Tag Archives: East Europe

Appeal Court upholds Navalny jail sentence.

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Navalny and his supporters say the rulings and several other cases against him are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

A Moscow appeal court on Saturday upheld a prison sentence imposed on chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after he returned to Russia from Germany last month.

Judge Dmitry Balashov rejected Navalny’s appeal of the February 2 ruling, which turned a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges into real jail time.

The judge decided to count six weeks Navalny was under house arrest as part of the time served, so he will now be imprisoned for just over two-and-a-half years in a penal colony.

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Navalny, a 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner who has emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, was arrested in January when he returned to Russia after months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

He was detained for violating parole conditions of the 2014 suspended sentence and it was then turned into a custodial sentence.

Navalny and his supporters say the rulings and several other cases against him are a pretext to silence his corruption exposes and quash his political ambitions.

He was due in court again later Saturday in a another trial where he is accused of defamation for calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” after he appeared in a pro-Kremlin video.

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Prosecutors have called for Navalny to be fined the equivalent of $13,000 in that case.

They also want his 2014 sentence turned into real jail time because the alleged defamation took place while he was serving the suspended term.

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#Newsworthy

Ukraine Mine: Three Soldiers Dead.

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Ukraine has been fighting separatists backed by Russia in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine since 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a mine explosion in the war-torn east of the country Sunday, Kiev said, as an uptick in violence tested last year’s ceasefire.

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They were killed when an explosive device went off near the village of Novoluganske some 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of the main separatist stronghold Donetsk, the military said in a statement.

The latest casualties came after two Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes with Russian-backed separatists on Friday, testing last year’s ceasefire that had brought relative calm to the simmering conflict.

During a visit to the frontline on Thursday Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that separatist attacks had increased recently.

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“We understand that in general, it’s only our side that thinks the ceasefire is necessary,” said Zelensky.

He was accompanied by diplomats from several Western countries.

Ukraine has been fighting separatists backed by Russia in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine since 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Since then, more than 13,000 people have died and nearly 1.5 million have been displaced.

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Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, claims Moscow denies.

The war was at the centre of a diplomatic spat at the United Nations last week when Western countries claimed that Russia was blocking efforts to end the fighting.

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#Newsworthy

Vladimir Putin accuses West of using ‘jailed Navalny’ against Russia.

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Navalny, a persistent thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning he claims was carried out by the Kremlin and the Russian security services, FSB.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday accused the West of using jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny to try to “contain” Russia.

“Our opponents or our potential opponents… have always relied on — and used — ambitious, power-hungry people,” Putin said in an interview with Russian media conducted on Wednesday but only broadcast on Sunday by public channel Rossiya 24.

Putin suggested that the wave of protests recently held across Russia in the wake of Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment had also been fed from abroad, against the backdrop of the widespread “exhaustion, frustration and dissatisfaction” arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

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He said that Russia’s “numerous successes” on a military level, but also in its management of the Covid-19 crisis and the development of the Sputnik V vaccine, were “starting to irritate” Moscow’s opponents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via a teleconference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

“The stronger we become, the stronger this containment policy,” Putin said.

Navalny, a persistent thorn in Putin’s side, was arrested on his return from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning he claims was carried out by the Kremlin and the Russian security services, FSB.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was subsequently jailed for nearly three years, sparking nationwide protests that saw more than 10,000 people detained and led to allegations of police abuse.

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The merciless crackdown has been sharply criticised by Europe and the United States.

And the EU is considering imposing sanctions on Russia, putting even more strain on the bloc’s already fractious relations with Moscow.

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#Newsworthy

Defamation: Navalny appears in Court.

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Navalny has already been sentenced to almost three years in prison in a separate case, on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has appeared in a Moscow court facing charges of insulting a World War II veteran, after being ordered to prison in a separate case that sparked global outrage and mass protests in Russia

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The hearing came a little over one week after the 44-year-old opposition leader, a persistent thorn in the side of President Vladimir Putin, was sentenced to serve nearly three years in jail.

Heavily-armed riot police surrounded the court before Friday’s hearing and set up cordons outside.

The Kremlin critic was charged after he criticised a video broadcast by state media last year, in which several citizens spoke out in favour of changing Russia’s constitution – a change critics say cemented President Vladimir Putin’s control of the government.

Navalny is accused of slandering a WWII veteran [Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow via Reuters]

Navalny tweeted a clip of the video, calling the people who appeared in it “traitors”. One was a veteran who had fought in World War II and said he was so offended by Navalny’s comments that they led his health to deteriorate, prompting him to press defamation charges.

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Navalny on Friday told the judge that she was selected for the trial because she was “the most unscrupulous judge in the world” and should go back to school to become better acquainted with Russian laws.

Navalny has denied the accusations and said the case was politically motivated.

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His lawyer called the trial another attempt to silence Navalny, a vocal critic of Putin.

Navalny has also suggested that the 94-year-old veteran was mentally unable to follow the trial and is a “puppet” in the proceedings.

The veteran had tuned in to the proceedings’ first day by video from his home, but did not appear on Friday. Instead, his lawyer read his biography for 20 minutes and highlighted his wartime achievements – which Navalny complained had nothing to do with the trial at hand.

