From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2021 JANUARY-MARCH"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or continue to King Of The North in 2021 April-June

WTO REGION 6 IN 1995 CENTRAL ASIA - RUSSIA, ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBIJIAN, CUBA

WTO REGION 5 IN 1995 WESTERN ASIA/EASTERN EUROPE – BALKAN STATES, POLAND, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, BULGARIA, CZECHO-SLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA, ALBANIA, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA.

    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases.    He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    The end of the year was filled with all the connection of Russia with Turkey, China, North Korea, Ukraine and Syria.     When Trump pulled our troops out of Syria and whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined if Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests     Ezekiel 38:1 and 18 or Ezekiel 39:1-8 which states about the entwining of Russia the King of the North and the Mideast Nations and the King of the South into the prophecy above in the very near future as the King of the West has pulled out of this mess which I think Trump made the right call probably due to God's influence.
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2021.


2021 JANUARY-MARCH

1/4/2021 Austria Extends Lockdown For Another Week Until Jan. 24 – APA
FILE PHOTO: A skier skis down the slope as the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues in Stuhleck, Austria December 31, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Austria has scrapped plans to allow anyone with a negative coronavirus test to exit lockdown a week early, effectively extending strict measures and keeping restaurants and non-essential stores shut until Jan. 24, news agency APA reported on Monday.
    The decision came after Austria’s opposition parties blocked a draft law that would have allowed an early exit from lockdown for anyone producing a negative test for the coronavirus, APA cited Health Minister Rudolf Anschober as saying.
    It was not immediately clear whether schools are also to remain closed until Jan. 24 or if they can open as originally planned on Jan. 18, APA reported.
    The draft law would have allowed those with a negative coronavirus test to attend cultural or sport events, buy non-essential goods and get their hair cut, a week before the official end of the lockdown on Jan. 24.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, editing by Ed Osmond)

1/5/2021 Hundreds Of Migrants Without Shelter In Bosnia As Winter Bites by Dado Ruvic
Migrants wait for food in camp "Lipa" in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    BIHAC, Bosnia (Reuters) – Nearly 3,000 migrants are stranded in northern Bosnia without shelter, the International Organization for Migration said, and some are suffering from respiratory problems and other complications as night-time temperatures plunge.
    Some of those sleeping in the open were forced to flee the Lipa camp near the Croatian border two weeks ago when much of it was burned to the ground.    A few remain at the facility, relying on makeshift tent structures, while many more have left.
    Others have spread out into nearby forests, hoping to cross the border and seek a better life in the European Union, of which Croatia is a member.
    “Over the past two weeks, we watched with growing concern the dire humanitarian situation facing many migrants in Bosnia,” said IOM spokesman Paul Dillon.
    “IOM and its partners are providing support as best we can, but it’s clear that a sustainable long-term solution must be found.”
    Some of the hundreds of people who have remained close to the damaged camp queued up on Tuesday for food being distributed by humanitarian aid groups.
    Men huddled around fires made from scraps of wood, while others bathed in a nearby stream, shivering as they tried to dry off.
    IOM chief of mission in Bosnia, Peter Van der Auweraert, said there was space for many of the stranded migrants in centres nearby, but it had been difficult to get political agreement from national and local authorities.
    Suhret Fazlic, mayor of the northern town of Bihac close to where the camp is located, said his region was taking on a heavy burden which should be shared with other parts of the country.
    He also said that funds for supporting migrants had not reached the city.
    “The budget of Bihac has not received a euro from any level of authorities in Bosnia and from the European Union, from any other countries, from anybody,” he told Reuters.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on Bosnian authorities to open new accommodation facilities for migrants.
    “#BiH authorities should behave like an aspiring EU member,” Borrell tweeted on Sunday, referring to the potential future expansion of the bloc to include Bosnia.
    According to the IOM, around 70,000 migrants have passed through Bosnia since 2018.    Currently some 6,000 are in camps in addition to the nearly 3,000 without accommodation.
(Reporting by Dado Ruvic and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

1/5/2021 Missing People Presumed Dead After Norway Landslide, Police Chief Says
The rescue work continues following the large landslide that destroyed several buildings
in Ask, Gjerdrum, Norway January 5, 2021. NTB/Terje Pedersen via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norwegian rescue workers gave up hope on Tuesday of finding more survivors from a Dec. 30 landslide that swept away a dozen buildings but vowed to continue the search for three people who are still missing.
    Seven men, women and children have so far been found dead after a landslide struck a residential area in the municipality of Gjerdrum, some 30 km (19 miles) north of the capital, Oslo.
    “While we no longer have hope of finding survivors, we’re not ending the search,” police chief Ida Melbo Oeystese told a news conference.
    Police and other rescue workers used dogs, drones and helicopters, including heat-seeking equipment, to search for survivors in the debris.
    The landslide and the rescue effort have gripped the Nordic nation of 5.4 million, but with temperatures well below freezing, the hope of finding anyone alive had rapidly faded.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

1/8/2021 Sweden Tightens COVID Rules, But Still No Lockdown
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing protective masks enter an underground railway station, amid the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Stockholm, Sweden, January 7, 2021. Jessica Gow/TT News Agency/via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden tightened social distancing rules for shopping centres, gyms and private gatherings on Friday and said it was ready to close businesses if needed, but stopped short of a lockdown to fight the spread of the pandemic.
    Earlier in the day, parliament voted the government wider powers to close businesses and limit the size of public and private gatherings as an addition to what have so-far been mostly voluntary measures to ensure social distancing.
    “Today, the government has not decided on the closure of businesses, but the government is ready to make that kind of decision as well,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference.
    “This is not something that we take lightly, but people’s lives and health are at stake.”
    From Sunday, gyms, sports centres, shopping malls and public pools will have to set a maximum number of visitors based on their size.
    In addition, private gatherings will also be limited to 8 people, a rule which until now has only affected public events.
    Sweden registered 7,187 new coronavirus cases on Friday, according to statistics from the public health agency.
    Deaths now total 9,433 – a rate per capita several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours’, but lower than in many European countries that opted for lockdowns.
    The high death toll – particularly among residents of care homes for the elderly – has led to heavy criticism of Lofven for not acting sooner and more decisively.
    But the government has in part, been hamstrung by a lack of legal tools to impose the kind of far-reaching measures adopted by other countries in Europe.
    “The Swedish corona strategy has always been a combination of tougher rules, prohibitions and, not the least, that people themselves assume great responsibility,” Lofven said.
    “At the same time it has been obvious that Sweden needs legislation that better hits the mark to handle COVID-19 and limit contagion.”
    Even after parliament voted for the new, temporary law, the government will not be able to impose curfews or a domestic travel ban.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom and Simon Johnson; editing by Niklas Pollard and Angus MacSwan)

1/8/2021 Czech Crematorium Can’t Cope Amid COVID-19 Surge, Hospitals Filling Up by Jiri Skacel
Funeral workers brings a coffin of a person who passed away due to coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at crematory in Ostrava, Czech Republic, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jiri Skacel
    OSTRAVA, Czech Republic (Reuters) – Staff at the crematorium in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava are working around the clock to cope with the number of bodies they have taken in during December, a sign of the surging number of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths across the country.
    Many hospitals were also nearing capacity, officials said on Friday, as the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7 million people, remains one of the worst-hit nations globally with 12,800 deaths and 809,601 identified cases.
    The Ostrava crematorium received 1,570 bodies in December, more than 50% above normal levels.
    It installed two container freezers outside and operated through the night even during the Christmas holidays and on New Year’s Eve, director Ivo Formancik said, but was still unable to keep up.
    “Ostrava crematorium is the only one located in the Moravskoslezsky region and provides these services to about one million inhabitants,” he told Reuters.
    “The total number of remains transported for cremation is now higher than the capacity of the cremation ovens.”
    The Interior Ministry said crematoriums in half of the country’s 14 regions were at or near capacity, and Formancik said they would have to share the burden and that a plan for redistributing some bodies was being prepared.
    The situation in hospitals was little better.
    Health Minister Jan Blatny called on the public to observe limits on social interactions to help break the trend in the coming days, with the aid of stricter social distancing rules and the closure of most shops that came into force on Dec. 27.
    Director Jiri Havrlant of the Ostrava University Hospital said it had over 190 COVID-19 patients and could take in over 50 more, but other hospitals were worse off.
    “The situation in our region is epidemiologically serious; capacities at other hospitals have been roughly filled up,” he said.
    The Health Ministry reported around 140 deaths related to COVID-19 per day in the week to Jan. 6, compared with 337 daily deaths from all causes in the first week of an average year.
    The ministry said on Friday that high hospital admissions could bring the total number of COVID-19 patients from Thursday’s 7,300 to over 11,700 on Jan. 15, far above previous peaks of around 8,000.
    “The capacity of beds is nearing the limit, and the possibilities to raise it are very limited,” Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Cerny told a news conference.
    “The main problem is lack of personnel.”
    Medical staff shortages mean the government was not planning to open two field hospitals that had been on standby, minister Blatny told reporters.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel and Jan Lopatka; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

1/8/2021 “Never Again” Says Ukraine, As Families Mourn Iran Plane Crash Victims by Ilya Zhegulev
A victim's relative mourns during a commemorative ceremony, which marks the first anniversary of the Ukraine International
Airlines flight PS752 downing in Iranian airspace, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine urged Iran on Friday to deliver justice and pay full compensation to the families of those who died when a Ukrainian airliner was shot down by Iranian Revolutionary Guards exactly one year ago.
    Iran said 10 officers would soon go on trial for the downing of the Ukraine International Airlines plane shot down in Iranian airspace on Jan. 8, 2020, having last week allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the 176 victims, many of them citizens or residents of Canada.
    Ukraine had previously described Iran’s handling of the aftermath as “unacceptable” and demanded that the amount of compensation be negotiated, and a Canadian adviser to relatives said on Thursday it was premature to discuss such figures.
    On Friday, Ukraine, Canada, Sweden, Britain and Afghanistan – representing the home countries of most of the passengers who did not live in Iran – issued a joint statement calling for “a complete and thorough explanation … including concrete measures to ensure that it will never happen again.”
    “Our countries will hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries,” it said.
    In Tehran, military prosecutor Gholam Abbas Torki told state television that 10 officers had been subject to disciplinary action including dismissals or demotions, and that they would soon go on trial.    He did not give a timeframe.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have said they shot down the aircraft in error shortly after takeoff, mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions with Washington were high because of the U.S. assassination five days earlier of Guards General Qassem Soleimani.
    In a statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said: “No one doubts that the lives of 176 civilians aboard a peaceful plane were criminally taken by two missiles…
    “It was impossible not to know then that it was a passenger plane in the air.”
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)
[UKRAINE TELL THE IRANIANS TO STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR THEIR CRIME OF KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THEIR HATRED FOR AMERICANS.].

1/13/2021 Report: China, Russia Hacking U.S. Vaccine Supply Chain by OAN Newsroom
    The ancillary supply kits needed to administer the COVID-19 vaccine doses are
pictured at McKesson’s Olive Branch, Miss. distribution center. (Photo: Business Wire via AP)
    National Counterintelligence and Security Center Chief William Evanina said several countries are targeting America’s coronavirus vaccine supply chain.
    In an interview Tuesday, Evanina said Russia and China are engaging in cyber warfare against the U.S.
    He believes the country’s adversaries are trying to get a peak at our systems through intelligence gathering operations.
    This comes on the heels of a SolarWinds hack in which U.S. government agencies and private firms were the victims of a massive data breach.
    “We’ve had too many wake up calls and I think right now, as we put into context our counterintelligence strategy in America, supply chain management is the second pillar,” Evanina explained.    “And I think we have to find the right mechanism, the right modality, where we can have real life public and private partnership that’s beyond what we see now.”
    Evanina has warned that cyber threats will only increase in the future as new technological developments, especially 5G, are within arm’s reach.

1/13/2021 Navalny Announces Return To Russia Despite Legal Threats by OAN Newsroom
In this handout photo taken from a video released on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in his
instagram account, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny gestures as he records his address. (Navalny instagram account via AP)
    Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he plans on returning to Moscow this week despite facing legal threats from Russian officials.     In a statement shared with his supporters Wednesday, Navalny said he feels healthy enough to complete his recovery at home.
    Back in August, the Russian opposition leader was airlifted to Germany for medical treatment after he was allegedly poisoned by a Kremlin agent.    Russia has denied any involvement in the incident, while insisting there is a lack of evidence in the case.
    “his morning, while doing my routine exercises, which I have been doing for several months, I caught myself thinking that I probably almost healthy and I can complete my recovery at home,” Navalny expalined.    “After understanding that, I checked the flights and bought tickets for a flight home at Pobeda Airlines website, so on Sunday, January 17 I will be back in Moscow with Pobeda flight.    Meet you there!
    Last month, Russia’s prison authority ordered for Navalny to return to the country or face jail time.    It claimedthe opposition leader broke the terms of a suspended sentence he received from an embezzlement case back in 2014.

1/13/2021 Romanian President Approves Corruption Investigation Against Former PM
FILE PHOTO: Romania's President Klaus Iohannis attends a joint news conference with Moldova's President
Maia Sandu following a meeting in Chisinau, Moldova December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian President Klaus Iohannis approved on Wednesday a request from anti-corruption prosecutors to allow a criminal investigation against former prime minister and senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu for suspected bribe-taking.
    Tariceanu, 68, has denied all wrongdoing.
    Prosecutors have said Tariceanu received political consultancy services worth $800,000 during 2007-2008 paid by an Austrian company in exchange for government bills in its favour.
    Under Romanian law, the president must approve investigations against former cabinet ministers.
    Tariceanu has said reopening the case is a way for Iohannis to take revenge and “completely eliminate his only opposition from the Romanian political scene.”
    Iohannis has so far approved all requests from prosecutors to open criminal investigations.
    Anti-corruption prosecutors first tried to investigate Tariceanu in the case in 2019 when he served as senate speaker, but lawmakers refused to lift his immunity.
    Tariceanu, who ran unsuccessfully for president and Bucharest mayor in separate elections in 2019 and 2020 respectively, also failed to get his party past the minimum required threshold in a December parliamentary election.
    His ALDE party was a junior coalition partner in Social-Democrat-led cabinets during 2017-2019 which tried to decriminalise some corruption offences and shorten sentences, raising concerns in the European Union and triggering Romania’s largest street protests in decades.
    In 2018, a Romanian court acquitted Tariceanu in a separate case of charges of giving false testimony to assist suspects in a wider real estate corruption case.
    Investigations by anti-corruption prosecutors have exposed conflicts of interest, abuse of power, fraud and awarding of state contracts in exchange for bribes across political party lines in Romania.
    Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the European Union’s most corrupt member states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/13/2021 “Russia Is My Country”: Despite Risks, Kremlin Critic Navalny To Fly Home by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is seen in a still image from video in Germany, in this
undated image obtained from social media January 13, 2021. Courtesy of Instagram @NAVALNY/Social Media via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny plans to fly back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since he was poisoned in August, despite the risk of being jailed on his return from Germany.
    The decision, announced by Navalny on Wednesday, signals his intention to continue his political struggle against Vladimir Putin and creates a dilemma for the authorities on how to deal with one of the Russian president’s most prominent critics.
    Navalny, who has been receiving treatment in Germany, accuses Putin of ordering his poisoning with the deadly nerve agent Novichok, and some supporters had urged him to stay abroad for his own safety.
    Putin has denied the authorities tried to poison Navalny and said Russian agents would have finished the job if they had wanted him dead.
    The Kremlin has said it has seen no evidence Navalny was poisoned and that he is free to return to Russia at any time.
    Navalny, 44, said he had almost fully recovered his health, and that he was unfazed by the risks his return may pose.
    “It was never a question of whether to return or not. Simply because I never left. I ended up in Germany after arriving in an intensive care box for one reason: they tried to kill me,” Navalny wrote on Instagram.
    “(Putin’s) servants are acting as usual by fabricating new criminal cases against me. But I’m not interested in what they’re doing there. Russia is my country, Moscow is my city and I miss it.”
CONUNDRUM
    Authorities have opened two criminal cases against Navalny, both of which he says are politically motivated.    They have also started moves to convert a suspended sentence for a conviction he says was trumped up into a real jail term, one of various moves he says is an attempt to scare him into not coming back.
    His return poses a conundrum for the Kremlin: jail him and risk protests, punitive Western action and turning him into a political martyr. Or do nothing and risk looking weak.
    Tatiana Stanovaya, head of political analysis firm R.Politik, said the Kremlin had repeatedly raised expectations that Navalny would be arrested and not doing so would risk being seen as weak by conservatives and the security forces.
    “The situation with Navalny is very like two trains heading towards each other doomed unavoidably to collide,” Stanovaya wrote on messaging app Telegram.     Staying in Germany was a political risk for Navalny. Anti-Kremlin opposition figures have struggled in the past to retain influence from outside Russia, which holds a parliamentary election in September.
    Navalny’s videos accusing government officials of corruption are widely watched but opinion polls show Putin is much more popular.    A poll last month by a private pollster found half of Russians believed Navalny had not been poisoned or that his poisoning was stage-managed by Western intelligence services.
(Additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/15/2021 U.S. Blacklists Cuban Interior Ministry Over Alleged Human Rights Abuses by Daphne Psaledakis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a House Financial Services Committee
hearing in Washington, December 2, 2020. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States slapped sanctions on Cuba’s interior ministry on Friday, accusing it of serious human rights abuses as Washington kept up a barrage of sanctions even in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
    In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department mentioned Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer who it said was in a prison controlled by the ministry and was reported to have been beaten and tortured.
    “The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to address the dire human rights situation in Cuba and elsewhere around the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
    Washington also blacklisted Cuban Interior Minister Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas.
    Reversing a diplomatic opening to Havana under his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump has tightened restrictions on U.S. travel and remittances to Cuba and imposed sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to the Caribbean island.
    Trump’s policy was popular among the large Cuban-American population in South Florida, helping him win the state in the November election though he lost the national vote to Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president.
    Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, said during the election campaign he would promptly reverse Trump policies on Cuba that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”
    The Trump administration announced on Monday it was returning Cuba to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move that could complicate any efforts by the incoming Biden administration to revive Obama-era detente with Havana.
    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in a Twitter post, condemned the designation as a state sponsor of terrorism as “hypocritical and cynical…U.S. political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[TRUMP DID NOT LOSE THE THE NATIONAL VOTE IT WAS STOLEN FROM HIM BY CORRUPT SWING STATES AND THE DEMOCRATS HAVE COVERED IT ALL UP AND WOULD NOT EVEN LET IT BE AIRED TO THE CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES TO SEE THE TRUTH AND THE NEWS SERVICES AND BIG TECH COVERED IT ALL UP.]

