With Russia revolt over, mercenaries’ future and direction of Ukraine war remain uncertain

With Russia revolt over, mercenaries’ future and direction of Ukraine war remain uncertain
Members of the Wagner group prepare to pull out from the headquarters of the Russian Southern Military District to return to their base in Rostov-on-Don late on June 24, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 26 June 2023
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With Russia revolt over, mercenaries’ future and direction of Ukraine war remain uncertain

With Russia revolt over, mercenaries’ future and direction of Ukraine war remain uncertain
  • Though short-lived, Prigozhin's rebellion resulted in some of the best forces fighting for Russia being pulled from the Ukraine battlefield
  • “Putin is much diminished and the Russian military, and this is significant as far as Ukraine is concerned,” says UK's former military chief

Russian government troops withdrew from the streets of Moscow on Sunday and the rebellious mercenary soldiers who had occupied other cities were gone, but the short-lived revolt has weakened President Vladimir Putin just as his forces are facing a fierce counteroffensive in Ukraine.

The aborted march on the capital by Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner troops, some of the most effective fighters in Ukraine, also left their fate uncertain.
Under terms of the agreement that ended the crisis, Prigozhin will go into exile in Belarus but will not face prosecution. Neither Putin nor Prigozhin has been heard from since the deal, brokered by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, was announced Saturday night.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the weekend’s events as “extraordinary,” recalling that 16 months ago Putin appeared poised to seize the capital of Ukraine and now he has had to defend Moscow from forces led by his onetime protege.
“I think we’ve seen more cracks emerge in the Russian façade,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It is too soon to tell exactly where they go and when they get there, but certainly we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead.”
It was not yet clear what the fissures opened by the 24-hour rebellion would mean for the war in Ukraine. But it resulted in some of the best forces fighting for Russia being pulled from the battlefield: Prigozhin’s own Wagner troops, who had shown their effectiveness in scoring the Kremlin’s only land victory in months, in Bakhmut, and Chechen soldiers sent to stop them on the approach to Moscow.
The Wagner forces’ largely unopposed, rapid advance also exposed vulnerabilities in Russia’s security and military forces.

“I honestly think that Wagner probably did more damage to Russian aerospace forces in the past day than the Ukrainian offensive has done in the past three weeks,” Michael Kofman, director of Russia Studies at the CAN research group, said in a podcast.
The Wagner forces were reported to have downed several helicopters and a military communications plane. The Defense Ministry has not commented.
Ukrainians hoped the Russian infighting could create opportunities for their army, which is in the early stages of a counteroffensive to take back territory seized by Russian forces.
“Putin is much diminished and the Russian military, and this is significant as far as Ukraine is concerned,” said Lord Richard Dannatt, former chief of the general staff of the British armed forces. “... Prigozhin has left the stage to go to Belarus, but is that the end of Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group?”
Under terms of the agreement that stopped Prigozhin’s advance, Wagner troops who didn’t back the revolt will be offered contracts directly with the Russian military, putting them under the control of the military brass that Prigozhin was trying to oust. A possible motivation for Prigozhin’s rebellion was the Defense Ministry’s demand, which Putin backed, that private companies sign contracts with it by July 1. Prigozhin had refused to do it.
“What we don’t know, but will discover in the next hours and days is, how many of his fighters have gone with him, because if he has gone to Belarus and kept an effective fighting force around him, then he ... presents a threat again” to Ukraine, Dannatt said.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said he told US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Sunday that the aborted rebellion in Russia had “exposed the weakness of Putin’s regime.”
In their lightning advance, Prigozhin’s forces on Saturday took control of two military hubs in southern Russia and got within 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Moscow before retreating.
People in Rostov-on-Don cheered Wagner troops as they departed late Saturday, a scene that played into Putin’s fear of a popular uprising. Some ran to shake hands with Prigozhin as he drove away in an SUV.
Yet the rebellion fizzled quickly, in part because Prigozhin did not have the backing he expected from Russian security services. In fact, the Federal Security Services immediately called for his arrest.
“Clearly, Prigozhin lost his nerve,” retired US Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This rebellion, although it had some applause along the way, didn’t appear to be generating the kind of support that he had hoped it would.”