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Several witnesses were called to testify against Navalny on Friday; however, one who wanted to testify in his defence was initially not allowed in. Navalny complained the older man had been left outside in -15C weather on purpose and chastised the court.

If convicted, Navalny could face fines, compulsory labour or prison.

Previous convictions
Navalny has already been sentenced to almost three years in prison in a separate case, on charges of violating parole for a fraud conviction.

This was despite the fact that he could not report to parole officers because he had to be taken to Germany while comatose after an attack with a nerve agent, then stayed there to recuperate for several months. The attack has widely been blamed on Russian agents.

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Navalny was immediately arrested on returning to Russia, leading to massive protests across the country.

His supporters are planning a decentralised, peaceful protest action on Sunday to make it harder for police to arrest them. Supporters across Russia plan stand in front of their homes and hold torches aloft.

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#Newsworthy

Alexei Navalny’s trail on slander kicks.

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Navalny’s detention on his return to Moscow sparked mass demonstrations across the country that saw police arrest 10,000 protesters.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny went on trial Friday on charges of defaming a World War II veteran, days after being handed a nearly three-year prison term that sparked an international outcry.

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An AFP journalist said the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was present in the courtroom, standing inside a glass case for defendants.

Legal pressure has been mounting on Navalny and his allies since he returned in mid-January to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack with the nerve agent Novichok.

He was ordered by a Moscow court this week to serve two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he says were politically motivated.

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On Friday, Navalny was facing defamation charges for describing people — including the 95-year-old veteran — who appeared in a pro-Kremlin video as “the shame of the country” and “traitors” in a June tweet.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and the court was not expected to pronounce a verdict Friday.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, charged with defaming a World War II veteran, stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing in Moscow on February 5, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Moscow’s Babushkinsky district court press service / AFP) /

Navalny’s detention on his return to Moscow sparked mass demonstrations across the country that saw police arrest 10,000 protesters.

On Thursday he called on his supporters to fight fear and liberate Russia from a leadership he described as a “handful of thieves”, while his aides said more protests were planned for later this year.

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The hearing came hours ahead of a planned meeting between the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in the first visit by a senior envoy from the bloc since 2017.

Borrell said ahead of the meeting that he would raise the issue of Navalny’s detention and the police crackdown on protesters.

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#Newsworthy

Russia ‘happy’ over police crackdown on Navalny supporters.

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Navalny’s arrest and the violent police crackdown has been condemned by international rights groups and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France.

Russia on Wednesday defended its crackdown on protesters demanding the release of opposition figure Alexei Navalny as his allies vowed to continue putting pressure on the Kremlin.

Protest monitors said that more than 10,000 people were detained at recent nationwide rallies in support of President Vladimir Putin’s loudest critic, who was handed a prison term on Tuesday.

The verdict spurred Navalny’s supporters onto the streets of Moscow where riot police used batons to disperse the protesters who were detained en masse.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that “the holding of unauthorised rallies raises concerns and justifies the tough actions of the police.”

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Demonstrations in more than one hundred cities across Russia were sparked last month by Navalny’s detention in a Moscow airport on arrival from Germany where he had been recovering after being poisoned in August.

On Tuesday, the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was given a jail term of two years and eight months for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence on embezzlement charges he claims were a pretext to silence him.

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The case presented one of the most serious challenges to the Kremlin in years, with some in the West calling for new sanctions against Russia.

But Navalny’s jailing has also weakened Russia’s opposition movement now without its most prominent figure whose aides have also been seized by police.

Navalny’s wife Yulia said that “good, strong” people support her and her husband so there was no need to “retreat or be afraid”.

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“We will win anyway,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional network, said earlier that even after the verdict on Tuesday, “everything is just beginning”.

“We will increase pressure on Putin… new investigations will come out. New peaceful rallies and marches will be held,” he wrote on Telegram.

In its most recent investigation, Navalny’s team accused Putin of having received as a gift an opulent palace on the Black Sea coast in a video that garnered more than 100 million views on YouTube.

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‘Harsh detentions’
The report spurred tens of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets over consecutive weekends last month, with protester chants and signs referencing the investigation.

The OVD-Info group that monitors opposition protests said Wednesday that more than 10,000 people had been seized by police at those rallies and the protests that followed the court hearing.

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Russia’s Union of Journalists said weighed in, noting that over 100 journalists were either injured or detained at rallies.

An analyst working for OVD-Info, Grigory Durnovo, told AFP that many of the detainees had been subjected to “difficult conditions” in custody and that authorities were purposefully carrying out “harsh detentions”.

He also noted that the group’s lawyers, who provide free legal aid to protesters, had been denied access to detention centres.

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The authorities “are openly demonstrating that a lawyer is perceived as an accomplice of the offender,” he said.

Echoing detainee testimonies, Durnovo said Moscow’s jails had reached full capacity due to the massive influx of Navalny supporters.

On Tuesday, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, ordered checks of detained men to see if they have avoided military service, which in Russia is compulsory for one year.

Navalny’s arrest and the violent police crackdown has been condemned by international rights groups and Western governments, including the United States, Britain and France.

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Germany on Wednesday reiterated calls to free Navalny and said that more EU sanctions on Russia “cannot be ruled out”.

