Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny

Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny
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People attend a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg on January 23, 2021. (AFP)
Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny
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Police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg on January 23, 2021. (AFP)
Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny
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Police detain a man during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2021

Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny

Police arrest over 2,000 at Russia protests backing jailed Kremlin foe Navalny
  • The OVD-Info monitoring group said 1,090 people were detained at protests in dozens of Russian cities
  • The demonstrations were called by Navalny after he was detained returning to Russia from Germany

MOSCOW: Police detained over 2,000 people and used force to break up rallies across Russia on Saturday as tens of thousands of protesters ignored extreme cold and police warnings to demand the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Navalny had called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was slipped to him by state security agents in August.
The authorities had warned people to stay away from Saturday's protests, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event.
But protesters defied the ban and, in at least one case in temperatures below -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit), turned out in force. Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally, called on them to do the same next weekend to try to free Navalny from what he called "the clutches of his killers".
In central Moscow, where Reuters reporters estimated at least 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans.
The authorities said just some 4,000 people had shown up, while the foreign ministry questioned Reuters' crowd estimate.
"Why not just immediately say 4 million?," it suggested sarcastically on its official Telegram messenger channel.
Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally, put turnout in the capital at 50,000, the Proekt media outlet reported.
Some protesters chanted "Putin is a thief", and "Disgrace" and "Freedom to Navalny!"
Navalny's wife Yulia was briefly detained at the rally before being released. Some of Navalny's political allies were detained in the days before the protest; others on the day itself.
At one point, protesters surrounded a sleek black car with a flashing light used by senior officials, throwing snowballs at it and kicking it. A group of policemen were also pelted with snowballs by a much bigger crowd.
The OVD-Info protest monitor group said that at least 2,250 people, including 855 in Moscow and 327 in St Petersburg, had been detained at rallies in nearly 70 towns and cities.
Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer, is in a Moscow prison pending the outcome of four legal matters he describes as trumped up. He accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his attempted murder. Putin has dismissed that, alleging Navalny is part of a US-backed dirty tricks campaign to discredit him.
Some protesters marched on the prison, where police were waiting to arrest them.
Images of protesters with injuries such as bloodied heads circulated on social media.
The scenes were reminiscent of the months-long unrest in Russia's neighbouring ally Belarus where anti-government protests flared last August over allegations of voter fraud.
One Moscow protester, Sergei Radchenko, 53, said: "I'm tired of being afraid. I haven't just turned up for myself and Navalny, but for my son because there is no future in this country."
He added that he was frightened but felt strongly about what he called an out of control judicial system.


Britain puts military on standby as panic buying leaves pumps dry

Britain puts military on standby as panic buying leaves pumps dry
Updated 18 sec ago