1/15/2021 Dutch Government Quits Over ‘Colossal Stain’ Of Tax Subsidy Scandal by Stephanie van den Berg
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leaves the Royal Palace, in The Hague, Netherlands January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday, accepting responsibility for wrongful accusations of fraud by the tax authorities that drove thousands of families to financial ruin, often on the basis of ethnicity.
    The cabinet would remain in place for now in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis, Rutte said.    He then rode his bike to King Willem-Alexander’s 17th century baroque Huis Ten Bosch palace in The Hague to discuss his resignation.
    An election has already been scheduled for March 17 at the end of Rutte’s third term.
    “This is about tens of thousands of parents who were crushed under the wheels of the state,” Rutte told journalists.    “There can be no doubt, this is a colossal stain.”
    A parliamentary inquiry found last month that officials at the tax service had wrongly accused families of fraud over childcare subsidies, causing an “unprecedented injustice.”
    Around 10,000 families had been forced to repay tens of thousands of euros each, in some cases leading to unemployment, bankruptcies and divorces.    Many of the families were targeted based on their ethnic origin or dual nationalities, the tax office said last year.
    “It is never acceptable for someone to feel they are being discriminated against based on nationality, race, gender, or sexual (orientation),” Rutte said.    “It is absolutely unacceptable in a law-based state.”
    Orlando Kadir, an attorney representing around 600 families in a lawsuit against politicians, said people had been targeted “as a result of ethnic profiling by bureaucrats who picked out their foreign-looking names.”
    The crisis comes with the Netherlands in the midst of the toughest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rutte considering even more curbs as infections surge.
    Even though public support for the government’s COVID-19 measures has dipped sharply in recent weeks, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is still riding high in public opinion polls ahead of the March election.
    Rutte, in power since 2010, has been on course for a fourth term, with his party projected to take just under 30% of the vote, more than twice that seen going to the second placed PVV, the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.
(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/15/2021 Slovenia Opposition Submits No-Confidence Motion Against Government
FILE PHOTO: Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Slovenia’s leftist opposition submitted a no-confidence motion against the centre-right government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa on Friday, and a secret parliamentary ballot is expected next week.
    Karl Erjavec, leader of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS), said the opposition had gathered 42 signatures in favour of the motion from among deputies in the 90-seat parliament.
    Until recently DeSUS was part of the ruling coalition, but it quit saying it was unhappy with the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, its jeopardising of media freedom and siding with Hungary and Poland in disputes within the European Union over democratic standards in those countries.
    “Our partners are the states that have difficulties with the rule of law,” STA news agency quoted Erjavec as telling a news conference.
    Erjavec would be the candidate for the prime minister if the no-confidence vote succeeded in bringing down the current administration.
    The opposition needs 46 votes to remove the government and would need support from some deputies from the centre-left Party of Modern Centre (SMC), which with Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and the conservative New Slovenia forms the ruling coalition. SMC has eight deputies.
    SMC’s leader and the Economy Minister Zdravko Pocivalsek said earlier this week he supported the government, saying stability was needed for the fight against COVID-19 and to secure an economic recovery.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/15/2021 Norwegian Ex-Minister’s Partner Found Guilty Of Making Threats Against Democracy by Terje Solsvik
FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Minister of Justice Tor Mikkel Wara speaks at a news conference in Oslo, Norway March 28, 2019. NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad/via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – The partner of Norway’s former justice minister was found guilty of threatening democracy and sentenced to 20 months in prison on Friday in a case involving faked attacks on her family home and the torching of her car.
    Laila Anita Bertheussen, 56, had pleaded not guilty to all charges and rejected the prosecution’s claim that she had sought to generate sympathy for the family by blaming an anti-racist theatre group for the incidents.
    “We are in no doubt that the case was thoroughly investigated,” Oslo district court judge Yngvild Thue said in reading the unanimous verdict in a case that has gripped the nation.
    Bertheussen said she would appeal.    “This is shocking, I am immediately appealing,” she told the court.
    Bertheussen was arrested by police in 2019, triggering the resignation of her partner, then Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara of the law-and-order Progress Party.
    Before the arrest, Bertheussen had said a theatre production in Oslo, which was critical of Wara, posed a threat by showing images of the house.
    When their home was later daubed with graffiti, including a swastika, and her car set ablaze, Bertheussen said her view was vindicated.
    But police believed she had staged the attacks herself, using a flammable liquid to set fire to the car and disconnecting a surveillance camera.
    In addition to arson and vandalism, Bertheussen was convicted under section 115 of Norway’s criminal code, which prohibits attacks or threats against members of government.
    Wara, who prior to the arrest had called the attacks a threat to democracy, told the trial he believed his partner was innocent.
    Adding to the mystery, anonymous letters claiming responsibility for the attacks were postmarked at times when Bertheussen was abroad or otherwise unable to have mailed them.
    Police said the letters could point to an accomplice, while the defence said it cast doubt on the case.    A threatening letter was also sent to another minister in the cabinet, Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde.
    Oslo’s Black Box theatre said its performance, called “Ways of Seeing,” was exercising freedom of expression by exposing right-wing political networks.
(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Angus MacSwan)

1/15/2021 Belarus Authorities Criticised Over Tape Discussing Internment Camps For Protesters by Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya attends a news conference in Brussels Belgium September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo
    KYIV (Reuters) – President Alexander Lukashenko’s main electoral challenger criticised the Belarusian authorities on Friday over an audio recording in which she said a top security official discussed putting people into camps to discourage unrest.
    Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the recording, which was circulating on social media and provoked an angry reaction online.    The interior ministry said it was fake but declined further comment.
    Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against Lukashenko in an election last August, said the voice in the recording was that of a senior interior ministry official.
    She did not explain how she had identified the voice in the tape, but portrayed the recording as evidence of brutality by the security forces against protesters who say the election was rigged, an allegation Lukashenko denies.
    In the tape, the man says a protester who died during mass demonstrations against Lukashenko was killed by rubber bullets, contradicting the government, which said at the time that the protester was killed in an accident when an explosive device went off in his hand.
    The man suggests security forces could “either maim, or mutilate, or kill” to make protesters understand their actions. He discusses building camps surrounded by barbed wire for the protesters and to “keep them there until everything calms down.”
    Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter that the man in the tape “said he plans to build a camp for people, realizing their constitutional right to protest peacefully against lawlessness.”
    “Can you imagine this in your country?” she wrote.
    She and another opposition figure, Pavel Latushko, said the recording would be handed to international organisations including the United Nations Security Council.
    Interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told Interfax news agency that “we did not comment and will not comment on fakes.”    She could not be reached for further comment.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/19/2021 Alexei Navalny Ordered To Remain In Moscow Prison As He Awaits Trial by OAN Newsroom
In this image taken from video released by Navalny Life YouTube channel, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny spoke as he waited for a
court hearing in a police station in Khimki, outside in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Navalny Life youtube channel via AP)
    Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny will now remain in a Moscow jail following his first court appearance.    On Monday, a judge ordered Navalny to spend 30 days in detention as he awaits his full trial. He was detained over the weekend by authorities shortly after arriving to Moscow for the first time since August.
    Navalny’s detainment sparked outrage worldwide, including in the Trump administration, which called for his immediate release.
    He is now urging his supporters to take to the streets in protest.     “This old man in a bunker is shaking from fear.    They are afraid so they act like this, urgently, secretly, in such a hurry,” Navalny stated.    “They are afraid and they are afraid of you.    They are afraid of those people who may stop being silent, realize their strength and understand.    Who can oppose them?
    Nalvany’s next court date is slated for January 29. The opposition leader could face up to three and half years on charges of embezzlement.

1/19/2021 Sweden COVID-19 Cases Slow Down As Economy Stays Open by OAN Newsroom
People enjoy the spring weather as they sit at a restaurant in Stockholm on April 15, 2020,
during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)
    Sweden continues to post a lower number of COVID-19 cases and deaths after repeatedly refusing to lock down its economy.    On Tuesday, the Swedish government said the number of new COVID-19 cases has decreased to under 10 thousand this week, this is compared to 17 thousand the week before.
    Officials said ongoing vaccinations and public awareness have prevented a COVID-19 surge. Sweden has been among a few countries that did not impose economic lockdowns since the outbreak began last March.
GOTLAND, SWEDEN – JULY 17: People stand in line without social distancing outside a restaurant
on July 17, 2020 in Gotland, Sweden. (Photo by Martin von Krogh/Getty Images)
    Officials insisted they made the right decision to keep the economy open.
    “The Swedish corona strategy has always been a combination of tougher rules, prohibitions and, not the least, that people themselves assume great responsibility,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said.    “With support from the new law, the government has today made a number of decisions.    Today, the government has not decided on the closure of businesses.”
    Sweden had a total of 500 thousand COVID-19 cases since March, and 10 thousand people have died with COVID-19.
    Only 340 Swedes are currently receiving ICU treatment.

1/21/2021 Russia Rounds Up Allies Of Kremlin Foe Navalny In Protest Warning by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on board a plane before the departure for the
Russian capital Moscow at an airport in Berlin, Germany January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Polina Ivanova
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Police in Moscow on Thursday detained the spokeswoman of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and several other of his allies for making calls online to join unauthorised street protests to demand his release.
    Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was detained at the weekend and later jailed for alleged parole violations after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent.
    He accuses Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.    His supporters have called for nationwide protests on Saturday, hoping to press the Kremlin into letting him walk free ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
    In Brussels, responding to Navalny’s arrest, European Union lawmakers called for the bloc to stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to take Russian natural gas to Europe.
    Several of Navalny’s allies in Russia said police had come to their homes, including that of his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who was later detained for allegedly disobeying police orders and violating protest laws.
    “The police have started forcing open the door and are saying: come out, you’re coming out on Saturday anyway and we’re going to detain you,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter before she was detained.
    Earlier, Georgy Alburov, another Navalny ally, said he was taken into police custody at a Moscow train station.
    Vladlen Los, a Belarusian lawyer for Navalny’s group, said he had been detained, told to leave the country by Monday, and barred from re-entering Russia until November 2023.
    Police also detained Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol, her lawyer said. She had urged people to take part in the protest, though the reason for her detention was not immediately clear.
    Authorities have said the planned rallies are illegal and that people who make such calls would be held to account.
    Communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said it would seek to fine social media platforms for what it said was illegal content urging minors to take part in illegal protests.
    Some prominent Russians – including ice hockey star Artemi Panarin as well as rappers, actors, writers and others – posted messages and videos of support for Navalny on social media. TikTok was flooded with videos promoting the protests.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow, Maxim Rodionov, Anton Zverev, Maria Grabar; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/21/2021 Biden Seeks Five-Year Extension Of New START Arms Treaty With Russia: Source
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden participates remotely in a virtual Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service
from the White House in Washington, U.S., January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will seek a five-year extension to the New START arms control treaty with Russia, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
    The decision, which was first reported by the Washington Post, had to be made quickly because the treaty, which limits the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads each, is due to expire on Feb. 5.
    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that U.S. lawmakers have been briefed on Biden’s decision, which is likely to be made public later on Thursday.
    In addition to restricting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to its lowest level in decades, New START also limits the land-and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
    The treaty’s lapse would end all restraints on deployments of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads and the delivery systems that carry them, potentially fueling a new arms race, policy experts have said.
    The Kremlin said on Wednesday it remained committed to extending New START and would welcome efforts promised by the Biden administration to reach agreement.
    The State Department and the White House National Security Council declined comment.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Bill Berkrot)
[PLEASE NOTE THAT BIDEN'S ATTEMPT FOR A TREATY WITH RUSSIA IS USELESS IF CHINA IS NOT PART OF IT WHICH IS WHY TRUMP SHELVED IT BUT THEN WE KNOW THAT BEIJING BIDEN IS THE PROBLEM HERE.].

1/21/2021 At Least 15 Killed, 11 Injured In Nursing Home Fire In Ukraine
Firefighters work at the scene of the accident following a fire in nursing home in Kharkiv, Ukraine January 21, 2021. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – At least 15 people were killed and 11 injured in a fire in a nursing home in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian state emergency service said on Thursday.
    The fire broke out in the afternoon on the second floor of the two-storey building. There were 33 people inside, the service said.
    The service published a photo of the building with bars on the windows of the first floor.    Smoke could be seen billowing out of broken windows of the second floor.
    Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the interior minister to open and take charge of an inquiry into the incident.
    The Ukrainian prosecutor general said authorities had launched a criminal investigation and the preliminary cause of the tragedy was the “careless handling of electric heating devices.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, writng by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Bernadette Baum)

1/21/2021 Russia Detains Ally Of Jailed Kremlin Foe Navalny Ahead Of Protest
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition figure Lyubov Sobol takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's murder
and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police on Thursday detained Lyubov Sobol, an ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, her lawyer said, after she urged Navalny’s supporters to take to the streets on Saturday to call for his release.
    Her lawyer gave no reason for her detention in a short post on Twitter, but authorities have said the planned protests are illegal and that they will take action against people who encourage others to go.
    Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was detained at the weekend and later jailed for alleged parole violations after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned by a military grade nerve agent.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/24/2021 Navalny protest arrests pass 3,000 by Daria Litvinova and Jim Heintz, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MOSCOW – Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.    Police arrested more than 3,000 people, some of whom took to the streets in temperatures as low as minus 58 Fahrenheit.
    In Moscow, thousands of demonstrators filled Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks, some beaten with batons.
    Navalny’s wife, Yulia, was among those arrested.
    Police eventually pushed demonstrators out of the square.    Thousands then regrouped about half a mile away, many of them throwing snowballs at the police before dispersing.
    The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north of Japan and the frigid eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, to Russia’s more populous European cities.
    The range demonstrated how Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media.
    Undeterred, Navalny’s supporters have called for protests again next weekend.

1/24/2021 Hundreds Protest In Support Of Navalny In The U.S. by OAN Newsroom
Alexei Navalny and his wife Yuliastand in line at the passport control after arriving at Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021.
Russia’s prison service says opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been detained at a Moscow airport after returning from Germany. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
    Demonstrations are being held across the U.S. calling for the immediate release of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
    On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the Russian consulate in Manhattan, New York.     “Well, they should free him,” a demonstrator stated.    “Yeah and maybe listen to him at least a little bit and to their people because Navalny, no matter what you think about him, he doesn’t deserve to be murdered, poisoned or being imprisoned.”
    Demonstrators could be seen chanting and holding signs, demanding the Kremlin critic’s release.
(Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)
    This came days after Navalny was detained upon his return to Russia.    He spent five months in Germany recovering from alleged poisoning for which he blames the Russian government.
    At the same time, dozens of protestors also rallied outside of the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. in support of the jailed activist.
    “He is trying to open the eyes of the Russian people and to show them the level of corruption that is happening in Russia by government officials,” protestor Alexander Voytsekhov said.    “They don’t want that to be known by Russian people and that’s the main thing.    They want to shut him down and they want to get rid of him.”
    Those at the demonstration organized by the ‘Free Russia Foundation’ said many Russian activists are working tirelessly to expose the government and its large scale of corruption.
    Thousands of citizens in Russia, including Navalny’s wife, were detained as protests in his support continue to sweep across the nation.
    The U.S. has called on Russian authorities to release all of those detained and for the immediate and unconditional release of Navalny.

1/25/2021 Kremlin: US protest tweet is interference by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MOSCOW – The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says the U.S. Embassy’s statements about Russia’s recent nationwide protests, in which more than 3,500 people reportedly were arrested, interfere in the country’s domestic affairs and encourage Russians to break the law.
    Dmitry Peskov made the criticism Sunday, a day after protests took place across the country demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who is Putin’s most well-known critic.
    During the protests, embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross said on Twitter that “the U.S. supports the right of all people to peaceful protest, freedom of expression.    Steps being taken by Russian authorities are suppressing those rights.”    The embassy tweeted a State Department statement calling for Navalny’s release.
    Peskov said the statements “indirectly constitute absolute interference in our internal affairs” and are “direct support for the violation of the law of the Russian Federation, support for unauthorized actions.”
    The protests drew thousands, including 15,000 in Moscow.