 

Rostov appeared calm Sunday morning, with only tank tracks on the roads as a reminder of the Wagner fighters.
“It all ended perfectly well, thank God. With minimal casualties, I think. Good job,” said one of the residents, who agreed only to provide his first name, Sergei. He said the Wagner soldiers used to be heroes to him, but not now.
In the Lipetsk region, which sits on the road to Moscow, residents appeared unfazed by the turmoil.
“They did not disrupt anything. They stood calmly on the pavement and did not approach or talk to anyone,” Milena Gorbunova told the AP.
As Wagner forces moved north toward Moscow, Russian troops armed with machine guns set up checkpoints on the outskirts. By Sunday afternoon, the troops had withdrawn and traffic had returned to normal, although Red Square remained closed to visitors. On highways leading to Moscow, crews repaired roads ripped up just hours earlier in panic.
Anchors on state-controlled television stations cast the deal ending the crisis as a show of Putin’s wisdom and aired footage of Wagner troops retreating from Rostov-on-Don to the relief of local residents who feared a bloody battle for control of the city. People there who were interviewed by Channel 1 praised Putin’s handling of the crisis.
But the revolt and the deal that ended it severely dented Putin’s reputation as a leader willing to ruthlessly punish anyone who challenges his authority.
Prigozhin had demanded the ouster of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whom Prigozhin has long criticized in withering terms for how he has conducted the war in Ukraine.
The US had intelligence that Prigozhin had been building up his forces near the border with Russia for some time. That conflicts with Prigozhin’s claim that his rebellion was a response to an attack on his field camps in Ukraine on Friday by the Russian military that he said killed a large number of his men. The Defense Ministry denied attacking the camps.
Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the march on Moscow appeared to have been planned in advance.
“Now, being a military guy, he understands the logistics and really the assistance that he’s going to need to do that,” including from some Russians on the border with Ukraine who supported him, Turner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“This is something that would have had to have been planned for a significant amount of time to be executed in the manner in which it was,” he said.
 


South Korea empowers nurses as doctors’ strike continues

South Korea empowers nurses as doctors’ strike continues
Updated 27 February 2024
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South Korea empowers nurses as doctors’ strike continues

South Korea empowers nurses as doctors’ strike continues
  • Major hospitals struggling to provide services after thousands of junior medics handed in their resignation
  • Nurses will now be allowed to perform some medical procedures previously reserved for doctors

SEOUL: South Korea granted nurses new powers and legal protections Tuesday and launched an investigation into a patient’s death, as hospital chaos caused by striking trainee doctors entered a second week.
Major hospitals are struggling to provide services after thousands of junior medics handed in their resignation and stopped working last week to protest against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions in the face of a rapidly aging society.
The government said Tuesday it would launch an investigation after a patient died of a cardiac arrest in an ambulance after struggling to find a hospital.
Emergency services contacted seven different hospitals but “were told there were no trainee doctors,” the daily JoongAng Ilbo reported.
“The government is conducting an on-site probe with related agencies into the death,” Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said.
The mass work stoppage has also resulted in cancelations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, with the government raising its public health alert to the highest level over the fallout.
Nurses will now be allowed to perform some medical procedures previously reserved for doctors, and offered immunity from any potential lawsuits linked to their new scope of work, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said.
“This pilot program will legally protect the nurses who are filling the medical vacuum created by trainee doctors’ walkouts at hospitals,” Park said.
The government said it needed to protect nurses as there were currently some “grey area” as to what medical treatments could be performed by which staff, at a time when nurses were “shouldering the workload” due to the strike.
The administrations of each hospital can work with nurses to decide which tasks they can perform.
The government has set a Thursday ultimatum for doctors to return to work, saying that legal action — including prosecution and the suspension of medical licenses — will be taken against those who refuse.
“We urge the trainee doctors to return to medical fields as soon as possible,” Park said.
Kim Sung-ju, the head of Korean Cancer Patients Rights Council, said that delays in chemotherapy and surgeries were happening in all university hospitals near the Seoul metropolitan area.
“We will thoroughly investigate all potential legal grounds and hold those responsible accountable if those with severe illnesses suffer severe damage,” Kim said.
Doctors are restricted from strikes by South Korean law, but the medics have said they have no option but to stop working to show their fierce opposition to the government’s plan.
Seoul says it has one of the lowest doctor-to-population ratios among developed countries, and the government is pushing hard to admit 2,000 more students to medical schools annually, starting next year.
Junior doctors say the reforms are the final straw in a profession where they already struggle with tough working conditions. They also argue that the over-reliance on trainees in the current health care system is not reasonable or fair.
But President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday that “medical reform cannot be subject to negotiation or compromise.”
“No reasons can justify acts that hold lives and health of the people hostage,” he said at a meeting.
Polls suggest up to 75 percent of the South Korean public supports the increase in medical school admissions.


Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday
Updated 27 February 2024
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Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday

Biden hopes ceasefire, hostage deal to pause Israel-Hamas war can take effect by next Monday
  • Negotiations are underway for a ceasefire between Israel, Hamas to allow for release of hostages in Gaza 
  • Israel has killed over 29,000 Palestinians since October 7, according to Gaza Health Ministry figures

NEW YORK: President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.
Asked when he thought a ceasefire could begin, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”
Biden commented in New York after taping an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.”
Negotiations are underway for a weekslong ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of hostages being held in Gaza by the militant group in return for Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The proposed six-week pause in fighting would also include allowing hundreds of trucks to deliver desperately needed aid into Gaza every day.
Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around March 10, a period that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Meanwhile, Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations’ top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.
In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense.
Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.
Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.
The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group.
Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform. The US has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel.
In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents.
Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.
Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, noted a 30 percent drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.
The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries.
“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling.
Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.
In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process.
Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.
The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza.
Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape, displacing about 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.
The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.
“I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!” Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. “What did we do to deserve this?”
Bushra Khalidi with UK aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling.
Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.


Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls

Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls
Updated 27 February 2024
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Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls

Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees oppressing women, girls
  • 11 of 15 council members insist on Afghan women’s equal participation in public, political, economic and social life
  • The Taliban government has not been recognized by any country in the world since the group seized power in 2021

UNITED NATIONS: More than two-thirds of the UN Security Council’s members demanded Monday that the Taliban rescind all policies and decrees oppressing and discriminating against women and girls, including banning girls education above the sixth grade and women’s right to work and move freely.

A statement by 11 of the 15 council members condemned the Taliban’s repression of women and girls since they took power in August 2021, and again insisted on their equal participation in public, political, economic, cultural and social life — especially at all decision-making levels seeking to advance international engagement with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers.

Guyana’s UN Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett read the statement, surrounding by ambassadors of the 10 other countries, before a closed council meeting on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ conference with more than 25 envoys to Afghanistan on Feb. 18-19 in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

Afghan civil society representatives, including women, participated in the Doha meeting, which the council members welcomed. The Taliban refused to attend, its Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that its participation would be “beneficial” only if it was the sole and official representative for the country at the talks.

While the Taliban did not attend the meetings, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo did meet with Taliban officials based in Doha, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. DiCarlo also briefed council members at Monday’s closed meeting.

The Taliban have not been recognized by any country, and the UN envoy for Afghanistan last year warned the de facto rulers that international recognition as the country’s legitimate government will remain “nearly impossible” unless they lift the restrictions on women.

The 11 council nations supporting the statement — Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – underscored that there can only be sustainable peace in Afghanistan if its political process is inclusive and the human rights of all Afghans are respected including women and girls.

Four Security Council nations didn’t sign on to the statement – Russia, China, Mozambique and Algeria.

Secretary-General Guterres told reporters in Doha that among participants — also including representatives of the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — there was “total consensus” on requirements for Afghanistan to be integrated into the international community.

To reach this “endgame,” he said, Afghanistan must not be “the hotbed of terrorist activities that impact other countries,” its institutions must include diverse groups including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazaras, and human rights must be respected especially the rights of women and girls.

Guterres said to a certain extent there is currently “a kind of situation of the chicken and the egg.”

“On one hand, Afghanistan remains with a government that is not recognized internationally and, in many aspects, not integrated in the global institutions and in the global economy,” he said. “And on the other hand, there is in the international community a perception that inclusivity has not improved; that the situation of women and girls and human rights in general has in fact deteriorated in recent times.”

The secretary-general said one objective of the meeting with the envoys was “to overcome this deadlock” and develop a roadmap in which the international community’s concerns and the Taliban’s concerns are “taken into account simultaneously.”

A Security Council resolution asked Guterres to appoint a UN envoy after consultations with all parties, member states, the Taliban and others.

Guterres said the participants decided he should initiate consultations “to see if there are conditions to create a UN envoy that might be able not only to have a coordinating role in relation to the engagements that are taking place but that can also work effectively with the de facto authorities of Afghanistan.”

