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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.

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Image source Wikimedia

North Korea has claimed the missiles it launched on March 25 were a “new-type tactical guided projectile”, in its first statement since the test.

It was the country’s first ballistic launch in almost a year and the first since Joe Biden became US President.

President Biden has said the US will “respond accordingly”. The US, Japan and South Korea have condemned the tests.

Under UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s statement on March 26, issued through state media outlet KCNA, says the two weapons struck a test target 373 miles off North Korea’s east coast, disputing Japanese assessments that they flew just over 240 miles.

It added that the new missile is able to carry a payload of 2.5 tons, which would make it capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

“The development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats,” Ri Pyong Chol, the senior leader who oversaw the test, was quoted as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not present.

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President Biden told reporters that the launch was a violation of UN resolutions and that the US was consulting with partners and allies.

“There will be responses – if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” he said.

“But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

It remains unclear what exact type of missile the North Koreans have launched. State media said it had an “improved version of a solid fuel engine” and described it as a tactical guided missile that could perform “gliding and pull-up” maneuvers, which could mean it is harder to intercept.

However, the test highlights the progress North Korea’s weapons program has seen since denuclearization talks with the US stalled under former President Donald Trump.

Analysts have suggested the missiles were the same as the ones unveiled at a military parade in the capital Pyongyang in October 2020.

“If that is the case, they appear to have an improved variant of the previously tested KN-23 missile with a really big warhead,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) told Reuters.

Such a new missile would allow North Korea to put heavier nuclear warheads on its rockets, Vipin Narang, a security studies professor at MIT said on Twitter.

Developing miniaturized nuclear warheads is difficult, although some observers believe that North Korea has this capability already.

North Korea last fired ballistic missiles a year ago amid stalled relations between then-US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Biden administration says it has unsuccessfully tried to make diplomatic contact with North Korea.

North Korea has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden is now in office, and the two countries remain at loggerheads over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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Image source Wikipedia

The Biden administration says it has been trying to contact the North Korean government since February but has yet to receive a response.

The White House had tried to reach Pyongyang in several different ways to prevent tensions escalating, officials said.

The US and North Korea remain at loggerheads over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Three meetings between President Joe Biden’s predecessor and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un achieved little.

The talks failed to persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons – a key demand of the US and other Western powers.

North Korean state media has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden is now the American president.

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US attempts to communicate with North Korea have included the “New York Channel” – through the North Korean mission at the United Nations.

A US official told Reuters there had been “multiple attempts” to engage with North Korea, but no meaningful contact for more than 12 months, which includes much of Donald Trump’s final year as president.

President Biden has already announced a policy review on North Korea, which is expected to be unveiled in April.

He has called Kim Jong-un a thug and stressed the need for North Korean nuclear disarmament before heavy US and UN economic sanctions can be eased.

Kim Jong-un has continued to emphasize North Korea’s military capability, claiming the development of more accurate long-range missiles, super large warheads, spy satellites and a nuclear-powered submarine.

At the same time the North Korean leader has called on the US to ditch its “hostile policies”.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are expected to feature prominently during this week’s visit to Japan and South Korea by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Relations between the US and North Korea plummeted in 2017 when North Korea tested long-range missiles capable of hitting American cities.

Tensions eased as President Trump bet on developing a personal rapport with Kim Jong-un.

However, the much-trumpeted meetings, including summits in Singapore and Vietnam, failed to overcome differences over nuclear disarmament and sanctions. The US rebuffed North Korean demands for the lifting of sanctions in return for only a partial reduction in nuclear capabilities.

North Korea is currently more cut off from the outside world than ever before. Its borders have been closed for over a year to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Trade with North Korea’s main ally China has dwindled by more than 90% in the last few months.

Image source Wikimedia

Pope Francis is making a historic visit to Iraq where he discussed the plight of the Christian minority.

He has condemned extremism in the name of religion an inter-faith prayer service.

Hostility, extremism and violence are “betrayals of religion”, the Pope said.

Iraq has been wracked by religious and sectarian violence, both against minorities and between Shia and Sunni Muslims too.

Pope Francis also visited one of Shia Islam’s most powerful figures.

Receiving the head of the Roman Catholic Church at his home in the holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said Christians should be able to live in peace and security like all other Iraqis.

The meeting was seen as a highly symbolic moment in the Pope’s visit, which is his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, and the first ever papal visit to Iraq.

Covid-19 and security fears have made this his riskiest trip yet.

Pope Francis, 84, earlier told reporters that he had felt “duty-bound” to make the “emblematic” journey, which will see him visit several sites over four days in Iraq.

He delivered his message at the site of the ancient city of Ur, held to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who is revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

An inter-faith service brought together representatives of Iraq’s religions, including Shia, Sunni, Christian and Yazidi clerics.

He singled out the suffering of the Yazidi community which had “mourned the deaths of many men and witnessed thousands of women, girls and children kidnapped, sold as slaves, subjected to physical violence and forced conversions”.

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Later on March 6, Pope Francis delivered Mass at St Joseph’s Cathedral in central Baghdad. Security was tight with special forces deployed in the area and concrete barriers erected outside the church.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani is spiritual leader of millions of Shia Muslims, the dominant religious community in Iraq.

Audiences with the reclusive 90-year-old are rare but he received the Pope for around 50 minutes, the pair talking without face masks.

He “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”, his office said.

Pope Francis thanked the ayatollah for speaking up “in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted” amid the violence and hardships of Iraq’s recent history, the Holy See press spokesman said.

The ayatollah’s message of peace, he said, affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.

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Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been seen for the first time since she was detained in a military coup, after she appeared in court via video link.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, appeared to be in “good health” and asked to see her legal team, her lawyers say.

Two new charges were announced against Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested after the February 1 coup.

Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets again despite February 28 seeing the deadliest day yet with 18 killed.

The deaths came as the military and police ramped up their response to demonstrations across the South East Asian nation over the weekend, firing into the crowds.

However, protesters defied the crackdown on March 1, demanding the elected government be restored and Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), be released from detention.

The military says it seized power because of alleged fraud in November’s general elections, which saw the NLD win by a landslide.

It has provided no proof of these allegations – instead, it has replaced the Election Commission and promised fresh polls in a year.

Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested when the coup began and had not been seen in public until Monday’s hearing, when she appeared via video link at the court in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

It is unclear where she has been held over the past month, but some reports suggest she was detained at her home in Nay Pyi Taw before being moved to an undisclosed location.

Aung San Suu Kyi originally faced two charges of illegally importing walkie talkies and violating Myanmar’s natural disaster law, but a further two charges were added on March 1. She was accused of using illegal communication equipment and causing “fear and alarm”.

The initial charges carried sentences of up to three years in jail. It is not clear what punishment the new charges might carry, but she could reportedly be barred from running in future elections if convicted.

The case has been adjourned until March 15.

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News agency Myanmar Now reported that ousted president Win Myint – a key ally of Aung San Suu Kyi – had also been charged for incitement under the penal code.

Her popularity has soared in Myanmar since her arrest, but her international reputation still remains tarnished by allegations that she turned a blind eye to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority Rohingya community.

Protests erupted again in multiple cities across Myanmar. According to the AFP news agency, one clash saw unarmed protesters fleeing after a volley of shots were fired. It was unclear if live ammunition was used.

AFP reported that in Yangon, demonstrators were seen using makeshift items like bamboo poles, sofas and even tree branches to erect barricades across streets.

Tear gas and stun grenades were also used to disperse hundreds of protesters in Yangon, Reuters news agency reported.

At least 21 people have been killed since the unrest began last month.

On March 1, army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing gave a TV address during which he said protest leaders and “instigators” would be punished.

Myanmar’s military seized power after overthrowing the government and declared a state of emergency.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The report released by the office of the US director of national intelligence has found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The report released by the Biden administration says the Saudi prince approved a plan to either “capture or kill” Jamal Khashoggi, who was based in the US.

It is the first time the US has publicly named the crown prince, who denies ordering the murder.

Meanwhile, the US announced sanctions on dozens of Saudis but not the prince himself.

Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Washington Post journalist had once been an adviser to the Saudi government and close to the royal family but he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017.

From there, Jamal Khashoggi wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Prince Mohammed.

The report says: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and is considered to be the effective ruler of the kingdom.

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The intelligence report lists three reasons for believing that the Saudi prince must have approved the operation:

  • his control of decision-making in the kingdom since 2017
  • the direct involvement in the operation of one of his advisers as well as members of his protective detail
  • his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad”

The report goes on to name individuals allegedly complicit in, or responsible for, Jamal Khashoggi’s death. But it says “we do not know how far in advance” those involved planned to harm him.

Saudi authorities have blamed the killing on a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return the journalist to the kingdom, and a Saudi court tried and sentenced five individuals to 20 years in prison last September, after initially sentencing them to death.

In 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard accused the Saudi state of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Jamal Khashoggi and dismissed the Saudi trial as an “antithesis of justice”.

Shortly after the report was released, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the travel restrictions, dubbed the “Khashoggi Ban”.

Those targeted are “believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities”, he said.

“Perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil,” Antony Blinken warned.

In addition, the treasury department sanctioned some of those around Prince Mohammed: one of his close aides, former deputy intelligence chief Ahmad Asiri, as well as his personal protective force, which was involved in the killing.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is a key American ally in the Middle East.

President Joe Biden is expected to take a firmer line than his predecessor Donald Trump on human rights and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia.

In a phone call on February 25 with King Salman, President Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”, the White House said.

According to sources quoted by Reuters, the Biden administration is also considering the cancelation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns as well as the limiting of future military sales to “defensive” weapons.

Image source www.alaraby.co.uk

The US authorities are set to release a report of an investigation into the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi which is widely expected to implicate the kingdom’s powerful crown prince.

President Joe Biden has read the report and is due to speak to King Salman.

The president wants to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia, which became closer under President Donald Trump.

Jamal Khashoggi’s body was dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bon Salman denies involvement.

The Washington Post journalist, known for his criticism of Saudi authorities, went to the consulate in October 2018 in order to obtain papers allowing him to get married.

According to Saudi authorities, Jamal Khashoggi’s death and dismemberment was the result of a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return him to the kingdom.

Five individuals were given death sentences for the murder by a Saudi court but these were commuted to 20 years in prison in September 2020.

The report, which is expected to be released later on February 25, will say that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved “and likely ordered” Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, four US officials told Reuters.

They said the CIA was the main contributor to the report.

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The Saudi public prosecution and Prince Mohammed insist he did not have any knowledge of the murder but in 2019 he said he took “full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government”.

According to that reported assessment, there was no “smoking gun” but US officials thought such an operation would have required the prince’s approval.

The Washington Post said at the time that the CIA assessment had been based partly on a phone call made by the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was the then Saudi ambassador to the US.

Prince Khalid, who is now deputy defense minister, allegedly called Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of his brother and gave him assurances that he would be safe to go to the consulate in Istanbul. Prince Khalid has denied any communication with the journalist.

In 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard accused Saudi Arabia of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Jamal Khashoggi and dismissed the Saudi trial as an “antithesis of justice”.

The publication of the report is part of President Biden’s policy to realign ties with long-term ally Saudi Arabia and take a much tougher stance than his predecessor President Trump on certain Saudi positions.

The Trump administration had previously rejected a legal requirement to release a declassified version of the report, focusing instead on improved co-operation with the Saudis.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on February 24 that President Biden would communicate with King Salman, and not directly with the crown prince, who is his son and is considered the de facto ruler in Saudi Arabia.

