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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2017 1:10 am 
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Putin critic says he narrowly escaped death after poisoning
By RICHARD LARDNER
March 29, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Russian opposition leader sharply critical of President Vladimir Putin told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that he narrowly escaped death last month after being poisoned with a substance his doctors still haven't been able to identify.

In congressional testimony, Vladimir Kara-Murza said his survival shows there are "near misses" in the Russian government's campaign to silence its political opponents.

He told lawmakers the official diagnosis was "toxic action by an undefined substance." He said he suffered multiple organ failure and was placed in a medically induced coma for several days after being hospitalized on Feb. 2. The episode was reminiscent of a mysterious poisoning he suffered two years earlier when he nearly died from kidney failure.

Kara-Murza's appearance before the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee is part of a broader inquiry into what the panel's chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has called Russia's "misadventures throughout the world." Graham is one of a few congressional Republicans to openly criticize President Donald Trump's push for closer ties with Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

The purpose of the hearing was to make a case for creating a "counter-Russia" account in the U.S. government's budget, according to Graham. The money would be used to finance and empower countries and organizations "that are fighting back against Putin's regime," he said.

"It's in American taxpayers' interests that we push back against Putin's efforts to dismantle democracy throughout the world," Graham added.

Trump triggered a bipartisan backlash in early February when he repeated his desire to improve relations with Putin during an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly called Putin "a killer." Trump answered, "We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country's so innocent?"

Kara-Murza is the vice chairman of Open Russia, a private foundation run by exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Just a few weeks before his most recent illness, Kara-Murza sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was sharply critical of Putin's government. The letter, dated Jan. 9, came just before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing. Kara-Murza urged the committee to take his assessment into account when considering Tillerson's nomination and the "next steps in U.S.-Russia relations."

Putin's "nearly generation-long rule has been marked by the dismantlement of the nascent democratic institutions that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union," Kara-Murza wrote. Most Russian media outlets are "mouthpieces" for government propaganda, he added, and elections are "marred by intimidation and fraud," making them largely meaningless rituals.

Kara-Murza was a close associate of the murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in February 2015. In the letter and in his testimony Wednesday, Kara-Murza said the organizers and masterminds of Nemtsov's murder have not been identified or apprehended.

Russian state media have targeted Kara-Murza alongside Nemtsov for his lobbying in the West, openly calling him a traitor.

Kara-Murza has traveled to the U.S., Canada and eastern Europe, pushing a law that targets Russian officials involved in rights abuses. In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named for the late Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. It was a precursor for the worsening of U.S.-Russia relations, which hit a post-Cold War low in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 10:21 pm 
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UN chief accuses South Sudan's government of ignoring famine
By EDITH M. LEDERER
March 23, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accused South Sudan's government on Thursday of refusing to express "any meaningful concern" about the plight of 100,000 people suffering from famine, 7.5 million in need of humanitarian aid and thousands more fleeing fighting.

The U.N. chief delivered a sharp rebuke to the country's president, Salva Kiir, saying that most often the international community hears denials - "a refusal by the leadership to even acknowledge the crisis or to fulfil its responsibilities to end it."

Guterres told the Security Council that Kiir's intention to hold a national dialogue "is not convincing" in the absence of consultation with opponents, the "systematic curtailment of basic political freedoms, and restrictions on humanitarian access."

South Sudan's deputy ambassador Joseph Moum Malok said the government "takes issue with the accusation" that it is responsible for the famine in two counties and said other parts of the country are affected by drought. He said the government "will spare no efforts to help address the situation and calls upon the international community to help address this urgent matter."

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer. A peace deal signed in August 2015 has not stopped the fighting and the three-year civil war has devastated the country, killed tens of thousands, and contributed to a recently declared famine in two counties.

The United Nations has a 12,000-strong peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and the Security Council last year approved an additional 4,000 peacekeepers from the region to help protect civilians after a series of reported gang-rapes and other assaults when fighting erupted in Juba last July.