1/25/2021 Protests erupt in Russia over Navalny detention by Daria Litvinova and Jim Heintz, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MOSCOW – Protests erupted in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.    Police arrested more than 2,100 people, some of whom took to the streets in temperatures as frigid as minus-58 Fahrenheit.
    Thousands of demonstrators filled Pushkin Square at the center of Moscow, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators, some beaten with batons, were dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks.
    Police pushed demonstrators out of the square.    Thousands regrouped along a boulevard about a half-mile away, many of them throwing snowballs at the police before dispersing.
    The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory.    The range demonstrated how Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media.
    “The situation is getting worse and worse, it’s total lawlessness,” said Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow.    “And if we stay silent, it will go on forever.”
    The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 795 people were detained in Moscow and more than 300 at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg.    Overall, it said, 2,131 people had been arrested in about 90 cities.
    Undeterred, Navalny’s supporters called for protests again next weekend.
    Navalny was arrested Jan. 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny. Authorities said his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a criminal conviction in 2014.    Navalny said the conviction was for made-up charges.
    The activist, 44, is known nationally for his reports on the corruption that has flourished under President Vladimir Putin’s government.
    Navalny faces a court hearing in early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money-laundering – which Navalny said was politically motivated – is converted to 3 1 / 2 years behind bars.
Protesters clash with riot police during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny
in downtown Moscow on Saturday. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

1/25/2021 Police Crack Down On Russian Protests Against Jailing Of Kremlin Foe Navalny by Anton Zverev and Andrew Osborn
Law enforcement officers clash with participants during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition
leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia January 23, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Police detained more than 3,000 people and used force to break up rallies across Russia on Saturday as tens of thousands of protesters ignored extreme cold and police warnings to demand the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    Navalny had called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was slipped to him by state security agents in August.
    The authorities had warned people to stay away from Saturday’s demonstrations, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event.
    But protesters defied the ban and, in at least one case in temperatures below -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit), turned out in force.    Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally, called on them to do the same next weekend to try to free Navalny from what he called “the clutches of his killers.”
    In central Moscow, where Reuters reporters estimated up to 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans.
    The authorities said just some 4,000 people had shown up, while the foreign ministry questioned Reuters crowd estimate.
    “Why not just immediately say 4 million?” it suggested sarcastically on its official Telegram messenger channel.
    Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny ally, put turnout in the capital at 50,000, the Proekt media outlet reported.
    Some protesters chanted “Putin is a thief,” and “Disgrace” and “Freedom to Navalny!
U.S. CONDEMNS ‘HARSH TACTICS’
    Navalny’s wife Yulia was briefly detained at the rally before being released.    Some of Navalny’s political allies were detained in the days before the protest, others on the day itself.
    At one point, protesters surrounded a sleek black car with a flashing light used by senior officials, throwing snowballs at it and kicking it.    A group of policemen were also pelted with snowballs by a much bigger crowd.
    The OVD-Info protest monitor group said that 3,435 people, including 1,360 in Moscow and 523 in St. Petersburg, had been detained at rallies in around 100 towns and cities.
    The United States condemned what it described as “harsh tactics” used against protesters and journalists and called for Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional” release.
    “We call on Russian authorities to release all those detained for exercising their universal rights,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
    The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a post on Twitter that he deplored the authorities “disproportionate use of force,” while Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, condemned the “use of violence against peaceful protesters and journalists.”
    Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer, is in a Moscow prison pending the outcome of four legal matters he describes as trumped up.    He accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his attempted murder.    Putin has dismissed that, alleging Navalny is part of a U.S.-backed dirty tricks campaign to discredit him.
    Some protesters marched on the prison, where police were waiting to arrest them.
    Images of protesters with injuries such as bloodied heads circulated on social media.
    The scenes were reminiscent of the months-long unrest in Russia’s neighbouring ally Belarus where anti-government protests flared last August over allegations of voter fraud.
    One Moscow protester, Sergei Radchenko, 53, said: “I’m tired of being afraid.    I haven’t just turned up for myself and Navalny, but for my son because there is no future in this country.”
‘PUTIN PALACE’
    There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin, which had previously called the protests illegal and the work of “provocateurs.”
    State prosecutors opened criminal cases into alleged violence against police officers by protesters.
    In Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, nearly 1,000 people demonstrated against Navalny’s arrest.    Small demonstrations were also held in Bulgaria and some 200-300 people protested in Paris.
    Police in Siberia’s Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities in the world, where the temperature was -52 Celsius (-62 F) on Saturday, grabbed a protester by his arms and legs and dragged him into a van, video footage showed.
    In Moscow, some journalists covering the protests were detained, drawing a rebuke from the U.S. Embassy.
    “Russian authorities arresting peaceful protesters, journalists,” spokesperson Rebecca Ross said on Twitter.    “Appears to be a concerted campaign to suppress free speech, peaceful assembly.”
    There were outages on mobile phone and internet services, the monitoring site downdetector.ru showed, a tactic sometimes used by authorities to make it harder for protesters to communicate among themselves.
    In a push to galvanise support ahead of the protests, Navalny’s team released a video this week about an opulent palace on the Black Sea they alleged belonged to Putin, something the Kremlin denied. As of Saturday the video had been viewed more than 70 million times.
    Navalny’s allies hope to tap into what polls say are pent-up frustrations among the public over years of falling wages and economic fallout from the pandemic.
    But Putin’s grip on power looks unassailable for now and the 68-year-old president regularly records an approval rating of over 60%, much higher than that of Navalny.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev, Polina Ivanova, Polina Nikolskaya and Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Tsvetelia Tsolovia in Sofia, Geert De Clercq in Paris and Sarah Young in London; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/25/2021 Dutch Police Arrest Alleged Asian Drug Syndicate Kingpin by Anthony Deutsch and Tom Allard
FILE PHOTO: Dutch police patrol at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Dutch police have arrested the alleged leader of a large Asian drug syndicate who is listed as one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives and has been compared to Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
    Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian national, was detained on Friday at the request of Australian police, who led an investigation that found his organisation dominates the $70 billion-a-year Asia-Pacific drug trade, Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling said on Saturday.
    Tse is expected to be extradited after appearing before a judge, Aling said, adding that his arrest by national police took place without incident at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
    “He was already on the most-wanted list and he was detained based on intelligence we received,” Aling said.
    Dutch police were unable to provide details about the legal proceedings and it was not clear if Tse had a lawyer.
    Tse’s crime syndicate allegedly dominates the Asia-Pacific crystal methamphetamine trade, which increased fourfold in the five years to 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
    Regional law enforcers say the syndicate has imported highly potent meth into more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as trafficking heroin and MDMA.
    Tse, 57, an ex-convict who formerly lived in Toronto, has moved between Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years, according to counter-narcotics officers from four countries and documents reviewed by Reuters.
    The group has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015, the documents showed.
    Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the UNODC, told Reuters in 2019 that “Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” referring to Latin America’s most notorious drug lords.
    The UNODC estimated that Tse’s drug syndicate earned as much as $17 billion in 2018.
    The syndicate he is suspected of running is known to its members as “The Company.”    Law enforcers also refer to it as “Sam Gor” – or Brother Number Three in Cantonese – after one of Tse’s nicknames, Reuters reported at the time.    Reuters was unable to contact Tse for comment on the report at that time.
‘THEY GOT THEIR MAN’
    The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said on Sunday it issued an arrest warrant for Tse in 2019, “in connection with AFP-led Operation Volante, which dismantled a global crime syndicate operating in five countries.”
    The AFP also led an international investigation, dubbed Operation Kungur, into Tse and his syndicate that included about 20 agencies from more than a dozen countries.
    “The syndicate targeted Australia over a number of years, importing and distributing large amounts of illicit narcotics, laundering the profits overseas and living off the wealth obtained from crime,” the AFP added.
    Documents reviewed by Reuters allege the syndicate’s money laundering operation spans the globe, with casino junkets and property investments both used as vehicles to launder earnings.
    The UNODC’s Douglas hailed the arrest as a “great result” but cautioned that it may not have a big impact on drug trafficking in the region.
    “They got their man.    Kudos to the Australian Federal Police.    But the organisation remains, the demand for synthetic drugs has been built, and someone will step in to replace Tse,” said Douglas.
    “It is hard to see his arrest having much of an impact on drug trafficking beyond the near-term if the poor governance, corruption and easily available drug precursors in the region remain unaddressed.”
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Tom Allard; Additional reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Helen Popper, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)

1/25/2021 Kremlin Accuses U.S. Of Meddling In Affairs, But Says Ready To Talk
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers clash with participants during a rally in support of jailed Russian
opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia January 23, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin would respond in kind if the new U.S. administration showed willingness to talk, a Kremlin spokesman said on Sunday, while also accusing Washington of meddling in mass protests in support of detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
    The Kremlin also downplayed the scale of Saturday’s demonstrations, which saw police detain more than 3,000 people and use force to break up rallies across Russia.
    Prior to the protests, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had issued a “Demonstration Alert,” warning U.S. citizens to avoid the protests and naming the venues in Russian cities where protesters planned to gather.
    “Of course, those publications are inappropriate,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Rossiya 1 TV on Sunday, according to Interfax news agency.
    “And of course, indirectly, they are absolute interference in out internal affairs.    So, this is a direct support of the breach in the Russian Federation’s law.”
    The embassy, in emailed comments, said such warnings were a “common and routine practice” of many countries’ diplomatic missions.
    “U.S. embassies and consulates around the world regularly issue safety and security messages to our citizens,” it said.
    The United States on Saturday called on Russian authorities to release protesters and journalists detained at the demonstrations, and condemned what it called “harsh tactics” used by the police against them.
    In central Moscow, where Reuters reporters estimated up to 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people and bundling them into nearby vans.
    The authorities said just around 4,000 people had shown up, while the foreign ministry questioned Reuters’ crowd estimate.
    “No, only a few people went out, many people voted for Putin,” Peskov said, according to the TASS news agency.    He added that the Russians have supported constitutional reforms proposed by the president.    Changes to the constitution will allow Putin to stay in power until 2036.
RELATIONS LOWEST IN YEARS
    Navalny had called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was slipped to him by state security agents in August.
    Even before the friction over Navalny, relations between Moscow and Washington have been at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, with the two sides also at odds over Russia’s role in Ukraine and allegations of its meddling in U.S. elections, which it denies, among other issues.
    But Peskov had, nonetheless, struck a more conciliatory tone earlier on Sunday, when he said Russia was ready to set up a dialogue with the new administration of President Joe Biden.
    “Of course, we count on success in setting up a dialogue,” he was quoted as saying on TV by Interfax news agency.
    “This will be the dialogue where, of course, differences will have to be stated to a greater extent, points of differences.    But at the same time, a dialogue is a possibility to find some rational kernels, the little parts where our relations are getting closer,” he said.
    “And if the current U.S. administration is ready for such an approach, I have no doubts that our president will respond in kind.”
    Putin was one of the last global leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory in the U.S. presidential election after the Nov. 3 vote.
    One of the burning issues to be resolved by the two nuclear powers is the arms control treaty, known as New START, which is due to expire on Feb. 5.
    The White House said last week that Biden would seek a five-year extension to the deal, while the Kremlin requested concrete proposals from Washington.
    Washington was joined by the European Union and Britain in condemning the security forces’ handling of Saturday’s protests, while the foreign minister’s of Italy and France on Sunday both expressed support for sanctions against Moscow.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/25/2021 Dutch Police Detain 240 Nationwide As Anti-Lockdown Protests Turn Violent
Police uses a water canon during a protest against restrictions put in place to curb the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amsterdam, Netherlands January 24, 2021. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Rioters looted stores, set fires and clashed with police in several Dutch cities on Sunday, resulting in more than 240 arrests, police and Dutch media reported.
    The unrest came on the second day of new, tougher coronavirus restrictions, including a night curfew, which had prompted demonstrations.
    Police used water cannon, dogs and mounted officers to disperse a protest in central Amsterdam on Sunday afternoon, witnesses said.    Nearly 200 people, some of them throwing stones and fireworks, were detained in the city, police said.
    National broadcaster NOS said riot police had been deployed in at least 10 cities and towns after a curfew went into effect at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT).    Vehicles were set alight, police were pelted with stones and public property was destroyed, it reported.
    Military police said on Twitter on Sunday night that they were supporting local police in at least two cities in the south.
    Images on Dutch television showed bands of youths looting shops, throwing bicycles and setting fires in the southern city of Eindhoven. At least 55 people were arrested in Eindhoven, the city said in a statement.
    The demonstration in the city’s Museum Square, which violated a ban on public gatherings, came the day after the government introduced a nightly curfew for the first time since World War Two.
    Police cleared the square after people ignored instructions to leave and detained those who attacked them with stones and fireworks in nearby streets, the mayor’s office said.
    Parliament voted narrowly last week to approve the curfew, swayed by assertions that a variant of COVID-19 first identified in Britain was about to cause a new surge in cases.     New infections in the country have generally been declining for a month, and fell again on Sunday, to 4,924 new cases.
    There have been 13,540 deaths in the Netherlands from COVID-19 and 944,000 infections.
    On Saturday night, police had arrested 25 people across the country and handed out 3,600 fines for curfew violations.
    Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Nick Macfie, Philippa Fletcher and Peter Cooney)

[WHAT IS SCARY ABOUT OF ALL THE IMAGES AND WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THOSE COUNTRIES IS THAT THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES MAY HAVE TO RESORT TO THAT BECAUSE TO TAKE THE COUNTRY BACK TO ITS FOUNDATION PRINCIPLES THAT THE LEFTIST DEMOCRAT GLOBALIST DEEP STATE WHO HAS BASICALLY STOLE THE ELECTION AND IS NOW TRYING TO CANCEL ANY OBJECTIONS TO THEIR RULE AND THREATENING PEOPLE WHO DO NOT COMPLY WHICH IS WHAT IS ALREADY OCCURRING IN RUSSIA AND CHINA AND THEY ARE EXPERIENCING THEIR POPULATION WHO ARE TRYING TO FIGHT BACK.].

1/25/2021 Russians Rally In Support Of Navalny Across U.S. by OAN Newsroom
People show posters as they as they attend a protest against the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in front of the
chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. A Russian judge had ordered opposition leader Alexei Navalny jailed for 30 days,
after the leading Kremlin critic returned to Russia from Germany where he was recovering from nerve agent poisoning. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
    Thousands of Russians are taking to the streets across the U.S. to support opposition leader Alexey Navalny and denounce transnational corruption.
    Crowds of Russians rallied outside the consulate in New York and the embassy in Washington, D.C. while smaller rallies took place in Chicago and Los Angeles.
    According to reports, the Russian population of the U.S. has doubled since 2010, increasing from 3 million to 6 million people, amid a 40 percent surge in Russian asylum cases.
    Protesters blame the Putin regime for the miserable “Russian witch hunt” in the U.S. and have said Alexei Navalny must become president of Russia.
    “There’s no human rights.    Putin is not a president, he’s a mafia head guy,” stated Dimitri Valuev of the Free Russia Foundation.    “People are supporting Alexei Navalny because he is a prominent leader.    He has been very successful in anti-corruption investigations of Putin’s elite and Putin himself.”
    Navalny has been in detention since his return to Russia on January 17.    which has prompted hundreds of thousands of people to rally in his support across Russia over the weekend.

1/25/2021 Putin Claims Protests ‘Illegal,’ But Russian Constitution Allows Rallies by OAN Newsroom
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gestured during a meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron (out of frame) in the sidelines
of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, on November 30, 2018. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)
    Vladimir Putin claimed the latest uptick in support of Alexei Navalny is illegal, despite the Russian Constitution allowing the right to free assembly.
    “We have repeatedly encountered situations when the situation went far beyond the law and shook our society and the state,” Putin stated.    “Where not only people who were engaged in it suffered, but also those people who had nothing to do with it.”
    Putin also claimed he does not own the multi-billion assets found by Navalny in his latest investigation.
    This came as Putin’s approval rating has tanked below 30%, while hundreds of thousands of Russians are rallying in support of the opposition leader.
    “It is very good that people all over the country came out to the protest on January 23, I was pleasantly surprised by this, because there are rumors that only Muscovites have a different opinion, but it turns out that the whole country is thinking about all these political topics, and I am very glad about it,” Moscow resident Elizaveta Tikhanova said.
    The Russian opposition plans to continue protests across the country in coming weeks, saying the society is sick and tired of the Kremlin’s corruption, economic mismanagement and political failures.