She said President Biden was due to speak to the 85-year-old king for the first time since taking office “soon”, without giving a specific time for the call.

Jen Psaki told reporters: “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

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Myanmar’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been handed a second criminal charge on the day she appeared in court via video link.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was earlier charged with possessing illegal walkie-talkies, is now also alleged to have violated Myanmar’s Natural Disaster Law.

It is not clear what the new charge, issued on February 16, relates to.

Myanmar’s military earlier repeated its promise to hold fresh elections and relinquish power as protests continue.

Anti-coup demonstrators are demanding the release of their elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, following the military coup on February 1.

In the military’s first news conference since toppling the government, spokesman Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the armed forces would not remain in power for long, and promised to “hand power back to the winning party” following a planned election.

However, he did not provide a date for the vote.

Speaking in Nay Pyi Taw on February 16, Zaw Min Tun also repeated the claim – without providing evidence – of fraud in last November’s election.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a resounding victory in the poll. The military has claimed fraud as a justification for its coup.

The former leader made a brief virtual appearance at a court in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on February 16. She reportedly answered questions about legal arrangements and representation.

Her next court appearance is scheduled to take place on March 1.

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Zaw Min Tun said that Aung San Suu Kyi had been confined to her home for her own safety, and that she was “comfortable and healthy”.

He used the news conference to accuse anti-coup protesters of violence and intimidation against the security forces.

A police officer had been wounded by “lawless actions” and had later died from his injuries, he said.

Protesters have clashed with security officers and there have been recent reports of police using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

One protester remains in a critical condition after being shot in the head on February 9.

Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, 19, was hurt while taking part in a protest – though it is not clear exactly what she was hit by. Rights groups say her wound is consistent with one from live ammunition.

Zaw Min Tun said some measures taken to control crowds of protesters were in response to bricks being thrown at police.

The UN has warned Myanmar’s military – which on February 15 announced penalties of up to 20 years in prison for those opposing the coup leaders – that there would be “severe consequences” for any brutal suppression of the ongoing anti-coup protests there.

Meanwhile, access to the internet in Myanmar was restored on February 16 after it had been cut off for a second night.

The junta has been regularly blocking the web to try to stifle dissent since the coup began.

On February 13, the military gave itself the power to make arrests, carry out searches and hold people for more than 24 hours without a court ruling, while telling journalists not to describe the military’s takeover as a coup.

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According to South Korean intelligence officials, North Korea attempted to steal Covid-19 vaccine technology from Pfizer.

It is currently unclear as to what, if any, data was stolen.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency privately briefed lawmakers about the alleged attack, reported local news agency Yonhap.

North Korea has yet to report a single case of coronavirus.

However, North Korea is due to receive two million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in the coming weeks.

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North Korea closed its borders in January 2020 soon after the virus began to emerge in China.

In November 2020, Microsoft said at least nine health organizations including Pfizer had been targeted by state-backed organizations in North Korea and Russia.

It said North Korean groups dubbed Zinc and Cerium, and a Russian group nicknamed Fancy Bear, were responsible.

However, Russia has denied targeting other countries’ vaccine research.

While many of the break-in attempts failed, Microsoft warned at the time that some had been successful.

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Image source Pixabay

The Biden administration will start gradually allowing into the US tens of thousands of asylum seekers currently forced to wait in Mexico.

It will begin next week processing about 25,000 people with active cases.

Asylum seekers will first be required to register and pass a Covid-19 test, before being allowed in via one of three border crossings.

The move reverses the much-criticized policies of ex-President Donald Trump.

The Migrant Protection Protocols program was enacted in 2019, deterring would-be asylum seekers from coming to the US.

It required migrants entering through the southern border to wait in Mexico while their cases were being heard by US immigration courts.

However, on his first day in office since winning last year’s election, President Joe Biden suspended the policy.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said: “As President Biden has made clear, the US government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system.

“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values.”

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According to the Associated Press, the Biden administration plans to start with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people a day and a third crossing taking fewer numbers.

The authorities say asylum seekers will be released with notices to appear in court in cities close to or in their final destinations, typically with family.

At the same time, Alejandro Mayorkas stressed that “individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border”, amid concerns that many people would try to cross the border illegally.

February 12 announcement was welcomed in a sprawling migrant camp in the Mexican city of Matamoros, just across the border from Texas.

The border cities where migrants wait for months are suffering from growing crime rates.

In 2020, charity Human Rights First said “returned families, children and adults are being sent to highly dangerous situations where many suffered kidnappings, attacks, sexual assaults, threats and other incredible cruelty”.

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Image source: AP

Myanmar’s internet has been shut down as thousands of people joined the largest rally yet against February 1 coup.

A near-total internet blackout is in effect with connectivity falling to 16% of ordinary levels, said the monitoring group NetBlocks Internet Observatory.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, crowds chanted “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win”.

Police with riot shields have blocked the main roads into the city center.

The internet shutdown happened hours after the military blocked access to Twitter and Instagram to stop people mobilizing for protests. Facebook had been banned a day earlier.

Many users had evaded the restrictions on social media by using virtual private networks (VPNs) but the more general blackout severely disrupted that.

Civil society organizations urged internet providers and mobile networks to challenge the blackout order, Reuters reported.

Human rights group Amnesty International called the shutdown “heinous and reckless” and warned it could put the people of Myanmar at risk of human rights violations.

The military has not commented. It temporarily blocked access to the internet following the coup.

On February 6, protesters – including factory workers and young students – called for the release of those detained by the army, including elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

They marched through the streets of Yangon as city buses sounded their horns in support.

Bystanders flashed the three-finger Hunger Games salute, which has become a symbol of defiance against authoritarianism, while residents clapped or banged pots and pans on their doorsteps.