The UN Human Rights Office called for the release of protesters detained “for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression”.

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#Newsworthy

Update: Prosecutors ‘yes’ Navalny be jailed.

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Russia in Global Affairs, which is seen as often reflecting Kremlin thinking

The jailing of Russian opposition figureRussia was likely to shrug off new sanctions. Alexei Navalny is corroding already damaged Europe-Russia ties but EU leaders are unwilling to cut all contact with President Vladimir Putin and risk sacrificing climate and security cooperation, analysts say.

The arrest of Navalny at a Moscow airport last month, following months of medical treatment in Germany, prompted an outcry from the European Union and key member states who believe he was poisoned in the summer by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

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The tensions come at a period of turbulence in Russia unusual in Putin’s two-decade grip on power, with police arresting thousands in two successive weekends of mass nationwide protests in support of the Kremlin critic.

But analysts expect the EU to still keep talking to Putin, even if Navalny’s situation will further darken a climate already bedevilled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, claims of election meddling and alleged assassination plots on European territory.

“The arrest of Navalny may indeed lead to a further deterioration of EU-Russia ties and particularly those between Germany and Russia,” said Andras Racz and Milan Nic in a report on Russian foreign policy for the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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They said that Moscow was “losing interest” in dealing with Europe while China under President Xi Jinping has emerged as “Russia’s sole great power partner in international affairs.”

Europe needs to “intelligently manage” a situation without any prospect of strategic improvement in the short or medium term but where there could be chances to cooperate on issues including global warming, the Arctic and the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.

‘Macron’s error’
In a key test for the temperature of relations, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will travel to Russia on Thursday for talks in the first such visit since 2017.

The poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny have also largely derailed a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron for a rapprochement with Russia under Putin.

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The French leader’s main achievements have been limited to chairing a 2019 summit that helped a July 2020 ceasefire that has sharply reduced fighting in the east of Ukraine.

Further EU sanctions against senior Russian officials will now be on the agenda but the big question is if Germany is willing to put the Nordstream II gas pipeline project at stake.

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Putting the ball firmly in Berlin’s court and hinting of splits within the EU, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio on Monday that Paris had the “greatest doubts” over the project and had already asked Berlin to scrap it.

This grab taken from a video made available on January 18, 2021 on Navalny team Youtube page shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaking while waiting for a court hearing at a police station in Khimki outside Moscow. – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged Russians to stage mass anti-government protests during a court hearing after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany. (Photo by Handout / Navalny team Youtube page / AFP) /

Francois Heisbourg, special advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris, said the West was prepared to inflict more “reputational damage” on Russia with sanctions but would not go to the brink on the issue.

He said Macron and other European leaders were uneasy over Russia’s partnership with China and would like to see it disappear, “but the error of Macron is to believe the Europeans have the means to hasten this.”

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‘No choice’
Cyrille Bret, a lecturer at Sciences-Po university in Paris, said that while the West would defend freedom of expression in Russia as well as Navalny’s cause, security cooperation with Russia was still needed.

“We have no choice, Russia has a permanent seat on the UN security council and is invested in several essential formats, the Iranian nuclear agreements, the hypothetical political resolution of the conflict in Syria,” he said.

A similar approach is likely to be adopted by new US President Joe Biden, whose administration has been sharply critical of Russia over Navalny but also is keen to extend a landmark nuclear arms reduction agreement due to expire next month.

Upcoming votes add an additional factor of uncertainty, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel due to bow out after September polls and Russia facing potentially tense parliamentary elections the same month.

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In Moscow, Fyodor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, which is seen as often reflecting Kremlin thinking, said Russia was likely to shrug off new sanctions.

But he added: “If this pressure continues, it will not work. It will only harden the conviction that the West wants to hinder Russia and that everything must be done to retaliate.”

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#Newsworthy

Just in: Over 5,300 ‘detained’ in Russia Pro-Navalny protest.

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The 44-year-old opposition figure is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Russian police detained more than 5,300 people across the country in a massive clampdown on anti-Kremlin protests, a monitor said Monday, as prosecutors backed a request to imprison opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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On Sunday, thousands of protesters defied government warnings and rallied from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in the second weekend of mass demonstrations over the arrest of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent.

Police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on January 31, 2021. – Navalny, 44, was detained on January 17 upon returning to Moscow after five months in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent and later jailed for 30 days while awaiting trial for violating a suspended sentence he was handed in 2014. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

OVD Info, which monitors arrests at opposition protests, said more than 5,300 people had been detained including nearly 1,800 people in Moscow and almost 1,200 in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

The protests — that saw authorities enforce a rare lockdown of the centre of Moscow — came ahead of a high-profile court hearing that could see Navalny imprisoned for several years.

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The 44-year-old opposition figure is facing charges of violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence and could be jailed for two-and-a-half years.

On Monday, the General Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement it backed a request by the prison service to change Navalny’s suspended sentence to a real one.

“This motion is considered lawful and justified,” the statement said.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in mid-January after flying back to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from an August poisoning with a nerve agent he blames on the Kremlin.

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The anti-corruption campaigner is being held in a high-security detention centre and faces years of potential jail time in several different criminal cases, despite calls from Western governments for his release.

