Sweden ends Nord Stream sabotage probe, hands evidence to Germany

Sweden ends Nord Stream sabotage probe, hands evidence to Germany
Danish police have said the the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines were hit by powerful explosions and Swedish investigators have confirmed that traces of explosives found on site conclusively showed that sabotage had taken place. (Swedish Coast Guard via AP)
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Updated 07 February 2024
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Sweden ends Nord Stream sabotage probe, hands evidence to Germany

Sweden ends Nord Stream sabotage probe, hands evidence to Germany
  • Nord Stream pipelines transport Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea
  • Sweden, Denmark and Germany launched separate investigations into the blasts, each tightly controlling information

STOCKHOLM: Swedish prosecutors said on Wednesday they would drop their investigation into explosions on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines and hand evidence uncovered in the probe over to German investigators.
“The conclusion of the investigation is that Swedish jurisdiction does not apply and that the investigation therefore should be closed,” the Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement.
The multi-billion-dollar Nord Stream pipelines transporting Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea were ruptured by a series of blasts in the Swedish and Danish economic zones in September 2022, releasing vast amounts of methane into the air.
Danish police have said the pipelines were hit by powerful explosions and Swedish investigators have confirmed that traces of explosives found on site conclusively showed that sabotage had taken place.
Sweden, Denmark and Germany launched separate investigations into the Nord Stream blasts, each tightly controlling information. The Danish and German probes are still ongoing.
“Within the framework of this legal cooperation, we have been able to hand over material that can be used as evidence in the German investigation,” the Swedish prosecution authority said.
Following an extensive investigation, the Swedish prosecutors concluded that nothing had emerged to indicate that Sweden or Swedish citizens were involved in the attack which took place “in international waters.”
“Against the background of the situation we now have, we can state that Swedish jurisdiction does not apply,” Public Prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in a statement.
Russia has blamed the United States, Britain, and Ukraine for the blasts which largely cut it off from the lucrative European market. Those countries have denied involvement.
If no conclusive evidence is found by either of the remaining investigations, the mystery behind one of the most significant acts of infrastructure sabotage in modern history could remain unsolved.


French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
Updated 5 sec ago
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French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes

French court sentences 3 Syrian officials to life in prison in absentia for war crimes
  • The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing
  • Former intelligence officials Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war

PARIS: A Paris court sentenced three high-ranking Syrian officials in absentia to life in prison Friday for complicity in war crimes in a landmark case against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the first such case in Europe.

The trial focused on the officials’ role in the alleged 2013 arrest in Damascus of Mazen Dabbagh, a Franco-Syrian father, and his son Patrick, and their subsequent torture and killing. The four-day trial featured harrowing testimonies from survivors and searing accounts from Mazen’s brother.
Though the verdict was cathartic for plaintiffs, France and Syria do not have an extradition treaty, making the outcome largely symbolic. International arrest warrants for the three former Syrian intelligence officials — Ali Mamlouk, Jamil Hassan, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud — have been issued since 2018 to no avail.
They are the most senior Syrian officials to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country’s civil war.
The court proceedings came as Assad has started to shed his longtime status as a pariah that stemmed from the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups involved in the case hoped it would refocus attention on alleged atrocities.
Clémence Bectarte, the Dabbagh family lawyer from the International Federation for Human Rights, said the verdict was the “first recognition in France of the crimes against humanity of the Syrian regime.”
“It is a message of hope for all Syrian victims who are waiting for justice. It is a message that must be addressed to states so that they do not normalize their relations with the regime of Bashar Assad,” she said.
The trial began Tuesday over the alleged torture and killing of the French-Syrian father and son who were arrested at the height of Arab Spring-inspired anti-government protests. The two were arrested in Damascus following a crackdown on demonstrations that later turned into a brutal civil war, now in its 14th year.
The probe into their disappearance started in 2015 when Obeida Dabbagh, Mazen’s brother, testified to investigators already examining war crimes in Syria.
Obeida Dabbagh and his wife, Hanane, are parties to the trial along with non-governmental organizations. They testified in court on Thursday, the third day of the trial.
Obeida Dabbagh said he hoped the trial would set a precedent for holding Assad accountable. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. Even today, some live in fear and terror,” he said.
Despite the defendants’ absence, the trial’s significance was underscored by Brigitte Herremans, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Center of Ghent University. “It’s very important that perpetrators from the regime side are held accountable, even if it’s mainly symbolic. It means a lot for the fight against impunity,” she said.
 


Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN
Updated 27 min 5 sec ago
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Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

