ID for Brent Renaud issued by the New York Times.

In a statement, the newspaper said it was “deeply saddened” to hear of Brent Renaud’s death but that he had not been working for the newspaper in Ukraine.

Image source: Twitter

Brent Renaud last worked for the publication in 2015, the Times said, and the press ID he was wearing in Ukraine had been issued years ago.

Time editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal and Ian Orefice, the president and chief operating officer of Time and Time Studios, said they were “devastated by the loss”.

“As an award-winning filmmaker and journalist, Brent tackled the toughest stories around the world often alongside his brother Craig Renaud,” the statement said.

Brent Renaud had reported from Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. He won a Peabody Award for his work on a 2014 series on Chicago schools, Last Chance High.

He often worked alongside his brother, Craig, also a filmmaker. It is not known whether Craig also travelled to Ukraine.

Brent Renaud’s death comes less than two weeks after Ukrainian journalist Yevhenii Skaum, a camera operator for the Ukrainian television channel LIVE, was killed when a TV transmission tower in Kyiv was hit by shelling. 

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Defiant residents in the Ukrainian city of Melitopol have gathered near the occupied district administration to protest against the alleged abduction of Mayor Ivan Fedorov by Russian forces.

Ukrainian officials have posted video saying it shows Ivan Fedorov being led away blindfolded on March 11.

In a message, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Russians of “moving to a new stage of terror”.

Melitopol, a small city in south-eastern Ukraine, was one of the first to fall to the Russians.

Image source: Twitter

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Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, arguing it felt threatened by its neighbour’s intent on joining Western-led organisations such as the NATO military alliance.

In his message on March 11, President Zelensky called Ivan Fedorov a “mayor who bravely defends Ukraine and the members of his community”.

“This is obviously a sign of weakness of the invaders,” the president said.

“They have moved to a new stage of terror in which they are trying to physically eliminate representatives of legitimate local Ukrainian authorities.”

Ivan Fedorov had said that his administration was not going toc o-operate with the Russians „in any way”.

The mayor said that invading forces had ransacked his offices, exiling his team to another location where they are attempting to continue running their city.

There have been protests in Melitopol every day since the Russian occupation.

On March 12, hundreds surrounded the administration building demanding the mayor’s release.

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Image source Wikimedia

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has described sanctions imposed by Western nations over his invasion of Ukraine as “akin to a declaration of war”.

“But thank God it has not come to that,” he added.

President Putin also warned that any attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be seen as participation in the armed conflict.

He rejected suggestions that he would introduce a state of emergency or martial law in Russia.

Vladimir Putin made the remarks while speaking to a group of women flight attendants at an Aeroflot training centre near Moscow.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion 10 days ago, the West has imposed a raft of sanctions on Russia, including the freezing of President Putin’s foreign assets and the exclusion of a number of Russian banks from the Swift international payments system.

In addition, many multinational firms have ceased operations in Russia.

On March 5, Zara, Paypal and Samsung became the latest global brands to suspend trading there.

The economic measures have already caused the rouble to plunge in value and forced the Russian central bank to double interest rates.

In his latest comments, President Putin sought to justify the war in Ukraine, repeating his assertion that he was seeking to defend Russian speaking communities there through the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of the country.

Responding to Western defence analysts’ allegations that the Russian military campaign was going less well than expected, he said: “Our army will fulfil all the tasks. I don’t doubt that at all. Everything is going to plan.”

The Russian leader added that only professional soldiers were taking part in the hostilities and there were no conscripts involved, despite reports to the contrary.

He said efforts to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine would be considered by Russia to be a step into the military conflict and those responsible would be treated as enemy combatants.

“The current leadership needs to understand that if they continue doing what they are doing, they risk the future of Ukrainian statehood,” he added.

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For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has condemned NATO for ruling out the no-fly zone. However, Western leaders say introducing the measure would be an escalation.

Vladimir Putin also said he had no plans to declare martial law in Russia. adding that such a step would only be taken in “instances of external aggression, in defined areas of military activity”.

“But we don’t have such a situation and I hope we won’t have one,” he said.

There had been rumours that Vladimir Putin was planning to declare martial law, which is when normal civil law is suspended or the military takes control of government functions.

He said there were other special emergency states which could be used in the case of a “large-scale external threat”, but that he had no plans to introduce these either.

