Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts
US journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, gestures inside a defendants’ cage after a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended pre-trial detention, at the The first court of appeal in Moscow on April 23, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

Trump says he will quickly free US journalist but Russia denies contacts

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump boasted Thursday he would quickly free jailed US journalist Evan Gershkovich from Russia if he wins the presidential election, but Moscow denied discussing the case with the Republican candidate.

Trump, who has frequently voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and has voiced skepticism over US support for Ukraine, said the Moscow strongman “will do that for me, but not for anyone else.”

“Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

“He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY.”

Trump said that the United States “WILL BE PAYING NOTHING” — a likely jab at President Joe Biden’s deal last year to free Americans from Iran that included the transfer of Iranian oil revenue that had been frozen by South Korea.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the remarks, said, “There aren’t any contacts with Donald Trump.”

“Regarding (US-Russian) contacts on the matter of incarcerated and convicted individuals, we can say that these contacts must be carried out in total secrecy. This is the only way they can be effective,” he said.

Gershkovich, 32, has been held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison for more than a year after he was arrested while on a reporting trip to Russia.

He is the first Western journalist since the Soviet era to be arrested by Moscow on spying charges — accusations that he, his employer and the US government reject.

The US ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, visited Gershkovich in prison on Thursday.

He “maintains a positive attitude, awaiting the start of the court process for a case about a crime that he did not commit,” the US embassy said in a statement on platform Telegram.

“We once more urge the immediate release of Evan Gershkovich.”

The Biden administration said in late 2023 that it made a “significant proposal” to Russia to free Gershkovich, likely as part of a prisoner swap, but that Moscow rejected it.

US intelligence concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump in his upset defeat of Hillary Clinton, including through social media postings.

Trump angrily denied his victory was the work of Russia and, at a famous news conference with Putin, appeared to accept the Russian leader’s denial of interference.

Putin in the latest election cycle has said he prefers Biden, comments met with skepticism by many Russia watchers who believe Putin’s intention may be to use his notoriety to boost Trump.


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and return to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
Updated 6 min 12 sec ago
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and return to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

WASHINGTON: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the US Justice Department that will resolve a long-running legal saga that spanned multiple continents and centered on the publication of a trove of classified documents, according to court papers filed late Monday.
Assange is scheduled to appear in the federal court in the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, the Justice Department said in a letter filed in court.
The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.
He is expected to return to Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time in Saipan, the largest island in the Mariana Islands. The hearing is taking place there because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia.
The deal ensures that Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from any additional prison time. He had spent years hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations before being locked up in the United Kingdom.
Prosecutors have agreed to a sentence of the five years Assange has already spent in a high-security British prison while fighting to avoid extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.
He is expected to return to Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time in Saipan, the largest island in the Mariana Islands. The hearing is taking place there because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia.
Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
But his reputation was also tarnished by rape allegations, which he has denied.
The Justice Department’s indictment unsealed in 2019 accused Assange of encouraging and helping US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Prosecutors had accused Assange of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the US and its allies and aided its adversaries.
The case was lambasted by press advocates and Assange supporters. Federal prosecutors defended it as targeting conduct that went way beyond that of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents. It was brought even though the Obama administration Justice Department had passed on prosecuting him years earlier.
The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017, allowing her release after about seven behind bars.
Assange made headlines in 2016 after his website published Democratic emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but the inquiry laid bare in stark detail the role that the hacking operation played in interfering in that year’s election on behalf of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Justice Department officials mulled charges for Assange following the documents’ 2010 publication, but were unsure a case would hold up in court and were concerned it could be hard to justify prosecuting him for acts similar to those of a conventional journalist.
The posture changed in the Trump administration, however, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 calling Assange’s arrest a priority.
Assange’s family and supporters have said his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, which includes seven years spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.
Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange has remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison during the extradition battle with the US.

 


Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm
Updated 16 sec ago
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Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

Bird flu spreads to tenth Australian poultry farm

CANBERRA: A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has spread to an eighth poultry farm near Melbourne, the government of Australia’s Victoria state said on Tuesday, taking the total number of infected facilities in the country to 10.

Australia is dealing with three parallel outbreaks of bird flu, two near Melbourne and one near Sydney. Each involves a different strain of the virus, none of which is the H5N1 type that has spread through bird and mammal populations and even to humans around the world.

Victorian authorities said the new infection was within a quarantine zone already set up around affected farms and was therefore not unexpected.

The flu has mostly hit egg farms. Around 1.5 million birds have been or will be killed to control the spread of the virus. There is so far no shortage of eggs in stores.

Bird flu spreads to farmed animals from wild birds. The 2024 infections are the tenth outbreak in Australia since 1976. Each was contained and eradicated, according to the government.


Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
Updated 12 min 54 sec ago
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Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer

Mass shootings across the US mark the first weekend of summer
  • “This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals

WASHINGTON: The first weekend of summer brought a tragic yet familiar pattern for American cities wracked by gun violence as mass shootings left dozens dead or wounded at a party in Alabama, an entertainment district in Ohio and a grocery store in Arkansas.
It was the second straight weekend that saw an outbreak of mass shootings across the US, prompting mayors in places marred by the violence to plead for help.
In Michigan, a deputy was fatally shot while pursuing a suspected stolen vehicle in what the county sheriff described as an ambush. A Philadelphia police officer was critically wounded Saturday after pulling over a car with four people.
Police in Montgomery, Alabama, said hundreds of rounds were fired at a crowded party early Sunday, leaving nine people wounded. Interim Police Chief John Hall said investigators recovered more than 350 different spent shell casings.
“This senseless violence just has to stop,” said Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who called it a blessing that no one died while also asking for help in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
One reason for so many shootings with multiple victims is the increased use of modified guns that can spray hundreds of shots, said Jillian Snider, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“That’s why you’re seeing more victims that are not even involved in the initial confrontation,” she said.
Gunfire broke out early Sunday on the main street of a popular restaurant and entertainment district near downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Ten people were injured, one in critical condition, leading the city’s mayor to call for more action from state and federal governments to keep guns off the streets and for parents to watch their children. Mayor Andrew Ginther said the gun violence “is outrageous, it’s unacceptable, and it must stop.”
FBI statistics show overall violent crime in the US has dropped after a pandemic-era spike but it might not feel that way to most people in the wake of these recent shootings, said University of Miami criminologist Alex Piquero.
Summertime always brings a rise in violence because school is out, there are more social gatherings and warmer temperatures can cause tempers to flare, he said. “That creates that kind of opportune structure for violence to occur,” Piquero said.
Several of the shootings this past weekend happened at large parties. Police in Dayton, Ohio, said a 22-year-old woman was killed and six people were injured early Monday, after a drive-by shooting at a vacant house where a big crowd had gathered.
Six people were wounded early Sunday at a park in Rochester, New York, after police said at least one person started shooting into a crowd. Elsewhere early Sunday, one man was killed and five others were wounded early in a downtown St. Louis shooting that police believe began when a fight broke out between several women and men stepped in with firearms.
The weekend of mass shootings began Friday in the small city of Fordyce, Arkansas, where four people were killed and another 11 injured — including the alleged gunman. The gunfire sent shoppers and store employees ducking for cover. Among those killed was a 23-year-old new mom.
 

 


EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort

EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort
Updated 25 June 2024
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EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort

EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort
  • These companies are now subject to drastic restrictions over sales of “dual-use goods and technology” that could be used for the “enhancement of Russia’s defense and security sector”

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The European Union Monday imposed sanctions on 19 Chinese companies aimed at punishing what the West believes is Beijing’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A list published in the EU’s Official Journal includes several companies located in Hong Kong as well as two global satellite giants.
The 14th package of sanctions against Russia added 61 new companies to the list of entities accused of directly “supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex” in the war in Ukraine, bringing the total to 675 firms.
These companies are now subject to drastic restrictions over sales of “dual-use goods and technology” that could be used for the “enhancement of Russia’s defense and security sector.”
China denies Western accusations that it is supporting Russia’s military campaign.
Among the newly added companies are two major players in the Chinese satellite industry involved in the sale of satellites and satellite imagery to Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.
In October, an AFP investigation revealed that Wagner in 2022 signed a contract worth more than $30 million with Chinese firm Beijing Yunze Technology Co. Ltd. to acquire two satellites and use their images.
The contract was signed in November 2022, over half a year into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in which the Wagner group under its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was playing a key role on the battlefield.
The two high-resolution satellites belonged to Chang Guang Satellite Technology, a leading global satellite company which was the unit to be added to the EU’s sanctions list.
Another company named Monday was Head Aerospace Technology, which sells satellite images and was placed on a US sanctions list in 2023 for supplying the Wagner Group.
Even if China does not deliver weapons directly to Russia, the United States and Europe accuse it of selling components and equipment to Moscow’s military industry.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian has dismissed the claims as “false information.”
Russian-based companies make up about half of the 61 entities added to the EU’s list Monday.
In addition to the 19 Chinese companies, it also added nine from Turkiye, two in Kyrgyzstan, one in India, one in Kazakhstan, and one in the United Arab Emirates.
 

 


Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime

Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime
Updated 1 min 1 sec ago
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Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime

Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime
  • The mother of the children, who wears a hijab, said in a news release from the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that they are Palestinians who became American citizens

DALLAS: A Texas woman allegedly tried to drown a 3-year-old at an apartment complex pool in suburban Dallas after making racist remarks toward the child’s mother in a case investigators are asking to be treated as a hate crime, a police spokeswoman said Monday.
Elizabeth Wolf, 42, has been charged with attempted capital murder and injury to a child. The child’s mother told officers that Wolf told the mother she wasn’t American, along with other racial statements, police said.
The mother of the children, who wears a hijab, said in a news release from the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that they are Palestinians who became American citizens. Neither police nor CAIR have released the mother’s name.
Euless police Capt. Brenda Alvarado told The Associated Press that the department has requested that prosecutors in Tarrant County treat the case as a hate crime. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Monday that they have received the case and are currently reviewing it.
Police said in a statement that when officers arrived to a call about a disturbance between two women on May 19 in Euless, witnesses told officers that a “very intoxicated” Wolf had tried to drown a child and had argued with the child’s mother.
The child’s mother told officers that Wolf had been asking her where she was from and if the two children playing in the pool were hers, police said. The mother told officers that after she answered, Wolf tried to grab the woman’s 6-year-old son but he pulled away from her grasp, causing a scratch on his finger.
Police said that as the mother helped her son, Wolf grabbed the woman’s 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. The mother pulled her daughter, who was yelling for help and coughing up water, out of the pool, police said.
Medics evaluated both children, who were cleared.
Wolf has been released on bond. A call to her attorney was not immediately returned Monday.
On Saturday, community leaders came together to denounce the attack on the child and how the woman treated the family.
“The trauma and pain this has caused for the immigrant community broadly and Muslim community more specifically cannot be understated,” said state Rep. Salman Bhojani, whose district includes part of Euless.