Dutch prosecutors demand life sentences in MH17 downing

Dutch prosecutors demand life sentences in MH17 downing
Lawyers attend the judges’ inspection of the reconstruction of the MH17 wreckage, as part of the murder trial ahead of the beginning of a critical stage, in Reijen, Netherlands in May. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 22 December 2021

Dutch prosecutors demand life sentences in MH17 downing

Dutch prosecutors demand life sentences in MH17 downing
  • Prosecutors said the four recklessly used a Russian missile to bring down the passenger jet, killing all 298 passengers and crew
  • Public prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks made the sentence demand on the third day of a presentation of evidence supporting the indictment

SCHIPHOL, Netherlands: Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday demanded life sentences for four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, saying they caused “deep and irreversible suffering” to relatives of the 298 people killed.
Prosecutors said the four recklessly used a Russian missile to bring down the passenger jet, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Public prosecutor Manon Ridderbeks made the sentence demand on the third day of a presentation of evidence supporting the indictment. The suspects are being tried in absentia.
“The downing of MH17 with a Buk missile brutally ended the lives of all 298 people on board. Incredibly deep and irreversible suffering has been caused to the next of kin,” Ridderbeks told the court.
Anton Kotte, who lost his son, daughter-in-law and his 6-year-old grandson when MH17 was shot down, said the sentence demand felt like “a new start,” but he added that with prosecution arguments and the deliberation of judges still to come, and the possibility for appeals, justice still felt a long way off.
“We just started coming in the right direction ... but the outcome will be in the future,” he said outside court.
Life sentences are rare in the Netherlands, where the sentence means the convicted person spending the rest of their life in prison.
But Ridderbeks said it was a necessary in the MH17 downing because of the extreme nature of the crime and to act as a deterrent.
“It must send an unequivocal international message that aviation deserves the greatest possible protection and that gross acts of violence against it will be punished severely,” she said.
Prosecutors accuse Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Igor Pulatov as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who were separatist rebels fighting Ukrainian government forces in 2014, of forming a team that aimed to bring down Ukrainian planes using a missile system trucked in from a Russian military base.
Prosecutor Thijs Berger told judges earlier Wednesday that it’s legally irrelevant that the suspects wanted to shoot down military and not civilian aircraft.
“Legally speaking they were ordinary citizens, they were not allowed to commit any violence,” he said.
The trial is being held in the Netherlands at a high security courtroom near Schiphol Airport because nearly 200 of those on board were Dutch citizens. Victims came from a total of 16 different nations.
Wednesday’s sentence demands came amid soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has drawn fears of an invasion. Russia has denied plans to attack its neighbor.
Defense lawyers for Pulatov, who is the only suspect who is represented in court, will make their presentation to judges in March. Verdicts aren’t expected until September next year at the earliest.
Prosecutors had spent the previous two days explaining in meticulous detail the indictment and evidence backing it up to the panel of judges.
Prosecutors plotted in detail the route they say the Buk missile took to and from the launch site in an agricultural field near the village of Pervomaiskyi, using witnesses, social media posts, photos and video and intercepted phone calls and mobile phone location data.
They also discussed the forensic evidence gathered from the wreckage and bodies of victims that were recovered from eastern Ukraine and returned to the Netherlands for examination. Earlier in the trial, judges visited a hangar on a Dutch military air base where the wreckage is stored to view the mangled fragments.
The prosecutors concluded that the plane was shot down by a Buk missile belonging to the Russian 53rd Anti Aircraft Missile Bridade that was driven to the launch location “by orders of and under guidance of the suspects.”
The prosecutors also cited tapped conversations between Dubinski and Kharchenko discussing shooting down what they initially thought was a Ukrainian war plane.
Prosecutors argue that Girkin and Dubinskiy were senior separatist rebels while Pulatov and Kharchenko were their direct subordinates.
“Together they are responsible for the deployment of the Buk telar used to shoot down flight MH17,” prosecutors said in a written summary of their arguments.