Meanwhile, diplomatic moves have continued on the sidelines of the conflict.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 5 and had a three-hour discussion on the war.

Naftali Bennett then headed to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. As an Orthodox Jew, he broke Shabbat in order to travel, which is allowed under Jewish law if human life is at stake.

Although Israel is a key ally of the US, Naftali Bennett has tried to preserve a good relationship with Russia. Ukraine’s President Zelensky, who is Jewish, has called on Israel to mediate in the crisis.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has met Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, telling him he was in awe of his courage in standing up to Russia.

The two men met on the Polish-Ukraine border. Dmytro Kuleba reiterated his desire and optimism for more military backing from NATO, including a no-fly zone.

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Image source: Getty Images

France has intercepted and impounded a Russian-flagged car cargo ship suspected of breaching sanctions imposed because of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Baltic Leader ship was heading from the north-western French city of Rouen to St Petersburg in Russia with a cargo of new cars.

It is being held at the Channel port of Boulogne.

According to the Russian state media, the vessel is owned by a subsidiary of a bank targeted in recent EU and US sanctions.

A regional French official said such a measure was rare, but called it a sign of firmness.

The U.S. says the ship was linked to the son of a former Russian spy chief, in one of the first visible displays of the West enforcing sanctions on Moscow over its Ukraine invasion.

The US Treasury Department has issued blocking sanctions against the vessel, saying it is owned by a subsidiary of Promsvyazbank, one of the Russian financial institutions hit by sanctions.

However, the bank has said it no longer owns the Baltic Leader. It told Reuters that the ship was sold to another firm before the sanctions were imposed.

French officials said they were checking whether the vessel was linked to Russian financial interests and that the crew were “being co-operative”.

The process could take up to 48 hours, they added.

The Russian embassy in Paris said it would send a note of protest to the French foreign ministry over the seizure.

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Image source: Wikimedia

More European countries have closed their airspace to Russian flights, as Moscow faces rising pressure over the invasion of Ukraine.

Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Romania announced on February 26 they were banning some flights from Russia.

Russia earlier said it would close its airspace to flights from Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic after they issued a ban on Russian jets.

Meanwhile, Russian-owned planes can no longer enter UK airspace.

Estonian PM Kaja Kallas urged other EU countries to issue similar restrictions on Twitter, adding: “There is no place for planes of the aggressor state in democratic skies.”

Slovenian PM Janez Jansa quoted Kallas’s tweet saying that “Slovenia will do the same”.

Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits also said on Twitter that “Latvia will close its airspace to Russian-registered airlines for commercial flights,” adding that the decision would be formally approved at the next cabinet meeting.

The restriction on Russian flights over large swathes of eastern Europe will require Russian airlines to take circuitous routes.

One Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Budapest on February 26 logged a flight time about 75 minutes longer than usual, according to the Flightradar24 tracking website, with a route avoiding Poland.

Commercial airlines are also avoiding airspace around Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus following Russia’s invasion. As the Kyiv airport is closed, many foreigners stuck in Ukraine cannot return home.

In the United States, Delta Air Lines said it would suspend a code-sharing agreement with Russia’s Aeroflot.

The UK’s ban on Russian flights, including Aeroflot planes and private jets, led Moscow to retaliate with a similar curb on British planes.

Virgin Atlantic said avoiding Russia would add between 15 minutes and an hour to its flights between the UK and India and Pakistan.

Moroccan rescuers retrieved a 5-year-old boy from a well where he had been stuck for five days, state media reported late on February 5, but it was not clear if he had survived the ordeal.

They worked through the night to reach the boy, named by local media as Rayan, who plunged 32m (104ft) through the well’s narrow opening four days ago.

Rescuers said they were in an access tunnel less than a metre from the boy.

Fears of a possible landslide complicated the task. At that moment, a rescue official was unsure Rayan was still alive.

Chief rescuer Abdelhadi Tamrani told AFP that the camera showed him from behind lying on his side.

“It is not possible to determine the child’s condition at all at this time. But we hope to God that the child is alive,” he told local TV.

Footage on February 3 from a camera lowered into the well showed that Rayan was alive and conscious, although he appeared to be suffering from some minor head injuries.

Rescue workers have lowered an oxygen mask, food and water into the well but it was unclear whether the boy had been able to use the supplies.

A medical team is also on site, ready to treat the boy. A helicopter has also arrived at the scene.