Britain puts military on standby as panic buying leaves pumps dry

Britain puts military on standby as panic buying leaves pumps dry
  • Queues of drivers snaked back from those petrol stations that were still serving in major cities
  • An air of chaos has gripped the world’s fifth largest economy in recent weeks
LONDON: Britain put the army on standby to deliver fuel from Tuesday after an acute shortage of truckers triggered panic buying that left fuel pumps dry across the land and raised fears that hospitals would be left without doctors and nurses.
Queues of drivers snaked back from those petrol stations that were still serving in major cities, though dozens of forecourts were closed with signs saying that their petrol and diesel had run dry, Reuters reporters said.
A post-Brexit shortage of lorry drivers, exacerbated by a debilitating halt to truck-driving-license testing during COVID-19 lockdowns, has sown chaos through British supply chains, raising the spectre of shortages and price rises in the run up to Christmas.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said a limited number of military tanker drivers had been put on a state of readiness to be deployed to deliver fuel if necessary.
“While the fuel industry expects demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, it’s right that we take this sensible, precautionary step,” Kwarteng said in a statement late on Monday.
“If required, the deployment of military personnel will provide the supply chain with additional capacity as a temporary measure to help ease pressures caused by spikes in localized demand for fuel.”
Fights broke out at some petrol stations as drivers jostled for fuel.
An air of chaos has gripped the world’s fifth largest economy in recent weeks as the shortage of truckers strained supply chains and a spike in European wholesale natural gas prices tipped energy companies into bankruptcy.
Retailers, truckers and logistics companies have warned that prices for everything from energy to Christmas gifts will have to rise.
Government ministers, fuel companies and petrol stations say there are sufficient supplies of fuel but that the lack of truckers combined with panic buying has drained the system.
Such is the gravity of the situation that the British Medical Association has called for health workers to get priority access to fuel to ensure the health service can operate.
The demand for fuel has meant that 50 percent to 90 percent of pumps were dry in some areas of Britain, according the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers who account for 65 percent of all the 8,380 UK forecourts.
“As many cars are now holding more fuel than usual, we expect that demand will return to its normal levels in the coming days, easing pressures on fuel station forecourts. We would encourage everyone to buy fuel as they usually would,” fuel firms said in a joint statement.
However, hauliers, petrol stations and retailers say there are no quick fixes as the shortfall of truck drivers — estimated at about 100,000 — was so acute, and because transporting fuel demands additional training and licensing.
The government said it was also extending specific HGV (heavy good vehicle) licenses, which allow drivers to transport fuel, for those whose permits were due to expire in the next three months to allow them to keep working without having to take refresher courses.

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends
Updated 20 min 22 sec ago

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends

Sydney’s unvaccinated warned of social isolation when COVID-19 lockdown ends
  • Unvaccinated people are already subject to delays in freedoms that will be gradually granted to inoculated residents between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1.

SYDNEY: Sydney residents who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 risk being barred from various social activities even when they are freed from stay-at-home orders in December, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejkilian warned on Tuesday.
Under a roadmap to exit lockdown in Australia’s biggest city, unvaccinated people are already subject to delays in freedoms that will be gradually granted to inoculated residents between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1.
Berejkilian said people who choose not to be vaccinated could be barred entry to shops, restaurants and entertainment venues even after the state lifts all restrictions against them on Dec. 1.
“A lot of businesses have said they will not accept anyone who is unvaccinated,” Berejiklian told Seven News on Tuesday. “Life for the unvaccinated will be very difficult indefinitely.”
The two-tier system, designed to encourage more people to get vaccinated, has been criticized for both penalizing vulnerable groups who have not had access to inoculations and for falling short of providing a real incentive for the vaccine hesitant.
Pubs, cafes, gyms and hairdressers will reopen to fully vaccinated people on Oct. 11 in New South Wales, home to Sydney, and more curbs will be eased once 80 percent of its adult population becomes fully vaccinated, expected by the end of October.
Australia is pursuing a faster reopening through higher vaccination rates despite persistent infections, largely in its two biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Along with the capital Canberra, both cities are in a weeks-long lockdown.
The Delta-fueled outbreak has divided state and territory leaders, with some presiding over virus-free parts of the country indicating they will defy a federal plan to reopen internal borders once the adult population reaches 80 percent vaccination, expected in November. The national vaccine rate is currently around 52 percent.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the New South Wales roadmap and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“The strongest possible reason to be vaccinated is to save your life,” Hunt said.
The number of COVID-19 cases recorded by Australia since the beginning of the pandemic topped 100,000 on Tuesday, with around 70 percent of those detected since a Delta-variant fueled wave hit the country in mid-June.
New South Wales reported 863 new cases on Tuesday, up from 787 a day earlier, and seven new deaths. Neighbouring Victoria reported 867 new cases, its biggest daily rise ever, and four deaths.
The northeast state of Queensland reported four cases, including its first mystery case in almost two months. Officials are racing to trace the source after an aviation worker, who has not traveled interstate or overseas recently, contracted the virus.
While the state is on high alert, officials stopped short of enforcing a lockdown.
Australia had been faring relatively well until the latest wave, but a sluggish vaccine rollout left it vulnerable to the more virulent Delta strain. Deaths stand at 1,256 but the mortality rate from Delta is lower than last year due to higher vaccination rates among the vulnerable population.
In New South Wales, the number of people hospitalized dipped to 1,155 from 1,266 a week ago as dual-dose vaccination levels in people aged over 16 topped 60 percent in the state.