Navalny’s team has urged supporters to gather in front of Moscow’s Simonovsky district court in a show of support for the opposition politician on Tuesday.

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#Newsworthy

Russia population for first time ‘shrinks’ in 15 years.

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The data reported on Tuesday by the daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna came from a state register that includes weekly births and deaths.

Russia’s population shrank by about half a million last year, its first contraction in 15 years, the country’s statistics agency said on Friday.

Russia has a population of 146.2 million, according to newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, citing the agency.

There were 229,700 more deaths between January and November 2020 than in the same period the previous year, an excess mortality rate of more than 13 percent, the agency said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long called for greater efforts towards population growth. Last year, he blamed the trend on low incomes.

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Experts say further causes are the migration of younger, well-educated people abroad and the low birth rate.

Similar trends
This month, statistics from Poland and the United Kingdom, have shown similar trends.

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On Tuesday, statistics for 2020 showed deaths spiking in Poland to a level unseen since World War II and births sharply decline, trends attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and described by some as a demographic crisis.

Commenting on data the state agency Statistics Poland released in December for 11 months of 2020, economist Rafal Mundry said the number of deaths was the highest since World War II and the number of births the lowest in 15 years.

“We have a huge demographic crisis,” Mundry said on Twitter.

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In 2019, some 30,000 people died in Poland each month on average. In November, when COVID-19 cases spiked, the country registered almost 60,400 deaths.

In the UK, a study published on January 14 suggested it could be the largest population decline since World War II, citing the pandemic.

Faced with bleak employment opportunities, expatriates have been leaving the UK in large numbers, according to the UK’s Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE).

About 1.3 million people born abroad left the UK from July 2019 to September 2020, it said.

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Meanwhile, Brexit also appeared to have an impact in motivating people to leave Britain, with some Al Jazeera interviewed citing the UK’s divorce from the European Union as a push factor.

In London, the ESCoE said, as many as 700,000 people left the capital in the 14 months analysed.

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#Newsworthy

Russia ‘steps back’ after palace probe.

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The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner issued the report into what he said was “the world’s most expensive palace” days after his arrest on arrival in Moscow from Germany.

Russian prosecutors on Thursday warned supporters of Alexei Navalny against making calls for protests as his probe into President Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” has become the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube report.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Thursday that the two-hour video report into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin had been viewed more than 40 million times since its release Tuesday.

The video accompanied a call for mass anti-Kremlin protests this weekend.

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But in a statement on Thursday, Russian prosecutors warned against calls to take part in the “illegal mass protests”.

“Law enforcement agencies have been advised to take preventative measures and bring administrative action against violators if need be,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

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Following the release of his latest report, Navalny supporters took to social media to voice support for him and post videos urging people to come out on to the streets on Saturday.

‘Illegal activities’
On Wednesday, communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned social media platforms against promoting calls for demonstrations.

The watchdog said it had formally told TikTok and VKontakte — Russia’s equivalent of Facebook — to stop spreading “illegal information involving minors in illegal activities”.

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Navalny in recent years has released a series of investigations into the alleged wealth of Putin’s allies, but Tuesday’s report was the first time he has targeted the Kremlin chief in a lengthy expose.

His 2017 video into the alleged wealth of former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev by comparison has been viewed 38 million times and sparked mass protests on its release.

Navalny’s team has received 10 million rubles ($136,000) in donations from supporters since the report’s release, Yarmysh told AFP on Thursday.

The report alleges that the 17,691 square metre mansion sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino hall, along with a theatre and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.

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The Kremlin has denied the mansion belongs to Putin and urged Russians not to send their money to “crooks.”

Navalny returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany where he had been recovering from exposure to the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok in an attack he blamed on Russian security services and Putin.

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#Newsworthy

Belarus elections: Another opposition detained by ‘men on mask’

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Apparent detention of Maxim Znak, a lawyer and opposition group member, comes after case involving Maria Kolesnikova.

One of the last remaining members of the Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council at large, lawyer Maxim Znak, has been detained in Minsk by masked men, according to his colleagues.

Znak’s apparent detention came a day after the most prominent opposition figure still in Belarus, Maria Kolesnikova, was detained at the Ukrainian border after she prevented authorities from expelling her by tearing up her passport and jumping out of a car.



Znak, who had worked as a lawyer for jailed presidential hopeful Viktor Babaryko, had been due to participate in a video call but did not show up, instead sending the word “masks” to the group, Babaryko’s press service said on Wednesday.

It said a witness had also seen Znak, 39, being led down the street near his offices by several men in civilian clothes and wearing masks.

Znak was one of the last two members of the Coordination Council’s governing praesidium to remain free [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

Along with Svetlana Alexievich, a 72-year-old Nobel Prize-winning author, Znak was the last of the seven members of the Council’s governing praesidium to remain free.

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Others have been detained or forced to leave Belarus, in an intensifying crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government over a disputed election.

Previous incident
The Coordination Council was set up by the opposition forces to work towards negotiating a peaceful transfer of power after main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rejected Lukashenko’s claim that he had been re-elected to a sixth term in an August 9 vote.

