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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 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.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been murdered and the first lady injured in an attack on their home in Port-au-Prince.

Unidentified gunmen stormed the property at 01:00 local time, interim PM Claude Joseph said.

PM Joseph has called for calm and declared a state of emergency nationwide.

Jovenel Moïse, 53, had led Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, since 2017 but had faced widespread protests demanding his resignation.

Haiti’s recent history has been plagued by coups, political instability and widespread gang violence.

First Lady Martine Moïse later reportedly arrived by plane in Fort Lauderdale, south Florida, for treatment. There is no official word on her condition.

Claude Joseph called the shooting of the president a “heinous, inhuman and barbaric act”, saying the attackers were “foreigners who spoke English and Spanish”. Haiti’s official languages are Creole and French.

Some reports spoke of men dressed in black carrying high-powered weapons who may have pretended to be part of a US drug enforcement operation, although no official details have been given.

Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, said there was “no way” US drugs agents carried out the attack. He believed it was the work of “professional mercenaries”.

Addressing the nation, PM Joseph vowed the killers would be brought to justice and said the security situation was “under control”.

The state of emergency, or “state of siege”, allows for the banning of gatherings and use of the military for police roles, along with other extensions of executive powers.

PM Joseph said that “all measures have been taken to ensure continuity” and that “democracy and the republic will win”.

But questions remain about how much control PM Joseph can assert.

Haiti’s constitution says ministers, under the leadership of the prime minister, take control in the event of presidential vacancy until elections can be called.

However, that also remains unclear, as a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was named by Jovenel Moïse just this week but has yet to be sworn in.

The US later said it believed elections should go ahead this year, to bring about a peaceful transfer of power.

The US has been Haiti’s biggest donor for 50 years but has had a fractious relationship with some of its rulers and has carried out a number of blockades and interventions.

The country has also had strong counter-narcotics ties with Haiti to try to prevent South American drugs being shipped through the nation and on to the US.

The neighboring Dominican Republic ordered the “immediate closure” of its border with Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse, 53, had been in power since February 2017.

His time in office was rocky as he faced accusations of corruption and there were widespread demonstrations in capital Port-au-Prince and other cities earlier this year.

Haiti’s opposition said that Jovenel Moïse’s five-year term should have ended on February 7, 2021, five years to the day since his predecessor, Michel Martelly, stepped down.

However, there had been a year’s delay to elections after Michel Martelly’s departure, and Jovenel Moïse insisted he had one more year to serve as he did not take office until February 7, 2017.

Parliamentary elections should have been held in October 2019 but disputes have delayed them, meaning Jovenel Moïse had been ruling by decree.

In February 2021, on the day the opposition wanted him to leave office, President Moïse said an attempt to kill him and overthrow the government had been foiled.

Haiti has also faced a wave of recent gang violence and kidnappings, particularly in the capital, with a number of its districts becoming no-go areas.

The worsening living standards in the nation of 11 million people have pushed nearly 60% below the poverty line.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Ebrahim Raisi has won Iran’s presidential election, following a race that was tightly controlled.

He thanked voters for their support, in a poll that was widely seen as being designed to favor him.

Ebrahim Raisi is Iran’s top judge and holds ultra-conservative views. He is under US sanctions and has been linked to past executions of political prisoners.

Iran’s president is the second-highest ranking official in the country, after the supreme leader.

Ebrahim Raisi will have significant influence over domestic policy and foreign affairs. But in Iran’s political system it is the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top religious cleric, who has the final say on all state matters.

Ebrahim Raisi, 60, has thanked the supreme leader for “creating the ground… that all people play a role in the formation of the new government.”

Iran is run according to conservative Shia Islamic values, and there have been curbs on political freedoms since its Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Many Iranians saw this latest election as having been engineered for Ebrahim Raisi to win, and shunned the poll.

The cleric has served as a prosecutor for most of his career. He was appointed head of the judiciary in 2019, two years after he lost by a landslide to Hassan Rouhani in the last presidential election.

