Russian diplomats vacate three properties on US orders

People stop to watch black smoke coming from the roof of the Consulate General of Russia on Sept. 1, 2017, in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Fire Department says acrid, black smoke seen pouring from a chimney at the Russian consulate in San Francisco was apparently from a fire burning in a fireplace. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Updated 03 September 2017
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Russian diplomats vacate three properties on US orders

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Russian diplomats worked to vacate three properties in the United States on Saturday including the six-story consulate in San Francisco, complying with a US order issued in retaliation for Moscow cutting the American diplomatic presence in Russia.
Staff at the San Francisco consulate were seen moving equipment, furniture and small items from the building into minivans and driving away, before coming back for more 20 to 30 minutes later. A group of men in plainclothes and suits were seen on the roof of the consulate looking around, some wearing rubber gloves.
The closure ordered by the Trump administration of the consulate in San Francisco and two buildings housing Russian trade missions in Washington and New York was the latest in tit-for-tat measures between the two countries that have helped plunge relations to a new post-Cold War low.
The United States ordered the Russians to shutter their operations in the buildings by Saturday.
In July, the Kremlin ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people, to match the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, after the US Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia.
Those US sanctions were imposed as punishment for what US intelligence agencies concluded was Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election as well as Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
As of early Saturday afternoon, the Russian flag was still seen atop the consulate in San Francisco. Someone opened a window above the main entrance and wedged a small Russian flag there. A small contingent of news media and curious passersby gathered below the building.
Images posted on social media on Friday showed black smoke billowing from a chimney of the consulate, on the hottest day in San Francisco’s recorded history. The smoke prompted speculation that diplomatic staff inside the consulate were burning sensitive documents.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said the fire was part of a “mothballing.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it has summoned a US diplomat in Moscow to protest over plans to conduct searches in Russia’s trade mission complex in Washington, another of the buildings ordered closed.
Images posted on social media on Friday showed smoke and flames visible outside the trade mission building in Washington.


Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

Updated 2 min 33 sec ago
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Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas
  • The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Dozens of protesters gathered in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to demand justice for an 18-year-old woman who died after being set on fire for refusing to drop sexual harassment charges against her Islamic school’s principal.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas. When she refused, she said her hands were tied and she was doused in kerosene and set alight.
Rafi told the story to her brother in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and he recorded her testimony on his mobile phone. She died four days later in a Dhaka hospital with burns covering 80% of her body.
The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported, victims are intimidated and the legal process is often lengthy. Many avoid reporting to police because of social stigma.
“We want justice. Our girls must grow up safely and with dignity,” Alisha Pradhan, a model and actress, told The Associated Press during Friday’s demonstration. “We protest any forms of violence against women, and authorities must ensure justice.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Rafi’s funeral prayers in Feni, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised Rafi’s family when they met in Dhaka that those responsible would be punished.
At least 17 people, including students, have been arrested in connection with the case, said Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation.
In late March, Rafi filed a complaint with police that the principal of her madrasa, or Islamic school, had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Her family agreed to help her to file the police complaint, which prompted police to arrest the principal, infuriating him and his supporters. Influential local politicians backed the principal, and ruling party members were also among the arrested.
Police said the arrested suspects told them during interrogations that the attack on Rafi was planned and ordered by the school’s principal from prison when his men went to see him. It was timed for daytime so that it would look like a suicide attempt, Majumder said.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rafi’s family said that they had received death threats before the attack telling them to drop the case.
While Rafi’s case is now being treated with urgency, that wasn’t the case until her death.
A video taken on March 27 while Rafi reported the assault shows the local police chief registering her complaint but telling her that the incident was “not a big deal.” The chief was later removed from the police station for negligence in dealing with the case.
For Bangladeshi women, it is often not easy to file sensitive complaints with police. Victims often fear further harassment and bullying. Police also often show an unwillingness to investigate such cases and are often accused of being influenced by local politics or bribes.
But the call for dealing with violence against women, especially related to sexual harassment and assault, is also getting louder.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation.”