Guterres said the U.N. continues to work for the deployment of the regional force and restoration of the peace process, but he stressed that "no such force, and no amount of diplomacy, can substitute for the lack of political will among those who govern the country."

"There is a strong consensus that South Sudanese leaders need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of the country's people, who are among the poorest in the world," the secretary-general said.

Guterres said greater pressure is needed if there is any hope of the leaders changing their approach, which means "first and foremost that the region and the Security Council must speak with one voice.

At the moment, the council and the region remain divided over two key ways to step up pressure - an arms embargo and slapping sanctions on additional people blocking peace.

U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison said the U.N. doesn't need any more warnings "about the prospect for further mass atrocities," calling the ongoing violence and atrocities "beyond acceptable." She reiterated the Obama administration's support for an arms embargo and sanctions against additional individuals including those blocking U.N. peacekeeping or humanitarian missions and expanding the conflict.

Guterres urged leaders from countries in the regional group IGAD who will be meeting in Nairobi in two days and council members to support three objectives: achieving an immediate cessation of hostilities, restoring the peace process which means consulting and ensuring representation of the opposition, and ensuring unrestricted humanitarian access.

The top monitor of South Sudan's peace deal, former Botswana President Festus Mogae, echoed Guterres' call for a unified approach that also includes the African Union and the international community, saying the security, economic and humanitarian situation in the country "has steadily deteriorated to an unacceptable level."

"Across the board, there is a heightened sense of alarm over the fact that the situation is slipping out of control," Mogae told the council. "We must now stand together to do something about it."

South Sudan's Malok warned that an arms embargo and additional sanctions "would further aggravate the situation and would hit hard the vulnerable groups, as the previous experiences had proved."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2017 11:06 pm 
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Jailing in Russia of Navalny staff 'attempt to disrupt'
28 March 2017

MOSCOW (AP) -- The jailing of a dozen people working for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was "an obvious attempt to disrupt" his anti-corruption work following major nationwide protests, a spokeswoman for his organization said Tuesday.

Eleven of them have been sentenced to seven days in jail, while Leonid Volkov, who is leading Navalny's presidential campaign, was given 10 days for failing to respond to police orders, said Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund.

"This is an obvious attempt to disrupt the work of the organization," Yarmysh said.

Navalny, who organized Sunday's protests and plans to run against President Vladimir Putin in the 2018 election, was arrested immediately after arriving at a demonstration in Moscow. Navalny was sentenced to 15 days in prison Monday.

Police arrested more than 1,000 people across Russia on Sunday during protests called by Navalny against corruption. They were the largest anti-government street demonstrations in Russia for five years.

The anti-corruption fund's most recent investigation targeted Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's alleged secret wealth and collection of mansions, villas and vineyards. A video about the expose narrated by Navalny garnered more than 13 million views on YouTube and was the chief rallying cry for Sunday's protests.

The staff, volunteers and technical experts working for the fund who were arrested Sunday were coordinating a live broadcast of the protests from their office in Moscow. Police said that they refused to leave the premises when warned of a bomb threat.

Yarmysh said the organization's offices remained sealed off Tuesday and police had seized computers and other equipment.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2017 10:55 am 
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Iraqis in 'liberated' Mosul want services restored
By YESICA FISCH
13 April 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- The airstrike crater on a once-busy road in eastern Mosul is filled with murky water and lined with garbage, a nearby market shrouded in the stench. The fight for Iraq's second largest city ended nearly three months ago, but little is back to normal.

Iraq declared the eastern half of Mosul "fully liberated" in January and launched an ongoing operation for the western half the following month. But the destruction left by the fighting is visible everywhere in the east, and resentment is already mounting at the slow pace of reconstruction.

That could have implications for Iraq's post-Islamic State future. Mosul is a mostly Sunni city, and widespread anger at the alleged corruption and mismanagement of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad helped the extremists to gain a foothold in the city years ago - and overrun it in a matter of days in the summer of 2014.