1/26/2021 Biden, Putin Discuss Bilateral Ties During First Phone Call by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this March 10, 2011, file photo, then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, shook hands with
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    White House spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed on Tuesday that Joe Biden made his first official call to Vladimir Putin.    This came after receiving millions of dollars from the Putin regime.
    Biden spoke with Putin about extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for five years before it is set to expire in February.    President Trump was previously opposed to extending the treaty, unless it included the disarmament of China.
    Psaki said Biden also asked Putin about the debunked Taliban bounties conspiracy theory and touched upon Russia’s internal affairs.
Also to raise matters of concern, including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 election, the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and treatment of peaceful protestors by Russian security forces,” Psaki stated.
    Russian officials expect Biden to be more flexible in bilateral relations going forward after President Trump’s tougher stance in mutual talks.
[I GUESS HE HAD TO ASK PUTIN TO MAKE SURE THAT THE MAYOR OF MOSCOW HAS COVERED UP ALL THE INFORMATION ABOUT WHY HIS SON HUNTER GOT MILLIONS FROM HER TO MAKE SURE HE IS PROTECTED FROM INVESTIGATIONS

1/28/2021 Poland Puts Into Effect New Restrictions On Abortion by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against verdict restricting abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government put into effect on Wednesday a constitutional court decision banning terminations of pregnancies with foetal defects, as conservative policies increasingly take root in one of Europe’s most devout Catholic countries.
    The Oct. 22 ruling had led to weeks of massive protests, forcing the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to delay its implementation.
    Small protests gathered late on Wednesday following an announcement PiS would take the official step to enforce the decision imminently, and abortion rights activists announced more would take place on Thursday.
    Abortion has emerged as one of the most divisive issues since PiS took power in 2015, promising poorer, older and less educated Poles a return to a traditional society mixed with generous welfare policies.
    The court’s verdict was published in the official gazette late on Wednesday.
    “This idiotic ruling will not prevent abortions,” said Cezary Jasinski, a 23-year-old student, standing in front of the Constitutional Tribunal building in central Warsaw.
    “But for every woman who will experience pain because of this ruling, or will be forced to give birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome, they (court judges) will be to blame.”
    Last year’s protests quickly morphed into an eruption of anger against the government, particularly among young people, suggesting PiS may face a fresh challenge from new voters in coming years.
    On Wednesday, officials said the government would now focus on assisting parents of disabled children, although PiS as well as its centrist predecessors have been accused by critics of not doing enough in that regard.
    “The state can no longer take a life away only because someone is sick, disabled, in poor health,” PiS lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski said.
    The party denies opposition criticism that it had influenced the court, called the Constitutional Tribunal.    It is one of the judicial bodies PiS overhauled during reforms that the European Union said has politicised the courts.
    “No law-abiding government should respect this ruling,” Borys Budka, leader of Poland’s largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform, told reporters.
    Access to abortion has declined even without the legislative curbs as more doctors refuse to perform them on religious grounds and many women seek abortions abroad.
    Under the new rules, terminations will be permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother’s life or health is endangered.    Doctors performing illegal abortions in Poland face jail.
    In a justification published on Wednesday, the tribunal left open the possibility of the parliament regulating some circumstances covered by the law.
    Marek Suski, a PiS lawmaker, said the party would consider introducing new rules that could allow the most extreme foetal deformities to be excluded.    But political commentators say consensus between PiS and its arch-conservative governing allies would be difficult to achieve.
    “In cases when the foetus doesn’t have a skull or has no chance to live outside the womb, there should be a choice.    We will work on this,” Suski told public radio.
    Opinion surveys have shown some decline in PiS popularity in recent months, but an opinion poll by the government-affiliated CBOS pollster showed it edging back up to 35% this month, from 30% in October.    PiS and its two small parliamentary allies won re-election in 2019 with a 44% share of the vote.
(Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by John Stonestreet, Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)

1/28/2021 Activists Say Polish Women Seeking Abortion Panic As Restrictions Take Effect by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki
A demonstrator holds a red lighting bolt sign during a protest against the verdict restricting
abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish women with scheduled abortions are calling advice services in panic, activists said, as Poland’s government put into effect a ruling banning terminations of pregnancies with foetal defects, which amounts to a near total abortion ban.
    The ruling, first announced on Oct. 22 last year by the Constitutional Tribunal, led to weeks of massive protests, forcing the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to delay its implementation.
    Thousands protested across Poland as they waited for the court’s verdict to be published in the official gazette late on Wednesday.    On Thursday, hundreds gathered in Warsaw and other cities.
    “I picked up about ten of these calls during the night” Krystyna Kacpura, director of Poland’s Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) told Reuters on Thursday.
    “They were (from women but) also from doctors and gynecologists asking if this is in place, what should they do.    ‘The patient is ready for the procedure – should I send her home?'
    Under the new rules, terminations will be permitted only in cases of rape and incest, and when the mother’s life or health is endangered.    Doctors performing illegal abortions in Poland face jail.
    Abortions Without Borders, a support group helping women get abortions abroad whose number was spraypainted around Poland after the initial wave of protests, said it had received at least 30 calls from women by noon on Thursday.
    Justyna Wydrzynska, a member of the support team, told Reuters she expected to have at least 100 calls by the end of the day.
    “You are not alone, we are with you and we are doing all we can so that everyone who contacts us gets all the support they need as soon as possible,” she said.
MOVING FORWARD
    Polish conservatives who supported the new limitations rejoiced as the ruling came into full force on Thursday, arguing that they had finally secured equal human rights for unborn children and were shielding women from the trauma of abortion.
    “There’s a Polish saying that it’s better to have ten children on your arm than one on your conscience, and I think this is part of our philosophy to protect life,” said Maria Kurowska, a member of parliament representing socially conservative grouping United Poland, allied with the ruling nationalists.
    Supporters of the ruling insisted that it’s now up to the Polish government to provide additional support to families that have to care for disabled and sick children.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

1/28/2021 In Phone Call With Putin, Biden Did Not Hold Back: White House
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with government members via a video conference call
at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 28, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden “did not hold back” in his phone call this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.
    Biden brought up Russia’s treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and other difficult issues in the phone call.
    “He did not hold back in conveying his concern about the treatment of Alexei Navlany and his treatment of protesters,” Psaki told reporters.    She said Biden “had never held back as it relates to President Putin or his concerns about the actions of the Russian government and he certainly conveyed that clearly in the call.”
(Reporting By Nandita Bose and Steve Holland)

1/28/2021 Russian Court Keeps Kremlin Critic Navalny In Jail Despite Outcry by Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing
to consider an appeal on his arrest outside Moscow, Russia January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Thursday ordered Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to be kept in jail, rejecting an appeal against his detention and shrugging off calls by the West and tens of thousands of his Russian supporters for his release.
    Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was remanded in custody for 30 days on Jan. 18 after flying back to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in August.
    A court at the time ordered him detained for alleged parole violations, which he denied.    With various legal cases pending against him, Navalny, 44, could face years in jail.    Tens of thousands of Russians protested against his jailing on Saturday.
    Navalny appeared in court on Thursday by video link from jail, railing against what he called absurd allegations trumped up by authorities to sideline him for political reasons.
    “You won’t succeed in frightening us.    We are the majority… I’m happy that more and more people understand that the law is on our side, that we’re in the right,” he told the presiding judge.
    “We’ll never allow … these people to seize and steal our country.    Yes, brute force is on your side now.    You can…put me in handcuffs.    (But) that will not continue forever,” he said.
    Outside the court on the outskirts of Moscow, his lawyer Olga Mikhailova said they would appeal against the ruling to keep him in custody.
    After the ruling was handed down, Navalny told the judge with trademark sarcasm: “Everything was clear to me before the start of the court hearing, thank you.”
    Navalny’s allies have called for new protests this weekend to demand his release.    The authorities have said any demonstrations will be illegal and will be broken up.
SEARCHES OF SUPPORTERS’ HOMES
    Russia’s prison service has accused Navalny of breaking the terms of a suspended sentence he had been serving on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up.
    A court hearing on Feb. 2 is set to consider converting that sentence into a three-and-a-half year prison term.
    Last weekend police detained just over 4,000 people at demonstrations calling for his release in Moscow and dozens of other cities, according to a protest monitoring group.    Authorities have followed up with a sweeping crackdown.
    Late on Wednesday, police carried out searches at the homes of Navalny’s supporters and other properties linked to him, detaining several people, including his brother Oleg for allegedly breaching COVID-19 safety restrictions.
    Russian investigators said on Thursday they had opened a criminal case into Leonid Volkov, a close Navalny ally, for allegedly urging teenagers to take part in what it said were illegal protests on Saturday.
    Navalny has accused Putin of being responsible for his poisoning with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent last summer.    The Kremlin has denied any involvement.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Frances Kerry)

1/28/2021 Putin Calls For EU-Russia Talks To Help Flagging Ties, Says Trade Falling
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference during the World Economic Forum (WEF)
of the Davos Agenda, in Moscow, Russia January 27, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin called on Wednesday for greater dialogue between Russia and the European Union and a more positive agenda to try to improve strained relations that he said had prompted a fall in trade.
    Putin’s comments at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum come as Russia’s ties with the West are under new pressure over the treatment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Vladimir Soldatkin, Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/29/2021 Some Russians Gear Up For Sub-Zero Rally For Kremlin Critic Navalny by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
in Yakutsk, Russia January 23, 2021, in this picture obtained from social media. Ksenia Korshun/via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – It will be around minus 40 degrees Celsius (-40 Fahrenheit) on Sunday as some Russians in Yakutsk, one of the world’s coldest cities, join nationwide protests against the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    It was -52C when they took to the streets last weekend.
    “You always have to dress in a sort of spacesuit,” said Niurgun Semenov, a 26-year-old who protested last weekend.    “It’s like going out into outer space.    It’s extreme.”
    Eastern Siberia’s Yakutsk, a city of more than 300,000 people, was the scene of a small opposition street rally on Saturday as around 150 people paced up and down for warmth in a white, glacial haze.    Police detained around 30 people.
    It was one of dozens of rallies that involved tens of thousands of people across Russia calling on authorities to release Navalny from jail.
    Police said the rallies were illegal and detained over 4,000 people, according to a monitoring group.    The police have not given an official number.
    Navalny’s allies plan to stage a new round of protests in more than 80 cities this Sunday, including in Yakutsk, which is built on permafrost.
    Many protesters wrapped themselves up in three or four layers of thermal clothing and wore traditional fur boots known as unty, breathing through their scarves so as not to lose body heat, Semenov said.
    He said he was shocked by Navalny’s treatment, and that his return to Russia despite the threat of immediate arrest had become an inspiration.
    Sulustaana Myraan, a former lawmaker in the regional legislature, was among those detained last weekend.
    Myraan, who resigned as a lawmaker last year to protest against constitutional reforms allowing Putin to potentially extend his rule until 2036, said she had not yet decided whether to protest again so soon after her detention.
    She fears such a move could prompt the authorities to open a criminal case against her, she said.
    Myraan said protest turnout was likely to be depleted after last weekend’s detentions, but that the frigid temperatures were unlikely to keep people away.
    “In theory the authorities should be interested in people being healthy, that they live a decent human life,” she said.    “But this is not happening.    This means people are forced to go out on the streets in the freezing cold.”
(Editing by Tom Balmforth and Mike Collett-White)

1/29/2021 Russia’s Putin Signs Law Extending New START Treaty By Five Years: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference during the World Economic Forum (WEF)
of the Davos Agenda, in Moscow, Russia January 27, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a law extending the New START nuclear arms control treaty, the last major pact of its kind between Russia and the United States, by five years, the Kremlin said in a statement.
    Russia has said the extension will come into effect once the two sides have exchanged diplomatic notes after each completes their domestic procedures.
    Russia’s lower and upper houses of parliament voted to ratify the extension on Wednesday.
    Signed in 2010 and due to expire next week, the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is a cornerstone of global arms control and limits the numbers of strategic nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers that Russia and the United States can deploy.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/30/2021 Russian Police Warn Against Protests For Prison Release Of Alexei Navalny by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 23, 2021 file photo, protesters in St. Petersburg, Russia, clashed with
police over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)
    Russian police have issued strong warnings against protesting for the release of Alexei Navalny.    On Saturday, authorities warned supporters of the opposition leader to not attend demonstrations planned for Sunday in Moscow.
    The warnings came just hours ahead of the latest protests demanding Navalny’s release.    The opposition leader has been detained for nearly two weeks since arriving in Russia from Germany for the first time in months.    His arrest sparked nationwide protests, leading to the arrests of nearly four thousand people.
    Close associates, including Navalny’s wife and brother, have also been detained in recent days. However, Russian authorities said they will continue to work to prevent any violence.
    “Moreover, we warn that any violent actions against officers or refusal to obey their lawful orders will be prevented,” Irina Volk, spokeswoman for the Russian Interior Ministry stated.    “Individuals who commit such illegal actions will be detained and held accountable according to the law.”
    Russian police have set up barricades and said they plan to restrict movement in the center of Moscow on Sunday.

1/31/2021 Russia warns Navalny supporters not to attend Sunday protests
    MOSCOW – Russian police have strongly warned against participating in protests planned for Sunday to call for the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe. The warning comes amid detentions of Navalny associates and opposition journalists and a police plan to restrict movement in the center of Moscow on Sunday.    Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 after flying back to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning.
[APPARENTLY ALL THE NAVALNY SUPPORTERS ATTENDED.].

1/31/2021 Major Russian Rally In Berlin Demands Freedom For Navalny by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny spoke during an interview with AFP at the office
of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow on January 16, 2018. (Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    A major demonstration took place in Berlin, Germany in support of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
    On Sunday, thousands of people rallied at the Potsdam Square to denounce political repressions in Russia and to express solidarity with the Russian people.
    The rally attracted hundreds of Russian exiles living in Germany, as well as their German friends.    Protesters said the Putin regime is the only reason they still remain outside of their own country.
    “I came here to support my compatriots, those who escaped from the regime as well as those who still remain in Russia,” a protester said.    “Of course, many friends and relatives are still in Russia and they have to live with that.”
    The demonstration came as nations across the globe have spoken out, demanding the Russian government release Navalny.

2/1/2021 Russian Prosecutors Seek Navalny Jail Term, Kremlin Tells U.S. To Back Off by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia, February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian state prosecutors said they would ask a court on Tuesday to jail opposition politician Alexei Navalny for up to three and a half years, and the Kremlin said it would not listen to U.S. complaints about his case.
    Riot police detained more than 5,300 people who took part in protests across Russia on Sunday calling for the release of Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin who was detained last month on his return from Germany.
    The political unrest is a headache for Putin, 68, who has dominated Russian politics for over two decades.    The case has set off new talk of Western sanctions on Russia and raised tension as U.S. President Joe Biden launches his administration.
    Sunday’s rallies prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to condemn what he said was the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists, and to call for Navalny’s release.
    The Kremlin said Moscow would ignore Blinken’s comments about what it said were illegal protests inside Russia and warned against Washington imposing any new sanctions.
    “…We are not prepared to accept or heed American statements about this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    A court on Tuesday is set to consider a request from Moscow’s prison service to hand Navalny a jail term of up to three and a half years for alleged parole violations which he calls trumped up.
    The Prosecutor General’s office said on Monday that the request was legal and justified, and that state prosecutors would ask a court to grant the prison service’s request.
KREMLIN HITS BACK
    Navalny, 44, is serving a 30-day stint in jail after being immediately arrested upon arrival back in Russia after having treatment in Germany following a nerve agent attack in Russia.
    He says Putin ordered the attack, something the Kremlin denies.
    Navalny ally Vladimir Ashurkov published a letter addressed to Biden on Saturday appealing for sanctions against businessmen and officials identified as being close Putin allies.
    The Kremlin hit back on Monday, saying the move showed Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation was acting as a “foreign agent,” a designation formally given to the group in 2019 under a law that civil society workers in Russia say is often used to harass critics.
    Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, also said a large number of “hooligans and provocateurs” had been present at Sunday’s nationwide rallies and accused them of acting aggressively towards the police.
    “There can be no conversation with hooligans and provocateurs, the law should be applied with the utmost severity,” Peskov told reporters.
    Pavel Chikov, a lawyer and rights advocate, said police had opened 40 criminal cases in 18 different regions related to the two weekends of protests.    The OVD-Info protest monitor said at least 82 journalists were detained at Sunday’s rally.
    Navalny’s allies have called on supporters to gather outside the Moscow court on Tuesday during his hearing.
    A court placed his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, under house arrest until March on suspicion of breaching COVID-19 regulations at unsanctioned rallies on Jan. 23.    Several others, including Navalny’s brother Oleg, are already under house arrest.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Dmitry Antonov, Anton Zverev, Alexander Marrow; editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

2/1/2021 Ukrainian President’s Party Expels Lawmaker On U.S. Sanctions List For Election Interference
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinsky is seen during a parliament session in Kyiv, Ukraine November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s party voted on Monday to expel Oleksandr Dubinsky after the lawmaker was put on a U.S. sanctions list for election meddling, fellow legislators said.
    Last month Washington slapped sanctions on several Ukrainian individuals and entities, accusing them of interference in U.S. elections and associating with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker linked to efforts by then-President Donald Trump’s allies to dig up dirt on his successor, Joe Biden, and his son.
    Dubinsky denies the election meddling allegations and in a statement on Monday accused his colleagues of “cowardice and meanness.”
“Unfortunately, the events of the last three weeks have clearly and distinctly demonstrated the true face of the actors on the political stage of Ukraine,” he said.
    Daniil Getmantsev, a lawmaker with the ruling Servant of the People party, told Interfax Ukraine that Dubinsky had been ejected after a vote that was held over three days.
    The party’s parliamentary faction leader David Arakhamia and another lawmaker, Olha Vasylevska-Smahliuk, said the majority of the its 246 lawmakers had voted to expel Dubinsky.
    Ukraine has sought to turn the page on relations with Washington after being unwillingly sucked into the political battle over Trump’s impeachment in 2019.
    The Trump administration temporarily froze military aid to Ukraine as Trump pressed Zelenskiy’s administration to investigate Biden.    Washington has been Kyiv’s most powerful ally against Russia since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
    Zelenskiy’s administration has said it will hold people to account for meddling in U.S. elections, “regardless of party affiliation.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/1/2021 Splendid Isolation: Hungarian Family Outsails COVID Nightmare On The Sea by Krisztina Than
Katalin Bosze and Boroka Bosze hang clothes to dry on the sailing boat 'Teatime' in Las Palmas,
Spain, October 5, 2020. Picture taken October 5, 2020. Sailingteatime via Reuters
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – While the world was grappling with the pandemic, a Hungarian family of four decided last summer to fulfil their dream: sailing around the globe in a 50-feet boat called “Teatime.”
    They left a Croatian port in late June 2020 and have since sailed around Italy and Spain, then stopped for some time on Cape Verde before crossing the Atlantic.
    After having spent Christmas on Martinique, they are now anchored in Marigot, on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, waiting to sail towards the Panama canal.
    They are in no rush, though, as life on the boat — just as for many people quarantined in their homes — has slowed down.
    “For me it is a fantastic experience that I can spend a lot more time with my kids, instead of getting home late from work totally exhausted,” said 48-year-old Domonkos Bosze, who set up a home office on the boat. He works in the IT business.
    “Our route is fairly flexible: basically the weather defines which way we go, as the hurricane and cyclones seasons set the limits for sailing each region.”
    He and his wife Anna, who have been sailing for more than a decade, had planned the adventure long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
    While the pandemic presented them with the dilemma of whether this was the right time to go, in the end their determination overruled all worries and risks.
TEATIME ON SEA
    So far the biggest challenge has been a six-hour storm during the Atlantic crossing which they managed well, losing only a toaster and the satellite phone which broke.
    They follow the changes in coronavirus rules in each country and take a test or go into quarantine as required.
    “When we arrived in Martinique … we told authorities that we just spent 16 days on the open seas and they accepted that as quarantine,” Bosze said.
    Nonetheless, the boat is filled with enough foodstuff for a month. And they catch their own tuna or mahi mahi (dorado), much to the joy of their 6- and 8-year-old daughters.
    The two girls do remote learning, and will be enrolled in local schools if possible to get familiar with different cultures.
    Domonkos said a discussion with Jimmy Cornell, the legendary Romanian-born British yachtsman, had a great influence on their thinking when they planned the trip.
    While being together all the time in a confined space posed some difficulties in the beginning, now everything goes like clockwork on “Teatime,” named after the family’s habit of sitting down for tea and chatter.
    Anna said the trip has given her huge freedom even though she cooks regularly besides handling the sails if needed.
    “We saw dolphins jumping at the bow of the boat and swimming with us, with the sea totally calm … so we could see them clearly under water,” she said, smiling.
    Depending on COVID restrictions, they plan to sail on this year or next year towards the Pacific, and now they say their trip could last another 5-6 years, stopping for extended periods in the southern Pacific and on the Indian ocean.
    To follow their journey see https://sailingteatime.com
(Reporting and writing by Krisztina Than; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