“I will initiate immediately those consultations,” the UN chief said.


Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest
Updated 27 February 2024
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Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest

Biden faces protest vote over Gaza in Michigan primary contest
  • A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population
  • Israel killed 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry

DEARBORN, United States: The US state of Michigan votes Tuesday in a presidential primary that is expected to be another ticker-tape parade for Republican Donald Trump — but could deliver Democratic leader Joe Biden a bloody nose over the war in Gaza.
Biden faces no serious opposition to being nominated to run for a second term in the White House.
But as the civilian death toll mounts in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he has seen support erode among Muslims and Arab Americans, a bloc crucial to his narrow 2020 victory over Trump in Michigan.
Activists in the key midwestern battleground — where Biden’s winning margin four years ago was a mere 150,000 votes — want Michigan residents to vote “uncommitted” in protest, pressuring the president to back off from his Israel support and call for an immediate ceasefire.
“President Biden has funded the bombs falling on the family members of people right here in Michigan — people who voted for him, who now feel completely betrayed,” said Layla Elabed of the “Listen to Michigan” campaign.
The group aims to amass 10,000 “uncommitted” voters to deliver a “powerful, unequivocal message” that funding and supporting the war is “at odds with the values of the Democratic Party.”
Biden is cruising to the Democratic nomination, with his main would-be rival, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips, polling in single digits.
But activists deny that the “uncommitted” campaign is merely symbolic, given their importance in an election decided on small margins.
“Ten thousand votes is about the same as Donald Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Elabed said.
The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

White House officials have portrayed Biden as frustrated with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, US weapons have continued to flow to Israel, even as efforts continue to broker a second pause in fighting.
Biden has asked Congress for billions of dollars in additional military aid and his government has vetoed multiple UN Security Council calls for a ceasefire.
A similar write-in campaign calling for a ceasefire during the New Hampshire primary went nowhere, but Michigan has a significantly larger Muslim and Arab population.
“With every day that passes, every minute that the president fails to do the right thing, the belief that I and so many others have invested in him dwindles,” Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the heavily Arab American Detroit suburb of Dearborn, wrote in The New York Times last week.
“With every American-made bomb that Israel’s right-wing government drops on Gaza, a stark numbness coats everything, restricting any space for belief to grow.”
On the Republican side, Trump has swept the early voting states and Michigan is not expected to interrupt his march to the nomination.
His sole remaining challenger, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, lost her home state of South Carolina to Trump at the weekend but has refused to quit, saying she doesn’t believe Trump can defeat Biden.
Haley suffered another blow Sunday when the wealthy Koch family network said it was halting its donations to her campaign.
Both parties hold votes on Tuesday, although Republicans have adopted a complex hybrid system that wraps up the contest four days later via caucus-style gatherings in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
More than two-thirds of the Republican delegates — the individuals appointed by each state to back candidates at the party’s summer nominating convention — will be awarded on March 2.
 

 


Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home

Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home
Updated 27 February 2024
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Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home

Letter containing white powder sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s home
  • Trump Jr. opened the letter, which also contained a death threat, in his home office, and emergency responders wearing hazmat suits responded

MIAMI: Emergency crews responded Monday after a letter containing an unidentified white powder was sent to the Florida home of Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of former President and GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
A person familiar with the matter said that results on the substance were inconclusive, but officials do not believe it was deadly. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details of the letter, which were first reported by The Daily Beast.
Trump Jr. opened the letter, which also contained a death threat, in his home office, and emergency responders wearing hazmat suits responded.
Jupiter police said the investigation is being handled by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, which didn’t immediately have any details to release.
Trump Jr. is one of his father’s top campaign surrogates, frequently headlining events and appearing in interviews on his behalf.
It’s the second time white powder has been sent to the former president’s oldest son. In 2018, his then-wife, Vanessa, was taken to a New York City hospital after she opened an envelope addressed to her husband that contained an unidentified white powder. Police later said the substance wasn’t dangerous.
In March 2016, police detectives and FBI agents investigated a threatening letter sent to the Manhattan apartment of Donald Trump Jr.’s brother Eric that also contained a white powder that turned out to be harmless.
Envelopes containing white powder were also sent twice in 2016 to Trump Tower, which served as Trump’s campaign headquarters.
Hoax attacks using white powder play on fears that date to 2001, when letters containing deadly anthrax were mailed to news organizations and the offices of two US senators. Those letters killed five people.