The disputed election has sparked the biggest anti-government demonstrations of Lukashenko’s 26-year rule, with tens of thousands taking to the streets for weeks to demand he resign.

Lukashenko’s security services hit back with waves of arrests, deadly violence against protesters and a campaign of intimidation and expulsion against opposition leaders.

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Meanwhile, Lukashenko is preparing to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although no date has been set yet.

Putin quickly congratulated Lukashenko on his victory last month and has offered Russia’s support.

Lukashenko gave an interview this week to Russian journalists, including Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-controlled channel RT, in which he warned that if his government falls, “Russia will be next”.

Anti-Kremlin placards could be seen at a huge protest march in Minsk on Sunday


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protest leader ‘abducted’

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Unidentified people reportedly detain Maria Kolesnikova in central Minsk as police arrest demonstrators.

Belarusian protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been abducted by unidentified individuals in central Minsk, according to the Belarusian Tut.By media outlet, citing a witness.

Masked men took her and drove off in a minivan, said Tut.By.

The development on Monday came hours after security forces arrested 633 protesters following a mass anti-government rally on Sunday, the latest since the disputed August election.

Police in Minsk said they had not arrested Kolesnikova, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Kolesnikova is the last one left in Belarus of three female politicians who joined forces before the August 9 presidential election to challenge longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko.

A vocal critic of Lukashenko, she has played an important role in the country’s post-election political crisis, which has seen weeks of mass protests and strikes by people who accuse the strongman of rigging his re-election, something he denies.

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Before the vote, Kolesnikova teamed up with opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who later fled to Lithuania, and with Veronika Tsepkalo, who has also since left the country.

Another leading activist, Olga Kovalkova, arrived in Poland on Saturday, saying she had been told she would face arrest if she stayed in Belarus.

Tsepkalo told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media from Poland that her allies in Belarus still did not have any information on Kolesnikova’s whereabouts.

“Hopefully she will be released as soon as possible. I really worry about her,” she said.

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Tsepkalo also said it was “not safe right now for the leaders and as you can see all the leaders are put in prison, detained or had to leave the country”.

“Lukashenko isolates the strongest leaders. During this presidential season, he has put two opposition leaders in prison. My husband is facing up to 15 years behind bars on criminal charges,” she said.

Tsikhanouskaya said the reported abduction of Kolesnikova looked like an attempt by authorities to derail the opposition’s Coordination Council and intimidate its members.

The economy
Earlier on Monday, central bank figures showed Belarus had burned through nearly one-sixth of its gold and foreign exchange reserves, or $1.4bn, in August, as it fought to prop up its rouble currency during the wave of unrest.

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Kolesnikova had announced on August 31 that she was forming a new political party, Together, with the team of jailed opposition figure Viktor Babaryko with whom she had previously worked.

On Sunday, columns of protesters defied a government warning not to march, waving red-and-white opposition flags and shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat”.

Kolesnikova is the last of three female opposition leaders left inside Belarus [Evgeniy Maloletka/AP]

Protests also took place in major cities throughout Belarus.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and, buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, has rejected calls for new elections.

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Unprecedented protests broke out when he claimed he had been re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.

Daragh McDowell, principal analyst at the global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said economic factors are playing a significant role in the demonstrations, with the country “rapidly running out of money”.

“The IT sector has been repeatedly undermined with the internet shutdowns to disrupt the protesters. We’ve also seen a lot of strikes in the state-owned sector as well. So the Belarussian economy is really on the brink,” McDowell told Al Jazeera.

“The people have lost their fear of Lukashenko, he’s lost a lot of his authority. No matter how many riot police he’s deployed to the streets, it just hasn’t stopped people from continuing to come out.”


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protesters march harder over Lukashenko’s nay

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Protests against strongman Lukashenko intensify as 100,000 take to the streets of Minsk following disputed re-election.

Tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk on Sunday calling on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to step down in mass demonstrations that showed no sign of abating nearly a month after an election his opponents say was rigged.

Columns of protesters defied a government warning not to march, waving red-and-white opposition flags and shouting “go away” and “you’re a rat”.

Protests also took place in major cities throughout Belarus, said interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova. Crowd sizes for those protests were not immediately reported, but Ales Bialiatski, head of the Viasna human rights organisation, said the demonstration in Minsk attracted more than 100,000 people.

The interior ministry said at least 100 people were arrested. Russia’s Interfax news agency reported several people were injured when police broke up a protest outside a state-run tractor factory.

Video footage shown by local media outlet TUT.BY showed women shouting “shame” at masked members of the security forces who dragged people away into detention. Troops, water cannon, armoured personnel carriers were deployed to the city centre ahead of the march.

“This sea of people cannot be stopped by military equipment, water cannons, propaganda and arrests. Most Belarusians want a peaceful change of power and we will not get tired of demanding this,” said Maria Kolesnikova, a leader of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition to try to arrange a dialogue with the 66-year-old Lukashenko about a transition of power.

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Daragh McDowell, principal analyst at the global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, said economic factors are playing a signifcant role in the demonstrations with the country “rapidly running out of money”.