North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’
Updated 28 September 2021

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’

North Korea fires missile, accuses US of ‘double standards’
  • The missile was launched from the central north province of Jagang at around 6:40a.m.
  • The latest test underscored the steady development of North Korea’s weapons systems
SEOUL: North Korea fired a missile toward the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, as Pyongyang called on the United States and South Korea to scrap their “double standards” on weapons programs to restart talks.
The missile was launched from the central north province of Jagang at around 6:40a.m., the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Japan’s defense ministry said it appeared to be a ballistic missile, without elaborating.
The latest test underscored the steady development of North Korea’s weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief.
The launch came just before North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations urged the United States to give up its hostile policy toward Pyongyang and said no one could deny his country’s right to self-defense and to test weapons.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered aides to conduct a detailed analysis of the North’s recent moves.
“We regret that the missile was fired at a time when it was very important to stabilize the situation of the Korean peninsula,” defense ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted “the destabilizing impact” of the North’s illicit weapons programs, while the US State Department also condemned the test.
At the UN General Assembly, North Korea’s UN envoy, Kim Song, said the country was shoring up its self-defense and if the United States dropped its hostile policy and “double standards,” it would respond “willingly at any time” to offers to talks.
“But it is our judgment that there is no prospect at the present stage for the US to really withdraw its hostile policy,” Kim said.
Referring to a call by Moon last week for a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim said Washington needed to permanently stop joint military exercises with South Korea and remove “all kinds of strategic weapons” on and around the peninsula.
The United States stations various cutting edge military assets including nuclear bombers and fighter jets in South Korea, Guam and Japan as part of efforts to keep not only North Korea but also an increasingly assertive China in check.
Kim’s speech was in line with Pyongyang’s recent criticism that Seoul and Washington denounce its weapons development while continuing their own military activities.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has said the North is willing to improve inter-Korean ties and consider another summit if Seoul abandons its double standards and hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
“The conditions she suggested were essentially to demand that the North be accepted as a nuclear weapons state,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.
“Their goal is to achieve that prestige and drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, taking advantage of Moon’s craving for diplomatic legacy as his term is running out.”
Moon, a liberal who has prioritized inter-Korean ties, sees declaring an end to the Korean War, even without a peace treaty to replace an armistice, as a way to revive denuclearization negotiations between the North and the United States.
However, Moon, who has been in office for a single term, faces sagging popularity ahead of a presidential election in March.
Hopes for ending the war were raised after a historic summit between Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018. But that possibility, and the momentum for talks came to nothing, with talks stalled since 2019.

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
Updated 27 September 2021

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
  • Olaf Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy

BERLIN: The party that narrowly beat outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc pushed Monday for a quick agreement on a coalition government amid concerns that Europe’s biggest economy could be in for weeks of uncertainty after an election that failed to set a clear direction.

Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the center-left Social Democrats, called for Merkel’s center-right Union bloc to go into opposition after it saw its worst-ever result in a national election. Both finished with well under 30 percent  of the vote, and that appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties — raising questions over the stability of a future government.

During her 16 years in office, Merkel was seen abroad not just as Germany’s leader but in many ways as the leader of Europe, helping steer the European Union through a series of financial and political crises.

The unclear result combined with an upcoming French presidential election in April creates uncertainty — at least for now — in the two economic and political powers at the center of the EU, just as the bloc faces a resurgent Russia and increasing questions about its future from populist leaders in eastern countries.

Both outgoing finance minister and Vice Chancellor Scholz and Armin Laschet, the Union’s candidate and governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, staked a claim to leading the new government on Sunday night. Scholz, who pulled his party out of a long poll slump, sounded confident on Monday.