Police with riot shields used barbed wire to block roads and water cannon were put in place in some areas as a precaution, but the demonstration reportedly remained peaceful, with no attempt by protesters to pass police lines.

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Demonstrators gave police roses and bottles of drinking water, calling on them to support the people not the new regime.

Another demonstration took place in Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay.

Myanmar – also known as Burma – has remained mostly calm in the aftermath of the coup, and there were no immediate reports of violence after Saturday’s protests. More demonstrations were expected to be held later.

The military authorities are hunkered down in the capital, Nay Pyi Daw, and have so far avoided direct engagement with the protesters.

Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, according to her lawyer. Police documents show she is accused of illegally importing and using communications equipment – walkie-talkies – at her home in the capital.

The coup took place as a new session of parliament was set to open, following November’s landslide election win by the NLD party.

Many Burmese watched the events unfold in real time on Facebook, which is the country’s primary source of information and news. But three days later, internet providers were ordered to block the platform for stability reasons.

Following the ban, thousands of users were active on Twitter and Instagram using hashtags to express their opposition to the takeover. By 22:00 local time on February 5 access to those platforms had also been denied.

There was no official word from the coup leaders but AFP reported it had seen an unverified ministry document that said the two social media sites were being used to “cause misunderstanding among the public”.

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Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail for violating the conditions of a suspended sentence, a Moscow court ruled on February 2.

The prominent Putin critic has been in detention since returning to Russia last month. He had been treated in Germany for a near-fatal nerve agent attack against him in August.

Thousands of supporters have rallied across Russia in support of Alexei Navalny.

His suspended sentence for embezzlement has been converted into a jail term.

Alexei Navalny has already served a year under house arrest which will be deducted from the total.

He greeted the news with a resigned shrug. In court he called President Vladimir Putin a “poisoner”, blaming him for the attack.

Alexei Navalny’s supporters called for an immediate protest and tried to gather outside court but the whole area was overrun with riot police. More than 300 have been detained, according to monitors.

His lawyer said they would appeal against the ruling.

Strong international reaction to the sentence came quickly, with the Council of Europe – the continent’s leading human rights body – saying the judgement “defied all credibility”.

The council’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement: “With this decision, the Russian authorities not only further exacerbate human rights violations as already established by the European Court of Human Rights, they also send a signal undermining the protection of the rights of all Russian citizens.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Alexei Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release, and said he would work closely with allies to hold Russia accountable for “failing to uphold the rights of its citizens”.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by telling Western countries to focus on their own problems.

She said on Russian TV: “You should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

Alexei Navalny has been accused of breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement that required him to report regularly to Russian police. His lawyers say the accusation is absurd as the authorities knew he was recovering in Berlin from the nerve agent attack that nearly killed him in Russia.

Addressing the court before the sentencing, Alexei Navalny said the case was being used to frighten the opposition: “This is how it works: they send one to jail to intimidate millions.”

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On the Novichok chemical attack, Alexei Navalny said: “Using the FSB [Federal Security Service of Russia], Putin attempted to commit murder. I’m not the only one – many know this already and many others will. And this is driving the thieving little man in the bunker crazy.

“No matter how much he tries to look like a geopolitician, he took offence at me because he will go down in history as a poisoner.”

His return to Russia on January 17 triggered mass protests in support of him, many of them young Russians who have only ever experienced President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack on Alexei Navalny, and rejects the conclusion by Western experts that Novichok – a Russian chemical weapon – was used.

Alexei Navalny accuses President Putin of running an administration riddled with corruption, and recently released a YouTube video featuring an opulent Black Sea palace which, he alleged, was a Russian billionaires’ gift to the president.

On January 30, Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire businessman close to President Putin, said he owned the palace and had bought it two years ago.

On January 31, some protesters brandished gold-colored toilet brushes, a symbol of their anger about the palace. For a second weekend, crowds defied bitter cold and a massive deployment of riot police, and more than 5,000 were arrested, according to OVD-Info group.

OVD-Info says it is an independent Russian media project, which gets crowd-funding in Russia and its donors include the Memorial human rights group and the European Commission.

Alexei Navalny is already serving a 30-day sentence in connection with the embezzlement case, which he denounces as politically motivated.

In recent days police have arrested many of Navalny’s top aides, who assist him in his Anti-Corruption Network (FBK).

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders have been detained as the military seized power in the Asian country.

Troops are patrolling the streets and a night-time curfew is in force, with a one-year state of emergency declared.

President Joe Biden raised the threat of new sanctions, with the UN also condemning the coup.

The army alleges the recent landslide election win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was marred by fraud. She urged supporters to “protest against the coup”.

In a letter written in preparation for Suu Kyi’s impending detention, she said the military’s actions would put the country back under a dictatorship.

The military has already announced replacements for a number of ministers.

On the streets of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, people said they felt their hard-fought battle for democracy had been lost.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when democratic reforms led by Aung San Suu Kyi ended military rule.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010. She was internationally hailed as a beacon of democracy and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

However, her international reputation suffered severely following an army crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority. Former supporters accused Aung San Suu Kyi of refusing to condemn the military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.

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In the early hours of February 1, the army’s TV station said power had been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested in a series of raids. It is not clear where they are being held.

No major violence has been reported. Soldiers blocked roads in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and the main city, Yangon. International and domestic TV channels, including the state broadcaster, went off air. Internet and phone services were disrupted. Banks said they had been forced to close.

Later, the military announced that 24 ministers and deputies had been removed, and 11 replacements had been named, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs.

A curfew is now reportedly in effect from 20:00 local time to 06:00.

The army takeover follows weeks of tensions between the armed forces and the government following parliamentary elections lost by the army-backed opposition.

The opposition had demanded a re-run of the election, raising allegations of widespread fraud that were not backed by the electoral commission.