There is no running water or electricity in eastern Mosul, and government employees who had their salaries cut off during the extremists' rule face a long process of security vetting before they can get paid again. Clearing crews can be seen here and there, filling in holes and dragging away the burnt shells of vehicles, but they face a daunting task. "They brought two pipes with some gravel, and the governor and the director of the municipality came wearing workmen's clothes to show that they were doing something," said Riyadh Thanoun, the owner of a nut shop. He said they placed the pipes and gravel over a nearby stream where a bridge had been destroyed, but the makeshift crossing washed away in the first heavy rain. "Now it is worse than it was before," he said. "You can't cross at all and have to make a long detour."

His and other shops rely on costly outdoor generators for electricity. Damage to the water network has caused widespread diarrhea, and forced aid agencies to truck some 2.3 million liters of water into the city every day.

At the Noumania primary school for boys there are few desks or books. The windows are broken and a number of chalkboards are missing. Some classes have nevertheless resumed, even though the teachers are not being paid. "They keep saying it will happen next month or next week, but nothing so far, only promises," Principal Rafii Mahmoud said. When asked if the school provided lunches, he laughed. "On the contrary, they are bringing us food," he said.

Mohammed Abed Rabo, a member of parliament for Nineveh governorate, of which Mosul is the capital, blamed the situation on the "corruption and incompetence" of the local government. But Qusi Assaf, the governor's assistant for reconstruction, said they were overwhelmed. "We are doing our best but don't have enough funds," Assaf said. "It's not just Mosul. Nineveh is a huge governorate, and we also have to provide for the camps in the middle of nowhere with a huge number of displaced people."

Mahmoud said his teachers were working out of a sense of duty because children in Mosul had already lost two years of education under IS and couldn't afford to lose more. He said it looked like the government was working for some other agenda, and that he could not even keep track of who was responsible for running the schools. "We don't have any vision for the future. We can count on God alone," he said.

Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Irbil, Iraq contributed to this report.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2017 11:18 am 
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Russia blocks app used to organize protests
13 April 2017

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has banned the use on its territory of a smartphone app widely used like a walkie-talkie to organize demonstrations and other gatherings.

The app, called Zello, reportedly has been popular among long-distance truckers in Russia who are conducting strikes to protest a road tariff system. Zello, based in the United States, said Russia halted the use of the app late Wednesday. The agency that oversees electronic communications in Russia, Roskomnadzor, had announced earlier in the week that the service would be ended because Zello did not comply with an Internet law. That law demands that Internet services store copies in Russia of all messages sent via them for six months and make them available to authorities on demand.

A statement on Zello's company blog called the requirement "absurd."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2017 1:48 pm 
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Dutch Senate approves ratification of EU-Ukraine pact
30 May 2017

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The upper house of Dutch Parliament has approved ratification of a pact between the European Union and Ukraine, despite voters in the Netherlands rejecting the so-called Association Agreement in an advisory referendum last year.

Dutch senators approved ratification in a vote Tuesday, three months after the lower house of Parliament gave it the green light. The 27 other European Union member states already have ratified the pact, which aims to boost trade and fight corruption. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the vote "sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire European Union to our Ukrainian friends: Ukraine's place is in Europe."

Dutch lawmakers approved the deal after Prime Minister Mark Rutte got assurances from EU leaders that it is not a stepping stone to EU membership.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 10:43 pm 
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Russian parliament OKs plan for massive Moscow redevelopment
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA
9 June 2017

MOSCOW (AP) -- With hundreds of protesters rallying outside, the Russian parliament on Friday gave preliminary approval to a controversial plan to tear down Soviet-era, low-rise apartment blocks that would relocate 1.6 million people in Moscow.

The State Duma voted overwhelmingly to adopt the second hearing of a bill that would allow Moscow City Hall to pull down entire neighborhoods. The redevelopment project, arguably Russia's largest, has rattled many in Moscow who see the plans as an encroachment on their constitutional rights and a ruse to evict them from leafy neighborhoods to high-rise ones on the city's outskirts.