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Ebrahim Raisi has presented himself as the best person to fight corruption and solve Iran’s economic problems.

“Our people’s grievances over shortcomings are real,” he said as he cast his vote in Tehran.

He is fiercely loyal to Iran’s ruling clerics, and has even been seen as a possible successor to Ayatollah Khamenei as the country’s supreme leader.

Many Iranians and rights groups have pointed to Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s. He was one of four judges who oversaw death sentences for about 5,000 prisoners, according to Amnesty International.

“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” said Amnesty chief Agnès Callamard.

Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions and Ebrahim Raisi has never addressed the allegations about his role in them.

Amnesty also says that as head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi oversaw impunity for officials and security forces accused of killing protesters during unrest in 2019.

He has promised to ease unemployment and work to remove US sanctions that have contributed to economic hardship for ordinary Iranians and caused widespread discontent.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015, gave Iran relief from Western sanctions in return for limiting its nuclear activities.

The US pulled out of the deal in 2018, and President Trump’s administration re-imposed crippling limits on Iran’s ability to trade. Ebrahim Raisi was among the officials sanctioned.

Iran has responded by re-starting nuclear operations that were banned under the deal.

Talks aimed at resurrecting the deal are ongoing in Vienna, with President Joe Biden also keen to revive it. But both sides say the other must make the first move.

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Image source: G7uk.org

China has accused the G7 of “political manipulation” after it criticized Beijing over a range of issues.

In a joint statement at the end of a three-day summit, G7 leaders urged China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Issues highlighted included abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority group and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.

China’s embassy in the UK accused the G7 of “baseless accusations”.

The statement by the G7 – the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies – included pledges on a number of issues, such as ending the coronavirus pandemic and steps to tackle climate change, as well as references to China.

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The G7 group, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, called on China to respect human rights in Xinjiang, a north-western region that is home to the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

The G7 statement also called for rights and freedoms to be respected in Hong Kong. The leaders said Hong Kong should retain a “high degree of autonomy”, as established under agreements when it was handed back to China in 1997.

The statement underscored the “importance of peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait – a heavily-policed waterway that separates China and Taiwan. China sees democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state.

It also demanded a new investigation in China into the origins of Covid-19.

President Joe Biden said he was “satisfied” with the statement’s language on China.

A stronger message on China is expected to be issued by leaders of the NATO military alliance at a meeting on June 14.

“We know that China does not share our values… we need to respond together as an alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said as he arrived at the one-day summit in Brussels.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the country would feature in NATO’s communiqué “in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before”.

Image source: The Time of Israel

An Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip has come into effect early on Friday, May 21.

The ceasefire brings to an end 11 days of fighting in which more than 250 people were killed, most of them in Gaza.

Palestinians poured on to the streets of Gaza soon after the truce began, while a Hamas official warned the group had not let down its guard.

Both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have claimed victory in the conflict.

President Joe Biden said the ceasefire had brought a “genuine opportunity” for progress.

Soon after the ceasefire started at 02:00 on May 21, large numbers of Palestinians took to the streets in cars and on foot to celebrate. In Gaza, drivers honked their horns, while loudspeakers from mosques pronounced “the victory of the resistance”.

Israel’s military said it was removing nearly all emergency restrictions on movement throughout the country.

Fighting broke out on May 10 after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem that culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

At least 243 people, including more than 100 women and children, were killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. Israel has said it killed at least 225 militants during the fighting. Hamas has not given casualty figures for fighters.

In Israel, 12 people, including two children, were killed, its medical service says.

The Israeli military says more than 4,300 rockets were fired towards its territory by militants and that it struck more than 1,000 militant targets in Gaza.

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The Israeli Political Security Cabinet said on May 20 it had “unanimously accepted the recommendation” for a ceasefire.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu faced criticism from some in Israel who said he had halted the conflict too soon. The mayors of Sderot and Ashkelon – two of the Israeli towns hardest hit by rockets from Gaza – were among those to voice their disappointment, saying Hamas should have been eliminated.