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Image source: Reuters

President Joe Biden has raised election meddling in his first call with Russian Vladimir Putin, the White House says.

The phone conversation also included a discussion about the ongoing opposition protests in Russia.

A Kremlin statement did not refer to any points of friction, saying the call was “businesslike and frank”.

Both sides reportedly agreed to extend the countries’ last remaining nuclear deal during the call.

Former President Donald Trump sometimes undercut his own administration’s tough posture on Russia and was accused by some of being too deferential to Vladimir Putin.

However, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama – under whom Joe Biden served as vice-president – was also criticized for failing to check Russia as it annexed Crimea, supported rebel forces in eastern Ukraine and backed the government of war-torn Syria.

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The White House said in a statement: “President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”

The two presidents also discussed the massive SolarWinds cyber-attack, which has been blamed on Moscow; reports that the Kremlin placed bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan; and the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

According to the Kremlin statement, the Russian president had “noted that the normalization of relations between Russia and the United States would meet the interests of both countries and – taking into account their special responsibility for maintaining security and stability in the world – of the entire international community”.

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin also discussed the New Start treaty, an Obama-era accord that limits the amounts of warheads, missiles and launchers in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.

The treaty had been due to expire on February 5, but both sides reportedly agreed to extend the treaty during January 26 call.

The Trump administration, however, had refused to sign it and talks over an extension stalled.

On January 27, the Russian parliament ratified a five-year extension of the treaty. President Putin said the move was a “step in the right direction” to reducing global tensions.

Alexei Navalny has been detained after flying back to Russia five months after he was nearly killed by a nerve agent attack last year.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic was seen being led away by police at passport control.

Big crowds earlier gathered at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport to greet his flight from Berlin but the plane was rerouted.

Alexei Navalny says the authorities were behind the attempt on his life, an allegation backed up by investigative journalists but denied by the Kremlin.

European Council President Charles Michel described Alexei Navalny’s detainment as “unacceptable”.

He tweeted: “I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him.”

Alexei Navalny told his supporters and the media at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport just minutes before his detention: “I know that I’m right. I fear nothing.”

His lawyer was not allowed to accompany Alexei Navalny. He kissed his wife Yulia – who had flown with him from Germany – after police officers warned they would use physical force if he disobeyed their orders.

On January 17, extra riot police were deployed and metal barriers erected inside Vnukovo airport, where the plane had been originally scheduled to land.

Russian media reported that a number of activists – including key Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol – were detained.

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Alexei Navalny – who received medical treatment in Germany after his poisoning – urged supporters to meet him off the flight. Thousands of people said they would go or expressed an interest, despite forecasts of extreme cold and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The activist collapsed on an internal flight in Siberia last August, and it later emerged he had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities have consistently denied any role in the poisoning, and the Kremlin has rejected Alexei Navalny’s claims that President Vladimir Putin himself ordered it.

In a statement late on January 17, Russia’s penitentiary service said Alexei Navalny “had been wanted since December 29, 2020, for repeated violations of the probation period”.

The penitentiary service added that he would remain in custody until a court decision.

The authorities accuse Alexei Navalny of violating conditions imposed after a conviction for embezzlement, for which he received a suspended sentence. He has always said the case was politically motivated.

Separately, Russian prosecutors have launched a new criminal case against the activist on fraud charges related to transfers of money to various NGOs, including his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Alexei Navalny has asserted that President Vladimir Putin is doing all he can to stop his opponent from coming back by fabricating new cases against him.

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Image source Wikipedia

North Korea has unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, described by state media as “the world’s most powerful weapon”.

According to state media, several of the missiles were displayed at a parade overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.

The new weapon’s actual capabilities remain unclear, as it is not known to have been tested.

The show of military strength comes days before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

It also follows a rare political meeting where Kim Jong-un decried the US as his country’s “biggest enemy”.

Images released by North Korean state media showed at least four large black-and-white missiles being driven past flag-waving crowds.

Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, Kim Jong-un is pictured smiling and waving as he watched the display in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, which also included infantry troops, artillery and tanks.

The official Korean Central News Agency said: “The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces.”

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The event on January 14 did not showcase North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). That colossal weapon is believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the US, and its size had surprised even seasoned analysts when it was put on show last year.

North Korea’s latest display of its arsenal comes at the end of a five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party.

In his address to members last week, Kim Jong-un had pledged to expand North Korea’s nuclear weapons and military potential, outlining a list of desired weapons including long-range ballistic missiles capable of being launched from land or sea and “super-large warheads”.

He also said that the US was North Korea’s “biggest obstacle for our revolution and our biggest enemy… no matter who is in power, the true nature of its policy against North Korea will never change”.

Under Kim Jong-un’s leadership North Korea has made rapid progress in its weapons program, which it says is necessary to defend itself against a possible US invasion.

According to experts, the unveiling of the new missiles appears designed to send the incoming Biden administration a message of North Korea’s growing military prowess.

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Image source: Dolcefino

Press release

Internal emails and damaging photographs detail evidence that huge chemical plants in Brazoria County intentionally diverted floodwaters into neighborhoods in Sweeny during Hurricane Harvey.

Documents obtained by Dolcefino Consulting show the massive Phillips 66 plant placed Tiger Dams around the plant, blocked culverts along Highway 35 with chunks of concrete and threw large containers into Linville Bayou, ignoring warnings that what they were doing was illegal.

A 2017 email from the general manager of the Phillips plant reveals the Old Ocean Volunteer Fire Department blamed the “increased flooding of residents in Old Ocean” on intentionally blocked culverts.

The president of West Brazoria County Drainage District #11 warned Phillips officials that what they were doing was illegal, inundating the community with water. An email shows the head of Phillips Corporate Strategy thought the plan was “great.”