City Hall insists that the buildings are dilapidated and their maintenance too costly. Thousands of people took to the streets last month to protest the plans in what was described as the city's largest non-political protest in years. Several people were detained Friday at the impromptu rally of about 300 people outside the State Duma, where many protesters locked arms, chanting patriotic songs.

"I worked 13 years to buy my apartment," said Yevgeniya Dubovichenko. "I'm opposed to the very possibility that my home can be pulled down today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in the interests of the city."

The bill will go up for the third and final reading next week, where it can only be adopted or rejected, but not amended. The Duma's pro-Kremlin majority on Friday rejected several amendments from opposition factions, including offering higher compensations for those who face eviction but would like to opt for a reimbursement rather than a government-provided apartment.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Kondrashov in Moscow contributed.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 14, 2017 9:40 pm 
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Dozens sent to jail for protest in Russia's St Petersburg
By IRINA TITOVA
14 June 2017

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) -- Two days after widespread anti-government rallies, protesters in St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, are facing a severe crackdown with local courts sending dozens of them to jail.

Tens of thousands took to the streets across Russia's 11 time zones on Monday to protest government corruption. Some of the protests, like in Moscow and St Petersburg, were explicitly banned by authorities and nearly 2,000 people were detained.

The crackdown on protesters appeared to be particularly severe in St Petersburg, Russia's former imperial capital, where at least 26 people have been sentenced to five to 14 days in jail, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia. The overwhelming majority of the hundreds of protesters detained in Moscow were eventually released, with the exception of a few opposition leaders.

In St Petersburg, several courts suspended their regular operations and were only processing the protesters' cases in hearings that stretched from late to Tuesday to the early hours of Wednesday, said Andrei Pivovarov, coordinator of the Open Russia civil society organization in St Petersburg. Svetlana Ratnikova, a lawyer who defended two protesters in St Petersburg, said the decisions to fine or to jail a protester appeared to be random.

Pivovarov said the treatment of the protesters appeared to be much harsher than after a similar unsanctioned rally in March when most detainees were let go or were fined, and said she saw it as a scare tactic. "This time the detainees, even those who were detained for the first time in their lives, were kept at police stations for up to 48 hours waiting for their court hearings," he told the Associated Press. "It was done to scare the protesters."

Some protesters posted pictures on social media, showing dozens of people taking a nap in the hall and on chairs at various police stations all over the city. The detainees also said they were not provided food or water and had to rely on volunteers to bring it for them.

Russia adopted tighter restrictions on public gatherings in 2012 in a clear reaction to massive anti-government protests that shook Russia in 2011 and early 2012.

Alexei Navalny, who called for the Monday rallies that were held in more than 100 cities and towns, himself was detained outside his home before heading to the protest and sentenced to 30 days in jail for staging an unsanctioned rally.

More protesters are expected to face court in St Petersburg later on Wednesday.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:52 pm 
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Rwanda's president already claiming win in August election
By IGNATIUS SSUUNA
14 July 2017

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Rwanda's president is already claiming victory in next month's election.

President Paul Kagame told supporters at his first campaign rally Friday that the results of the vote were known in 2015, when more than 4 million Rwandans petitioned Parliament to change the constitution to allow him to run again. Kagame said his critics cannot change the will of the people. "You can choose not to hear the truth but you cannot deny what your eyes show you here today," he said. "Pretending not to know the will expressed by the people during the referendum would be a lie, not democracy."

Kagame has been in power since the end of the East African nation's genocide in 1994. While he has been credited with bringing stability to the tiny country of 12 million people, human rights groups and others accuse his government of abuses such as executions over suspected petty crimes like the theft of bananas or a cow. The president is widely expected to win another term on Aug. 4. The amended constitution allows him to remain in power until 2034 if he pursues it. The United States, a key Rwanda ally, opposed the change to the constitution. Kagame has accused some Western diplomats of meddling in the country's affairs.

