In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
A small group of demonstrators hold posters reading "Degtyaryov, go to the bathhouse!!!" and "I'm, we are Sergei Furgal" in Khabarovsk, Russia, in the country's Far East, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 18 September 2021

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election

In Russian Far East city, discontent smolders amid election
  • The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region

KHABAROVSK, Russia: The handful of demonstrators gathering each evening in Khabarovsk are a shadow of the masses who took part in an unusually sustained wave of protests last year in the Russian Far Eastern city, but they are a chronic reminder of the political tensions that persist.
The demonstrators have been demanding the release of the region’s popular former governor, Sergei Furgal, who was arrested last year on charges of being involved in killings.
Now, his Kremlin-appointed replacement, Mikhail Degtyaryov, is on the ballot for governor in the three days of regional voting that concludes Sunday. The regional election is taking place at the same time that Russians are voting for members of the State Duma, the national parliament.
The race for governor is being closely watched to gauge how much anger remains in the region, located seven time zones and 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) east of Moscow.
“The region really worries the Kremlin because they don’t want a repeat of those incidents (last years’ protests) of course. Khabarovsk is now under close supervision,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
Three other people are on the ballot for governor, but supporters of Furgal and others in the city of about 600,000 complain they are insignificant candidates who were allowed to run to give the appearance of a democratic and competitive race.
“Whoever posed even the smallest threat was barred from running, and they left only spoiler candidates,” said 64-year-old protester Zigmund Khudyakov.
Notably, United Russia — the country’s dominant political party and loyal backer of President Vladimir Putin — is not fielding a candidate for governor in Khabarovsk. Nor is Russia’s second-largest party, the Communists.
Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin with both advice and money.
The man who wanted to run on the Communist ticket was kept off the ballot because he was unable to get enough signatures from officials. That aspiring candidate, Pyotr Perevezentsev, told The Associated Press that municipal authorities in some districts had been told by their superiors whose nominating petitions to sign.
“People representing the presidential administration curated these elections,” he said.
Separately, Furgal’s son Anton says he was kept off the ballot for the national parliament. “There is an opinion that if my last name had been Ivanov, for example, I would likely be allowed to run,” he said.
Degtyaryov rejects such claims.
“As head of the Khabarovsk regional government, I am obligated to ensure transparent, legal, free and fair elections, and we are following all of these provisions,” he said on a recent televised question-and-answer session with residents.
The weeks of protests that arose after Sergei Furgal’s arrest in July 2020 appeared to catch authorities by surprise. Unlike in Moscow, where police usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned rallies, authorities didn’t interfere with the unauthorized demonstrations in Khabarovsk, apparently expecting them to fizzle out.
A Liberal Democratic Party member, Furgal won the 2018 regional gubernatorial election even though he had refrained from campaigning and publicly supported his Kremlin-backed rival.
His victory was a humiliating setback for United Russia, which also lost its control over the regional legislature.
While in office, Furgal earned a reputation as a “people’s governor,” cutting his own salary, ordering the sale of an expensive yacht bought by the previous administration, and offering new benefits to residents.
His arrest, which was shown on Russian TV stations, came after the Investigative Committee, the nation’s top criminal investigation agency, said he was accused of involvement in the murders of several businessmen in the region and nearby territories in 2004 and 2005. During interrogation in Moscow, Furgal denied the charges, according to the Tass news agency.
Ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a veteran politician with a reputation for outspoken comments and also a member of the Liberal Democrats, once called Furgal “the best governor the region ever had.”
Furgal’s arrest brought hundreds, and then thousands, of people into the streets of Khabarovsk in a regular Saturday protest. A year later, the rallies — albeit much smaller — continue.
Local activists say that’s because of sustained pressure from authorities interested in ensuring Degtyaryov wins the election.
Under new rules enforced by police who monitor and film the protests, the rallies are restricted to 10 people at most. Officers disperse anything larger.
The protesters say they are pressured at work and at university, with some adding that they lost their jobs after being seen at the demonstrations.
Many wear T-shirts with the face of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, while others carry signs depicting Furgal or denouncing the new governor.
“We constantly live in fear because any day we can be arrested,” said Denis Pedish, a 47-year-old education worker who says he now comes to protests with a packed bag of essentials in case he is detained.
“It’s difficult. But people have hope and faith and are actively fighting the lawlessness of the authorities and the lawlessness of the elections, which are a laughingstock for the world to see,” Pedish said.