The rescue effort has gripped the North African country for days, and thousands have gathered at the scene and have been encouraging rescuers.

The mixture of rocky and sandy soils has meant rescuers deem opening the water well’s narrow shaft to be too dangerous.

Instead, bulldozers were used to cut a huge trench next to the well. Rescuers then started digging horizontally to reach the boy.

Image source: Getty Images

Led by Morocco’s Civil Protection Directorate, rescue operations in the small northern town of Tamorot, around 60 miles from the city of Chefchaouen, have been ongoing since February 1.

Rayan’s father was repairing the well at the time of the accident, and has said he and Rayan’s mother were “devastated and very worried”.

“In that one moment I took my eyes off him, the little one fell into the well. I haven’t slept a wink,” he told news site le360 on February 2.

Speaking to Moroccan media with tears in her eyes, Rayan’s mother said: “The whole family went out to look for him. Then we realised that he’d fallen down the well. I’m still keeping up hope that we’ll get him out alive.”

On Moroccan social media, the #SaveRayan has been trending across the country as thousands of people have followed updates from local media and onlookers at the scene.

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France’s President Emmanuel Macron has sparked outrage after using divisive, vulgar language to say he wanted to make life difficult for unvaccinated people.

He told Le Parisien newspaper: “I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this – to the end.”

Three months ahead of a presidential election, opponents of President Macron said his words were unworthy of a president.

French lawmakers halted debate on a law barring the unvaccinated from much of public life.

The session in the National Assembly was brought to a standstill for a second night running on January 4 as opposition delegates complained about the president’s language, with one leading figure describing it as “unworthy, irresponsible and premeditated”.

The legislation is expected to be approved in a vote this week, but it has angered vaccine opponents.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Mandatory vaccinations are being introduced in several European countries, with Austria leading the way for over-14s from next month and Germany planning a similar move for adults. Italy’s government was on January 5 considering a compulsory vaccine pass for at least anyone over 60.

In his interview with Le Parisien on January 4, President Macron used the vulgar term emmerder to say how he wanted to stir up the unvaccinated. He would not “vaccinate by force” the remaining five million who had not had a dose, but hoped to encourage people to get the vaccines by “limiting as much as possible their access to activities in social life”.

He said: “I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison.

“So we need to tell them, from January 15, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”

Ahead of a presidential election campaign in which Emmanuel Macron is yet to announce his intention to run, his remarks prompted a strong reaction from opposition figures.

Right-wing Republicans candidate Valérie Pécresse said she was outraged that the president had accused unvaccinated people of not being citizens.

“You have to accept them as they are – lead them, bring them together and not insult them,” she told CNews.

Party colleague Bruno Retailleau said pointedly: “Emmanuel Macron says he has learned to love the French, but it seems he especially likes to despise them.”

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted: “A president shouldn’t say that… Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”

Meanwhile, leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon described the remarks as an astonishing confession: “It’s clear, the vaccination pass is a collective punishment against individual freedom.”

The latest opinion gave President Macron the edge over his rivals on January 5, with 27% of votes in the first round on April 10, ahead of Valérie Pécresse and Marine Le Pen both on 16%. The poll for Le Figaro/LCI also gave him a run-off victory, with the closest margin of 55%-45% with the Republican candidate.

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Emmanuel Macron’s choice of language is not unprecedented for a French leader.

The same word was used by Georges Pompidou in 1966 when he said it was time to stop annoying the French. Like him, Emmanuel Macron said his role was not to irritate the French, but the unvaccinated was a different story.

PM Jean Castex told parliament later that people everywhere were saying the same as the president. “Our citizens have a sense of exasperation seeing a whole kind of restrictions imposed while others choose to break free of them.”

France has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the EU, with more than 90% of the adult population double-jabbed.

For months France has asked people to show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to access many public venues.

However, the French government wants to remove the option to show a negative test in response to record increases in infections, driven by the highly contagious Omicron and Delta variants of Covid.

On January 5, France reported 332,252 new daily Covid cases – the highest number of daily infections recorded in the country since the start of the pandemic.

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Image source: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned President Joe Biden that imposing new sanctions over Ukraine could lead to a complete breakdown in relations.

In a phone call late on December 30, Vladimir Putin said such sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”.

President Biden, meanwhile, told Vladimir Putin that the US and its allies would respond decisively to any invasion of Ukraine.