2/1/2021 Russia Fines Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Wife Yulia For Taking Part In Protests
Yulia Navalnaya, wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arrives at a court building in Moscow, Russia February 1, 2021. Navalnaya
was detained for participating in an unauthorized protest, summoned to appear in court and later released. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Monday fined Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, 20,000 roubles ($265) for taking part in unsanctioned protests on Sunday, the court said.
    Riot police broke up protests across Russia on Sunday in support of Navalny, detaining more than 5,300 people who had braved the bitter cold and the threat of prosecution to demand he be set free.
($1 = 75.5000 roubles)
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/1/2021 Sanction Putin’s Inner Circle To Trigger Kremlin Infighting, Says Navalny Ally by Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Navalny's team, speaks during a news conference with "Cinema for Peace" founder Jaka Bizilj after Bizilj's foundation arranged
for an ambulance aircraft to head to Omsk to pick up Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Berlin, Germany August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A close ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Monday urged the West to hit President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle with personal sanctions, predicting the move could trigger potentially destabilising infighting among Russia’s elite.
    Leonid Volkov, who is wanted by Russian authorities on accusations he illegally encouraged minors to attend anti-Kremlin protests, made the call on the eve of a court hearing that could see Navalny jailed for three-and-a-half years.
    Navalny, one of Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested last month after returning to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent.    Navalny accuses Putin of ordering his murder, something the Kremlin denies.
    “We very much hope that there will be tough sanctions against the people on whom Putin relies, against his money men and his inner circle.    It will be an extremely unpleasant blow to Putin and punishment for his criminal acts,” Volkov told Reuters in an interview by video call.
    “This will give us intra-elite conflicts,” he said, adding he hoped such a move would bring pressure from Putin’s allies to end the crackdown on Navalny or to compensate them for any financial losses or travel bans resulting from sanctions.
    The Kremlin on Monday said moves by Navalny’s allies to encourage the West to hit Russia with sanctions showed they were acting as “foreign agents” and said any new sanctions would be unacceptable.
    Vladimir Ashurkov, another Navalny ally, published a letter addressed to U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday appealing for sanctions against businessmen and officials identified as being close Putin allies.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday the United States was reviewing possible responses to Moscow’s actions.
    The Kremlin has cast Navalny as a CIA asset bent on destabilising he country, an allegation Navalny denies, and has said the protests calling for this release are illegal and risk spreading COVID-19.
    Volkov, who is outside Russia and declined to give his location, has helped organise two successive weekends of protests demanding Navalny be freed.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alison Williams)

2/1/2021 Not Just Navalny: Economic Pain Also Behind Russian Protests by Katya Golubkova and Polina Nikolskaya
FILE PHOTO: Protestors rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia January 31, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The trigger for some of the biggest protests to sweep Russia in years was the arrest of opposition politician and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was detained on his return to the country last month after surviving poisoning by a nerve agent.
    The anger runs deeper, however, and some protesters, young and old, say they have also taken to the streets to vent their frustration over declining living standards and the perceived gap between a small, wealthy elite and ordinary people.
    Real incomes fell 3.5% last year, unemployment is at its highest since 2011 and the economy in 2020, hit hard by the pandemic, is estimated to have suffered its sharpest contraction in 11 years.
    Disenchantment over inequality was targeted by Navalny in a YouTube video, released shortly after his detention and viewed more than 106 million times, which showcased a 100 billion-rouble ($1.31 billion) palace complex in southern Russia.
    Navalny alleged its ultimate owner was President Vladimir Putin, an allegation the Kremlin denies.    Since then Putin’s former judo sparring partner has said he owned it.
    Alexandra, who protested in Moscow on Jan. 23, said she was shocked by the video, especially at a time when medics were battling the coronavirus pandemic.
    “I can imagine what kind of bonus doctors get: about 17,000 roubles ($223),” said the 24-year-old student, who declined to give her surname for fear of repercussions with the authorities.
    “And it (the video) really got to me, it was the last straw, and I decided to protest.”
    Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of major cities across the country on Jan. 23, and just over a week later, although numbers were smaller. Officials say protest leaders’ estimates of the crowds were exaggerated.
    Police arrested thousands of people on both days, and over the weekend in central Moscow, hundreds of riot police were deployed to quell dissent.
‘HERE FOR MY GRANNY’
    While many protesters rallied under the banner of Navalny, who they say has been persecuted by authorities because of his opposition to Putin, it was not the only reason for risking arrest.    The Kremlin denies treating Navalny unfairly.
    Sonya, a young protester in Moscow on Jan. 31, said she supported the opposition firebrand, but was also motivated by an economic squeeze.
    “(Our) country is in complete chaos … look at how pensioners live,” she told Reuters, as she wielded a golden toilet brush, a symbol of protest inspired by the alleged presence of such brushes in the property that Navalny showcased.
    “I am here for my family, for my granny.    I will live in this country for many years to come, but I want my relatives to live better than now.”
    The rouble is falling on fears of new Western sanctions over the Navalny case. That threatens to push up inflation, which hit 4.9% last year, further above the central bank’s target of 4%.
    Putin himself has expressed concern about rising food prices, a phenomenon that prompted the government to introduce export taxes on some foodstuffs to keep them in the country and cool prices.
    Re-elected for a fourth time in 2018, Putin pledged that real disposable incomes would steadily rise and that the poverty rate would drop to 6.5% by 2024.
    Those two goals have now been postponed by six years to 2030, with officials citing the pandemic as the reason.
    The number of people in Russia living below the poverty line hit 18.8 million, or 12.8% of Russia’s total, in the third quarter of last year, official data show. The number of people in that category rose by 700,000 compared to 2019.
($1 = 76.0552 roubles)
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Polina Nikolskaya; Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Tom Balmforth, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev and Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mike Collett-White)

2/2/2021 Russian Court Jails Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny, West Demands His Release by Maria Tsvetkova and Andrew Osborn
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, writes inside a
defendant dock during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Moscow City Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday in a ruling which the opposition politician blamed on what he called President Vladimir Putin’s hatred and fear of him.
    The Moscow court handed Navalny a three-and-a-half-year sentence but his lawyer said the anti-corruption blogger would serve only two years and eight months in jail because of time he has already spent under house arrest.
    The widely anticipated ruling, which followed nationwide protests calling for Navalny’s release, is likely to further strain relations with the West, which is likely to consider imposing sanctions on Russia over its handling of the case.
    The United States, Britain and Germany urged Moscow to immediately free Navalny, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Washington would coordinate closely with allies to hold Russia accountable.
    A Navalny ally had urged the West before the hearing to hit Putin’s inner circle with personal sanctions.
    Navalny’s supporters urged people to gather in central Moscow though riot police had already taken up position.    His lawyers said they would appeal the ruling.
    Navalny, one of Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested on Jan. 17 for alleged parole violations after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
    Navalny said Russian state security agents had put the poison in his underpants, something the Kremlin denied.    It has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he rejects, and has told the West to stay out of its domestic affairs.
    After his arrest, Navalny released a YouTube video making allegations about Putin’s wealth that was viewed over 100 million times.    The Kremlin said it was false.
    Tuesday’s hearing focused on Navalny’s alleged parole violations over a suspended sentence in a 2014 embezzlement case Navalny says was trumped up.
    But Navalny, in a fiery speech to the court, alleged he was jailed because of Putin’s concerns about him as a political rival, a suggestion the Kremlin has laughed off, referring to Navalny as a troublesome blogger without wide popular support.
    Putin, 68, has dominated Russian politics since 2000 and could rule until 2036 under constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year.
    “Someone did not want me to take a single step on my country’s territory as a free man.    And we know who and we know why – the hatred and fear of one man, living in a bunker, whom     I offended by surviving when he tried to have me killed,” Navalny, 44, told the court from inside a glass cage.
    Outside the court, Reuters reporters saw riot police detain around 70 of Navalny’s supporters who had gathered to offer their support.    The OVD-Info monitoring group reported 370 arrests.
‘PUTIN THE UNDERWEAR POISONER’
    Navalny used Tuesday’s hearing to try to frame Putin’s place in history.
    “(Putin’s) only method is killing people.    However much he pretends to be a great geo-politician, he’ll go down in history as a poisoner.    There was Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise, and Putin the Underwear Poisoner,” said Navalny.
    Putin, who the Kremlin said was not following the Navalny hearing and was busy with affairs of state, said in December that reports the Russian state had poisoned Navalny were part of a U.S.-backed plot to try to discredit him.
    Putin said Moscow would have finished the job if it had wanted Navalny dead.
    Tuesday’s hearing was the result of a request from Moscow’s state prison authority which has accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended three and a half year prison sentence for embezzlement.
    Navalny said the conviction, which was criticised by the European Court of Human Rights at the time, was politically motivated.
    A prison service representative told the court that Navalny had violated public order many times since being handed the suspended sentence and had systematically failed to report in.
    Navalny told the court he had been unable to report to the prison service at the end of last year because he was recovering in Germany from being poisoned.    The prison service said its complaints pre-dated his poisoning and that Navalny had in any case been well enough to meet journalists after being discharged from a Berlin hospital in September.
    Navalny, already serving a 30-day detention sentence in connection with the same case, told the court: “On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know where I was? You’re misleading the court.”
    Supporters have staged two straight weekends of nationwide protests demanding he be freed, despite a massive show of police force, the threat of arrest, bitter cold and the pandemic.
    While the trigger for those protests was Navalny’s arrest, some protesters say they have also taken to the streets to vent their frustration over declining living standards.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Polina Nikolskaya, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Tom Balmforth, Maxim Rodionov, Polina Devitt and Anton Zverev; Writing by Tom Balmforth/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/2/2021 Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine 92% Effective In Fighting COVID-19 by Polina Ivanova
FILE PHOTO: Empty vials of the second dose of the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine are pictured at the San Martin
hospital, in La Plata, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – – Scientists gave Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine the green light on Tuesday saying it was almost 92% effective in fighting COVID-19 based on peer-reviewed late-stage trial results published in The Lancet international medical journal.
    Experts said the Phase III trial results meant the world had another effective weapon to fight the deadly pandemic and justified to some extent Moscow’s decision to roll out the vaccine before final data had been released.
    The results, collated by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow that developed and tested the vaccine, were in line with efficacy data reported at earlier stages of the trial, which has been running in Moscow since September.
    “The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency,” said Ian Jones, professor at the University of Reading, and Polly Roy, professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
    “But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated,” the scientists, who were not involved in the study, said in a comment shared by The Lancet.    “Another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.”
    The results were based on data from 19,866 volunteers, of whom a quarter received a placebo, the researchers, led by the Gamaleya Institute’s Denis Logunov, said in The Lancet.
    Since the trial began in Moscow, there were 16 recorded cases of symptomatic COVID-19 among people who received the vaccine, and 62 among the placebo group, the scientists said.
    This showed that a two-dose regimen of the vaccine – two shots based on two different viral vectors, administered 21 days apart – was 91.6% effective against symptomatic COVID-19.
‘RUSSIA WAS RIGHT’
    The Sputnik V vaccine is the fourth worldwide to have Phase III results published in leading peer-reviewed medical journals following the shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
    Pfizer’s shot had the highest efficacy rate at 95%, closely followed by Moderna’s vaccine and Sputnik V while AstraZeneca’s vaccine had an average efficacy of 70%.
    Sputnik V has also now been approved for storage in normal fridges, as opposed to freezers, making transportation and distribution easier, Gamaleya scientists said on Tuesday.
    Russia approved the vaccine in August, before the large-scale trial had begun, saying it was the first country to do so for a COVID-19 shot.    It named it Sputnik V, in homage to the world’s first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union.
    Small numbers of frontline health workers began receiving it soon after and a large-scale roll out started in December, though access was limited to those in specific professions, such as teachers, medical workers and journalists.
    In January, the vaccine was offered to all Russians.
    “Russia was right all along,” Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, told reporters on Tuesday.
    He said the results supported Russia’s decision to begin administering Sputnik V to frontline workers while the trial was still underway, and suggested scepticism of such moves was politically motivated.
    “The Lancet did very unbiased work despite some of the political pressures that may have been out there,” he said.
EFFECTIVE IN ELDERLY
    The number of people vaccinated in Russia has remained low so far. Authorities have pointed to some early issues with scaling up production while polls have shown low demand among Russians for the vaccine.
    Russia has already shared data from its Phase III trial with regulators in several countries and has begun the process of submitting it to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for approval in the European Union, Dmitriev said.
    The data release comes as Europe scrambles to secure enough shots for its 450 million citizens due to production cuts by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.    The U.S. roll-out, meanwhile, has been hampered by the need to store shots in ultra-cold freezers and uneven planning across states.
    There were 2,144 volunteers over 60 in the Sputnik V trial and the shot was shown to be 91.8% effective when tested on this older group, with no serious side-effects reported that could be associated with the vaccine, The Lancet summary said.
    RDIF’s Dimitriev also said the Gamaleya Institute was testing the vaccine against new variants of COVID-19 and the early signs were positive.
    The vaccine was also found to be 100% effective against moderate or severe COVID-19, as there were no such cases among the group of 78 participants who were infected and symptomatic at 21 days after the first shot was administered.
    Four deaths of participants occurred, but none was considered associated with vaccination, The Lancet said.
    “The efficacy looks good, including in the over 60s,” said Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London.    “It’s good to have another addition to the global arsenal.”
ONE DOSE VERSION
    The authors of the study noted that because COVID-19 cases were only detected when trial participants reported symptoms, further research was needed to understand Sputnik V’s efficacy on asymptomatic cases and transmission.
    Sputnik V has been approved by 15 countries, including Argentina, Hungary and the United Arab Emirates and this will rise to 25 by the end of next week, the RDIF’s Dmitriev said.
    The sovereign wealth fund also said vaccinations using Sputnik V will begin in a dozen countries including Bolivia, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Iran.
    Hungary was the first member of the European Union to break ranks and unilaterally approve the vaccine last month.    It is set to receive a first batch of 40,000 doses on Tuesday.
    Germany has said it would use Sputnik V if it is approved by Europe’s drug regulator while France has said it could buy any efficient vaccine.
    However, large shipments of the shot have only been sent so far to Argentina, which has received enough doses to vaccinate about 500,000 people.
    “Now all doubts are cleared up,” Argentine Science Minister Roberto Salvarezza told local radio station La Red, citing “the confirmation in a prestigious scientific publication.”
    Production for export will primarily be done by RDIF’s manufacturing partners abroad, the fund has said.
    On Tuesday, Dmitriev said production had started in India and South Korea, and would launch in China this month.    Trial doses have also been produced by a manufacturer in Brazil.
    Russia is conducting a small-scale clinical trial of a one-dose version of the vaccine, which developers expect to have an efficacy rate of 73% to 85%.
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/39Ggetm and https://bit.ly/3oNDKsM The Lancet, online February 2, 2021.