Rwanda's government earlier this month disqualified all but three candidates for the election, saying they didn't fulfil requirements such as collecting enough supporting signatures. Critics say the government is leaving no room for competition. The two people challenging Kagame in the vote are Frank Habineza of the opposition Democratic Green Party and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Out of 11 registered political parties, eight have backed the ruling RPF-Inkotanyi party instead of fielding their own candidates.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 10:53 pm 
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Somalia's internet returns after 3-week outage caused outcry
By ABDI GULED
17 July 2017

HARGEISA, Somalia (AP) -- Somalia's internet has returned after an outage of more than three weeks cost the Horn of Africa nation about $10 million a day, authorities said Monday.

Hormuud Telecom, the country's largest telecom company, announced the restoration of service in a message to subscribers. The loss of internet service sparked anger across Somalia and affected the central and southern parts of the country including the capital, Mogadishu. The government called it a "major disaster."

Officials and internet providers attributed the problem to a commercial ship that they said cut an undersea cable. Major companies reported millions of dollars in revenue losses. University studies were disrupted. The internet outage also complicated efforts to combat a nationwide drought that has half of the country's 12 million people in need of assistance.

Residents in the capital celebrated the return of service. "This helps a lot," Abdirashid Duale, the CEO of the largest international Somali remittance company, Dahabshiil, told the Associated Press. "The internet outage has affected many of our customers." The lack of internet service also stranded patients who were seeking medical attention abroad as they couldn't access online paperwork. "The internet outage had my father stuck in Mogadishu. Now we can take him to India having received all medical paperwork via internet," said Nur Hussein.

Somalia is trying to emerge from a quarter-century of conflict. The fragile central government remains a target for the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group, which often carries out deadly attacks in the capital.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 27, 2017 11:53 pm 
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Year after reporter killed in Ukraine, no progress in probe
By YURAS KARMANAU and DMYTRO VLASOV
20 July 2017

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - After renowned journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed in a car bombing in central Kiev last year, Ukraine's president promised all-out efforts to solve the case. But as of Thursday's anniversary of his death, there has been no visible progress.

Instead, say Ukrainian journalists, the case is mired in either incompetence or deliberate inaction. In a country where violence against journalists is frequent, reporters feel more in danger than ever.

The killing of 44-year-old Sheremet, who was driving in central Kiev to appear on a morning radio show on July 20, 2016, was a shock that resonated far beyond Ukraine. The Belarusian native had received international awards and was widely lauded for bold reporting at home, where he was jailed for three months and then given a two-year prison suspended sentence in 1997. He later moved to Russia, where he worked for a TV station controlled by Putin critic Boris Berezovsky, then went to Ukraine to work at respected internet publication Ukrainska Pravda.

Ukrainska Pravda was long a thorn in the side of Ukraine's corruption-ridden elite. Its first editor, Heorhiy Gongadze, was found decapitated in 2000 and audio recordings later emerged that implicated then-President Leonid Kuchma in his killing.

The failure to find Sheremet's killer leaves Ukraine's journalists feeling imperiled. "Lack of progress in the Sheremet case is better than any declaration to show how authorities really care about the safety of journalists," National Union of Journalists head Sergei Tomilenko said.

Sheremet's friends, colleagues and activists gathered Thursday morning around the time that Sheremet was killed. About 200 people laid flowers and left candles at the intersection where his car blew up before setting off to march to the presidential administration to express their frustration with the investigation. Some of the mourners spray-painted "Who killed Pavel?" on the sidewalk outside the presidential administration and plastered a posted with Sheremet's portrait at the entrance to National Police headquarters.

Police say the killing was committed carefully, making identifying suspects harder. "Unfortunately, the criminal offense was committed with good quality, so the investigation has not yet found the person who can be reasonably suspected of involvement in the murder," Interior Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko said.

In Washington, the State Department said it was regrettable no one had been held accountable. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. was urging Ukraine "to use all available resources to bring those responsible to justice."

Tomilenko's group told an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe freedom-of-speech conference last month that more than 800 journalists have faced violence or threats in Ukraine since 2014. Although about half the incidents were connected to the 2014 mass protests that drove a Moscow-friendly president into exile or with the conflicts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine that followed, about 400 cases have happened in the rest of the country.

