Russia says ‘ready’ to discuss prisoner exchange after Griner verdict

Update Russia says ‘ready’ to discuss prisoner exchange after Griner verdict
A Russian serviceman guards in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Russia says ‘ready’ to discuss prisoner exchange after Griner verdict

Russia says ‘ready’ to discuss prisoner exchange after Griner verdict

Russia said Friday it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Washington at the presidential level, a day after the drug conviction of US basketball star Brittney Griner.
Despite tensions soaring between Russia and the US since the launch of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, the former Cold War rivals appeared to be edging closer to a new prisoner exchange.
The White House has urged Russia to accept its offer of a deal for the release of Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said Russia was willing to discuss the matter.
“We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the (communication) channel established by presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov told a press conference on a visit to Cambodia.
“There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite certain public declarations, it is still functional,” he added.
WNBA player Griner was on Thursday sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay a fine of one million rubles ($16,590) for possessing and smuggling narcotics.
The two-time Olympic basketball gold medallist and Women’s NBA champion was detained at a Moscow airport in February after she was found carrying vape cartridges with cannabis oil in her luggage.
The Phoenix Mercury player was coming to Russia to play club basketball with UMMC Ekaterinburg during the US off-season — a common path for American stars seeking additional income.
Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

Meanwhile, Britain said on Friday that the actions taken by Russian forces at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has likely undermined security and the safety of the plant’s normal operations.
“Russian forces have probably used the wider facility area, in particular the adjacent city of Enerhodar, to rest their forces, utilising the protected status of the nuclear power plant to reduce the risk to their equipment and personnel from overnight Ukrainian attacks,” Britain said in an intelligence update on Twitter.
Russia’s intentions regarding the plant remain unclear after five months of its occupation of Ukraine. Its forces are probably operating in the regions adjacent to the power station, having used artillery units based in these areas to target Ukrainian territory on the western bank of the Dnipro river, Britain said.


Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
Updated 6 sec ago

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Men face sentencing for hate crimes in Ahmaud Arbery’s death
SAVANNAH: Months after they were sentenced to life in prison for murder, the three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia neighborhood faced a second round of criminal penalties Monday for federal hate crimes committed in the deadly pursuit of the 25-year-old Black man.
US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood scheduled back-to-back hearings to individually sentence each of the defendants, starting with Travis McMichael, who blasted Arbery with a shotgun after the street chase initiated by his father and joined by a neighbor.
Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020, became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice and killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Those two cases also resulted in the Justice Department bringing federal charges.
When they return to court Monday in Georgia, McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face possible life sentences after a jury convicted them in February of federal hate crimes, concluding that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because of his race. All three face were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels face additional penalties for using firearms to commit a violent crime.
Whatever punishments they receive in federal court could ultimately prove more symbolic than anything. A state Superior Court judge imposed life sentences for all three men in January for Arbery’s murder, with both McMichaels denied any chance of parole.
All three defendants have remained jailed in coastal Glynn County, in the custody of US marshals, while awaiting sentencing after their federal convictions in January.
Because they were first charged and convicted of murder in a state court, protocol would have them turned them over to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve their life terms in a state prison.
In a court filings last week, both Travis and Greg McMichael asked the judge to instead divert them to a federal prison, saying they won’t be safe in a Georgia prison system that’s the subject of a US Justice Department investigation focused on violence between inmates.
Arbery’s family has insisted the McMichaels and Bryan should serve their sentences in a state prison, arguing a federal penitentiary wouldn’t be as tough. His parents objected forcefully before the federal trial when both McMichaels sought a plea deal that would have included a request to transfer them to federal prison. The judge ended up rejecting the plea agreement.
A federal judge doesn’t have the authority to order the state to relinquish its lawful custody of inmates to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Ed Tarver, an Augusta lawyer and former US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He said the judge could request that the state corrections agency turn the defendants over to a federal prison.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running past their home outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck, helping cut off Arbery’s escape. He also recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range as Arbery threw punches and grabbed at the shotgun.
The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery had been stealing from a nearby house under construction. But authorities later concluded he was unarmed and had committed no crimes. Arbery’s family has long insisted he was merely out jogging.
Still, more than two months passed before any charges were filed in Arbery’s death. The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested only after the graphic video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police.
During the February hate crimes trial, prosecutors fortified their case that Arbery’s killing was motivated by racism by showing the jury roughly two dozen text messages and social media posts in which Travis McMichael and Bryan used racist slurs and made disparaging comments about Black people. A woman testified to hearing an angry rant from Greg McMichael in 2015 in which he said: “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Defense attorneys for the three men argued the McMichaels and Bryan didn’t pursue Arbery because of his race but acted on an earnest — though erroneous — suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes in their neighborhood.