The call, requested by Russia, was the pair’s second such conversation this month and lasted for almost an hour.

It marked the latest effort to defuse tensions over Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, where Ukrainian officials say more than 100,000 Russian troops have been sent.

The build-up has prompted concern in the West, with the US threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions “like none he’s ever seen” if Ukraine comes under attack.

Russia, however, denies it is planning to invade Ukraine and says the troops are there for exercises. It says it is entitled to move its troops freely on its own soil.

Although the two sides exchanged warnings during the call, Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters shortly after that Vladimir Putin was “pleased” with the conversation. He added that it had created a “good backdrop” for future talks.

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US and Russian officials are set to meet for in-person talks in Geneva next month, and the White House said President Biden urged his Russian counterpart to pursue a diplomatic solution.

In a holiday message before December 30 call, Vladimir Putin told Joe Biden he was “convinced” the pair could work together based on “mutual respect and consideration of each other’s national interests”.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was “in the mood for a conversation”.

Ukraine’s defense minister told parliament at the start of December that Russia had massed tens of thousands of troops near the border, and could be gearing up for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January.

Russia has argued the military build-up at the border is a protective measure against NATO, the Western military alliance. It wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east, and that certain weapons will not be sent to Ukraine or any neighboring countries.

The US has rejected what it styles as a Kremlin bid to control the future of independent countries.

Ukraine has not been offered NATO membership, but has close ties with the bloc.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are nothing new. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and soon after started to back a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east that has seen some 14,000 people killed in periodic fighting.

Washington and its European allies have warned Russia to expect severe economic sanctions if troops do cross into Ukraine again.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A former top Saudi intelligence official has alleged that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman suggested using a “poison ring” to kill the late King Abdullah.

In an interview with CB’s 60 Minutes, Saad al-Jabri said Prince Mohammed bin Salman told his cousin in 2014 that he wanted to do so to clear the throne for his father.

There were tensions within the ruling family at the time over the succession.

The Saudi government has called Saad al-Jabri a discredited former official with a long history of fabrication.

In his interview with CBS, Jabri warned that Crown Prince Mohammed – Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and the son of King Salman – was a “psychopath, killer, in the Middle East with infinite resources, who poses threat to his people, to the Americans and to the planet”.

He alleged that at a 2014 meeting the prince suggested to his cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the then interior minister, that he could arrange the killing of King Abdullah.

“He told him: ‘I want to assassinate King Abdullah. I get a poison ring from Russia. It’s enough for me just to shake hand with him and he will be done,'” Saad al-Jabri said.

“Whether he’s just bragging… he said that and we took it seriously.”

Saad al-Jabri said the matter was settled privately within the royal court. But he added that the meeting was secretly filmed and that he knew where two copies of the video recording were.

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King Abdullah died at the age of 90 in 2015 and was succeeded by his half-brother Salman, Mohammed bin Salman’s father, who named Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince.

In 2017, Mohammed bin Nayef was replaced as heir to the throne by Mohammed bin Salman. He also lost his role as interior minister and was reportedly placed under house arrest before being detained last year on unspecified charges.

Saad al-Jabri fled to Canada after Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted.

He said in the interview that he was warned by a friend in a Middle Eastern intelligence service that Mohammed bin Salman was sending a hit team to kill him in October 2018, just days after Saudi agents murdered the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

He alleged that a six-person team landed at an airport in Ottawa but were deported after customs found they were carrying “suspicious equipment for DNA analysis”.

Last year, Saad al-Jabri accused the crown prince of attempted murder in a civil suit filed in a US federal court.

The prince rejected the allegations. He has also denied any involvement in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, although US intelligence agencies assessed that he approved the operation.

In a statement sent to CBS, the Saudi embassy in Washington labeled Saad al-Jabri as “a discredited former government official with a long history of fabricating and creating distractions to hide the financial crimes he committed, which amount to billions of dollars, to furnish a lavish life-style for himself and his family”.

Saad al-Jabri is being sued for corruption by various Saudi entities and a Canadian judge has frozen his assets saying there is “overwhelming evidence of fraud”.

He denies stealing any government money, saying his former employers rewarded him generously.

In March 2020, Saudi authorities detained Saad al-Jabri’s son Omar and daughter Sarah in what human rights groups said was an apparent effort to coerce him to return to Saudi Arabia.