Most recently, reporter Volodymyr Volovodyuk, who had investigated black-market trading in the central Vinnytsia region, was beaten on July 12. None of these cases have been prosecuted. "Impunity has become the norm," Tomilenko said. "The daily life of journalists is more like reports from the front."

After the 2014 uprising, Ukraine has increased its drive to become more integrated with Western Europe and to move out of Russia's sphere of influence. But Europe is often uneasy with Ukraine's disorder and corruption, and the Sheremet case adds to nervousness. "Authorities say Russia is the prime suspect, but the lack of progress in the case, coupled with evidence pointing to possible Ukrainian involvement, weaken Kiev's credibility and suggest the need for an independent probe," the Committee To Protect Journalists international watchdog said in a recent report.

The evidence referred to by CPJ centers on a report put together by Sheremet's colleagues and other journalists, assisted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. That investigation identified two people observed by security cameras as lurking near Sheremet's car the night before the blast, and identified one of them as a former agent of the national security service, the SBU. The SBU decline comment.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with Sheremet's family last week and acknowledged that the probe had brought no results, but confirmed that he was "interested in a transparent investigation."

Yuras Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.
Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 06, 2017 5:14 pm 
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US orders diplomat family members to leave Venezuela ahead of vote
27 July 2017

Washington (dpa) - Washington on Thursday ordered the departure of all diplomat family members from its embassy in Venezuela, the US State Department said, ahead of a weekend vote which is expected to spark further unrest in the crisis-hit country.

The State Department cited an "unpredictable" political and security situation and said it had also authorized the voluntary departure of US government employees and warned US citizens from travelling to the South American country. Venezuela has been engulfed by months of deadly anti-government protests amid a worsening economic crisis.

On Sunday the country is due to elect a 545-member body which will be tasked with rewriting the country's constitution. The opposition has accused President Nicolas Maduro of seeking to establish a dictatorship with the move. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition vowed to go ahead with mass protests planned for Friday, despite a government ban on demonstrations ahead of the vote.

Venezuela is suffering the world's highest rate of inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods and medicines in an economic crisis sparked by the 2014 drop in oil prices. Increasingly violent protests have become an almost daily occurrence since early April, when the Supreme Court in the capital Caracas, loyal to Maduro, attempted to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its powers. However, Maduro has refused to step down or call fresh elections.

On Thursday the death toll in the protests climbed to 105 after another five people were killed during a 48-hour general strike which began on Wednesday.

Many of Sunday's candidates are members of Maduro's Socialist Party, including his wife Cilia Flores. Others come from sectors regarded as close to the party, including students, pensioners and farmers. The opposition has accused Maduro of rigging the election and is boycotting it. In a referendum organized by the opposition earlier this month, 98 per cent of voters rejected Maduro's constitutional plans.

US President Donald Trump has accused Maduro of being "a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator" and threatened economic sanctions should Sunday vote goes ahead. Washington also sanctioned 13 former and current Venezuelan officials earlier this week.

In its Thursday statement, the US State Department accused Venezuelan authorities of arresting people, including US citizens, and detaining them "for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime." It also said that armed motorcycle gangs associated with the Venezuelan government used violence to intimidate protesters. "Violence and criminal activity – including homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking – pose significant and continuing security concerns. Indiscriminate violent crime is endemic throughout the country and can occur anywhere at any time," the State Department said.

It also warned that Caracas' main international airport, Simon Bolivar International Airport, was "an extremely high-risk area for armed robbery and kidnappings' and advised against travelling there at night. Earlier Thursday, Colombian airline Avianca became the tenth airline to stop flights to Venezuela, citing safety concerns.

Source: dpa

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Zimbabwe to spend $1 billion on university honoring Mugabe
9 August 2017

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- A minister says Zimbabwe's Cabinet has approved spending at least $1 billion to create a university in honor of President Robert Mugabe. The amount represents about a quarter of the country's $4.1 billion budget.

