Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia

Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia
Steam rises from chimneys of a heating power plan over the skyline of central Moscow, Russia. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia

Draft bill seeks ‘loyalty agreement’ from foreigners entering Russia
  • Since its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has imposed a number of restrictions on foreigners from what it calls “unfriendly countries”

Russia’s Internal Affairs ministry is preparing a bill that would oblige foreigners entering the country to sign a “loyalty agreement” that would bar them from discrediting official policies, the TASS state news agency reported early on Wednesday.
The agreement would be aimed at protecting Russia’s “national interests,” TASS reported, citing the document.
A foreigner entering Russia would be prohibited from “interfering with the activities of public authorities of the Russian Federation, discrediting in any form the foreign and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation, public authorities and their officials.”
Reuters could not independently verify the draft bill. The Internal Affairs ministry did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
Since its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has imposed a number of restrictions on foreigners from what it calls “unfriendly countries” — meaning those that have imposed sanctions on it over its war in Ukraine.
The internal affairs draft bill provides that foreigners would be prohibited from disparaging or inciting the denial of “significant moral” values, such as marriage as a union of a man and a woman, family, as well as from disseminating propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships.
Distortion of the “historical truth” about the Soviet people’s defense of the country and its contribution to the victory over fascist Germany in World War Two would also be prohibited, TASS reported.
TASS did not specify what repercussions foreigners would face if they broke the agreement.
For the draft to become law, the document has to be introduced to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, and go through committee review and several readings before being submitted to President Vladimir Putin for signing.


Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Updated 6 sec ago
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Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
VIRGINIA, USA: Four crew members from an unflagged ship that US officials say was carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthis in Yemen are scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court in Virginia, where prosecutors are expected to argue they should be held without bond while they await trial.
US Navy SEALs and the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel in January in the Arabian Sea in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Two Navy SEALs drowned during the Jan. 11 operation. US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.
As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.
Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful. They were later declared dead by the US Navy.
The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it,” according to court documents filed in the federal court in Richmond.
The ship was described in court documents as a dhow.
“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”
During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.
The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.
“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners,” the FBI agent wrote, quoting Central Command.
The Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
The four crew members scheduled to appear Tuesday in US District Court were all carrying Pakistani identification cards, according to court documents.
Pahlawan, the alleged captain, is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warhead he is accused of knowing would be used by the Houthis against commercial and naval vessels. He is also charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.
Pahlawan’s codefendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were also charged with providing false information.
Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.
Their attorneys have declined to comment.
Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”
The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
Updated 21 min 51 sec ago
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‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
  • Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine
  • Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo: “There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward”

SAO PAULO, Brazil: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday it was urgent for G7 nations to jointly seize profits from frozen Russian assets and redirect them to Ukraine, as the group prepared to meet on the issue.
Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen by the West over Russia’s 2022 invasion.
“It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized assets to support Ukraine’s continued resistance and long-term reconstruction,” Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she will attend a meeting of G20 finance ministers Wednesday and Thursday.
“There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward. This would be a decisive response to Russia’s unprecedented threat to global stability. It would make clear that Russia cannot win by prolonging the war and would incentivize it to come to the table to negotiate a just peace with Ukraine.”
Yellen urged joint action by the Group of Seven — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, plus the European Union — after evaluating the risks, which include triggering financial instability.
“The G7 should work together to explore a number of approaches: seizing the assets themselves, using them as collateral to borrow from global markets,” she said.
G7 officials say the group is due to meet on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo gathering to discuss support for Ukraine, as its grueling fight against Russia enters its third year.
Ukraine has warned it desperately needs more military and financial assistance, as a fresh $60 billion US package remains stalled in Congress.
That has cast a spotlight on the estimated $397 billion in Russian assets frozen by the West, ranging from central bank assets to yachts, real estate and other property from oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
But there are risks involved, including likely Russian legal action and the potential for scaring other countries, such as China, into reducing their own investments in the West, fearing similar action.
Yellen said a risk to financial stability would arise “if there were a massive shift away from currencies” of Western countries in response to seizing Russian funds. But she said the risk was minimal if the G7 acted together.
“I think (financial instability) is extremely unlikely, especially given the uniqueness of this situation, where Russia is brazenly violating international norms and a group of countries representing half the global economy... have the capacity to work together,” she said.
“Realistically, there are not alternatives” to the dollar, euro and other G7 currencies on international markets, she said.
“There are risks,” she acknowledged. “We’re working to evaluate and outline options for consideration.”
The US Congress is currently weighing a bill that would authorize the confiscation and disposition of Russian sovereign assets.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Sunday for “bolder” action on the issue, writing in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times that the West should start by taking interest from Russian assets before finding “lawful ways to seize the assets themselves.”
And Greece’s special envoy on Ukraine, Spiros Lampridis, told AFP Monday the EU is close to seizing Russian profits, saying it was “a question of months.”
However, he added that the estimated 50 billion to 60 billion euros the move would yield was a “trifle” compared with the roughly 500 billion euros or more needed for Ukraine’s reconstruction.


UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis

UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis
Updated 27 February 2024
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UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis

UK sanctions Iran’s IRGC units for enabling work of Houthis
  • The sanctions were imposed in coordination with the United States
  • “The attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis are unacceptable, illegal and a threat to innocent lives,” British foreign minister David Cameron said

LONDON: Britain on Tuesday imposed sanctions on units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), targeting those who it said were enabling the work of the Houthis, the Iran-linked group responsible for attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
The sanctions were imposed in coordination with the United States.
Britain’s sanctions target Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh, a deputy commander of the IRGC, three units of the IRGC Quds Force, Iran-based financier Sa’id Al-Jamal and a Houthi security minister, the UK foreign ministry said.
“The attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis are unacceptable, illegal and a threat to innocent lives and freedom of navigation,” British foreign minister David Cameron said in a statement.
“As I have made clear to the Iranian Foreign Minister, the regime bears responsibility for these attacks due to the extensive military support it has provided to the Houthis.”
Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea region since November in support of Palestinians in Gaza.
US and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities.


France teacher faces ‘terror’ charges over religious chants

France teacher faces ‘terror’ charges over religious chants
Updated 27 February 2024
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France teacher faces ‘terror’ charges over religious chants

France teacher faces ‘terror’ charges over religious chants
  • The man was indicted on February 16 over alleged “terrorist criminal conspiracy with a view to committing crimes against people”
  • The songs were found on his “personal digital equipment”

PARIS: French prosecutors have charged a 26-year-old schoolteacher on suspicion he translated religious chants into French for the Daesh group, the national anti-terror prosecutor’s office said this week.
The man was indicted on February 16 over alleged “terrorist criminal conspiracy with a view to committing crimes against people,” the prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
“He is charged with translating into French, singing and editing at least five religious chants promoting jihad and of sending them to members of Daesh to be broadcast,” it said.
The songs were found on his “personal digital equipment,” it said. He is being held in detention.
A source close to the case, who asked to remain anonymous, said the teacher’s home was searched in December, leading to an investigation being launched.
Le Parisien newspaper said the man, a Franco-Algerian, was a primary school teacher in the Parisian suburb of Drancy.
It said he was “suspected of privately disseminating militant propaganda” online.
Hundreds of French men and women joined the ranks of Daesh after it seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, before its territorial defeat in 2019.
Daesh followers have claimed responsibility for devastating attacks in France over the last decade.
They include the worst militant attack in French history, which took place in November 2015 in and around Paris and left 130 people dead.


Conservative grassroots in UK angered by MP’s suspension over Islamophobia scandal

Conservative grassroots in UK angered by MP’s suspension over Islamophobia scandal
Updated 27 February 2024
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Conservative grassroots in UK angered by MP’s suspension over Islamophobia scandal

Conservative grassroots in UK angered by MP’s suspension over Islamophobia scandal
  • ‘The government are now owned by fear of Islamic rule’: Conservative Democratic Organisation member
  • Ex-Home Secretary Suella Braverman ‘the only person who can remove the threat of Islam from our country’

LONDON: UK Conservative Party supporters at the grassroots level have expressed anger over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s suspension of an MP embroiled in an Islamophobia row, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Lee Anderson was suspended last week after claiming in a TV interview that Islamists had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor.

Sunak’s decision to sack Anderson has divided the Conservative base, with some supporters labeling the leader “weak and feeble,” and a “snake.”

Leaked WhatsApp messages seen by The Guardian from members of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, a faction on the right of the party launched in 2022, show the extent of anger at Anderson’s sacking.

One member said it was “time for the snake of a PM to go,” while another said Sunak “should never have been” in the leadership position.

Other members appear to support Anderson’s comments, with one saying: “The government are now owned by fear of Islamic rule.”

Controversial former Home Secretary Suella Braverman is also discussed in the WhatsApp conversations after she claimed last week that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now.”

One CDO member said: “She is saying the exact same thing as Lee Anderson, just in less colorful language, and importantly in print.

“I am beginning to believe that Suella is the only person who has shown the mettle who can turn the party and remove the threat of Islam from our country.”

Their message was liked by 10 group members on the messaging platform.

In a sign of further rifts within the Conservative Party, the CDO group members shared an online petition calling for Anderson’s reinstatement, which had gathered more than 5,000 signatures overnight.

Members also warned that the party leadership’s decision to sack the MP would threaten its electoral chances.

One member said: “There goes Lee’s voters — wonder what happens when it dawns on them that they actually need voters to keep themselves in power.”

A number of Conservative MPs have said they support Anderson’s reinstatement if he apologizes for his comments.

MP Jonathan Gullis told Times Radio: “I hope that we will see him return to that party sooner rather than later but of course he has to, I think, make that apology to Mayor Khan.”

Another Conservative MP said: “He wants to come back. We want him back.”

But Anderson has so far remained firm in standing by his remarks, describing them as “born out of sheer frustration at what is happening to our beautiful capital city.”

In a statement, he said: “If you are wrong, apologising is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. But when you think you are right, you should never apologise because to do so would be a sign of weakness.”

Despite making the decision to sack Anderson, Sunak has avoided describing the MP’s comments as Islamophobic, saying: “I’ve been very clear that what he said was wrong, it was unacceptable and that’s why we suspended (him).”

Khan said Sunak’s refusal to describe the claims as Islamophobic is “a tacit endorsement of anti-Muslim hatred and can only lead to the conclusion that anti-Muslim bigotry and racism are not taken seriously.”