At a news conference on May 21, PM Netanyahu said Israel had “exacted a heavy price from Hamas”.

A Hamas official told the Associated Press the ceasefire announced by Israel amounted to a “victory” for the Palestinian people.

This view was shared by people celebrating on the streets of Gaza.

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Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “continue to respond forcefully” to rocket attacks as conflict with Palestinians in Gaza enters a seventh day.

Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed at least three Palestinians early on May 16, health officials said.

Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Tel Aviv, causing people there to flee to bomb shelters.

The international community has called for an end to the escalating conflict.

On May 15, President Joe Biden phoned PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to express concern about the situation.

A UN Security Council meeting is set to take place later on May 16.

Since the fighting began on May 10 at least 148 people have been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials, and Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children. Israel says dozens of militants are among the dead in Gaza, while Palestinian health officials say their death toll includes 41 children.

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Speaking in a TV address late on May 15, PM Netanyahu said the strikes would continue for “as long as necessary” and that everything possible was being done to limit civilian casualties.

“The party that bears the guilt for this confrontation is not us, it’s those attacking us,” he said.

The flare-up of violence over the last six days came after weeks of increasing Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem, which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas – the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza – began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

Ten members of one family were killed by an Israeli air strike at a refugee camp west of Gaza City.

A five-month-old baby, Omar Al-Hadidi, was the only survivor, after his mother, four siblings, aunt and four cousins died.

The baby’s father, Mohammad Al-Hadidi, was not at home at the time.

“There were no rockets there, just women and children, no rockets, just peaceful children celebrating [Muslim festival] Eid, what have they done to deserve this?” he told Reuters.

A doctor treating Omar said: “He was in a bad condition. His thigh bone is broken and he has bruises all over his body but thankfully after first inspection he is stable.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Palestinian militants had launched 278 rockets from Gaza, with homes hit in the southern cities of Ashdod, Beersheba and Sderot.

The IDF also said “many dozens” of rockets that crossed into Israel had been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

A rocket hit a street in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, killing a man. He was reportedly hit by shrapnel in his apartment.

On May 15, an Israeli air strike destroyed a high-rise building housing media organizations, including The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, plus a number of offices and apartments.

In a statement released shortly afterwards, the Israeli military said the building had housed military assets belonging to Hamas. The building’s landlord has denied this.

UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres said he was “deeply disturbed” by the strike on the building.

“The secretary-general reminds all sides that any indiscriminate targeting of civilian and media structures violates international law and must be avoided at all costs,” his spokesman said.

The AP said the block had been hit roughly an hour after Israeli forces ordered people to evacuate.

The news organization’s CEO, Gary Pruitt, said: “This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.”

Image source: The Time of Israel

The UN fears a “full-scale war” after the deadly exchange of fire between Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military has escalated significantly.

More than 1,000 rockets have now been fired by Palestinian militants over 38 hours, Israel said, most at Tel Aviv.

Israel has carried out deadly air strikes, bringing down two tower blocks in Gaza on May 11.

Israeli Arabs have also staged violent protests in a number of Israeli towns.

The city of Lod, near Tel Aviv, has been put under a state of emergency.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” by the ongoing violence.

Six Israelis have died and in Gaza at least 43 Palestinians, including 13 children, have been killed since May 10, the health ministry said.

The latest fatality was an Israeli citizen, who was killed when an anti-tank guided missile, fired from the northern Gaza Strip, struck a jeep on the border. Two other people were injured.

The fighting follows weeks of rising tension stoked by violent confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at a site in Jerusalem that is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Israel’s military says this is the biggest exchange since 2014.

Of the 1,050 rockets and mortar shells that have now been fired from Gaza, 850 had landed in Israel or were intercepted by its Iron Dome air defense system, and 200 failed to clear the border and landed back in Gaza, the Israeli army said.