Some 45,000 Rohingya have fled fighting in Myanmar: UN

GENEVA: The United Nations warned on Friday that escalating fighting in conflict-torn Myanmar’s Rakhine State had forced around 45,000 minority Rohingya to flee, amid allegations of killings and burnings of property.
“Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days by the fighting in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships,” UN rights office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
“An estimated 45,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection,” she said.
Clashes have rocked Rakhine since the Arakan Army (AA) attacked forces of the ruling junta in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a military coup in 2021.
The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in the state, which is also home to around 600,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine in 2017 during a crackdown by the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.
“Over a million Rohingya are already in Bangladesh, having fled past purges,” Throssell pointed out.
UN rights chief Volker Turk was urging Bangladesh and other countries “to provide effective protection to those seeking it, in line with international law, and to ensure international solidarity with Bangladesh in hosting Rohingya refugees in Myanmar,” she said.
James Rodehaver, head of the rights office’s Myanmar team, described the horrifying situation many were fleeing from.
He said his team had received testimonies and seen satellite images, online videos and pictures indicating that Buthidaung town had been “largely burned.”
“We have received information indicating that the burning did start on May 17... two days after the military had retreated from the town... and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control of the village.”
He stressed that the UN rights office was still working to corroborate that information, to clearly establish “who were the perpetrators.”
One survivor had described seeing dozens of dead bodies as he fled Buthidaung, while another had said he was among tens of thousands who fled the town only to find themselves blocked by the AA on the road west toward Maungdaw town.
Other survivors also said AA members had abused them and extorted money from them as they tried to make their way to Rohingya villages south of the town.
In the weeks leading up to the burning of Buthidaung, Rodehaver said the rights office had documented renewed attacks on Rohingya civilians by both AA and the military in northern Rakhine, including through air strikes.
The team had documented “at least four cases of beheadings,” he said, adding that they had determined with a high level of confidence that those were carried out by the AA.
Beyond Buthidaung, Throssell warned of “clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence.”
She pointed to the beginning of a battle for Maungdaw town, where the military has outposts and where a large Rohingya community lives.
“In this appalling situation, civilians are once more victimized, killed, their properties destroyed and looted, their demands for safety and security ignored,” she said.
“They are again forced to flee their homes in a recurring nightmare of suffering.”


Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region
Updated 28 min 15 sec ago
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Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces now control area where Russia pushed into Kharkiv region
  • A late-night report by the General Staff said Ukrainian forces had repelled 10 Russian attacks in the area, including around Vovchansk.
  • Russian forces were using less infantry around Vovchansk and instead firing from a distance, with limited accuracy.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had secured “combat control” of areas where Russian troops staged an incursion this month in northern parts of Kharkiv region.

“Our soldiers have now managed to take combat control of the border area where the Russian occupiers entered,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Zelensky’s comments, after holding a meeting of military and regional officials in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, appeared to be at variance with comments by Russian officials.
Viktor Vodolatskiy, a member of Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament, was quoted by Tass news agency as saying Russian forces controlled more than half the territory of the town of Vovchansk, 5 km (three miles) inside the border.
Vodolatskiy was quoted as saying that once Vovchansk was secured, Russian forces would target three cities in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region — Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk.
Reuters was unable to verify independently battlefield accounts from either side.

Russian forces pushed into border regions of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region this month and Russia’s Defense Ministry said they had secured control of about 12 settlements.
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials had been reporting success in “stabilising” the area.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff, in its evening report on Friday said the situation in Vovchansk was “tense but controlled by the defense forces.”
“The Russian army today launched air terror against this town — eight guided bombs hit the town,” it said. Attacks were launched on at least two other settlements north of Kharkiv.
A late-night report by the General Staff said Ukrainian forces had repelled 10 Russian attacks in the area, including around Vovchansk.
It also noted Russian forces had achieved “partial success” in areas near Kupiansk, further east in Kharkiv region, and the Pokrovsk sector where heavy fighting has been taking place further south in Donetsk region.
Ukrainian military bloggers said Ukrainian troops had been holding their ground around Vovchansk and Russian forces were using less infantry in the area and instead firing from a distance, with limited accuracy.


Azerbaijan takes control of four villages on border with Armenia as part of deal

Azerbaijan takes control of four villages on border with Armenia as part of deal
Updated 43 min 39 sec ago
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Azerbaijan takes control of four villages on border with Armenia as part of deal

Azerbaijan takes control of four villages on border with Armenia as part of deal
  • Armenia had said in April it would return the uninhabited villages to Azerbaijan, which both sides said was a milestone on the road toward a peace deal
  • Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan's decision to hand over the four villages has triggered protests at home, with demonstrators calling for him to step down

MOSCOW: Azerbaijan’s border service has taken control of four villages in the Gazakh district on the border with Armenia under an agreement struck with Yerevan, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev said on Friday.

The size of the territory returned to Azerbaijan under a border delimitation agreement on Friday was 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles), Mustafayev said.
Armenia had said in April it would return the uninhabited villages to Azerbaijan, which both sides said was a milestone on the road toward a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku who have clashed for more than three decades.

The decision by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to hand over the four villages has triggered protests at home, with demonstrators calling for him to step down over what they cast as a betrayal.
Pashinyan, in an address to the nation late on Friday, described at length how Armenians had long sought a homeland within a specific geographic area and how demarcating national borders was part of that process.
He said the aim of all Armenians was to act “so that a sovereign and democratic Armenia with demarcated borders becomes a national ideology and concept.”
Azerbaijan’s retaking by force of the entirety of its Nagorno-Karabakh region in September last year, a move which sparked an exodus of ethnic Armenians living there, dealt a painful blow to Yerevan.
But it has also paved the way for an elusive deal by removing a long-running source of disagreement from the table.
Azerbaijan and Armenia still have other unresolved territorial disputes though, mostly focused on enclaves which the two sides want the other party to relinquish control of or provide access to.


Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137

Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137
Updated 25 May 2024
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Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137

Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137
  • Local media reported the firefighter is a 22-year-old who joined the force a year and a half ago

SANTIAGO: A firefighter was arrested Friday in Chile on suspicion of starting a blaze in February that killed 137 people in the resort city of Vina del Mar, authorities said.
“An arrest warrant was issued today against the person who started the fires in February in the Valparaiso region,” where Vina del Mar is located, police director Eduardo Cerna told a news conference.
Several fires broke out simultaneously on February 2 around the coastal city of Vina del Mar, 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Chile’s capital Santiago.
The inferno was fueled by winds and a heatwave that saw temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Local media reported the firefighter is a 22-year-old who joined the force a year and a half ago.
“We are completely devastated by what happened, it is a totally isolated incident... we have served Valparaiso for more than 170 years and cannot allow such things,” Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th Fire Company of the city of Valparaiso, told reporters.