“The IT sector has been repeatedly undermined with the internet shutdowns to disrupt the protesters. We’ve also seen a lot of strikes in the state-owned sector as well. So the Belarussian economy is really on the brink,” McDowell told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

“The people have lost their fear of Lukashenko, he’s lost a lot of his authority. No matter how many riot police he’s deployed to the streets, it just hasn’t stopped people from continuing to come out.”

‘Beatings and torture’
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and, buoyed by a show of support from traditional ally Russia, has rejected calls for new elections.

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Unprecedented protests broke out after Lukashenko claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.

Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she won the election, but Lukashenko’s security forces have arrested thousands of protesters, many of whom accused police of beatings and torture.

Several people have died in the crackdown, but Belarusians have been demonstrating across the country for nearly a month, with more than 100,000 people flooding the streets of the capital, Minsk, for four straight weekends.

Dozens of people, including student protesters and journalists covering rallies were arrested this week.

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The interior ministry said in a statement that 91 protesters had been detained on Saturday, and said it would beef up security and take “take all necessary measures to suppress such actions and prevent violations of public order” on Sunday.

Tikhanovskaya, who will travel to Warsaw to meet the Polish prime minister next week, said in a video address on Saturday the momentum of the protests was irreversible.

“Belarusians have already changed, they have awakened and it is impossible to push them back into the former mindset. Remember we are strong as long as we are united,” Tikhanovskaya said.

Tikhanovskaya contested the election after her blogger husband was jailed and barred from running along with several other prominent Lukashenko critics.

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She left Belarus under pressure from authorities and took shelter in EU member Lithuania.

On Friday, Tikhanovskaya addressed a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by video link, calling for sanctions against those responsible for the alleged electoral fraud and rights violations.

The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have blacklisted Lukashenko and 29 high-ranking officials in his administration, but other European Union members appear reluctant to target the Belarus strongman personally.

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In an interview published in the Financial Times on Sunday, Lithuania’s foreign minister urged the European Union to impose sanctions on Belarus and counter Russia’s influence or risk undermining the credibility of its foreign policy.

“Sometimes we react too late and our measures are fragmented and aren’t making any impression on society or the people in power,” Linas Linkevicius said.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and 29 other Belarusian officials without waiting for the rest of the EU to act, signalling impatience with the West’s cautious approach.

Russia has said it will respond to any Western attempts to “sway the situation”, and President Vladimir Putin has raised the possibility of sending military support.

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Putin has been eager to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its recent offers of economic and military aid with calls for tighter integration.

Lukashenko has in the past ruled out outright unification and sought to play Moscow against the West, but his options now are limited.

On Thursday, Lukashenko hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and replaced the chief of the KGB security service in what some analysts said might have been done under pressure from Moscow.

The embattled leader said Russia and Belarus had agreed on issues they “could not agree earlier”, and he planned to “dot all the i’s” with Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Protesters hit hard on Lukashenko’s resignation.

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Protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko intensify as he refuses to quit following disputed re-election.

BaThousands of Belarusians have staged a peaceful new march, keeping pressure on strongman Alexander Lukashenko who has refused to quit after his disputed re-election and turned to Russia for help to stay in power.

Holding red-and-white flags and placards, protesters including many students took to the streets of the capital Minsk on Sunday despite authorities mounting a massive show of force and detaining some demonstrators.

Troops, water cannon, armoured personnel carriers and armoured reconnaissance vehicles were deployed to the city centre ahead of the march and metro stations in Minsk’s centre were closed.

Unprecedented protests broke out after Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet nation for 26 years, claimed re-election with 80 percent of the vote on August 9.

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Opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she has won the vote but Lukashenko’s security forces have arrested thousands of protesters, many of whom accused police of beatings and torture.

Several people have died in the crackdown but Belarusians have been demonstrating across the country for nearly a month, with more than 100,000 people flooding the streets of the capital, Minsk, for three straight weekends.

Dozens of people, including student protesters and journalists covering rallies, were arrested this week.

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On Saturday, about 4,000 people took to the streets and more than 90 people were arrested, the interior ministry said.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice, urged supporters to turn up for Sunday’s “March of Unity” set to begin at 11:00 GMT.

“Remember we are strong as long as we are united,” she said in a short video address.

Women in Minsk hold signs as they rally against police brutality during protests to reject the presidential election results [Reuters]

Tikhanovskaya contested the election after her blogger husband was jailed and barred from running along with several other prominent Lukashenko critics.

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She left Belarus under pressure from authorities and took shelter in EU member Lithuania.

On Friday, Tikhanovskaya addressed a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by video link, calling for sanctions against those responsible for the alleged electoral fraud and rights violations.

The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have blacklisted Lukashenko and 29 high-ranking officials in his administration but other European Union members appear reluctant to target the Belarus strongman personally.

Russia has said it will respond to any Western attempts to “sway the situation” and President Vladimir Putin has raised the possibility of sending military support.

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Putin has been eager to unify Russia and Belarus, and Moscow has accompanied its recent offers of economic and military aid with calls for tighter integration.

Lukashenko has in the past ruled out outright unification and sought to play Moscow against the West but his options now are limited.

On Thursday, Lukashenko hosted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and replaced the chief of the KGB security service in what some analysts said might have been done under pressure from Moscow.