The Sweeny Refinery General Manager during the hurricane was David Erfert. Erfert admitted in a sworn deposition that the plant didn’t notify the drainage district, the Army Corps of Engineers or the Coast Guard.

Image source: Dolcefino

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Hundreds of Sweeny residents have filed a lawsuit against Phillips 66 and Chevron Phillips Chemical next door after the storm, but three and a half years later the chemical plants haven’t paid for the damages to homes and pastureland.

“It is the same thing you hear over and over. Production and profit over people,” said Jason Gibson, the Houston attorney battling the chemical plants in court.

Damaging photographs show Phillips employees pumping oily water out of the plant and into surrounding neighborhoods. Phillips told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that no contaminated water escaped the plant.

Image source: Dolcefino

“They just basically said we’re going to keep the plant running for revenue, and at the end of the day we’re going to flood the community,” said Sweeny resident Marc Smyth.

The Phillips plant is the second largest taxpayer in Brazoria County. Brazoria County officials have refused to talk to Dolcefino Consulting. So have the Phillips 66 officials.

“This is a story of arrogance,” said Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting. “Three and a half years after the hurricane, we know Phillips made a conscious decision that changed the lives of people in Sweeny. It is shocking that they are trying to avoid responsibility.”

Emails show the plan to permanently change the flow of water around the two Sweeny plants began long before the hurricane, when the plants joined to build an elevated rail line along Linville Bayou.

An email sent from the general manager of Phillips to the plant manager of CP Chem next door three weeks after Hurricane Harvey admitted, “there are many issues with the drainage through the Sityard and how it affects drainage outside and inside the plant.”

The new photographs and emails raise growing questions about possible contamination of the neighborhood surrounding the plants.

Sweeny ranch owner Mark Smyth told Dolcefino Consulting he could smell the hydrocarbons in the water.

“Absolutely you could smell it, you could smell it for months afterward,” Smyth said.

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President Donald Trump has pardoned four former Blackwater security guards convicted over their involvement in the killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square while escorting an American diplomatic convoy.

According to the White House, the pardons were supported by the public and lawmakers.

However, the father of a boy who died called them “indescribable” and a rights group said President Trump had hit a “new low”.

There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government.

Heard, Liberty, Slatten and Slough were among 19 Blackwater private security contractors assigned to guard a convoy of four heavily-armored vehicles carrying US personnel on September 16, 2007.

According to the DoJ, at about noon that day several of the contractors opened fire in and around Nisoor Square, a busy roundabout that was immediately adjacent to the heavily-fortified Green Zone.

When they stopped shooting, at least 14 Iraqi civilians were dead – 10 men, two women and two boys, aged nine and 11. Iraqi authorities put the toll at 17.

Ex-Blackwater guards jailed over 2007 Iraq killings

US prosecutors said Nicholas Slatten was the first to fire, without provocation, killing Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubiay, an aspiring doctor who was driving his mother to an appointment.

The contractors said they mistakenly believed that they were under attack.

The incident caused international outrage, strained relations between the US and Iraq, and sparked a debate over the role of contractors in warzones.

In 2014, a US federal court found Nicholas Slatten guilty of murder, while Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and other charges. Nicholas Slatten was sentenced to life in prison, and the other three were handed 30-year terms.

However, the Court of Appeals reversed Nicholas Slatten’s conviction and ordered that the three others be resentenced for their roles in the crime.

Nicholas Slatten was retried in 2018, but a mistrial was declared after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. The second retrial began later that year and he was found guilty of committing first-degree murder. Nicholas Slatten was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2019.

Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard subsequently had their sentences reduced to 15, 14 and 12 years respectively.

A White House statement said Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard had a “long history of service to the nation” as veterans of the US Army and US Marine Corps, and that their pardons were “broadly supported by the public… and elected officials”.

The statement added that the Court of Appeals “ruled that additional evidence should have been presented at Mr. Slatten’s trial”, and that prosecutors recently disclosed “that the lead Iraqi investigator, who prosecutors relied heavily on to verify that there were no insurgent victims and to collect evidence, may have had ties to insurgent groups himself”.

Image source Wikimedia

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s most senior nuclear scientist, has been assassinated near Tehran, the country’s defense ministry has confirmed.

He died in hospital after an attack in Absard, in Damavand county.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has condemned the killing “as an act of state terror”.

Western intelligence agencies believe Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was behind a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

However, news of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing comes amid fresh concern about the increased amount of enriched uranium that Iran is producing. Enriched uranium is a vital component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons.

A 2015 deal with six world powers had placed limits on its production, but since President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, Iran has been deliberately reneging on its agreements.

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President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reengage with Iran when he takes over the US presidency in January, despite longstanding opposition from Israel .

Between 2010 and 2012, four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and Iran has accused Israel of complicity in the killings.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s name was specifically mentioned in Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation about Iran’s nuclear program in May 2018.

There has been no comment from Israel on the news of the assassination. The Pentagon has also declined to comment, according to Reuters.

In a statement on November 27, Iran’s defense ministry said: “Armed terrorists targeted a vehicle carrying Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of the ministry’s research and innovation organization.

“After a clash between the terrorists and his bodyguards, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was severely injured and rushed to hospital.

“Unfortunately, the medical team’s efforts to save him were unsuccessful and minutes ago he passed away.”

Iranian media reports said the attackers opened fire on the scientist in his car.

Fars news agency earlier reported there was a car explosion in Absard town, with witnesses reporting that “three to four individuals, who are said to have been terrorists, were killed”.

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Photo Reuters

337 military officers and others have been given life sentences by a court in Turkey, in one of the biggest trials linked to the 2016 coup attempt.

Air force pilots and army commanders were among the nearly 500 defendants accused of trying to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

They allegedly directed the plot from the Akinci air base near Ankara.

President Erdogan says US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen masterminded the plot, which led to mass arrests.