Last November, two months after their father sued the crown prince, the siblings were sentenced to nine and six-and-a-half years in prison respectively by a Saudi court after being convicted of money laundering and “attempting to escape” the country. They denied the charges.

An appeals court upheld their sentences in a secret hearing at which they were not present.

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Image source Flickr

North Korea has claimed that it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile called Hwasong-8 on September 28.

According to state media, the new missile was one of the “five most important” new weapons systems laid out in its five-year military development plan.

The North Koreans called the missile a “strategic weapon”, which usually means it has nuclear capabilities.

The launch is another indication of Pyongyang’s growing weapons technology amid strict sanctions.

“The development of this weapons system…[has increased] the nation’s capabilities for self-defense in every way,” North Korean state news outlet KCNA said.

The latest launch also saw North Korea introducing missile fuel ampoule for the first time.

This is a technology that allows missiles to be pre-fuelled and then sent to the field in canisters. This means it could potentially stay launch-ready for years.

The launch also marked North Korea’s third missile test this month. It has already revealed a new type of cruise missile, as a well as a new train-launched ballistic missile system.

The event came as its North Korean envoy Kim Song defended his country’s right to develop weapons at the annual UN General Assembly in New York.

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Kim Song said North Korea was “building up our national defense in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country”.

Hypersonic missiles are much faster and more agile than normal ones, making them much harder for missile defense systems to intercept.

North Korea joins a small pool of countries, including the US, Russia, China and India, in attempting to develop the weapons. In July, Russia announced that it had successfully launched a hypersonic missile which reached a speed of 8659.88km/h (5381mph) from a frigate in the White Sea.

KCNA said the test launch confirmed the “navigational control and stability of the missile”.

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Image by Richard Barboza from Pixabay

A newly declassified document that looks into connections between Saudi citizens in the US and two of the 9/11 attackers has been released by the FBI.

Relatives of victims have long urged the release of the files, arguing Saudi officials had advance knowledge but did not try to stop the attacks.

However, the document provides no evidence that the Saudi government was linked to the 9/11 plot.

Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Ahead of the declassification, the Saudi embassy in Washington welcomed the release and once again denied any link between the kingdom and the hijackers, describing such claims as “false and malicious”.

The 16-page FBI document was declassified on the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terror attacks on US soil – almost 3,000 people were killed after four planes were hijacked – and is the first of several expected to be released.

Some families of the victims had put pressure on President Joe Biden to declassify the documents, saying he should not attend this year’s commemoration ceremonies in New York if he was not prepared to release them.

The FBI document is still heavily redacted. It is based on interviews with a source whose identity is classified (listed as PII) and outlines contacts between a number of Saudi nationals and two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.

The hijackers posed as students to enter the US in 2000. The FBI memo says they then received significant logistical support from Omar al-Bayoumi, who witnesses said was a frequent visitor to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles despite his official status at the time as a student.

Omar al-Bayoumi, the source tells the FBI, had “very high status” at the consulate.

“Bayoumi’s assistance to Hamzi and Midha included translation, travel, lodging and financing,” the memo said.

The FBI document also says there were links between the two hijackers and Fahad al-Thumairy, a conservative imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. He was described by sources as “having extremist beliefs”.

Both Omar al-Bayoumi and Fahad al- Thumairy left the US weeks before the 9/11 attacks, according to the AP.

The agency also quoted Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the relatives of 9/11 victims, as saying that the released document did “validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks”.

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Last month, a lawsuit launched by relatives saw several top former Saudi officials questioned under oath.

The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all declined to declassify the documents, citing national security concerns.

Last week, President Biden last ordered a review of investigative documents, telling officials to release what they could over the next six months.

There has long been speculation of official Saudi links to the plot, given the number of Saudi nationals involved and al-Qaeda leaders Osama Bin Laden’s Saudi background.

However, the 9/11 commission report found no evidence to implicate the Saudi government or senior officials.

The US and Saudi Arabia have long been allies, although the relationship has at times been difficult.

Donald Trump strengthened ties but Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia “a pariah” for its part in the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

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Kim Jong-un called on North Korean officials to deal with food supply issues and highlighted the danger of climate change.

In 2020, typhoons badly impacted vital crops, while weeks of drought followed by heavy monsoon rains have damaged them this year as well.

The North Korean leader said measures to overcome “abnormal climate” were needed, and asked also officials to tackle drought and floods.