The embattled leader said Russia and Belarus had agreed on issues they “could not agree earlier” and he planned to “dot all the i’s” with Putin in Moscow in the next few weeks.


#Newsworthy…

Nerve Agent Found in Russia’s Navalny: Germany

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Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical weapon, was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.


Tests performed on samples taken from prominent Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny showed the presence of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the German government said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement on Wednesday testing by a special German military laboratory had shown “proof without doubt of a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group”.

“It is a dismaying event that Alexey Navalny was the victim of an attack with a chemical nerve agent in Russia,” Seibert said. “The German government condemns this attack in the strongest terms. The Russian government is urgently requested to provide clarifications over the incident.”

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was not informed of the German findings and had no such data, Noble Reporters Media gathered

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Moscow to investigate the poisoning, and said the Russian ambassador had been summoned to explain the evidence.

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“This makes it all the more urgent that those responsible in Russia be identified and held accountable,” Maas told reporters. “We condemn this attack in the strongest terms.”

Novichok – a military grade nerve agent – was used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

The Charite hospital in Berlin, where Navalny is being treated, has reported “some improvement” in his condition, but he remains in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.

Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia, in February [Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]

‘Joint response’

Navalny, 44, a politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on August 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.

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He was later transferred to Charite hospital, where doctors last week said there were indications he had been poisoned.

Seibert said the German government would inform its partners in the European Union and NATO about the Novichok test results. He said it would consult with its partners in light of the Russian response “on an appropriate joint response”.

Navalny’s allies in Russia have insisted he was deliberately poisoned by the country’s authorities, accusations the Kremlin rejected as “empty noise”.

“To poison Navalny with Novichok in 2020 would be exactly the same as leaving an autograph at a crime scene, like this one,” Navalny’s longtime ally and strategist Leonid Volkov said in a tweet that featured a photo of Putin’s name and a signature next to it.

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The Russian doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia have repeatedly contested the German hospital’s conclusion, saying they ruled out poisoning as a diagnosis and their tests for poisonous substances came back negative.

German hospital: Clinical findings point to Navalny’s poisoning (4:07)

Reporting from Moscow, Noble Reporters Media learnt Russia’s response was so far “cautious and restrained”.

“The Russian doctors released Navalny with a ‘metabolic disorder’ diagnosis. Two labs in Russia didn’t find anything suspicious and a pre-investigation didn’t find anything leading to foul play,” she said. “On the other hand, the opposition is saying, ‘We knew [it was Novichok] – all the symptoms are there.'”

Is the Russian opposition finished?
Novichok is a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and ’80s. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor, part of the class of substances that doctors at the Charite initially identified in Navalny.

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“Only the state [FSB, GRU] can use Novichok. This is beyond any reasonable doubt,” Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said on Twitter, referring to the FSB internal security and GRU military intelligence services.

READ MORE: In: Russian medics accept Nalvany evacuation.

The Navalny case has drawn parallels with two suspected Kremlin-linked poisonings in the UK.

British authorities identified Novichok as the poison used in 2018 on former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter in Salsbury, England.

In 2006, Putin was blamed for the radiation poisoning death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in the British capital.


#Newsworthy…

Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania places Lukashenko of Belarus on blacklist.

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President Lukashenko acknowledges his country’s ‘somewhat authoritarian system’, discussing plans for a referendum.


Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have blacklisted embattled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and 29 other high-ranking officials for alleged election fraud and a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The Baltic EU members announced their sanctions on Monday in a coordinated effort to support the protests in Belarus, which are entering a fourth week since the country’s disputed presidential election on August 9.

“We are sending the message that we need to do more than just issue statements, we must also take concrete action,” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

Lithuania has been hosting opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled there after the election her supporters say she won.

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Tikhanovskaya will speak to the UN Security Council on Friday at Estonia’s invitation, her spokesman said.

The European Union has been working on its own list of individuals in Belarus to target with similar sanctions, but Western countries have mostly been cautious, wary of provoking an intervention from Russia.

Reacting to the three Baltic countries’ move, the Belarusian foreign ministry called the sanctions a hasty step and it would respond in an equivalent fashion, according to the Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)

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Lukashenko’s proposal
Meanwhile, Lukashenko on Monday discussed plans for a referendum on constitutional reforms, acknowledging the country’s “somewhat authoritarian system”.

Lukashenko discussed plans for a referendum on constitutional reforms [Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP]

His proposals focused on court reforms and rejected calls by the opposition to go back to the country’s 1994 constitution that was later modified to give the president more powers.

Lukashenko has sought to downplay the protest movement and depict himself as maintaining control and order.

But he has appeared increasingly isolated and paranoid, booed by the blue-collar workers he viewed as his natural supporters and taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest to helicopter into his official residence.

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Meeting the chairman of the Supreme Court, Lukashenko said experts were discussing changes, including more independent courts, while he said this was not needed.

“I’m ready to argue with anyone that the most independent court is in Belarus. No one should laugh.”

He said, however, the system needed to work “without being tied to a personality, including Lukashenko”.

He said members of the public would be able to “give their opinion: what they like, what they don’t,” while insisting that “those who yell about being for changes” were a minority.

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Lukashenko, elected democratically in 1994, held a referendum on changes including constitutional reforms in 1996.