Trump ‘unlikely’ to be president after hosting Fuentes, top Republican McConnell suggests

Trump ‘unlikely’ to be president after hosting Fuentes, top Republican McConnell suggests
Updated 30 November 2022

Trump ‘unlikely’ to be president after hosting Fuentes, top Republican McConnell suggests

Trump ‘unlikely’ to be president after hosting Fuentes, top Republican McConnell suggests
  • 'There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy, and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the US,” McConnell told reporters

WASHINGTON: The top two Republicans in the US Congress broke their silence on Tuesday about former President Donald Trump’s dinner last week with white supremacist Nick Fuentes, saying the Republican Party has no place for antisemitism or white supremacy.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, who may become speaker of the US House of Representatives when Republicans take control in January, had not commented previously on the Nov. 22 meeting.
Trump began his 2024 bid for the White House on Nov. 15, and is Republican voters’ top choice, according to opinion polls.
“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy, and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” McConnell told reporters without mentioning Trump by name.
“That would apply to all of the leaders in the party who will be seeking offices,” McConnell added, when asked if he would support Trump should he become the party’s 2024 presidential nominee.
McCarthy was pressed for his thoughts on the Trump dinner by reporters at the White House, after talks with President Joe Biden.
“I don’t think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes,” said McCarthy, currently the House minority leader. “His views are nowhere within the Republican Party or within this country itself.”
Trump has said the encounter at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, was inadvertent, but the meeting has drawn rare criticism from fellow Republicans, some of whom accused Trump of empowering extremism.
Tuesday’s comments were the first by McCarthy and McConnell to address the Trump dinner.
Fuentes has been described as a white supremacist by the US Justice Department. The Anti-Defamation League said Fuentes once “’jokingly denied the Holocaust and compared Jews burnt in concentration camps to cookies in an oven.’“
While president, Trump was broadly criticized for not explicitly condemning white nationalists whose August 2017 rally on a college campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, was seen as having provoked violence with counter-protesters, one of whom was killed.
“You also had people that were very fine people on both sides,” Trump said at the time.
PENCE CALLS FOR APOLOGY
Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence on Monday called for an apology from Trump for the meeting with Fuentes.
“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize,” Pence said in a televised interview with NewsNation.
McCarthy mentioned that Trump said he didn’t know who Fuentes was.
“I condemn his ideology. It has no place in society,” he said of Fuentes.
Fuentes attended the dinner with Ye, the musician formerly known as Kanye West, who has also drawn widespread criticism for antisemitic comments.
“The president will have meetings with who he wants. I don’t think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes, and his views should come nowhere within the Republican Party or the country itself,” McCarthy said.

 


NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine
Updated 30 November 2022

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine

NATO pledges more aid to Kyiv as air raid sirens blare again across Ukraine
  • NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriots and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a “criminal entity” for delivering arms to what he called “Ukrainian fanatics”

KYIV: NATO allies promised on Tuesday more arms for Kyiv and equipment to help restore Ukrainian power and heat knocked out by Russian missile and drone strikes, as air raid sirens blared across Ukraine for the first time this week.
Ukrainians fled the streets for bomb shelters, although the all-clear later sounded across the country. In the eastern Donetsk region Russian forces pounded Ukrainian targets with artillery, mortar and tank fire.
Foreign ministers from the NATO alliance, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, began a two-day meeting in Bucharest, seeking ways both to keep Ukrainians safe and warm and to sustain Kyiv’s military through a coming winter campaign.
“We need air defense, IRIS, Hawks, Patriots, and we need transformers (for our energy needs),” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, enumerating various Western air defense systems.
“In a nutshell: Patriots and transformers are what Ukraine needs the most.”
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev warned NATO against providing Ukraine with Patriots and denounced the Atlantic alliance as a “criminal entity” for delivering arms to what he called “Ukrainian fanatics.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to use winter as a weapon of war” as Moscow’s forces lose ground on the battlefield.
In a statement, NATO ministers condemned Russia’s “persistent and unconscionable attacks on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure” and confirmed a 2008 decision that Ukraine will eventually join the alliance. But it announced no concrete steps or timetable that would bring it closer to NATO.
US and European officials said ministers would focus in their talks on non-lethal aid such as fuel, medical supplies and winter equipment, as well as on military assistance. Washington said it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment.
The foreign minister of Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis, urged his NATO colleagues to take the political decision to send modern battle tanks to Ukraine to give them a military edge against Russian forces. Western powers have been reluctant to go down that road for fear of stoking direct conflict with Russia.
ACCUMULATING DAMAGE
Russia has been carrying out huge attacks on Ukraine’s electricity transmission and heating infrastructure roughly weekly since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime.
Moscow says hurting civilians is not its aim but that their suffering will end only if Kyiv accepts its demands, which it has not spelled out. Although Kyiv says it shoots down most of the incoming missiles, the damage has been accumulating and the impact growing more severe with each strike.
A senior US military official said on Tuesday Russia was firing unarmed cruise missiles that were designed to carry nuclear warheads at targets in Ukraine to try to deplete Kyiv’s stocks of air defenses.
The worst barrage so far was on Nov. 23, leaving millions of Ukrainians in cold and darkness. President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainians at the start of this week to expect another soon that would be at least as damaging.
There are no political talks to end the war. Moscow has annexed Ukrainian territory which it says it will never relinquish; Ukraine says it will fight until it recovers all occupied land.
Kyiv said it wants weapons to help it end the war — by winning it.
“No eloquent speech will say more than concrete action. ‘Patriot’, ‘F-16’, or ‘Leopard’ for Ukraine,” tweeted presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, referring to US anti-aircraft missiles and fighter jets, and German tanks.
’RISKS ARE GROWING’
Russia called off nuclear talks with the United States this week at the last minute. Moscow said it had “no choice” but to cancel the talks, aimed at resuming inspections under an arms control treaty, because Washington refused to address its wider concerns about strategic stability.
Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as warning Washington of unspecified risks because of its support for Kyiv against what Russia calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor.
“We are sending signals to the Americans that their line of escalation and ever deeper involvement in this conflict is fraught with dire consequences. The risks are growing,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
In Kyiv, snow fell and temperatures were hovering around freezing as millions in and around the capital struggled to heat their homes. After a week of trying to restore electricity from the last attacks, national grid operator Ukrenergo said the system was still suffering a 30 percent shortfall of needed power.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said on Tuesday evening Russian forces in the Donetsk region were continuing to focus their efforts on taking the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka. A Russian missile strike on Lyman killed one person and injured three others, it said.
Ukrainian aircraft carried out nine strikes targeting Russian servicemen and equipment, notably in the southern central Zaporizhzhia region, the General Staff said.
In the southern Kherson and Kriviy Rih regions, it added, Russian forces are consolidating their defenses and keeping up artillery attacks, including on the city of Kherson which Ukraine recently recaptured.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Kherson regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said electricity had been restored to 50 percent of Kherson city after heavy Russian bombardment.
Both sides will have to keep troops supplied and healthy in cold, wet trenches for the first long winter of the war, a bigger challenge for the Russians as an invading force with longer and more vulnerable supply lines.