Video footage from the city showed rockets streaking through the night sky, some exploding as they were hit by Israeli interceptor missiles.

Loud booms and air-raid sirens were heard across targeted cities, which included Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Modiin, and the southern city of Beersheba, as Palestinian militants tried to overwhelm missile defenses.

The rocket fire escalated after the two residential tower blocks were brought down in Gaza. Israel said it was targeting rocket launch sites, high-rise buildings, homes and offices used by Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza.

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Hamas said it was incensed by the “the enemy’s targeting of residential towers”.

Residents had been warned to evacuate the buildings before the fighter jets attacked, however health officials said there were still civilians deaths.

US state department spokesman, Ned Price said Israel had the right to defend itself but the Palestinian people also had the right to safety and security.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the Israeli strikes were “just the beginning”.

“Terror organizations have been hit hard and will continue to be hit because of their decision to hit Israel,” he said.

“We’ll return peace and quiet, for the long term.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised address: “If [Israel] wants to escalate, we are ready for it, and if it wants to stop, we’re also ready.”

Protests by Israeli Arabs in Lod escalated to full-scale rioting, with protesters throwing rocks at police, who responded with stun grenades.

A 52-year-old father and his 16-year-old daughter reportedly died when a rocket hit their car, with a number of other people injured in clashes, Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The violence caused Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to declared a state of emergency in Lod on May 11. It was the first time the government had used emergency powers over an Arab community since 1966, The Times of Israel said.

PM Netanyahu, who went to the city to call for calm, said he would impose a curfew if necessary.

Israeli media reported that synagogues and several businesses had been set on fire, while Reuters said there were reports a car driven by an Arab resident had been stoned.

Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international hub and one of the country’s busiest, briefly halted flights on May 11 and an energy pipeline between the cities of Eilat and Ashkelon was hit.

There has also been unrest in other cities with a large Israeli Arab population, as well as in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Chad’s President Idriss Déby has died of his injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend, the army has announced.

The announcement came a day after provisional election results projected he would win a sixth term in office.

The government and parliament have been dissolved. A curfew has also been imposed and the borders have been shut.

Idriss Déby, 68, spent more than three decades in power and was one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

An army officer by training, he came to power in 1990 through an armed uprising. He was a long-time ally of France and other Western powers in the battle against jihadist groups in the Sahel region of Africa.

Idriss Déby “breathed his last defending the sovereign nation on the battlefield”, an army general said on state TV on April 20.

He had gone to the front line, several hundred miles north of the capital N’Djamena, at the weekend to visit troops battling rebels belonging to a group calling itself FACT (the Front for Change and Concord in Chad).

A military council led by Idriss Déby’s son, a 37-year-old four star general, will govern for the next 18 months.

Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno will lead the council but “free and democratic” elections will be held once the transition period is over, the army said in its statement.

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Ahead of the election on April 11, Idriss Déby campaigned on a platform of bringing peace and security to the region.

But there has been growing unhappiness over his government’s management of Chad’s oil resources.

Founded in 2016 by disillusioned former army officers, the rebel Fact group accuses President Déby of repression in the run-up to the election.

They built up their base in Libya in the Tibesti mountains, which straddle northern Chad and part of southern Libya.

On Election Day the group mounted an attack on a border post and gradually advanced on N’Djamena.

The latest clashes began on April 17. An army general told Reuters that 300 insurgents were killed and 150 were captured. Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said. The figures could not immediately be verified.

Some foreign embassies in the capital have urged their staff to leave.

N’Djamena has come under rebel attack before and there was panic in the city on April 19, with parents taking their children home from school, when tanks were deployed along the main roads.

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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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Photo AP

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.

Myanmar Coup: Aung San Suu Kyi Handed Second Criminal Charge

Myanmar Coup: Military Junta Blocks Internet Access as Protests Grow

Myanmar Coup: Aung San Suu Kyi Charged with Breaching Import-Export Laws and Others

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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Jamal Khashoggi Murder Recordings Revealed by Turkish Newspaper

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”.