These included giving the president greater powers on appointing judges, including the chair of the Constitutional Court.

A controversial constitutional referendum was held in 2004 allowing the president to serve three terms instead of two as before.

Lukashenko said going back to the 1994 constitution as the opposition wants would not move the country forward.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Tens of thousands rally in opposition march.

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Police detain more than 100 protesters during rally in Minsk, RIA reported, citing Russia’s interior ministry.


The situation in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, is tense as tens of thousands of Belarus protesters join an opposition rally against the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Police detained 125 protesters during Sunday’s rally, Russian news agency RIA reported, citing Russia’s interior ministry.

Independence Square in the centre of the city was sealed off with metal barriers and guarded by security forces as the Belarusian interior ministry warned citizens not to take part in Sunday’s “unauthorised” rally.

The pro-democracy movement ignored the threats and said Lukashenko should see that people were against him as he celebrates his 66th birthday on Sunday.

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The movement added that after ruling for 26 years, his time in power was up.

Despite the presence of a heavy security force, protesters packed the centre of Minsk with crowds waving the opposition’s red and white flag and chanting “Leave”.

People walk about the Nemiga district in central Minsk as the country enters its third week of peaceful protests following the disputed August 9 presidential poll [Misha Friedman/Getty Images]

Mass protests
On the last two Sundays, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets of Belarus to protest against Lukashenko, who has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”.

The protests are the largest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s years in office, during which he consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.

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On Saturday, Belarusian authorities stripped the press accreditation of many journalists covering the anti-government protests and deported some foreign journalists.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation issued by the foreign ministry.

Among them were a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.

In the past few days, other demonstrations were disbanded and people arrested, indicating the power apparatus might not allow a fresh mass demonstration.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressly promised Lukashenko support from his country’s security forces in what is seen as a ploy to intimidate the protest movement.

The head of state of the ex-Soviet republic was recently cheered by supporters at public appearances.

Since the controversial presidential election on August 9, a division between the supporters and opponents of the president has emerged.

The protests and strikes in state-owned enterprises that emerged afterwards are the largest since Belarus gained independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


#Newsworthy…

Belarus elections: Journalists expelled

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News organisations denounce gov’t move before planned rallies, the latest against Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.


Authorities in Belarus have deported some foreign journalists reporting in the country and withdrawn the accreditation of many Belarusian reporters covering large anti-government protests that erupted after a disputed presidential election earlier this month.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks, rejecting President Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide victory in the August 9 vote, which his opponents say was rigged. Several people have been killed and hundreds more wounded during a violent police crackdown, with thousands of protesters detained.

Ahead of another protest planned for Sunday, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said at least 17 journalists were stripped of their accreditation, which are issued by the foreign ministry. Among them were a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism,” the BBC said on Saturday.

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The Associated Press news agency also said two Moscow-based journalists who were covering the recent demonstrations in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday. Also, the AP’s Belarusian journalists were told by the government that their press credentials had been revoked.

“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world,” said Lauren Easton, the news agency’s director of media relations.

Germany’s ARD television said two of its Moscow-based journalists also were deported to Russia, a Belarusian producer faces trial on Monday and their accreditation to work in Belarus was revoked.

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The decision was taken on the recommendation of the country’s counterterrorism unit, AFP news agency cited government spokesman Anatoly Glaz as saying.

In comments at a government meeting on July 23, Lukashenko had threatened to expel foreign journalists, accusing them of inciting protests against him before the vote.

“President Lukashenko has previously complained about foreign media’s coverage of protests in Belarus, and has cracked down on foreign media,” said NRM, reporting from Vilnius in Lithuania.

He noted that most journalists affected by Saturday’s move were Belarusians who work for foreign media organisations.

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“If they continue to work without accreditation, they risk being arrested,” Smith said.

‘Fear and intimidation’
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, said on Saturday she was worried about the government targeting the media.

“The only way it will attempt to cling onto power is by fear and intimidation,” she said.

Separately on Saturday, several Western embassies in Minsk issued a strongly worded statement.

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“We condemn the disproportionate use of force and urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the violence and the threats to use military force against the country’s own citizens and release immediately and unconditionally all those unlawfully detained,” the missions of the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the European Union said in the joint statement.

“Intimidation and prosecution based on political grounds need to stop. We call on the Belarusian authorities to respect the country’s international obligations on fundamental democratic and human rights.”

The protests, some of which drew enormous crowds estimated at 200,000 or more, are the largest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s 26 years in office, during which he consistently repressed opposition and independent news media.

On Saturday, hundreds of women dressed mostly in red and white – the colours of the former Belarusian flag that the opposition uses as an emblem – marched through the capital, Minsk, in a protest.

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Dubbed by critics as “Europe’s last dictator”, Lukashenko has denounced a Western plot to bring him down and rejected the rigging allegations.

The results of the presidential election have been rejected by the European Union, which is preparing sanctions against high-ranking Belarusian officials.

Katsiaryna Shmatsina, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera the sanctions against “individuals who are guilty of human rights violations in Belarus” is “an important step” but added that “the regime considers this the cost of doing business”.

“This won’t stop them from further intimidating the Belarusians.”


#Newsworthy…