 


Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup
Updated 30 November 2022

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

Saudi Arabia has not put in a formal bid to host the Fifa World Cup

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has not submitted an official bid to host the FIFA World Cup, the tourism ministry said on Wednesday.

“Saudi Arabia is always considering to host a number of large sporting events, as part of promoting sport and tourism in the Kingdom in line with Saudi Vision 2030,” the ministry tweeted.

 

 

The Kingdom has hosted a number of major sporting events in Saudi Arabia including Formula 1, football and heavyweight boxing title fights.

Saudi Arabia was chosen in October to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at Trojena, a year-round winter sports complex being built in the northwest of the Kingdom as part of the futuristic NEOM megacity. 

Trojena, which is due to be completed in 2026, is in an area of NEOM where winter temperatures drop below zero and year-round temperatures are generally 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the region.

Saudi Vision aims to reform the Kingdom on a number of fronts including in tourism, culture and innovative technologies with a view to reorient the country’s economy away from a dependence on oil exports.


Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot
Updated 30 November 2022

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

Right-wing Oath Keepers founder convicted of sedition in US Capitol attack plot

WASHINGTON: Stewart Rhodes, founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group, was convicted by a jury on Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for last year’s attack on the US Capitol in a failed bid to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss — an important victory for the Justice Department.
Rhodes, a Yale Law School-educated former Army paratrooper and disbarred attorney, was accused by prosecutors during an eight-week trial of fomenting a plot to use force to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.
He was the best-known of the five defendants in the most significant of the numerous trials arising from the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. One co-defendant, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy on Tuesday, while three others — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — were acquitted of that charge.
US District Judge Amit Mehta has presided over the trial. The jury deliberated for three days.
Rhodes, who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, is one of the most prominent defendants of the roughly 900 charged so far in connection with the attack.
Rhodes in 2009 founded the Oath Keepers, a militia group whose members include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. Its members have showed up, often heavily armed, at protests and political events around the United States including the racial justice demonstrations following the murder of a Black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Prosecutors during the trial said Rhodes and his co-defendants planned to use force to prevent Congress from formally certifying Biden’s election victory. Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson all entered the Capitol clad in tactical gear.
The defendants was were accused of creating a “quick reaction force” that prosecutors said positioned at a nearby Virginia hotel and was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington if summoned.
Fifty witnesses testified during the trial. Rhodes and two of his co-defendants testified in their own defense. They denied plotting any attack or seeking to block Congress from certifying the election results, though Watkins admitted to impeding police officers protecting the Capitol.
Rhodes told the jury he had no plan to storm the Capitol and did not learn that some of his fellow Oath Keepers had breached the building until after the riot had ended.
Prosecutors during cross-examination sought to paint Rhodes as a liar, showing him page after page of his inflammatory text messages, videos, photos and audio recordings. These included Rhodes lamenting about not bringing rifles to Washington on Jan. 6 and saying he could have hanged US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat reviled by the right, from a lamppost.
Watkins, a transgender woman who fled the US Army after being confronted with homophobic slurs, and Caldwell, a disabled US Navy veteran, also chose to testify.
Watkins admitted to having “criminal liability” for impeding police officers inside the Capitol and apologized. At the same time, Watkins denied having any plan to storm the building, describing being “swept up” just as enthusiastic shoppers behave on “Black Friday” when they rush into stores to purchase discount-price holiday gifts like TVs.
Caldwell, who like Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building and never formally joined the Oath Keepers, tried to downplay some of the inflammatory texts he sent in connection with the attack. Caldwell said some of the lines were adapted from or inspired by movies such as “The Princess Bride” and cartoons such as Bugs Bunny.
Four other Oath Keepers members charged with seditious conspiracy are due to go to trial in December. Members of another right-wing group called the Proud Boys, including its former chairman Enrique Tarrio, also are due to head to trial on seditious conspiracy charges in December.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)


Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
Updated 29 November 2022

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit

Trade tensions overshadow Macron’s showy White House visit
  • This is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia
  • The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron was set to arrive in Washington Tuesday for a rare state visit hosted by Joe Biden, but hard-nosed disagreements about US-EU trade will loom over the pomp and ceremony at the White House.
Due to Covid delays, this is the first formal state visit of Biden’s presidency and US officials say the choice of France for the honor reflects both deep historical ties and their intense current partnership in confronting Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Biden will host Macron with a full ceremonial military welcome, a poignant visit to Arlington National Cemetery, an Oval Office sit down, a private dinner with their spouses Wednesday and the state banquet on Thursday, where Grammy-award winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform.
Compared to Macron’s edgy first experience of a state visit as the guest of Donald Trump in 2018, this trip — concluding with a stop Friday to the once-French city of New Orleans — will be a carefully choreographed display of transatlantic friendship.
Certainly the diplomatic furor that erupted last year when Australia canceled a deal for French submarines and instead signed up for US nuclear subs is now buried.
But even with little risk of Trump-style fireworks, Macron has major grievances to air.
Top of these is tension over Biden’s signature green industry policy, the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, which will pump billions of dollars into climate-friendly technologies, with strong backing for American-made products.
Europeans fear an unfair US advantage in the rapidly emerging sector just as they are reeling from the economic consequences of the Ukraine war and Western attempts to end reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Talk in Europe is now increasingly on whether the bloc should respond with its own subsidies for homegrown products, effectively starting a trade war.
“China favors its own products, America favors its own products. It might be time for Europe to favor its own products,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 radio on Sunday.
Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of think-tank GMF, said Macron will tell Biden “there’s a contradiction between an administration that constantly talks of alliances... and at the same time takes a decision like the IRA that will impact allies’ economies.”
Another gripe in Europe is the high cost for US liquid natural gas exports — surged to try and replace canceled Russian deliveries.
Responding to accusations that the United States is effectively profiteering from the Ukraine war, a senior US administration official said this was a “false claim.”
The official also played down IRA-related tensions, saying a “very constructive set of conversations” is underway on how to prevent European companies from being shut out.
To underline the importance of the issue for Paris, Macron met with dozens of business executives ahead of his departure to Washington, urging them to keep investing in France. These included representatives from US giants Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s.
The breadth of Macron’s entourage — including the foreign, defense and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts — illustrates the importance Paris has put on the visit.
However, at the White House, a senior official said the main goal is to nurture the “personal relationship, the alliance relationship” with France — and between Biden and Macron.
That more modest sounding goal will include improving coordination on helping Ukraine to repel Russia and the even more vexing question of how to manage the rise of the Chinese superpower.
“We are not allies on the same page,” one adviser to Macron told AFP, forecasting “challenging” talks with Biden.
Despite his strong support for Kyiv, Macron’s insistence on continuing to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has irked American diplomats.
The China question — with Washington pursuing a more hawkish tone and EU powers trying to find a middle ground — is unlikely to see much progress.
“Europe has since 2018 its own, unique strategy for relations with China,” tweeted French embassy spokesman Pascal Confavreux in Washington.
A senior US official said even if their approaches were “not identical,” they should be at least “speaking from a common script.”