But the kingmakers are likely to be two prospective junior partners in any coalition, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.

“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said Monday. “They strengthened three parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats — so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: These three parties should lead the next government.”

The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats. That is the combination that has run Germany for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, though this time it would be under Scholz’s leadership with Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. But that coalition has often been marred by squabbling, and there is little appetite for it.

Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy.

“My idea is that we will be very fast in getting a result for this government, and it should be before Christmas if possible,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “Germany always has coalition governments and it was always stable.”

Scholz, an experienced and pragmatic politician whose calm, no-frills style is in some ways reminiscent of Merkel’s, pointed to continuity in foreign policy. He said a priority will be “to form a stronger and more sovereign European Union.”

“But doing so means also to work very hard on the good relationship between ... the European Union and the United States,” he added. “The trans-Atlantic partnership is of (the) essence for us in Germany ... and so you can rely on continuity in this question.”

The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.

Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or even months. Merkel announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term.

Scholz was clear that her party should bow out of government. He said the Union “received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition.”

Amid concern about rising nationalism and populism, the Europeans will be reassured that mainstream parties will form the next government. Sunday’s election saw weaker results for the far-right Alternative for Germany and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Left Party. The strong showing by the Greens could also help ease passage of the EU’s landmark “Fit for 55” climate change package aimed at making the 27-nation bloc carbon neutral within 30 years.


Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
Updated 27 September 2021

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK

Taliban threatening families of Afghan students in UK
  • Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18

LONDON:  The families of Afghans studying in the UK are being threatened by the Taliban, a British politician has claimed.

Five students evacuated from Afghanistan when the group recently regained control the country, and who are due to start at the University of Sussex on Chevening scholarships, had not been allowed to bring their families with them to the UK, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said.

Under British Foreign Office rules, students could only be accompanied by “immediate family” such as spouses or children under the age of 18, the Guardian reported.

The students told Lucas that they had received WhatsApp messages from the Taliban threatening the lives of their elderly dependents and dependent siblings still in Afghanistan.

Lucas said: “(The five students) are absolutely desperate about their families’ safety with their anguish heightened by the knowledge that their families are at risk precisely because of their decision to take up their Chevening placements – placements which mark them out as collaborators with the UK.”

She added that the fathers of two of the students had been murdered by the Taliban two years ago, and one claimed to have heard reports that the group had put pressure on a relative of school age.

The former Green Party leader said she had raised the issue with the Foreign Office, Home Office, and the Chevening secretariat but had received only “a deafening silence” in response.

She has accused the British government of failing to offer any clear assurances to people attempting to leave Afghanistan, after it pledged to take 5,000 refugees in the first 12 months and up to 20,000 over a five-year period. The scheme is yet to start.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Lucas said the government had told Parliament that individuals needed to wait for the scheme to open but had given no indication of when that would be.

And she pointed out that given the number of British nationals from Afghanistan living in her constituency who were seeking help, the scheme would be oversubscribed.

Her letter added: “My estimate based on my caseload is that there could be more than 33,000 family members alone that meet the scheme’s criteria, let alone those in the specified at-risk groups, so even 20,000 places over five years falls shamefully short.

“The government does not appear to know how many of the 5,000 places on the scheme will need to be allocated in the first instance to eligible Afghans already in the UK, such as 500 who were evacuated on Operation Pitting (UK military initiative to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover) flights but did not qualify for Arap (the Afghan relocations and assistance policy), or to those that have crossed the border and are in refugee camps.

“The government is also directing people toward a visa process that, by its own admission, is impossible to fulfil and, when it does get up and running, will incur all the usual charges and minimum income criteria,” she said.

Lucas also highlighted the difficulty for Afghans to provide the required biometrics for a visa, which are not available in Afghanistan, and demanded a waiver of visa requirements for family members of British nationals still stuck in the country.

The British Home Office said: “There will be many more people seeking to come to the UK under the scheme than there are places.” It added that it was taking a “considered approach, working with international partners and non-governmental organizations to identify those most eligible.”