Fethullah Gulen has denied any involvement in the attempted coup in July 2016 that killed 251 people and injured more than 2,000. Presidnet Erdogan was on vacation at the time at a resort.

Thousands of civilians rallied in support of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a night of turmoil, confronting rogue soldiers and preventing the plotters from seizing power.

The trial began in August 2017, and the charges included seeking to kill President Erdogan and seize key state institutions. Turkey’s biggest court – in Sincan near Ankara – was packed for the verdicts.

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Officers who conspired against President Erdogan seized aircraft at the Akinci base, taking then chief of staff Gen Hulusi Akar and some other officers hostage.

Former air force commander Akin Ozturk was jailed for life last year for his role in the plot.

The indictment states that 25 pilots in F-16s bombed targets in Ankara, including parliament, which was hit three times, as well as key security buildings. The bombing killed 68 people in Ankara and injured more than 200.

Twenty-five of those in the dock were generals and 10 were civilians.

More than 10 of the military officers – including F-16 fighter pilots – and four civilians got 79 “aggravated” life sentences each. The “aggravated” sentence requires harsher prison terms than for a normal life sentence.

Six were put on trial in absentia, including Fethullah Gulen and Adil Oksuz, a theology lecturer accused of being a key coordinator in the coup plot.

Among those receiving “aggravated” life terms was businessman Kemal Batmaz, accused of assisting Adil Oksuz.

The Hizmet movement led by Fethullah Gulen has been branded a “terrorist” organization by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was once an ally of the president, but since the coup attempt the 79-year-old cleric has remained a fugitive in Pennsylvania and Turkey wants his extradition.

President Erdogan carried out a sweeping purge of state institutions after the plot, sacking or suspending more than 100,000 public sector employees, including teachers and judges, who were accused of links to Fethullah Gulen.

There have been many trials of alleged plotters and courts have issued more than 2,500 life sentences.

Image source Wikimedia

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made an unprecedented visit to Psagot, a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – the first such visit by a top US official.

The trip to Psagot came a year after Mike Pompeo said the settlements did not contradict international law, reversing a long-held US position.

The declaration outraged Palestinians, who oppose settlements on land they claim for a future independent state.

Mike Pompeo later paid a similar visit to the occupied Golan Heights.

Last year, President Donald Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the strategic plateau, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981.

President Trump is a close ally of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and analysts say Mike Pompeo’s actions could be seen as a valedictory gesture before he and the president leave the world stage.

The secretary of state arrived in Israel on November 18 for what is likely to be his last trip to Israel before leaving office in January.

After meeting PM Netanyahu in Jerusalem on November 19, he announced that the state department would declare as anti-Semitic the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism. BDS rejects the charge, saying Israel is using it as a cover for its actions.

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Mike Pompeo also told reporters that “for a long time the state department took the wrong view of settlements” in the West Bank.

He said: “It took a view that didn’t recognize the history of this special place and instead now today the United States department of state stands strongly to the recognition that settlements can be done in a way that’s lawful and appropriate and proper.”

Mike Pompeo then travelled by helicopter to the Psagot winery, in a Jewish settlement close to Ramallah.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

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Police are searching for at least one suspect after a multiple gun attack in the Austrian capital, Vienna, that killed four people.

Seventeen other people were wounded – some seriously – after gunmen opened fire at six different locations in Vienna center on November 2.

According to officials, one attacker was shot dead by police.

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer described the assailant killed by police as an “Islamist terrorist”.

Two of those who died in the shooting were women and two were men. One of the women was reportedly a waitress. The second woman died of her wounds in hospital overnight, reports said.

The victims were in a city center area busy with people in bars and restaurants, near Vienna’s central synagogue, but it is not yet clear if that was the target.

The interior minister advised people to stay away from the center, as police cordoned off some streets and brought in reinforcements. Parents were told to keep their children home on November 3 if they could.

Seven of the wounded have life-threatening injuries, Austrian media report.

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Addressing a news conference, Karl Nehammer described the heavily armed gunman killed by police as an ISIS sympathizer. His home had been searched and video material seized, the minister said. He had been wearing a fake explosive belt, police tweeted.

Earlier, the interior minister said at least one “heavily armed and dangerous” attacker was believed to be still at large. Officials were quoted as saying there could have been as many as four attackers.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called it a “repulsive terror attack”. The government called it “an attack on freedom and democracy”.

The attack came hours before Austria imposed new national restrictions to try to stem rising cases of coronavirus. Many people were enjoying drinks and eating out before a midnight curfew.

The government has announced three days of national mourning, starting immediately, with flags to fly at half-mast and a minute’s silence at midday. Schools will also have a minute’s silence for the victims on Wednesday morning.

European leaders strongly condemned the shooting.

The Vienna shooting comes after a spate of Islamist attacks in France.

Police in the neighboring Czech Republic said they were carrying out random checks on the border with Austria in case the gunman fled in that direction.

A large-scale police operation is under way in Vienna following a shooting incident in the Austrian capital.

According to police, several people have been injured in the shooting.

However, state broadcaster ORF TV is reporting that several people were killed.

The interior minister described the incident as a “terror attack” and said that one attacker had been killed.

Another attacker was “on the run” in the Austrian capital after the shooting.

Police have urged people to avoid all public spaces in the area and not to take public transport.

Road blocks have been set up around the city center. Footage posted on social media showed people running as what was reported to be gunshots could be heard.

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The shooting took place in the center of the city, hours before the midnight start of a nationwide lockdown, one of several being imposed in Europe to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The area where the shooting took place is packed with bars and Vienna’s main temple, the Seitenstettengasse synagogue, but it was not clear if they had any connection to the violence.

Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch tweeted that it was unclear if the Vienna synagogue was targeted in the attack as it was closed at the time.