2/2/2021 ‘I Need Mama, I Need School’, Migrant Child Stuck In Bosnia Appeals To EU by Dado Ruvic
FILE PHOTO: Frhan Hzam from Iraq and his children Hsan and Hubas speak with their mother who is in Germany, in a temporary home
in the village near Velika Kladusa, Bosnia and Herzegovina January 30, 2021. Picture taken January 30, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Fourteen year-old Amim Hzam from Iraq says he has tried to enter European Union member Croatia with his family forty times from northwestern Bosnia over the last two years.
    On one attempt about a year ago his mother and one of his siblings got through.    They then managed to travel to Germany.    But he and his father and two more children were caught by police and sent back to Bosnia.
    The family is among more than 8,000 migrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa who are stuck in Bosnia, which since early 2018 has become a transit route for those aiming to reach wealthier EU states.
    But it has become increasingly difficult to cross EU borders and impoverished Bosnia has become a cul de sac with its ethnically divided government unable to cope.    The coronavirus pandemic has seen the EU seal its borders, leaving the migrants with little hope of entering and requesting asylum.
    Now Hzam and his siblings learn German, and get sad when their mother calls from Germany and cries.
    “I need mama, I need school, but Croatian police say: ‘Sorry, go back to Bosnia'” said Hzam.
    Many of the migrants live in tents in the woods or in houses and factories destroyed in the Bosnian war of the 1990s.
    Hzam’s family is staying in a furnished house near the border town of Velika Kladusa, belonging to a Bosnian living abroad who agreed with a local charity to provide them with shelter.
    The family do not leave the house, for fear of abuse by some local people who resent their presence in the village.
    “They are judged when they come out, these houses are actually their hiding places,” said Zehida Bihorac Odobasic, a school teacher and activist who the migrants call “Mother.”    She brought Hzam’s family some food and coloured pencils to draw, and helped arrange their accommodation.
    “We can’t go outside, we just sit at home,” said Hojjat, a migrant among an Afghan family of five staying in similar accommodation, explaining they could have trouble from neighbours and police.
    Even Bihorac Odobasic has received verbal and physical attacks from locals for helping and defending the migrants.    She says her complaints to police went nowhere.
    Last November, the UN human rights experts called on the Bosnian government to investigate a “smear campaign and death threats” against Bihorac Odobasic and bring those responsible to justice according to international standards, but to no avail.
    “Here and now we are witnessing an absolute violation of human rights,” Bihorac Odobasic told Reuters in a forest tent camp covered by snow, where around 50 people were trying to get warm in sleeping bags.
    The EU has repeatedly called on Bosnian authorities to provide accommodation to at least 1,000 people sleeping rough during the winter.    Since early 2018, the EU has provided more than 88 million euros to help Bosnia manage the migrant crisis.
(Reporting by Dado Ruvic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/3/2021 Russia Accuses West Of Navalny Hysteria, Kremlin Backs Tough Protest Policing
A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement,
inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia accused the West on Wednesday of descending into hysteria over the jailing of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, and the Kremlin said police had been right to use force to break up protests over his imprisonment.
    A Moscow court on Tuesday sentenced the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
    Navalny’s supporters tried to gather to show support during the ruling and then took to the streets afterwards to protest it, prompting authorities to shut down some central metro stations and detain more than 1,400 people, according to a protest monitor.
    Navalny’s allies accuse the police of essentially outlawing public protest and of using disproportionate force and violence to break up rallies.
    The Kremlin said the police’s response late on Tuesday had been justified because the protests were illegal and unauthorised.    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of deliberately provoking the police by calling protests near the Kremlin following the Navalny ruling.
    “The police reaction was due to the threats that could have arisen from staging such a protest,” he told reporters on a conference call.    “The provocations comprise of the fact that there were calls yesterday for unsanctioned protests.”
    “In recent days we’ve encountered calls for illegal protests several times and measures are taken to prevent them from leading to… worse consequences," he added.
    Navalny’s allies have circulated footage of scenes they say show police violence, including one clip in which a riot police officer strikes a cameraman with a truncheon, flooring him.
    Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the incident was the subject of an internal investigation.
    The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny, but Russia has told it stay out of its sovereign affairs.
    “The hysteria we’ve heard over the legal process for the Navalny case is of course off the scale,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Vladimir Soldatkin, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by)

2/3/2021 As Poland’s Church Embraces Politics, Catholics Depart by Justyna Pawlak and Alicja Ptak
Katarzyna Lipka, 35, poses during an interview with Reuters at her home in Warsaw, Poland December 6, 2020.
Picture taken December 6, 2020. Poster reads "No injunction no prohibition free choice" REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Katarzyna Lipka is no longer Catholic, and she says that is a political statement.
    Like most Poles, the 35-year-old has marked life’s milestones in the Church, a beacon of freedom in Communist times.    Also like many, she’d been drifting away.    In November, after the country’s courts decreed a clampdown on abortion that the bishops had lobbied for, she filed papers to cut loose.
    “I used to think being passive was enough – I just didn’t take part,” Lipka told Reuters, curled up in an armchair in her apartment.    “But I decided to speak up.”
    For Lipka, abortion is only part of the problem.    Her main concern is one many Poles, particularly young people on social media, often complain of: The Church’s increasing reach into other areas of life.
    “I want – and I think all those who are leaving the Church now want – to voice our objection to what is happening now. To influence politics, our rights,” she said, adding that the Church was being allowed to have too much influence in areas such as politics, state spending and education.
    Young adults in many countries are becoming less religious, according to research by the Pew Center.    In Poland, a growing number of its 32 million Catholics are turning away.    In 1989 when Communist rule ended, nearly 90% of Poles approved of the Church, according to the state-affiliated CBOS opinion poll. That figure is now 41% – the lowest since 1993.
    The relationship between Church and state in Poland is governed by an agreement signed by Warsaw and the Holy See from 1993 that says they are independent and autonomous.
    In reality, Poles see an increasingly explicit connection.
    For example, priests have displayed election posters on parish property or discussed elections during mass – almost always in favour of the governing party – in more than 140 cases over the last five years, according to a Reuters tally of archived local media reports.    During that time Poland has held five elections.
    “What I don’t like in the Church is that it turns places of worship into a political bazaar, where my rights are being traded,” Lipka said.
    The Polish Bishops’ Conference, which represents the Church in the country, declined to comment on the role of the clergy in political campaigning.
    The government said it remained impartial towards religious belief and protected freedom of religion.    “The relationship between the state and the Church as well as other religious organisations is based on respecting their autonomy and mutual independence … as well as cooperation for the common good,” it said in an emailed statement.
APOSTASY
    In October, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that women should be prohibited from aborting a foetus with abnormalities, a ruling the government enforced on Jan. 27.    About 1,000 pregnancies have been terminated legally each year in Poland, most due to foetal problems.
    The Church considers all abortion to be murder. It says it was not involved in the court decision and government officials also told Reuters the Church had not influenced it. But in mass protests that followed, tens of thousands of people blocked roads and city centres carrying banners with slogans like “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.”     Church officials stopped collating data on defections in 2010 so there is no nationwide total. In Warsaw, more people filed to quit last November than in all of 2019. The 577 acts of apostasy – the formal process of leaving the Church – booked between January and mid-December were nearly double the 2019 figure.     After the abortion ruling, Polish Google searches for ‘apostasy’ jumped to their highest since counting began in 2004.    Thousands signed up for Facebook pages advising the documents needed, which include recent proof of baptism obtained from the parish where the ceremony took place.    A website offering documentation, www.apostazja.eu, has had more than 30,000 downloads, its founder says.
    “Whatever the reason, this is dramatic,” archbishop Grzegorz Rys, one of the most senior clerics in Poland, told Reuters.
    Given the scale of revolt, he believes many are quitting in protest at what they see as increasingly tight bonds between the Church and the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.    The party’s ratings in most opinion polls have slipped to around 30% from more than 40% last August.
SPECIAL MERITS
    The Catholic Church is at Poland’s core. According to Church data, 88% of children attend catechism classes in state-run schools.
    In the 1980s, the Church was a voice of freedom: Pope John Paul II earned iconic status for inspiring people to stand up against Communist rule.    Parish priests sheltered anti-government activists and helped distribute food and underground newspapers.
    After Communism fell, the clergy pushed for a return to conservative Catholic values and in 1993, when Poland introduced new curbs on abortion, Church approval ratings fell below 40%.    They have since recovered but never above 75%.
    Over the next few years, as Poland introduced market reforms and joined the European Union, poorer, less educated voters felt left behind – a trend PiS promised to reverse when it came to power in 2015.
    The party, whose strongest support is among older, rural voters, has spent millions of euros on Church-run projects, government documents show.    PiS has overhauled a number of institutions, including the Constitutional Court, in reforms that the European Union says have increased political influence on the legal system.    PiS disputes that.preserving national identity” is undeniable.
    “Poland has its specificity and the Church has its special merits here,” he told Reuters.
MORAL TEACHINGS
    For PiS, the Church is a repository of Poland’s moral teaching: “The only alternative … is nihilism,” it said in a 2019 election campaign programme.
    Public TV, run by a former PiS politician, runs nearly nine hours of Catholic programming a week, including church service broadcasts.
    Church symbolism reaches deep into Poland’s political life.    In 2015, a group of lawmakers from across the political spectrum placed a vial of blood from the late John Paul II – born in Poland and declared a saint in 2014 – in the chapel of the House of Parliament.
    Last December, parliament added another relic – a strand of beard hair purportedly belonging to a monk killed in a Nazi German concentration camp.    The monk, Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, was canonized in 1982 for volunteering to die in place of another prisoner.
    Elzbieta Witek, the PiS-appointed parliament speaker, ceremonially received the relic for the house.    She declined to comment for this story.
    PiS fuses piety and nationalism to the point where a central banker nominated and chosen by the party has published his views on moral topics.
    Eryk Lon wrote a piece about interest rates in 2019 in which he urged the faithful to pray for the “evil spirit of cosmopolitanism” to be eradicated from universities, particularly from business schools.    He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
    Same-sex marriage is illegal in Poland and senior Church officials have supported a government crackdown on LGBT rights.    One archbishop, Marek Jedraszewski, warned in 2019 against a “rainbow plague” spreading through the nation. He did not respond to a request for comment.
    Lipka feels it is inappropriate to hold up the Church as a moral beacon.    She said she was particularly repulsed by a report from the Vatican in November that said John Paul II had promoted ex-U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick despite rumours of his sexual misconduct.    McCarrick has declined to comment on the report.
AFRAID OF THE NEW
    Sebastian Duda, a theologian and a Catholic journalist, says Poland’s court ruling on abortion brought to light how far faith has eroded – a trend that he thinks has accelerated because of “the evident marriage between PiS and the Church,” which he said is unacceptable for many.
    Some priests, such as Pawel Batory from the southern city of Rzeszow, a PiS heartland, say it’s time for the clergy to retreat from politics.
    Batory, who was among more than 150 priests and nuns who issued a public appeal in October for more separation of Church and State, complains about election campaigning in places of worship.
    Lipka says she believes popular opinion in the country as a whole is slowly turning away from conservative Catholicism.
    Even her mother, a devout Catholic, agrees with some of her reasoning, she said, but worries about what funeral rites her daughter can expect.
    “My mother doesn’t know any funerals other than Catholic ones,” said Lipka.    “And she is afraid of the new.”
(Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper and Anna WLodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw and Philip Pullella in Rome; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

2/3/2021 Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Jailed, Declares Putin ‘The Underwear Poisoner’ by Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, writes inside
a defendant dock during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Moscow City Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday, ignoring the West in a ruling the opposition politician blamed on President Vladimir Putin’s personal hatred and fear of him.
    The Moscow court handed Navalny a three-and-a-half-year sentence, but his lawyer said the anti-corruption blogger would actually serve two years and eight months in jail because of time already spent under house arrest.
    His lawyers said they would appeal.
    The decision, which followed nationwide protests calling for Navalny’s release, will further strain relations with the West, which is considering imposing sanctions on Russia over its handling of the case.
    The United States, Britain, Germany and the EU urged Moscow to immediately free Navalny, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Washington would coordinate closely with allies to hold Russia accountable.
    Russia is already under numerous Western sanctions however, and analysts say the West’s options for more pressure are limited.    A Navalny ally had urged the West before the hearing to hit Putin’s inner circle with personal sanctions.
    Russia has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset, a charge he rejects, and has told the West to stay out of its domestic affairs.
    Navalny, one of Putin’s most prominent critics, was arrested on Jan. 17 for alleged parole violations after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
    Navalny said Russian state security agents had put the poison in his underpants, something the Kremlin denied.    He used Tuesday’s hearing to try to frame Putin’s place in history.
    “(Putin’s) only method is killing people.    However much he pretends to be a great geo-politician, he’ll go down in history as a poisoner.    There was Alexander the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise, and Putin the Underwear Poisoner,” said Navalny.
    His supporters, on hearing the ruling, encouraged people to gather in central Moscow though riot police had already taken up position.    The Moscow metro shut down three central stations.
    Reuters reporters saw hundreds of protesters and the police detain some of them violently.    Some of them chanted, “Putin is a thief!” and “Putin is a poisoner!
    Outside the court earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reporters saw riot police detain around 70 of Navalny’s supporters. The OVD-Info monitoring group later reported 1,408 arrests nationwide, over 1,000 of those in Moscow.
    After his arrest, Navalny released a YouTube video making allegations about Putin’s wealth that was viewed over 100 million times.    The Kremlin said it was false.
    Tuesday’s hearing focused on Navalny’s alleged parole violations over a suspended sentence in a 2014 embezzlement case Navalny says was trumped up.
POLITICAL RIVAL
    Navalny, in a fiery speech to the court, alleged he was going to be jailed because of Putin’s concerns about him as a political rival, a suggestion the Kremlin has laughed off, referring to Navalny as a marginal figure without wide popular support.
    Putin, 68, has dominated Russian politics since 2000 and could rule until 2036 under constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year.
    “Someone did not want me to take a single step on my country’s territory as a free man. And we know who and we know why – the hatred and fear of one man, living in a bunker, whom     I offended by surviving when he tried to have me killed,” Navalny, 44, told the court from inside a glass cage.
    After the verdict was read out, Yulia, his wife, removed the mask she was wearing because of the coronavirus pandemic and waved to her husband before giving him a shrug.    Navalny shouted: “Don’t worry.    Everything will be ok.”
    Putin, who the Kremlin said was not following the Navalny hearing because he was busy with affairs of state, said in December that reports the Russian state had poisoned Navalny were part of a U.S.-backed plot to try to discredit him.
    Putin said Moscow would have finished the job if it had wanted Navalny dead.
    Tuesday’s hearing was the result of a request from Moscow’s state prison authority which has accused Navalny of violating the terms of a suspended three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for embezzlement.
    Navalny said the conviction, which was criticised by the European Court of Human Rights at the time, was politically motivated.
    A prison service representative told the court that Navalny had violated public order many times since being handed the suspended sentence and had systematically failed to report in.
    Navalny told the court he had been unable to report to the prison service at the end of last year because he was recovering in Germany from being poisoned.    The prison service said its complaints pre-dated his poisoning and that Navalny had in any case been well enough to meet journalists after being discharged from a Berlin hospital in September.
    Navalny, already serving a 30-day detention sentence in connection with the same case, told the court: “On what grounds are you saying you didn’t know where I was?    You’re misleading the court.”
    Supporters have staged two straight weekends of nationwide protests demanding he be freed, despite a massive show of police force, the threat of arrest, bitter cold and the pandemic.
    While the trigger for those protests was Navalny’s arrest, some protesters say they have also taken to the streets to vent their frustration over declining living standards.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Polina Nikolskaya, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Tom Balmforth, Maxim Rodionov, Polina Devitt and Anton Zverev; Writing by Tom Balmforth/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Giles Elgood and Howard Goller)

2/4/2021 Jailed Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Wife Tells Allies: We’ll Win Anyway by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement,
inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s wife told his supporters on Wednesday they would still triumph despite his jailing and thanked them for protesting in a case she said had made her life a stream of police stations, home searches and court hearings.
    A court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny, a prominent opponent of Vladimir Putin, to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
    Navalny’s supporters gathered to show support during the ruling and protested afterwards, prompting authorities to shut down some metro stations in Moscow and detain more than 1,400 people, according to a protest monitor.
    Most of Navalny’s prominent allies are under house arrest or in custody.    Some of his supporters have suggested his wife Yulia Navalnaya take up his mantle as in Belarus last summer where Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was thrust to the fore of national politics after her husband was jailed.
    “I don’t know what to entertain you with here.    My life recently is police stations, courts and searches,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote in a post on Instagram.
    “I’m reading all your messages and understand that so many good, strong and decent people support Alexei and me that we shouldn’t give in and be afraid.    We’ll win anyway.”
    “A huge thank you to all of you for coming out (to the streets), for writing and asking how I am. I’m okay.”
    Navalny’s allies accuse the police of essentially outlawing public protest and of using disproportionate force and violence to break up rallies and stifle their campaigning.
    On Wednesday, a court jailed Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of independent outlet Mediazona that has covered the protests in detail, for 25 days after finding him guilty of repeatedly flouting protest legislation.
    State investigators also charged Navalny’s brother Oleg, an activist and a member of the Pussy Riot punk group with breaching COVID-19 regulations over a protest on Jan. 23, the RIA news agency reported.
    The Kremlin said the police’s response at Tuesday evening’s protests had been justified because the protests were illegal and unauthorised.    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of deliberately provoking the police by calling protests near the Kremlin following the ruling.
    “The police reaction was due to the threats that could have arisen from staging such a protest,” he told reporters on a conference call.    “The provocations comprise of the fact that there were calls yesterday for unsanctioned protests.”
    Navalny’s allies have circulated footage of scenes they say show police violence, including one clip in which a riot police officer strikes a cameraman with a truncheon, flooring him.
    Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the incident was the subject of an internal investigation.
    The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny, but Russia has told it stay out of its sovereign affairs.
    “The hysteria we’ve heard over the legal process for the Navalny case is of course off the scale,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
    The mood on the snowy streets of Moscow was mixed.
    “I’m not much excited by either our authorities’s actions or those of Navalny,” said Maxim, who did not give a surname.
    “People are tired, people aren’t fools… as for the police actions, they really are animals.    The situation is indirectly repeating the Belarus scenario,” said Danila, 25.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Vladimir Soldatkin, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Polina Ivanova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/4/2021 White House Calls For Swift Release Of Americans Detained In Russia
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki delivers remarks during a press briefing inside the James Brady
Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Wednesday for the swift release of Americans detained in Russia, after the two countries agreed to extend the New START arms control treaty.
    A Russian court sentenced Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine, to nine years in jail in July after convicting him of endangering the lives of two police officers.    Another former Marine, Paul Whelan, was convicted in Russia in June of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in jail.
    Psaki told a regular news briefing that releasing the two after the United States and Russia agreed to extend New START would show “Russia is ready to move past intractable issues within the … bilateral relationshipz.”
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chris Reese)
[OKAY BIDEN STOP SENDING A PRESS SECRETARY WHO IS GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES TO DO YOUR JOB OR WAS IT YOUR NAPPY TIME FROM A HARD DAY OF LIFTING UP A PEN AND FIGHTING TO GET THE PEN IN YOUR COAT POCKET.].