Kim Jong-un’s comments came in a speech to the ruling party’s Politburo on September 2.

He had said that the “danger” of climate change had become “higher in recent years adding that “urgent action” needed to be taken.

Kim Jong-un also called for improvements to North Korea’s flood management infrastructure saying: “River improvement, afforestation for erosion control, dyke maintenance and tide embankment projects”, should be prioritized.

Apart from the damage caused by natural disasters, North Korea’s economy has been hit hard by international sanctions, as well as border closures and harsh lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Although North Korea has not reported any Covid-19 cases, it has sealed its borders and imposed lockdowns.

The border closures have affected vital imports from China.

“Tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a moment under the present situation,” said Kim Jong-un, according to state media.

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Earlier this week, the UN said North Korea had rejected an offer of almost three million Covid-19 vaccines.

A spokesperson said North Korea had asked that the shots be relocated to harder hit nations in view of global vaccine shortages.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Two bombs have struck the perimeter of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, as civilians continued to seek to escape on flights from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

At least 60 people have been killed and 140 others wounded.

The Pentagon confirmed US service personnel were among those killed – 11 US Marines and a Navy medic.

The bombings came hours after Western governments had warned their citizens to stay away from the airport, because of an imminent threat of an attack by IS-K, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group.

The first explosion happened at about 18:00 local time, close to the Baron Hotel, near the airport’s perimeter.

The hotel was being used by British officials to process Afghans hoping to travel to the UK.

It was followed by gunfire and then a second explosion close to the Abbey Gate, one of the airport’s main entrances.

Reports say the second explosion took place near a sewage canal where Afghans were waiting to be processed, close to the gate, and that some victims were blown into the water.

According to an US official, at least one attacker had been wearing an explosive vest.

American and British troops had recently been deployed to guard the area around the Abbey Gate.

According to one account, one attacker fired into a crowd of people, although reports also said Taliban guards had fired into the air.

US citizens who had gone to the area around the airport had been warned before the attack to “leave immediately”.

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The final number of US and Afghan – including Taliban – casualties remains unconfirmed.

However, the Pentagon said that 12 US military personnel had been killed and 15 injured.

Images being shared on social media show the injured being taken away in wheelbarrows.

Huge crowds had been gathering in the area, hoping to be accepted on to an evacuation flight.

The attack is likely to significantly complicate the effort to airlift thousands of people out of Afghanistan.

Before the attack, a number of countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Canada, had announced that they could no longer conduct flights.

Turkey has announced that its troops, who had been providing security at the airport for six years, were withdrawing.

The Taliban fighters entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and seized the presidential palace.

The government has collapsed, with President Ashraf Ghani fleeing abroad.

Kabul descended into chaos, as local residents and foreign nationals tried to escape.

For many Afghans it was a terrifying day that marked the return of Taliban rule almost 20 years after they were ousted by a US-led coalition.

Kabul was the last major city in Afghanistan to hold out against the Taliban offensive, which began months ago but has accelerated in the space of days.

The Taliban group was able to seize control now that foreign troops have all but withdrawn.

President Joe Biden has defended the withdrawal of American troops, saying he could not justify an “endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict”.

The Taliban ordered their fighters to enter Kabul on August 15, after earlier holding them back at the outskirts of the city.

The Taliban said the militants were going in to prevent chaos and looting after security forces left parts of Kabul.

Footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed fighters inside the presidential palace, brandishing guns.

A spokesman for the group later told Al Jazeera: “The war is over.”

The Taliban’s advance into Kabul came after President Ghani fled. Details of his whereabouts remain unknown.

In a Facebook post addressed to Afghan citizens, President Ghani said he made the difficult decision to leave to avoid bloodshed in the capital city of six million people.

“The Taliban won victory in the judgment of sword and gun and they have responsibility to protect the honor, prosperity and self-respect of our compatriots,” he said.

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The president was criticized by other officials for leaving.

“God will hold him accountable and the nation will also judge,” said Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

There was panic in Kabul as the Taliban drew closer to victory. Residents headed for the airport, abandoning cars and making their way on foot in a desperate bid to get out of the country.

The US Embassy said there were reports of gunfire at Kabul’s airport, and warned its citizens to take shelter as “the security situation… is changing quickly”.

In the city center, large queues formed at ATMs throughout the day as people sought to withdraw cash.

There were reports of fighting and injuries in the city’s Qarabagh district.