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
Updated 2 min ago

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine, Turkey says
  • Grains shipment part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports

ISTANBUL: Two more grain-carrying ships have sailed from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, as part of a deal to unblock Ukrainian sea exports.
The Sacura, which departed from Yuzni, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, it said, while the Arizona, which left Chernomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.


Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
Updated 13 min 50 sec ago

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals

Hong Kong reduces COVID-19 quarantine for arrivals
  • Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app
  • Under the new system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will cut mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals from one week to three days from Friday, Chief Executive John Lee announced in an easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have severely curbed travel.
Once a global logistics and transportation hub, Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the rest of the world for more than two years under its strict adherence to China’s zero-COVID policy.
Under some of the world’s tightest pandemic rules, Hong Kong had required overseas and Taiwan arrivals to undergo seven days of mandatory quarantine and repeated testing while confined to a room in a designated hotel, a restriction that residents and the business community complained had deterred them from traveling.
Lee, Hong Kong’s ex-security chief turned city leader, announced Monday that the quarantine period for arrivals would be shortened to three days’ hotel quarantine plus four days of health monitoring at home or a hotel of their choice.
“We hope to maintain livelihood activities and Hong Kong’s competitiveness, and to give the society the best development momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
He denied the easing signalled any departure from China’s policy.
“Staying in touch with the outside world and working to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland are no contradiction,” he said.
Alongside the new quarantine arrangements, Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China’s on a government-developed tracking app.
Under the system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine.
Overseas arrivals will be given a yellow code and will not be allowed in places such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and cinemas during their four days of self monitoring.


China says continuing military drills around Taiwan

China says continuing military drills around Taiwan
Updated 17 min 47 sec ago

China says continuing military drills around Taiwan

China says continuing military drills around Taiwan
  • Defies calls for Beijing to end its largest-ever exercises encircling the democratic island

BEIJING: China carried out fresh military drills around Taiwan Monday, Beijing said, defying calls for it to end its largest-ever exercises encircling the democratic island.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army continued to carry out practical joint exercises and training in the sea and airspace around Taiwan island, focusing on organizing joint anti-submarine and sea assault operations,” the Chinese military’s eastern command said in a statement.


North Korea to convene rubber-stamp parliament in September

North Korea to convene rubber-stamp parliament in September
Updated 08 August 2022

North Korea to convene rubber-stamp parliament in September

North Korea to convene rubber-stamp parliament in September
  • Under Kim, the North has made rapid progress on its weapons programs and has carried out a record-breaking blitz of tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017

SEOUL: North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament will hold its next session in September where it is set to discuss new laws and other organizational issues, state media said Monday.
The hermit state’s legislative body meets only once or twice a year, mostly for day-long sessions to approve budgets or other decisions deemed necessary by the ruling Workers’ Party.
“The 7th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK will be convened in Pyongyang on September 7,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
“The session will discuss the issue of adopting the law on the socialist rural development and the law on landscaping and the organizational matter,” it added.
Such meetings are carefully monitored by observers for any changes to economic policy or a reshuffle of high-ranking officials.
It is unclear whether leader Kim Jong Un will attend the upcoming meeting. Kim did not attend the last session in February this year.
Under Kim, the North has made rapid progress on its weapons programs and has carried out a record-breaking blitz of tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.
Last month, Kim said his country was “ready to mobilize” its nuclear deterrent in any future military conflict with Washington and Seoul.
Talks with the United States have been deadlocked since the collapse of a summit in 2019 between Kim and then-US president Donald Trump over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in exchange.
The meeting comes as North Korea has reported “no new Covid-19 fever cases” in recent days.
Pyongyang has also claimed that everyone who had fallen sick since an omicron outbreak in May has now recovered.
In a separate report, KCNA said the North would hold a national meeting early this month to review the “successes, experience and lessons in the state emergency anti-epidemic work.”