2/4/2021 UN Calls On Putin Regime To Release Navalny & Supporters by OAN Newsroom
This photo released by Philipp Kyznetsov from his instagram account philipp_kuznetsov, shows a group of detained people inside the police bus in
Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Russian protesters spent hours packed inside the vehicles and lodged in corridors of police precincts as authorities
struggle to allocate thousands of people arrested during the rallies sparked by arrest of the opposition leader Alexey Navalny. (Philipp Kyznetsov via AP)
    The United Nations has called for unconditional release of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, along with the thousands of protesters detained during recent demonstrations.
    On Wednesday, the UN Human Rights body said Navalny’s prison sentence is baseless and politically motivated.    The intergovernmental organization added, detentions of protesters by the Putin regime contradict the Russian Constitution and its international obligations.
    “We are deeply dismayed by the sentencing of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny by a court in Moscow yesterday to two years and eight months imprisonment for allegedly violating the conditions of a 2014 suspended sentence in an embezzlement case that the European Court of Human Rights had already unanimously found to be arbitrary, unfair and manifestly unreasonable,” stated Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
    The European Union also said the criminal case against Navalny has no real basis behind it.    Officials said they may seize personal wealth of Putin regime officials unless Navalny and his supporters are released.

2/4/2021 Putin’s Approval Rating Holds Steady Despite Navalny Crackdown: Poll by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference during the World Economic Forum (WEF)
of the Davos Agenda, in Moscow, Russia January 27, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Nationwide protests over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a sweeping police crackdown have so far had little impact on Russia President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating, a survey by independent pollster Levada showed on Thursday.
    A court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny, a prominent Putin opponent, to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
    The Levada Centre poll, conducted in the leadup to the sentencing, showed an overall 1% drop in approval of Putin to 64% from 65% in November among 1,616 adults in 50 regions, a relatively small sample of Russia’s 145 million population.
    Over the course of the year, his rating among younger respondents had dropped 17% to 51%, it said.
    During the Jan 29-Feb 2 polling period, his supporters had been spurred on by more than 100 million views of an online video in which Navalny said Putin was the ultimate owner of an opulent palace on the Black Sea, an allegation he denies.
    “The euphoria in the liberal community is clearly very exaggerated.    The main mass of the population is responding inertly to all the events linked to Navalny,” Lev Gudkov, director of the Moscow-based Levada pollster, told Reuters.
    “It’s got a bit worse among young people, but it practically hasn’t changed for the main mass (of people),” he said of the rating.
    Putin, 68, remained Russia’s most trusted politician with a rating of 29%, five percentage points down from October, while that of Navalny, 44, rose to 5%, putting him in sixth place, Levada said.
    The poll highlighted dissatisfaction with the authorities concentrated in the younger generations, with 48% of 18–24-year-olds saying the country was moving in the wrong direction.
    Putin’s approval rating hit a low last year during the first wave of the pandemic and its fallout, before recovering.
    Gudkov said the public may not have digested the events surrounding Navalny, who was poisoned in Russia in August before recovering in Germany and dramatically returning last month despite a previously-announced threat of arrest.
    The anti-corruption campaigner says Putin had tried to have him killed with a nerve agent.    The Kremlin denies involvement and says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
    Police have detained thousands of people at rallies over Navalny’s jailing in recent weeks.
    Courts have handed down short jail sentences – with a combined total of more than 6,300 days – to around 750 people for protest offences since the first Navalny rally on Jan. 23, the OVD-Info protest monitor said. They’ve also issued over 500 fines worth more than 6 million roubles ($79,400).
    Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol was charged with breaching COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday for calling on people to join a nationwide protest last month.    Navalny’s brother Oleg was charged with a similar offence this week.
    The Kremlin on Thursday rejected allegations of state repression and said people had been detained for taking part in illegal protests.
($1 = 75.5400 roubles)
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Dmitry Antonov; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

2/4/2021 Jailed Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Wife Tells Allies: We’ll Win Anyway by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement,
inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s wife told his supporters on Wednesday they would still triumph despite his jailing and thanked them for protesting in a case she said had made her life a stream of police stations, home searches and court hearings.
    A court on Tuesday sentenced Navalny, a prominent opponent of Vladimir Putin, to three and a half years for parole violations he said were trumped up to sideline him, ignoring calls from the West and protesters at home to release him.
    Navalny’s supporters gathered to show support during the ruling and protested afterwards, prompting authorities to shut down some metro stations in Moscow and detain more than 1,400 people, according to a protest monitor.
    Most of Navalny’s prominent allies are under house arrest or in custody.    Some of his supporters have suggested his wife Yulia Navalnaya take up his mantle as in Belarus last summer where Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was thrust to the fore of national politics after her husband was jailed.
    “I don’t know what to entertain you with here.    My life recently is police stations, courts and searches,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote in a post on Instagram.
    “I’m reading all your messages and understand that so many good, strong and decent people support Alexei and me that we shouldn’t give in and be afraid.    We’ll win anyway.”
    “A huge thank you to all of you for coming out (to the streets), for writing and asking how I am.    I’m okay.”
    Navalny’s allies accuse the police of essentially outlawing public protest and of using disproportionate force and violence to break up rallies and stifle their campaigning.
    On Wednesday, a court jailed Sergei Smirnov, editor-in-chief of independent outlet Mediazona that has covered the protests in detail, for 25 days after finding him guilty of repeatedly flouting protest legislation.
    State investigators also charged Navalny’s brother Oleg, an activist and a member of the Pussy Riot punk group with breaching COVID-19 regulations over a protest on Jan. 23, the RIA news agency reported.
    The Kremlin said the police’s response at Tuesday evening’s protests had been justified because the protests were illegal and unauthorised.    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Navalny’s allies of deliberately provoking the police by calling protests near the Kremlin following the ruling.
    “The police reaction was due to the threats that could have arisen from staging such a protest,” he told reporters on a conference call.    “The provocations comprise of the fact that there were calls yesterday for unsanctioned protests.”
    Navalny’s allies have circulated footage of scenes they say show police violence, including one clip in which a riot police officer strikes a cameraman with a truncheon, flooring him.
    Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the incident was the subject of an internal investigation.
    The West has called on Moscow to release Navalny, but Russia has told it stay out of its sovereign affairs.
    “The hysteria we’ve heard over the legal process for the Navalny case is of course off the scale,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
    The mood on the snowy streets of Moscow was mixed.
    “I’m not much excited by either our authorities’s actions or those of Navalny,” said Maxim, who did not give a surname.
    “People are tired, people aren’t fools… as for the police actions, they really are animals.    The situation is indirectly repeating the Belarus scenario,” said Danila, 25.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Vladimir Soldatkin, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Polina Ivanova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/4/2021 Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Ally Charged With Breaching Pandemic Rules Over Protest – Lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition figure Lyubov Sobol takes part in a rally to mark the 5th anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov's
murder and to protest against proposed amendments to the country's constitution, in Moscow, Russia February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian law enforcement on Thursday charged Lyubov Sobol, an ally of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, with breaching COVID-19 restrictions by calling on people to join a nationwide protest last month, her lawyer said.
    The case against Sobol is part of a police crackdown on Navalny’s allies after they staged nationwide rallies to protest his imprisonment.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; ; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/4/2021 Analysis: As Polls Tighten, Hungary’s Orban Steps Up Pre-Election Spending by Gergely Szakacs
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds an international news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Ahead of an election next year, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is spending money on key groups of voters as opinion polls show a neck-and-neck race with an opposition united against him for the first time.
    The right-wing premier, in power since 2010, is under pressure to reopen the economy after a pandemic-driven crash that sent Hungary into its worst recession since the global financial crisis, ending seven years of steady growth.
    A tally by news website hvg.hu showed about a quarter of the spending channelled via a $12 billion COVID recovery fund last year was linked to the pandemic as Orban spent on other items, including support for ethnic Hungarians living elsewhere in central Europe, who backed him in previous elections.
    Orban is also handing out extra payments for pensioners from February, plans to scrap income tax for younger people from 2022 and is offering grants to families to renovate their homes – measures worth about 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) combined, or about $2 billion.
    His government is also extending a generous family benefit regime that now costs nearly 5% of GDP per year and represents Orban’s most popular policy among undecided voters, according to a 2020 survey by think tank Policy Solutions.
    Orban’s minister in charge of family policy, Katalin Novak, told Reuters that the latest measures were an extension of the governing Fidesz party’s decade-old policies rather than electioneering ahead of a national vote due in just over a year.
    “We are in a fortunate situation as Hungarian people are family-centric, therefore, they assess measures to help families or young people starting a family positively,” said     Novak, one of Orban’s deputies at the helm of Fidesz.
    “We are ready to continue on this path and pledge that we will not cut back on family benefits.    On the contrary, we will continuously expand them.”
    Orban, 57, has been criticised abroad for anti-immigration rhetoric and reforms that the European Union says amount to authoritarianism, which he denies.    But he has been popular at home, winning three straight terms to become Hungary’s longest-serving post-communist leader.
    Peter Virovacz, an economist at ING in Budapest, said the government’s scope to take measures that help its election prospects has been vastly increased by the pandemic, which has eroded budget discipline across Europe.
    “The execution of an election-style budget is helped by the fact that the 2020 shortfall could be blamed on COVID, which meant there was nothing the budget could not take, and this had opened up the floodgates,” Virovacz said.
    In less than a year, Hungary has gone from targeting a balanced budget in the foreseeable future to a deficit worth around 9% of GDP.
COPY-PASTE FROM WARSAW
    With the proposed income tax cut for people under 25, Orban is taking a page out of the playbook of his conservative Polish ally, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose PiS party launched a similar measure ahead of the 2019 national election.
    PiS won fewer votes among people aged 18-29 than in other age groups, according to an Ipsos exit poll.    A recent Hungarian survey showed a similar pattern among younger voters.
    “This is a copy-paste proposal,” said Andras Biro-Nagy at Policy Solutions.    “It is logical that they are trying to do something as this is Fidesz’s weakest demographic.    They are trying to avoid losing this age group at the next election.”
    A December survey by Hungarian think tank Zavecz Research showed support for Fidesz at 33.1% in the 18-29 demographic, the lowest among all age groups and just below support for the joint opposition party list.
    At the same time, the level of undecided voters was by far the highest in the same age group.    The united opposition held a four-point lead over Fidesz among all voters, reflecting a tightening race seen in other polls.
    Orban is also reviving a 13th month pension in a symbolic move as the payment was scrapped under a leftist government as part of an International Monetary Fund-led austerity programme that rescued Hungary from the brink of financial collapse.
    The prime minister argues that any return of his leftist opponents to power would lead to similar recklessness in public finances, an area where Fidesz had a strong record prior to the pandemic.
    Despite catching up with Fidesz at the polls, the opposition still faces hurdles, including agreeing on a joint candidate list and presenting a viable challenger to the combative Orban.
    “Fidesz has been weakened by the pandemic, the government faces a highly unpredictable economic and public health environment in 2021 and polls show that a united opposition could become a serious headache for the ruling party,” said Andrius Tursa, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Additional reporting by Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/5/2021 Russia Expels EU Diplomats, Ignores Bloc’s Call To Free Navalny by Andrew Osborn and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement,
inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday expelled diplomats from three EU member states it accused of attending illegal protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and pointedly ignored a public call by the EU’s top diplomat to free the opposition politician.
    The expulsions, which affected diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden, appear to have wrecked an EU attempt to re-engage with Moscow being spearheaded by Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who was in Russia for talks on Friday.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the move unjustified and a further step away from the rule of law in Russia, while Poland summoned the Russian ambassador over the decision.
    Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed this week for almost three years for parole violations he calls trumped up, a move the West condemned.
    Russia announced the expulsions after Borrell used a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to call for Russia to free Navalny immediately.
    Lavrov did not respond directly to the appeal but complained about what he described as human rights abuses in the EU and called the 27-nation bloc an unreliable partner.
    Borrell had earlier said that the Navalny case was a low point for ties between Russia and the EU. He said there was not yet a formal proposal for new EU sanctions on Russia but that the 27-member bloc would have a discussion next month about relations with Moscow.
    “I have conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and our appeal for his (Navalny’s) release and for the launch of an investigation over his poisoning,” Borrell told the news conference.    “Over the last years our relationship has been marked by fundamental differences and a lack of trust.”
    Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 on his return from treatment in Germany, where he was flown in August after falling ill from what German officials concluded was poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent.    The Kremlin has questioned whether Navalny was poisoned and denied blame for his illness.
    Lavrov said it was up to Brussels if it wanted to impose sanctions on Russia, but that the EU was behaving more and more like Washington in its use of unilateral sanctions.
    “We share the view that a further deterioration of ties is fraught with negative and highly unpredictable consequences,” Lavrov said.
    A few hours after the talks, Russia announced the expulsion of the diplomats, saying they had taken part in illegal protests last month against Navalny’s jailing.    The foreign ministry said Moscow considered their actions unacceptable.
    Despite close trade ties and energy interdependence, Russia’s political relations with the European Union soured after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    Navalny was back in court on Friday for another trial, accused of slandering a World War Two veteran who took part in a promotional video backing changes last year that let Putin run for up to two more terms. Navalny at the time described those in the video as traitors and lackeys. He denies the slander charge.
    In comments by video link at the trial, the veteran called on Navalny to apologise publicly.
    “This case in general was intended as a kind of PR process because the Kremlin needs the headlines: Navalny slandered a veteran,” Navalny told the court.
    The next hearing in the case is on Feb. 12.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Anton Zverev, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Marina Bobrova and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; by Thomas Escritt, Paul Carrell and Thomas Seythanl in Berlin, Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Alan Charlish and Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw; Editing by Nick Macfie and Peter Graff)

2/8/2021 EU Ambassador To Switzerland Says Treaty Talks Finished – Blick
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The European Union will not reopen parts of a stalled bilateral treaty with Switzerland, the EU ambassador to the Alpine republic said in an interview with newspaper Blick, taking a hard line on Swiss misgivings over talks that have lasted years.
    “What we won’t do is reopen the controversial dossiers,” Petros Mavromichalis told the Swiss newspaper.    “The negotiations are done.”
    Switzerland has said in the past it seeks clarifications on issues including state aid, EU citizens’ access to Swiss welfare benefits and unilateral Swiss rules designed to protect the country’s high-wage labour market from competition from cross-border workers.
    Mavromichalis said Swiss demands including requiring companies from the European Union to register their intent to work in Switzerland eight days in advance are unacceptable, saying a four-day registration rule is sufficient.
    “Four days are long enough,” he said, adding that a requirement that EU companies also pay a deposit before working in Switzerland to cover prospective financial penalties for breaking work rules is out of the question.
    “When you assume that a company is criminal just because it isn’t Swiss, that’s rather insulting,” Mavromichalis told Blick.
    The unresolved treaty would formalise ties in five areas – free movement of people, civil aviation, land transport, mutual recognition of industrial standards and processed farm goods.    Switzerland would agree to take on EU single market rules in these areas.
    It has been long delayed on opposition from right-wing Euroskeptics who oppose immigration from the bloc, as well as labour unions wary of any deal that could allow wage dumping by companies based beyond high-cost Switzerland.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

2/8/2021 ‘The Spring Will Be Ours’ – Freed Protesters In Russia Say Ready To March Again by Maria Tsvetkova
People participate in a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced
to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    SAKHAROVO, Russia (Reuters) – Anti-Kremlin protesters freed from detention in Russia say they are ready to keep demonstrating and have lost their fear of the authorities.
    Police detained more than 11,000 people during three unsanctioned protests over the past weeks calling for the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, jailed for parole violations he denied.
    Navalny allies have put protests on hold for now until warmer weather and say they are focused on trying to achieve a breakthrough at a parliamentary election in the autumn.
    Some of those detained for taking part in the protests said they were ready to take to the streets again when the time was right.
    “We need to keep fighting, it’s impossible to scare us,” Artem Medvedev, a 32-year-old marketing specialist, told Reuters minutes after being freed after five days in a detention centre outside Moscow.
    “Amazing people are kept here and they only strengthened their beliefs.    It was a mistake by people in power to hold us here all together,” he said.
    With jails overwhelmed, Medvedev, with hundreds of other protesters, was transported to a facility near the village of Sakharovo outside Moscow, usually used as an immigration detention centre.
POOR CONDITIONS
    Protesters said conditions were poor and many were forced to spend nights in police buses before being jailed and then hours in overcrowded stuffy cells before being found beds.
    One video sent to Reuters by Darya Stebletsova, an arrested protester, showed a rusty sink and a hole in the floor, used as a toilet.
    Another protester, Veniamin, 54, said his cell only got access to soap, toilet paper and toothbrushes on the third day of his five-day arrest.
    The Kremlin has acknowledged overcrowding and problems with finding proper jails for protesters due to the large number of arrests, but has blamed the demonstrators for ignoring warnings against taking part in illegal protests.
    It has said any future protests would also be illegal, if unsanctioned in advance by the authorities, and would be handled by the police in the same way.
    Outside, relatives and friends of the arrested protesters and volunteers waited for days to be able to pass them clothes, food, water and cigarettes.
    Andrei Prokofiyev, a member of a Moscow municipal council, brought supplies for jailed activists. He said he had spent 14 hours waiting.
    “Is there panic in the Kremlin? … Why are there so many illegal detentions? … In terms of public opinion, it will work against the authorities,” he said.
    Boris Krit, the father of one of the arrested protesters, was waiting outside the jail for the release of his son.
    He likened the opposition’s decision to put protests on hold to the strategy employed by the Polish Solidarity protest movement against communism in the 1980s.
    “The winter is yours but the spring will be ours,” he said.    “What they (the police) do, it only makes people angry.    This generation has no fear.”
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Janet Lawrence)