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Photo: AP/Michel Euler

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has called the beheading of a teacher in a north-western suburb of Paris an “Islamist terrorist attack”.

The teacher of history and geography is said to have shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils. The attacker was shot dead by police.

President Macron said the as yet unnamed victim was murdered because he “taught freedom of expression”.

“They won’t win… We will act,” the president said from the scene.

The attack occurred on October 15, at about 17:00 local time, near a school. Anti-terror prosecutors are investigating.

The knife-wielding attacker was shot as officers tried to arrest him in the aftermath of the attack. Police have not released any personal details about him, although French media report he was an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin who was born in Moscow.

A trial is currently under way in Paris over a 2015 Islamist assault on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was targeted for publishing the cartoons.

Three weeks ago, a man attacked and wounded two people outside Charlie Hebdo‘s former offices.

A man wielding a large knife attacked the teacher in a street in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, cutting off his head. A police source said that witnesses had heard the attacker shout “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Greatest”, the Reuters reported.

The attacker then ran off, but local police alerted by the public were quickly at the scene.

The officers confronted the man in the nearby district of Éragny.

When they shouted at him to give himself up, he is said to have threatened them. The officers shot him and he died a short time later.

The scene is now sealed off, as the investigation continues.

Nine people, including a minor, have been arrested, judicial sources have told French media. They reportedly include relatives of the attacker and parents of a child at the school where the teacher worked.

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According to Le Monde newspaper, the victim had been talking in class about freedom of expression in connection with the Muhammad cartoons, which caused uproar among some Muslims when Charlie Hebdo published them.

He had reportedly advised Muslim students to leave the room if they thought they might be offended.

Earlier this month, some Muslim parents complained to the school about the teacher’s decision to use one or more of the cartoons as part of a discussion about the Charlie Hebdo trial, French media report.

Reacting to the attack, Charlie Hebdo tweeted: “Intolerance just reached a new threshold and seems to stop at nothing to impose terror in our country.”

France has seen a wave of Islamist violence since the 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, including famous cartoonists.

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Image source Wikimedia

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been discharged from a Berlin hospital where he was being treated for Novichok nerve agent poisoning.

The Charité Hospital in the German capital said it was ending acute medical care because his condition had sufficiently improved.

Alexei Navalny, 44, posted a picture of himself standing unaided with a message saying doctors had given him every chance of a full recovery.

His team alleges he was poisoned on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

However, the Kremlin strongly denies any involvement.

Alexei Navalny collapsed on a flight in Siberia on August 20. The Russian activist was later transferred to the Charité hospital in Berlin.

A statement from the hospital said that Alexi Navalny had spent 32 days there, including 24 days in intensive care.

“Based on the patient’s progress and current condition, the treating physicians believe that complete recovery is possible. However, it remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning,” it said.

Earlier this month the hospital revealed that Alexei Navalny had begun to recover, saying that he had been removed from a ventilator and could leave his bed.

At the time, the German government said that laboratories in France and Sweden had reconfirmed German tests showing that the poison used on Alexei Navalny was a Novichok agent.

The Kremlin has said there is no proof of that.

Alexei Navalny’s supporters initially believed that his tea had been spiked at Tomsk airport in Siberia before he caught a flight to Moscow. However, they later said that traces of Novichok had been found on a water bottle in the hotel room where he had been staying.

Alexei Navalny became ill during the flight and the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. Russian officials were persuaded to allow him to be airlifted to Germany two days later.

After tests confirmed poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent, the EU demanded a “transparent” investigation by the Russian government.

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In an Instagram post on September 22, Alexei Navalny rubbished suggestions – purportedly from President Putin – that he had poisoned himself.

French newspaper Le Monde reported that in a telephone call with President Emmanuel Macron on September 14, President Putin had spoken “with contempt about Alexei Navalny, considering him a simple internet troublemaker who had simulated diseases in the past”.

“Putin has outsmarted me,” Alexei Navalny wrote on Instagram, mocking the Russian president.

“He is nobody’s fool. As a result, I, like a fool, spent 18 days in a coma but failed to achieve what I wanted. The provocation has failed!”

A nerve agent from the Novichok group was also used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England in 2018. They both survived, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.

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According to Alexei Navany’s team, traces of the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Russian opposition leader were found on a bottle in the hotel room where he stayed before falling ill.

Alexei Navalny collapsed on a flight in Siberia last month. Germany says he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

It was previously thought that he may have been targeted at the airport.

A post on his Instagram account says: “Now we understand: It was done before he left his room to reach the airport.”

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most high profile opposition figure and a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin, is currently receiving treatment in the German capital Berlin.

His team alleges he was poisoned on the orders of President Putin.

However, the Kremlin denies any involvement in the case and says there is no evidence that a nerve agent was used.

A video posted on Alexei Navalny’s Instagram account on September 17 shows members of his team in a hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk after news of his poisoning emerged.

The post says they were there to gather potential evidence from the hotel to send to Alexei Navalny’s medical team in Germany because they did not trust the Russian authorities.

Several empty water bottles can be seen in the clip. They are among a number of items bagged by individuals wearing gloves.

“It is precisely on the bottle from the Tomsk hotel room that a German laboratory found traces of Novichok,” the post says.

The German authorities have not commented on the alleged finding.

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Earlier this week, Alexei Navalny posted once for the first time since he fell ill. He said he was now able to breathe unaided. His spokeswoman said he intended to return to Russia.

Alexei Navalny became ill during the flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, and the plane made an emergency landing in the city Omsk. Russian officials were persuaded to allow him to be airlifted to Germany two days later.

After carrying out tests, Germany said there was “unequivocal proof” that Alexei Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

According to the German government, labs in Sweden and France later confirmed the findings. A nerve agent from the Novichok group was also used to poison Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, in England, in 2018. They both survived, but a local woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after coming into contact with the poison.