Russians charged with meddling in 2016 race

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks to the media with an announcement that the office of special counsel Robert Mueller says a grand jury has charged 13 Russian nationals and several Russian entities, on Friday. (AP)
Updated 17 February 2018
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Russians charged with meddling in 2016 race

WASHINGTON: In an extraordinary indictment, the US special counsel has accused 13 Russians of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, charging them with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign aimed in part at helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The federal indictment, brought on Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, represents the most detailed allegations to date of illegal Russian meddling during the campaign that sent Trump to the White House. It also marks the first criminal charges against Russians believed to have secretly worked to influence the outcome.
The Russian organization was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the indictment said. He is a wealthy St. Petersburg businessman with ties to the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.
Trump quickly claimed vindication on Friday, noting in a tweet that the alleged interference efforts began in 2014 — “long before I announced that I would run for President.”
“The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” he tweeted.
But the indictment does not resolve the collusion question at the heart of the continuing Mueller probe, which before Friday had produced charges against four Trump associates. US intelligence agencies have previously said the Russian government interfered to benefit Trump, including by orchestrating the hacking of Democratic emails, and Mueller has been assessing whether the campaign coordinated with the Kremlin.
The latest indictment does not focus on the hacking but instead centers on a social media propaganda effort that began in 2014 and continued past the election, with the goal of producing distrust in the American political process. Trump himself has been reluctant to acknowledge the interference and any role that it might have played in propelling him to the White House.
The indictment does not allege that any American knowingly participated in Russian meddling, or suggest that Trump campaign associates had more than “unwitting” contact with some of the defendants who posed as Americans during election season.
But it does lay out a vast and wide-ranging Russian effort to sway political opinion in the US through a strategy that involved creating Internet postings in the names of Americans whose identities had been stolen; staging political rallies while posing as American political activists and paying people in the US to promote or disparage candidates.
The 13 Russians are not in custody and not likely to ever face trial. The Justice Department has for years supported indicting foreign defendants in absentia as a way of publicly shaming them and effectively barring them from foreign travel.
The surreptitious campaign was organized by the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm that the indictment says sought to conduct “information warfare against the United States of America.”


High risk of ‘losing control’ of AIDS epidemic: experts

Updated 22 July 2018
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High risk of ‘losing control’ of AIDS epidemic: experts

  • The world was “probably at the highest risk ever of losing control of this epidemic
  • Speakers warned that donor and domestic funding has dropped significantly

AMSTERDAM: The AIDS epidemic risks resurging and spiralling out of control unless billions of extra dollars are pumped into prevention and treatment, experts warned Sunday on the eve of a major world conference.
An alarming rate of new infections, coupled with an exploding population of young people in hard-hit countries, meant the world could be steering for “a crisis of epic proportions,” said Mark Dybul, an American AIDS researcher and diplomat.
“Bad things will happen if we don’t have more money,” he told a special event organized a day before some 15,000 delegates attend the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
The world was “probably at the highest risk ever of losing control of this epidemic because of demographics and because of countries not paying attention the way they once did, or never did in some cases,” warned Dybul.
UNAIDS last week reported a record number of HIV-positive people using life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ARV), and lower rates of deaths and new infections — though not low enough according to campaigners.
And even this progress risks being overturned.
Speakers warned that donor and domestic funding has dropped significantly, and would likely continue declining.
Under Donald Trump, the US administration has proposed massive spending cuts, though these have failed to pass through Congress so far.
The US is by far the biggest funder of the global AIDS response.
According to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe, there was a funding gap of almost $7 billion (about six billion euros).
“If we don’t pay now we will pay more and more later,” he told the meeting.
Experts lamented that the successful rollout of life-saving, virus-suppressing drugs may have diverted necessary attention, and cash, away from the need to curb new HIV infections.
ARVs are also increasing being used, mainly in rich countries, to prevent contracting the virus from sex.
To meet the UN goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, infections must be limited to 500,000 per year globally in just two years’ time.
Last year’s 1.8 million new infections showed that “unless we did something completely drastic, we will not get anywhere near” the goal, said Nduku Kilonzo of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council.
“Condoms work!” she underlined, but only when they are available.
Investment in condom distribution has dropped, and less than half the need was being covered, she said.
“We are far, far, far away from our goal of prevention, not just elimination,” Kilonzo warned. “We have a crisis and it is a prevention crisis.”
David Barr, a senior treatment advocate who is himself HIV positive, agreed that access to drugs, without prevention, “will not end AIDS.”
“When I last spoke in this conference center in 1992, I could never have imagined that I would be standing here 26 years later alive and well,” he told delegates.
“I could never have imagined that 21 million people around the world would be on very effective HIV treatment, I could never have imagined that we will have such effective tools to prevent HIV transmission.”
Yet, the success is “incredibly fragile,” warned Barr.
“We can lose our opportunities and the tools we have created if we fail to use them effectively. If we lose them, then we’re back to the horror of 1992” when infections and deaths were skyrocketing.