Austria ex-vice-chancellor’s corruption trial adjourned

Austria ex-vice-chancellor’s corruption trial adjourned
This file photo taken on June 4, 2020 shows former Austrian Vice-Chancellor and former leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache. (AFP)
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Updated 09 July 2021

Austria ex-vice-chancellor’s corruption trial adjourned

Austria ex-vice-chancellor’s corruption trial adjourned
  • The current trial focuses on charges that Strache helped change the law to benefit an FPOe party donor

VIENNA: A corruption trial against Austria’s former vice-chancellor and ex-leader of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) was adjourned Friday until late August, after prosecutors presented new details relating to the charges.
The trial of Heinz-Christian Strache, 52, opened on Tuesday and has its roots in the so-called “Ibiza-gate” scandal which forced his resignation in May 2019 and brought down the coalition government between the FPOe and the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
The scandal broke when video footage emerged of Strache promising public contracts to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in exchange for election campaign support for the FPOe.
The video prompted a sprawling investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors which uncovered several other allegations of wrongdoing against Strache and other prominent politicians.
The current trial focuses on charges that Strache helped change the law to benefit an FPOe party donor.
The final hearings in the trial, and the verdict, were initially expected on Friday but the trial was adjourned and “the next hearings will be on August 23 and 27,” Christina Salzborn, vice president of the relevant court, confirmed to AFP in an email.
Strache stands accused of helping to change the law for the benefit of his co-accused Walter Grubmueller, a long-standing friend who owned a private health clinic and donated 10,000 euros ($11,860) to the FPOe.
According to an SMS exchange uncovered by prosecutors and leaked to Austrian media, Strache asked Grubmueller which amendments to legislation would be needed in order for the clinic “to finally be treated in a fair manner.”
During Strache’s time in government, the law was amended to enable Grubmueller’s clinic to receive money from the public health insurance fund.
On Friday judge Claudia Moravec-Loidolt accepted a request from prosecutors to present fresh evidence relating to a separate donation from Grubmueller to the FPOe of 2,000 euros.
Witnesses relating to the new allegation — including former FPOe MPs — will be questioned at the hearings in August, Salzborn said.


Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
Updated 13 sec ago

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
DUBAI: A cyberattack disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran on Tuesday, state media reported, causing long lines at gas stations across the country.
“The disruption at the refueling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refueling process...will return to normal.”
The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices which led to widespread street protests in which hundreds were reported to have been killed by security forces.
The oil ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.
Videos posted on social media showed apparently-hacked street signs carrying messages such as “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?,” in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.
In the past, Iran has been targeted by a series of cyberattacks such as one in July when the website of the transport ministry was taken down by what state media said was a “cyber disruption.”
Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on the United States and Israel.
The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’
Updated 26 October 2021

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide Libya with 198 million yen ($1.8 million) grant aid for supporting local election programs.

The agreement was reached on Oct. 24 at the Japanese embassy in Tripoli and signed by Yuki Tenji, the Japanese temporary deputy ambassador, the special coordinator of Libya Mark Andre Franche, and the UNDP Libya Office.

According to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, this aid will help conduct smooth, free, and fair national elections scheduled throughout Libya for December and will be the first step in establishing a legitimate unified government representing the Libyan people.   

The aid will provide the National Electoral Commission with ballot boxes and other election-related equipment, thus contributing to the realization of a peaceful and safe society.

Libya covers an area of ​​1.76 million square kilometers, has a population of about 6.78 million and has a per capita gross national income of US $7,640, the ministry said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 October 2021

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
  • Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019
  • The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant

BEIJING: China placed a city of four million people under lockdown on Tuesday, ordering them not to leave home except in emergencies, in a bid to eradicate a COVID-19 cluster of just a few dozen confirmed cases.
Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019, slowing the number of cases to a trickle and allowing the economy to bounce back.
But as the rest of the world opens up and tries to find ways to live with the virus, China has maintained a zero COVID-19 approach that has seen harsh local lockdowns imposed over handfuls of cases.
Tuesday’s fresh restrictions came as China reported 29 new domestic infections — including six in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in the country’s northwest.
The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the tally hitting 198 cases since October 17.
Thirty-nine have been in Lanzhou.
Residents of the city will now be required to stay at home, authorities said in a statement, with the “entry and exit of residents” strictly controlled and limited to essential supplies or medical treatment.
Bus and taxi services had already been stopped in the city, and state media said Tuesday that Lanzhou station had suspended more than 70 trains, including on key routes to Beijing and Xi’an.
A Southern Airlines representative said that all its flights from Beijing’s Daxing airport to Lanzhou were canceled due to public safety, with no resumption date given.
Health officials have warned that more infections may emerge as testing is ramped up in the coming days to fight the outbreak, which has been linked to a group of domestic tourists who traveled from Shanghai to several other provinces.
Strict stay-at-home orders have already been imposed on tens of thousands of people in northern China.
In Beijing — which reported three new cases Tuesday — access to tourist sites has been limited and the prominent Lama Temple was shuttered, while residents were advised not to leave the capital unless necessary.
About 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.
Community mahjong and chess rooms have been closed, and residents have been told to reduce large gatherings.
Organizers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.
Mass testing is under way in 11 provinces and authorities have suspended many inter-provincial tour groups.
While the country’s case numbers are extremely low compared with elsewhere in the world, authorities are determined to stamp out the latest outbreak with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just over 100 days away.
As part of China’s strict enforcement of the zero COVID-19 policy, those deemed to have failed in controlling COVID-19 are often dismissed from their posts or punished.
On Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the party secretary of Ejin Banner in the northern Inner Mongolia region had been sacked, “due to poor performance and implementation in epidemic prevention and control.”
Hit by the latest wave, the city locked down about 35,000 residents from Monday.
Around 10,000 tourists were also placed under lockdown in Ejin, according to local media reports.
Six other officials were punished for their “slack response” to the latest flare-up, state media reported, and a local police bureau deputy director was removed from their position.
Beijing police have launched three criminal investigations into alleged COVID-19 safety breaches, deputy director of the city’s public security bureau said Sunday.


Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
Updated 26 October 2021

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
  • Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers

KANO, Nigeria: Gunmen have killed 16 worshippers at a mosque in central Nigeria, a government official said Tuesday, in the latest violence in the restive region.
Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers, said Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the secretary to the government.
“The bandits shot dead 16 people inside the mosque while they were praying,” Matane said.
Three worshippers were injured in the attack, one of them critically, he added.
Matane said one other person was killed in nearby Kaboji village as the gunmen fled the area.
“We are still investigating the motive of the attack and we have despatched military and police personnel to the area,” he said.
A police spokesman confirmed the attack but did not provide details.
Gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers for ransom known locally as bandits have been terrorizing communities in northwest and central Nigeria where they raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them.
Although they are driven by financial motive, the gangs have been infiltrated by jihadists waging more than a decade-old insurgency in the northeast.
Residents in several communities in Niger state have lately reported an influx of fighters from the northeast who have been taking over remote villages.
The gangs have increasingly been abducting students and schoolchildren to extort ransom from parents and authorities.
More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped since December, but most have been released after negotiations with their captors.


Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan
Updated 26 October 2021

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan
  • Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban
  • Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away

KABUL: Women activists in Kabul held up signs that read “why is the world watching us die in silence?” on Tuesday, protesting the international community’s inaction on the crisis in Afghanistan.
Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban, who have banned demonstrations and shut them down using violence since taking power in August, holding banners affirming their “right to education” and “right to work,” before the Islamists stopped the press from approaching the march.
“We are asking the UN secretary-general to support our rights, to education, to work. We are deprived of everything today,” Wahida Amiri, one of the organizers for the Spontaneous Movement of Women Activists in Afghanistan, told AFP.
Their demonstration, addressing the “political, social and economic situation” in Afghanistan was initially planned to take place near the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
But it was moved at the last minute to the entrance of the former “Green Zone,” where the buildings of several Western embassies are located, although most of their missions left the country as the Taliban took control.
Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away.
An AFP reporter then saw a reinforcement of a dozen Taliban guards — most of them armed — push back journalists and confiscate the mobile phone of one local reporter who was filming the protest.
“We have nothing against the Taliban, we just want to demonstrate peacefully,” Amiri said.
Symbolic demonstrations by women have become a regular occurrence in Kabul in recent weeks as the Taliban have still not allowed them to return to work or permitted most girls to go to school.
Last Thursday about 20 women were allowed to march for more than 90 minutes, but several foreign and local journalists covering the rally were beaten by Taliban fighters.

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