Ex-Minneapolis cop gets 57 months in killing of 911 caller

Ex-Minneapolis cop gets 57 months in killing of 911 caller
Updated 3 sec ago

Ex-Minneapolis cop gets 57 months in killing of 911 caller

Ex-Minneapolis cop gets 57 months in killing of 911 caller
  • Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond
  • Don Damond, the victim’s fiancé, spoke directly to Noor, saying he forgave him and had no doubt Justine also would have forgiven him

MINNEAPOLIS: A Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed woman after she called 911 to report a possible rape happening behind her home was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison — the maximum allowed for manslaughter after his murder conviction was overturned in the case.
Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual US-Australian citizen and yoga teacher who was engaged to be married. But the Minnesota Supreme Court tossed out Noor’s murder conviction and sentence last month, saying the third-degree murder statute doesn’t fit the case. The justices said the charge can only apply when a defendant shows a “generalized indifference to human life,” not when the conduct is directed at a particular person, as it was with Damond.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance, who also presided at Noor’s initial trial, granted prosecutors’ request to impose the maximum sentence called for by state sentencing guidelines on Noor’s manslaughter conviction, 57 months. In doing so, she brushed aside the defense’s request for 41 months, which is the low end of the range.
“Mr. Noor, I am not surprised that you have been a model prisoner,” Quaintance said. “However, I do not know any authority that would make that grounds for reducing your sentence.” She cited Noor “shooting across the nose of your partner” and endangering others the night of the shooting to hand down the stiffest sentence she could.
Noor, who was fired after he was charged, has already served more than 29 months. In Minnesota, inmates who behave well typically serve two-thirds of their prison sentences and the remainder on supervised release.
Experts said the state Supreme Court ruling that rejected Noor’s third-degree murder conviction means the third-degree murder conviction earlier this year against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s 2020 death likely also will be tossed out. But that would have little impact because Chauvin was also convicted of a more serious second-degree murder charge in Floyd’s death. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years.
Noor testified at his 2019 trial that he and his partner were driving slowly in an alley when a loud bang on their police SUV made him fear for their lives. He said he saw a woman appear at the partner’s driver’s side window and raise her right arm before he fired a shot from the passenger seat to stop what he thought was a threat.
He was sentenced to 12 1/2 years on the murder count and had been serving most of his time at an out-of-state facility.
Noor’s attorneys, Tom Plunkett and Peter Wold, sought 41 months at the resentencing, citing Noor’s good behavior behind bars and harsh conditions he faced during many months in solitary, away from the general prison population.
Plunkett said Thursday that much attention has been given to the victim as a kind and giving person — “all true,” he said. But Plunkett said there is “similar goodness” in Noor. He said Noor had always sought to help people around him, and recapped Noor’s good behavior while in prison.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy, meanwhile, asked Quaintance to give Noor the longest possible sentence. She said the case “is worse than typical” because of who Noor is. “The most serious sentence this court can impose is required,” she said.
Damond’s parents, John Ruszczyk and Maryan Heffernan, also asked the judge to impose the longest sentence. In a statement read by prosecutors, they called Damond’s death “utterly gratuitous” and said that the Minnesota Supreme Court’s overturning of a “poorly written law” didn’t change the jury’s belief that Noor committed murder.
“Our sorrow is forever, our lives will always endure an emptiness,” they said.
The victim’s fiancé, Don Damond, gave his statement via Zoom. He started by praising prosecutors for their “sound application of the law” and criticizing the state Supreme Court for its reversal, which he said “does not diminish the truth that was uncovered during the trial.”
“The truth is Justine should be alive. No amount of justification, embellishment, cover-up, dishonesty or politics will ever change that truth,” he said.
But Don Damond also spoke directly to Noor, saying he forgave him and had no doubt Justine also would have forgiven him “for your inability in managing your emotions that night.”
Noor, wearing a suit and tie and donning a face mask, appeared impassive as the victim’s loved ones’ statements were read. He later addressed the court briefly, saying, “I’m deeply grateful for Mr. Damond’s forgiveness. I will take his advice and be a unifier. Thank you.”
Damond’s death angered citizens in the US and Australia, and led to the resignation of Minneapolis’ police chief. It also led the department to change its policy on body cameras; Noor and his partner didn’t have theirs activated when they were investigating Damond’s 911 call.
Noor, who is Somali American, was believed to be the first Minnesota officer convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting. Activists who had long called for officers to be held accountable for the deadly use of force applauded the murder conviction but lamented that it came in a case in which the officer is Black and his victim was white. Some questioned whether the case was treated the same as police shootings involving Black victims.
Days after Noor’s conviction, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to Damond’s family, believed at the time to be the largest settlement stemming from police violence in Minnesota. It was surpassed earlier this year when Minneapolis agreed to a $27 million settlement in Floyd’s death just as Chauvin was going on trial.


Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi
Updated 21 October 2021

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi

Boston Celtics’ Kanter sparks backlash in China after comments on Tibet, Xi
  • Enes Kanter, who is Turkish and has a history of activism, tweeted a video expressing support for Tibet and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of the Dalai Lama
  • An outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter, 29, was indicted in his home country in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group

SHANGHAI: Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter was pilloried on Chinese social media and his name appeared to be blocked on the popular Weibo messaging platform after he criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping and China’s treatment of Tibet.
Kanter, who is Turkish and has a history of activism, tweeted a two-minute video of himself expressing support for Tibet and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of the Dalai Lama, its exiled spiritual leader.
“I’m here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet. Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent,” Kanter said in the video posted on Wednesday in US time, along with text describing Xi as a “brutal dictator.”
Kanter posted similar messages on his Instagram feed. On Wednesday, he wore shoes emblazoned with the phrase “Free Tibet’ during the game against the New York Knicks made by Baidiucao, a dissident China-born cartoonist and artist based in Australia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing on Thursday that Kanter was “trying to get attention” and that his remarks “were not worth refuting.”
“We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet’s development and progress,” he said.
Kanter’s remarks, and the backlash, come two years after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s comments in support of the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster CCTV to cease broadcasting NBA games and e-commerce vendors to remove listings for Rockets merchandise.
The tweet also followed the Wednesday arrival of the Olympic torch in Beijing, whose scheduled hosting of the Winter Games in February 2022 has prompted calls for boycotts over Chinese treatment of Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong.
As of mid-Thursday in China, Kanter’s Chinese-language surname and full name yielded only one result, compared with multiple results earlier in the morning.
Weibo did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the NBA in China did not respond to an emailed request for comment, and the Boston Celtics did not respond to a request for comment sent outside business hours.
Beijing has ruled the remote western region of Tibet since 1951, after its People’s Liberation Army marched in and took control in what it calls a “peaceful liberation,” and considers the Dalai Lama a separatist.
A Weibo fan page for the Boston Celtics with over 650,000 followers wrote that it would cease updating its social feed after Kanter’s tweets.
Twitter is blocked in China.
“Any information on the team will cease to appear on this Weibo. Any behavior that undermines the harmony of the nation and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!” the page’s administrator wrote.
On the Celtics’ official Weibo page, more than 100 commentators left comments on Thursday criticizing the club and Kanter, with some calling for him to be sacked.
“I’ve been an old Celtics fan for more than 10 years. After Kanter did this, I won’t support the Celtics team a single day any longer. Between my hobbies and my country, there’s no comparison,” wrote one commentator.
An outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter, 29, was indicted in his home country in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group, which he denies. Turkey, which revoked his passport, is seeking his extradition.


Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry
Updated 21 October 2021

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry

Bereaved families angry as Manchester bomber’s brother evades inquiry
  • Salman Abedi blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena venue, as parents arrived to collect their children
  • A lawyer representing bereaved families said they had "the very gravest of concerns and the most extreme sense of frustration that this has occurred"

LONDON: The brother of a suicide bomber who killed 22 people in Manchester in May 2017 failed to appear on Thursday at a public inquiry investigating the attack, angering bereaved families seeking answers about the killer’s motivations.
Salman Abedi blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena venue, as parents arrived to collect their children. Among those killed were seven children, the youngest aged eight, while 237 people were injured.
Ismail Abedi, the bomber’s older brother, had been summoned to give evidence at the public inquiry, which has been running for more than a year to examine issues raised by the bombing.
Paul Greaney, counsel to the inquiry, told Thursday’s public hearing that Abedi was stopped at Manchester airport on Aug. 28 while trying to leave the country. But he boarded a flight at the same airport on Aug. 29 and has not returned to Britain.
Duncan Atkinson, a lawyer representing bereaved families, said they had “the very gravest of concerns and the most extreme sense of frustration that this has occurred” and accused Abedi of “profound disrespect” toward them.
The inquiry chairman, retired judge John Saunders, said the circumstances of his departure, and whether the police, the courts or the inquiry itself could have done more to prevent it, were matters that were not yet fully understood.
“The means of enforcing someone’s attendance at an inquiry are not straightforward,” he said, urging people not to jump to conclusions about who or what was to blame.
The inquiry was due to hear evidence later on Thursday from a friend of Salman Abedi, Ahmed Taghdi. He was arrested on Monday as he tried to leave the country and is in custody.
Another brother of Salman Abedi, Hashem Abedi, was found guilty of murder and jailed for at least 55 years in August 2020 for helping Salman plan the attack.
The brothers were born to Libyan parents who emigrated to Britain during the rule of Muammar Qaddafi. The parents and their younger children are in Libya and are also refusing to cooperate with the inquiry.


Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group
Updated 21 October 2021

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group

Activist dad of school shooting victim joins anti-gun group
  • Guttenberg, who has become a nationally known activist in the years since the shooting, visited his daughter's grave this week and “asked her for guidance”
  • Brady PAC supports candidates who promote gun violence prevention and spent $5 million during the 2020 election cycle

WASHINGTON: The father of a 14-year-old girl killed in the 2018 Florida high school shooting massacre announced Thursday that he’s joining the top ranks of a progressive anti-gun group. This comes to promote like-minded political candidates around the country ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Fred Guttenberg will be a senior adviser to Brady PAC. His daughter Jamie, an aspiring dancer and gymnast, died with 16 others during the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of first-degree murder for that shooting and could face the death penalty during sentencing in January. Guttenberg, who has become a nationally known activist in the years since the shooting, said he visited his daughter’s grave this week and “asked her for guidance. ‘Cause Jamie is my strength.”
“Jamie may only have been 14, but she was the toughest, wisest person I ever knew,” Guttenberg said in an interview. “If you want to know my motivation for why I’m doing this with Brady PAC right now, that’s the reason.”
Brady PAC, formed leading up to 2018′s midterm elections, supports candidates who promote gun violence prevention and spent $5 million during the 2020 election cycle. It has promised to pump millions more into next year’s races.
Guttenberg, a 55-year-old former small business owner, said, “I believe we are one election cycle away from either getting this done, or one election cycle away from losing the chance.”
“We do it now,” he added, “or we never do it.”
Guttenberg noted that Democrats, most of whom agree with him and Brady PAC on top gun issues, control Congress and could hold both chambers after 2022 — even though the party that wins the White House, as Democrats did through Joe Biden in 2020, historically loses seats in the next election.
“I think people need to stop acting like everyone knows what’s going to happen in 2022 and get back to working for what you want to happen,” Guttenberg said. “I want more gun safety candidates elected to the House and the Senate. Period. Full stop. And I think that voters agree with me.”
Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members during a seven-minute rampage through Stoneman Douglas, using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to shoot victims in hallways and classrooms. Cruz had been expelled from the school a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behavior that dated to preschool.
The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally. Besides Guttenberg, several other parents of students killed have also become activists.
Last February, Guttenberg attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address and began yelling after the Republican president said, “I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Guttenberg was escorted out and later apologized via Twitter.
Guttenberg also drew attention in Congress in September 2018 when he attempted to shake hands with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during a break at the latter’s Senate confirmation hearing. Kavanaugh looked at him, turned and walked away. Kavanaugh later said that he had assumed Guttenberg was a protester and that he would have expressed his sympathy and shaken Guttenberg’s hand had he recognized him before being whisked away by his security detail. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court.
Brady PAC is the political arm of a nonprofit named in honor of former White House press secretary James Brady, who suffered a bullet wound to his head in the assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in 1981.
Together with his wife, Brady became a leading gun control activist before his death in 2014. A federal law requiring a background check on handgun buyers bears Brady’s name, as does the White House press briefing room.


Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess
Updated 21 October 2021

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess

Man charged with ‘terrorist’ murder of British lawmaker Amess
  • Amess’s murder has shocked Britain’s political establishment coming five years after another lawmaker was murdered
  • Ali is the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia

LONDON: British police charged Ali Harbi Ali, 25, with murder of lawmaker David Amess, who was stabbed to death on Friday at a meeting in his constituency, saying it was an act of terrorism.
Amess’s murder has shocked Britain’s political establishment coming five years after another lawmaker was murdered, prompting calls for increased safety for members of parliament.
“We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations,” Nick Price, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division.
“He has also been charged with the preparation of terrorist acts. This follows a review of the evidence gathered by the Metropolitan Police in its investigation.”
Ali, the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, is due to appear at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ court later on Thursday.
“There has been considerable speculation in the media about the background, history and motivation of the man now charged,” said Matt Jukes, London police’s Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations.
“I understand the huge level of public interest in this case, but now a charge has been brought, it is vitally important that everyone exercises restraint when commenting on it publicly, to ensure future court proceedings are not prejudiced in any way.”