Higher education minister Jonathan Moyo told reporters Wednesday that a foundation owned by the 93-year-old Mugabe and his wife will be in charge of the university. The project has been planned for years, but Moyo says the first lady has pushed for its completion.

Mugabe has ruled the once-prosperous southern African nation since 1980 and is already campaigning for next year's elections, despite growing concerns about his health. Zimbabwe is currently deep in economic crisis. About $800 million will be spent on the university's construction and $200 million put toward an endowment for research and innovation.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 10:57 am 
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30 killed in Central African Republic clashes; 6 Red Cross
By HIPPOLYTE MARBOUA
9 August 2017

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- Clashes between a militia and a self-defense group in southeastern Central African Republic have left at least 30 civilians dead including six Red Cross volunteers who were attending a crisis meeting at a health facility, officials said Wednesday.

The violence took place late last week in the town of Gambo, which is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Bangassou, a town that has been a flashpoint amid the upsurge of bloodshed in the long chaotic country. "We are appalled by the news of the death of our fellow volunteers," said Antoine Mbao-Bogo, president of the Central African Red Cross. "We call on all parties to take steps to spare the civilian population, and to respect all humanitarian workers."

The deaths marked the third such attack on the Red Cross this year, officials said. Many humanitarian workers have been blocked from doing their work, and militants also have tried to kill wounded enemies in public health facilities. The violence late last week also underscored the deepening conflict in and around Bangassou, where at least nine U.N. peacekeepers have been killed this year alone. Observers warn that the sectarian violence that erupted in 2013 in Central African Republic's capital has now moved into the southeast, prompting warnings of a national conflict roaring back to life.

Local authorities blamed the Gambo fighting on a faction of the mostly Muslim rebel group once known as Seleka - fighters who now call themselves the UPC. The militants battled against a self-defense group that has arisen in the area in a bid to ward off the UPC and other armed fighters. At times the UPC fighters shot arrows to kill their victims, local authorities said.

Central African Republic currently has some 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers but none are in Gambo and none was present during the deadly clashes last week.

Souleymane Daouda, a UPC spokesman for the faction led by Ali Darassa, denied that his fighters were responsible for the violence in the town of Gambo, saying his men were protecting civilians. "A thousand people attacked the town of Gambo," Daouda said. "As our elements were there, they reacted by evacuating the civilian population first and then on their return, they used arrows to defeat these armed bandits who massacre the population."

While U.N. peacekeepers were not there at the time of the violence, spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said reinforcements had been sent to the area to reassure residents.

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.
Source: AP

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BBC says Iran freezes local assets of Farsi service staff
By JON GAMBRELL
15 August 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- An Iranian court order has frozen the local assets of over 150 people associated with the BBC's Farsi-language service, the British broadcaster said on Tuesday, the latest effort by Tehran to crack down on the service's popular newscasts.

Iranian officials and state media did not immediately report on the order, which the BBC said banned current and former staff, as well as contributors, from "selling or buying property, cars and other goods."

The order, issued from a court at Tehran's notorious Evin prison, only came to light when a relative of a BBC Persian employee tried to sell a property on their behalf, the broadcaster said. "It is appalling that anyone should suffer legal or financial consequences because of their association with the BBC," BBC World Service director Francesca Unsworth said in a statement. "We call upon the Iranian authorities to reverse this order urgently and allow BBC staff and former staff to enjoy the same financial rights as their fellow citizens."

The BBC's Farsi-language service is barred from working in Iran, though many Iranians listen to its radio shows and watch its satellite television broadcasts. Some 13 million people tune in, according to the broadcaster, hungry for news not being reported by the state-run channels allowed on the air in Iran. The BBC's Farsi-language staffers have been targeted by Iran's government in the past, especially by hard-liners within the judiciary and security services.

The court order comes as Evin prison now holds Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. She is serving a five-year prison sentence over allegations of planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling there with her toddler daughter.

Source: AP

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