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The rescuers at 9/11 WTC are at 19% higher risk of cancer as a result of exposure to toxic fumes, according to a study published in a special The Lancet series to mark the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.

Family members of the 9/11 victims have called on President Joe Biden to stay away from memorial events unless he declassifies files about the attacks.

Nearly 1,800 people signed a letter calling on President Biden to release documents that they believe implicate officials from Saudi Arabia in the plot.

They say that if he refuses, the president should not attend ceremonies next month to commemorate the 20th anniversary.

Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11 terror attacks.

According to the investigators, the attacks were committed by the Al Qaeda terror group and triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.

“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfils his commitment,” says the letter from family members, first responders and survivors.

They call on President Biden to stay away from the three sites where the attacks took place – in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The families have long argued that Saudi officials had advance knowledge of the attack, and did nothing to stop it. They have sued the government of Saudi Arabia, which has denied being involved.

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Last month, the lawsuit saw several top former Saudi officials questioned under oath. The depositions remain sealed, further upsetting families.

“Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks,” the families’ statement continues.

“Through multiple administrations, the Department of Justice and the FBI have actively sought to keep this information secret and prevent the American people from learning the full truth about the 9/11 attacks.”

The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump also declined to declassify the documents, citing national security concerns.

“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason – unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise – to keep this information secret,” the group writes.

“But if President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11.”

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

According to Haitian police, a group of 28 foreign mercenaries, including retired Colombian soldiers, assassinated Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse earlier this week.

After a gun battle in the capital Port-au-Prince, 17 were detained, some at the house they were using, others after entering Taiwan’s diplomatic compound.

Three suspects were killed by police and eight are still being sought.

Bloodied and bruised, arrested suspects were shown to the media on July 8, along with a slew of seized weapons.

It is still unclear who organized the attack and with what motive.

Also unclear is who is in charge of the country. On July 9, a group of political parties added to that uncertainty by nominating a president, although how much legitimacy that has is unknown.

The attack took place in the early hours of July 7, when gunmen broke into the president’s home in Port-au-Prince, shooting him dead and wounding his wife. President Moïse, 53, was found lying on his back with 12 bullet wounds and a gouged eye, according to authorities.

First Lady Martine Moïse, 47, was seriously wounded and is in a stable condition after being flown to Florida for treatment.

Police said the hit squad included mainly Colombians, along with two Haitian-Americans.

Found in the suspects’ possession were firearms, sets of US dollar bills, Jovenel Moïse’s personal chequebook and the server that held surveillance camera footage from his home, Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported.

Taiwan confirmed that 11 of the suspects were arrested after breaking into a courtyard at its compound.

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Angry civilians had joined the search for the gunmen, and helped police track down some who were hiding in bushes. The crowd set fire to three of the suspects’ cars and destroyed evidence.

Police chief Léon Charles called for calm, saying the public should not take the law into their own hands.

At the news conference on July 8, police showed reporters Colombian passports.

Colombia’s government has pledged to assist Haiti with its investigation efforts.

Colombian police director, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, said 17 former Colombian soldiers were thought to be involved.

The US state department, meanwhile, said it could not confirm if any of its citizens had been detained.

However, US and Canadian media are reporting that one of the dual citizens arrested, James Solages, 35, is from Florida and was a former bodyguard at the Canadian embassy in Haiti.

An investigating judge told local media that James Solages and the other US citizen, named as Joseph Vincent, had said they were there as translators for the mercenaries, after finding the job on the internet.

“The mission was to arrest President Jovenel Moïse… and not to kill him,” Judge Clément Noël told Le Nouvelliste.

On July 9, the US said it was sending FBI and department of homeland security officials to Haiti following the nation’s request for help in the investigation.

Members of Jovenel Moïse’s security detail have been summoned before Haiti’s courts to answer questions about its failures.

Colombian daily El Tiempo said that it had seen confidential documents that named the Colombian suspects. The paper’s research suggests that four of them flew from Colombia to the Dominican Republic on June 4.

They crossed by land from there into Haiti two days later. The two countries share the island of Hispaniola.

According to El Tiempo, Colombian intelligence has seen photos posted on social media by members of the group, showing them posing at a popular tourist spot in the Dominican Republic.

The killing of President Moïse has triggered some civil unrest in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.

A state of emergency remains in force across Haiti, while the Dominican Republic has closed its border.