2/8/2021 Exclusive: Russia Considering At Least $6.7 Billion Spending Package To Ease Discontent – Sources by Darya Korsunskaya
FILE PHOTO: People walk on a street during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition
leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia January 31, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities are considering a new social spending package worth at least $6.7 billion to address discontent over falling living standards before an autumn election, according to two government sources.
    The package, which one of the sources said President Vladimir Putin was likely to unveil in an annual speech to senior political figures in coming weeks, follows unsanctioned nationwide protests last month that hit the value of the rouble.
    Graphic: Russian rouble weakens in early 2021, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/gjnpwzgazvw/RoubleJanFeb2021.jpg
    A spokesman for Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said he was not immediately aware of the proposal. The Kremlin declined immediate comment.
    The trigger for the recent protests was the arrest of opposition politician and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was detained on his return to Russia following treatment in Germany after he was poisoned by a nerve agent in Siberia last August.
    Some protesters also said they had taken to the streets to vent their frustration over declining living standards and the perceived gap between a small number of wealthy people and the rest of the population.
    The two government sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters the spending package was meant to make people feel the authorities are aware of their financial concerns and are doing something to help them.
    The new aid package would be worth around 500 billion roubles ($6.74 billion), the first government source said.
    The second said the package would be worth 0.5% of Russia’s 2021 projected gross domestic product, which, according to Reuters calculations, would amount to around 580 billion roubles ($7.81 billion).
    While the average wage rose to the equivalent of around $660 in late 2020, real incomes that are adjusted for inflation fell 3.5% last year and unemployment was close to 6% for first time since 2011.
    The economy, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, suffered its sharpest contraction in 11 years in 2020. Inflation hit 5.2% last month – above the central bank target of 4% – and is accelerating.
PROMISES TO RAISE LIVING STANDARDS
    The sources disclosed no details of how the money might be spent. Such programmes have in the past targeted low-income families with small children, offering allowances for first-time mothers and higher payments for families with more children.
    Putin has repeatedly promised to lift living standards but the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with low oil prices saw incomes fall 8.4% in the second quarter of 2020, year-on-year, in what became the deepest quarterly decline since 1999.
    The West has condemned Moscow over the treatment of Navalny and said it will consider new sanctions against Russia.
    Fitch Ratings, affirming Russia’s sovereign ratings last week, said the risk of sanctions remained high and “weighs on Russia’s rating.”
    Fitch said the possibility of further social unrest posed no short-term risks to the stability of the government, but that it could complicate the ruling United Russia party’s efforts to secure a constitutional majority in an election to the lower house of parliament, or Duma, that is due on Sept. 19.
(Writing by Andrey Ostroukh, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

2/8/2021 EU Expels Three Russian Diplomats, Defends Envoy’s Moscow Trip by Robin Emmott and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: A protester wearing a face mask holds a poster of Alexei Navalny in Hollywood during a demonstration in support of Russian opposition
leader Alexei Navalny, who was sentenced to jail, in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 6, 2021. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany, Poland and Sweden expelled three Russian diplomats in a coordinated retaliation on Monday for the expulsion of three European Union diplomats by Russia while the EU’s foreign policy chief was visiting Moscow last week.
    The tit-for-tat expulsions underscore the volatility in East-West relations and an erosion of trust among former Cold War foes, as the West accuses Moscow of trying to destabilise it and the Kremlin rejects what it sees as foreign interference.
    The EU executive defended Josep Borrell over his trip to Russia where has said he had learned of the expulsions via social media while speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday the removal of diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden, accused by Moscow of taking part in protests last month against jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, took place a day before Borrell’s trip.
    Germany’s Foreign Office, in a statement regarding its ejection of a Russian diplomat, said the German diplomat booted out by Moscow was only “carrying out his task of reporting on developments on the spot in a legal fashion.”
    Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it ordered a member of Russia’s consulate in the city of Poznan to leave “in accordance with the principle of reciprocity and in coordination with Germany and Sweden.”
    Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Stockholm’s action was a “clear response to the unacceptable (Russian) decision to expel a Swedish diplomat who was only performing his duties.”
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the EU countries’ action against its diplomats was “unjustified and unfriendly,” Interfax news agency reported.
APPEAL IGNORED, BORRELL SAYS
    In a blog released late on Sunday, Borrell said his pleas to Russia to halt the expulsions were ignored.    Estonia’s former defence chief Riho Terras, now an EU lawmaker, has started a campaign to call for Borrell’s resignation.
    But the executive European Commission said it had no regrets about Borrell making his first trip to Moscow as the coordinator of EU foreign policy because Russia was on a course towards confrontation – which Borrell sought to avert.
    “The trip was necessary. One doesn’t give up on a trip because it looks difficult,” Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said in Brussels.    “A trip is not a success or a failure on the basis of what happens during a particular moment.”
    Peskov told reporters that Russian officials “were not the initiators of the collapse in relations.”
    Borrell will on Tuesday address the European Parliament, which has called for sanctions to stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline between Russia and Germany.
    Some EU states are now intensifying a push for new Western sanctions against Moscow, two diplomats said.
    Poland convened a two-hour-long video call with EU states on Monday that was joined by envoys from Britain, the United States, Canada and Ukraine, as well as two allies of Navalny, Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov, to discuss policy on Russia, including sanctions.
    Navalny was jailed on Feb. 2 after a Russian court ruled he had violated the terms of a suspended sentence in an embezzlement case that he says was trumped up.
‘DISCONNECTING’ EAST AND WEST
    During Borrell’s visit, he and Lavrov gave a news conference at which the Russian minister described the EU as “an unreliable partner” and the Spaniard praised Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine.
    Borrell went to Moscow to seek Navalny’s release and to try to relaunch EU-Russia relations.    But in Sunday’s blog post, he said Friday’s news conference had been “aggressively staged” and the trip had been “very complicated.”
    “Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat,” wrote Borrell. “It will be for member states to decide the next steps, and yes, these could include sanctions.”
    EU foreign ministers will discuss Russia on Feb. 22.
    Russia has been under Western economic sanctions since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 but is also a major energy supplier that also helps the West in areas such as upholding the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow with additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Alan Charlish and Anna Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk from Warsaw, Helena Soderpalm from Stockholm and Thomas Escritt from Berlin, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/9/2021 ‘Merciless’ Russia May Face New Sanctions, EU Says by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a video conference during the World Economic Forum (WEF)
of the Davos Agenda, in Moscow, Russia January 27, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat warned Moscow on Tuesday it could face new sanctions over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, describing the government of President Vladimir Putin as “merciless”, authoritarian and afraid of democracy.
    Josep Borrell said his visit last Friday to Moscow had cemented his view that Russia wanted to break away from Europe and divide the West, in a speech marking the EU’s harshest criticism of Moscow since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
    “The Russian government is going down a worrisome authoritarian route,” said Borrell, who pleaded for Navalny’s release in Moscow and sought in vain to visit him in prison.
    “There seems to be almost no room for the development of democratic alternatives … they are merciless in stifling any such attempts,” he told the European Parliament, saying that he believed the Kremlin saw democracy as an “existential threat
    Borrell’s remarks suggested a hardening of EU attitudes to Russia, a big energy provider to Europe, after years of seeking better ties despite Western sanctions imposed in 2014.
    “Russia seeks to divide us,” Borrell said.
    Navalny was arrested in January after returning to Russia for the first time since being poisoned last August in Siberia with what many Western countries said was a nerve agent.
    Navalny blamed Putin for the attack but the Kremlin has dismissed the accusations and questioned whether the opposition politician was really poisoned.    His arrest and imprisonment has caused big protests in Russia.
    During Borrell’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which Borrell described as heated, Moscow expelled three EU diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden, provoking tit-for-tat expulsions by Berlin, Warsaw and Stockholm.
    Borrell said he only learned about the expulsions from Russia via social media during his visit, which included a news conference in which Lavrov chided the EU as “an unreliable partner.”
    Many EU lawmakers said the Kremlin wanted to try to humiliate Borrell on Friday in Moscow to send a message that the West should stay out of Russian domestic affairs.    At least 81 deputies have called for Borrell’s resignation.
    Borrell said targeted sanctions were now an option for Russia, but it was up to EU states to decide.    “Yes, this includes sanctions,” Borrell said of next policy steps.
SANCTION TARGETS
    Two allies of Navalny have urged Western envoys to impose sanctions on senior Russian business and political figures, judges and security chiefs, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.
    The appeal for sanctions by Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov during a video call on Monday was denounced by Moscow on Tuesday as treachery.
    Ashurkov and Volkov joined the video call with European Union states and envoys from Britain, the United States, Canada and Ukraine to propose names of senior figures in business, political and security circles who could face sanctions, according to two Western diplomats who were on the call.
    The two Western diplomats declined to disclose names, but said Volkov and Ashurkov told the call that sanctions should target the assets and freedom to travel of those affected.    The aim would be to weaken those who have amassed fortunes and influence while ordinary Russians struggle to make ends meet.
    RIA news agency quoted Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying Navalny’s allies had received instructions on how to disrupt Russian politics during Monday’s video call.    She described members of Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation as “agents of influence” acting on behalf of the NATO military alliance.
(Additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow; editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/9/2021 Ally Of Kremlin Critic Navalny Says New Protest Action Planned For Sunday: MBKh Media Outlet
FILE PHOTO: Leonid Volkov, chief of staff of Navalny's team, speaks during a news conference with "Cinema for Peace" founder Jaka Bizilj after Bizilj's foundation arranged for
an ambulance aircraft to head to Omsk to pick up Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Berlin, Germany August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday announced plans to stage some kind of new anti-Kremlin protest action this Sunday, saying the format for the event would be different from recent rallies, the MBKh media outlet reported.
    Leonid Volkov said further details would be announced later on Tuesday or on Wednesday, but said the plan would seek to distance protesters from the police in an unspecified way.
    Thousands of people have been detained by police at nationwide rallies in recent weeks for protesting against the jailing of Navalny.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/9/2021 TV Journalists Face Three Years In Prison For Reporting On Belarus Protests
Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova, Belarusian journalists working for the Polish television channel Belsat accused of coordinating mass protests in
2020 by broadcasting live reports, embrace inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KYIV (Reuters) – Two Belarusian journalists working for the Polish television channel Belsat went on trial in the capital Minsk on Tuesday on charges related to their coverage of mass protests in 2020, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
    Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova, a reporter and a camerawoman for Belsat, were arrested in November after a demonstration.
    Months of protests took place in Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory over opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in an election in August.    The opposition said the result was rigged.
    Prosecutors accused Andreeva and Chultsova of coordinating the protests by broadcasting live reports.    They have denied the charges, for which they could be sentenced to three years in prison.    They appeared in court inside a cage.
    International human rights organisations have condemned the detention of Andreeva and Chultsova.
    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged Belarusian authorities to drop the “absurd” charges against Andreyeva and Chultsova and release them unconditionally.
    “The Belarus government must stop punishing journalists for reporting on important political events, and allow them to work freely and without fear of reprisal,” it said in a statement on Monday.
    Thousands of protesters were rounded up and nearly all opposition political figures were driven into exile or jailed as the government cracked down. (Reporting by Kyiv bureau; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/9/2021 Austria To Isolate Province In EU’s Worst Outbreak Of South African Coronavirus Variant by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz holds a news conference as the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) continues in Vienna, Austria December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria is stepping up its response to the European Union’s biggest outbreak of the so-called South African coronavirus variant in its Alpine province of Tyrol, by requiring those leaving Tyrol to show a negative test result as of Friday.
    A year ago Tyrol, a winter sports hotspot bordering Germany, Italy and Switzerland, was the scene of one of Europe’s worst instances of virus spreading at the ski resort of Ischgl. Thousands of tourists from across Europe were infected.
    Despite that damaging episode, the provincial government has resisted pressure from Vienna to do more to curb the new variant that threatens Austria’s vaccination plans.    After days of fraught negotiation, the national government said on Tuesday it would screen those leaving Tyrol, starting in three days.
    “We have a responsibility throughout Austria to fight mutations against which vaccinations are less or maybe barely effective,” conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference, a day after his government asked the public not to travel to Tyrol unless they have to.
    Police will require anyone leaving the province to show a negative coronavirus test result no more than 48 hours old, and the measure will last 10 days.    It will not apply to East Tyrol, which is separated from the rest of the province, or to children.
    So far 293 cases of the variant have been confirmed in Tyrol, and 129 of them are currently active, the government said.    The authorities have been unable to explain how it arrived in the province where lockdown measures have kept hotels closed to tourists, though ski lifts are open.
    As in much of the EU, Austria’s national vaccination plan relies heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine and a recent study has shaken confidence in its effectiveness against the South African variant, showing it had little effect against mild disease caused by that variant.
    “Almost 50% of Europeans will be vaccinated with AstraZeneca in the coming months.    If this drug is less effective then we must be aware that these mutations, that these variants, are extremely dangerous for us,” Kurz said.
    On Monday, his government had loosened Austria’s third coronavirus lockdown, letting non-essential shops reopen, including in Tyrol, despite stubbornly high infections nationally.
    The opposition Social Democrats criticised the bickering between the provincial and national governments, both of which are led by Kurz’s conservatives, saying in a statement they had “learned nothing from Ischgl.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Grant McCool)

2/10/2021 Infighting Erupts In Russia’s Anti-Kremlin Opposition Over Alexei Navalny by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Grigory Yavlinsky, former presidential candidate for the Yabloko liberal party, lays flowers at the "Solovetsky" memorial stone during a ceremony
on the eve of a nation-wide remembrance day for the victims of political repression in central Moscow, Russia October 29, 2018. PEUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition plans to convert anger over Alexei Navalny’s arrest and jailing into parliamentary seats at the ruling pro-Kremlin party’s expense later this year have suffered a setback after an acrimonious outbreak of infighting.
    The row began on Saturday when the veteran founder of Yabloko, a storied anti-Kremlin party, urged people to turn their back on Navalny, who has emerged as the most high-profile opposition politician after his arrest and jailing sparked nationwide protests.
    “Everyone must decide whether to support Navalny or not,” Grigory Yavlinsky wrote in an article, which accused Navalny of being a xenophobic and authoritarian nationalist, something the 44-year-old has denied in the past.
    “But you need to understand.    A democratic Russia, respect for people, and a life without fear and repression are incompatible with Navalny’s policies.”
    The intervention came ahead of parliamentary elections in September where Navalny’s allies plan to encourage people to vote tactically.    It has caused upheaval in Yabloko and drawn fierce condemnation from Navalny’s allies, some of whom have urged Yabloko to expel Yavlinsky.
    The ensuing acrimony, which has seen many people insult Yavlinsky on social media and some side with him, raises questions about whether the opposition will unite or, as in the past, mount separate challenges and squabble.
    The authorities have allowed Yabloko to run in the past, although it long since failed to win enough votes to gain seats in parliament.
    Meanwhile, applications by     Navalny’s allies to register a party have repeatedly been rejected.
    Some Yabloko members criticised Yavlinsky, saying he risked driving voters away at a time when people were looking for an outlet after the protests.
    “Either our party can represent these people or we’ll be left without voters – the only oxygen for political parties,” Lev Shlosberg, a prominent Yabloko politician, wrote in a riposte.
    Yevgeny Roizman, the former anti-Kremlin mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg, said he could no longer run for parliament on a Yabloko ticket.
    Others said it was wrong to criticise Navalny who they said was a genuine political prisoner and unable to respond.
    The row shines a light on longstanding concerns among some Kremlin opponents about Navalny’s suitability to lead the opposition due to what they regard as his unacceptable views.
    Yabloko expelled him in 2007 over “nationalist activities.”
    Navalny, who used to march with extreme nationalists and has used language about non-Russians which some critics have found offensive, said at the time that the real reason he was shown the door was his own desire to get rid of Yavlinsky.
    Jailed this month for nearly three years in relation to an embezzlement case he says was trumped up, Navalny has dismissed similar criticism in the past as being motivated by personality differences and political manoeuvring.
    Nikolay Rybakov, Yabloko’s party leader, offered support to Yavlinsky in an interview with TV Rain.
    “Yavlinsky did a very unusual thing in Russian politics.    He spoke honestly to many people about what people are talking about in their kitchens but are afraid to say on social networks because they’re afraid they’ll be criticised,” he said.
    Navalny’s jailing, following his return to Russia from Germany last month after being poisoned in Siberia with what many Western countries say was a nerve agent, prompted tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest.
    His allies have called for people to gather briefly in their courtyards this Sunday and say they will call for more protests, something the Kremlin regards as illegal, in the spring.    They have also called for more investigations into corruption, along the lines of hugely popular videos that Navalny has produced.
    Yavlinsky said protests and investigations were not the answer.    Kremlin opponents should use more conventional methods to try to win seats in parliament, he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/10/2021 Russians Who Expect Protests At Highest Since 1998: Poll
FILE PHOTO: People participate in a demonstration after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced
to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of Russians who expect there to be new protests has jumped to its highest since 1998, although the willingness of people to take part has fallen to its lowest since early 2018, the independent Levada pollster said on Wednesday.
    Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin.
    The Moscow-based Levada Centre said an opinion poll conducted from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 showed that 45% of people expected fresh political protests, a jump from 23% last November.
    The poll also found that 43% of people said they thought protests with economic demands were possible.    That level was last recorded in November 1998, the year of Russia’s financial crisis.
    Despite those figures, fewer Russians said they were willing to take part.
    Around 15% of 1,616 people polled in 50 different regions said they would be ready to turn out to a political protest.    The poll also showed that 17% of Russians would be willing to take part in a protest linked to economic conditions.
    Those figures represent Russians’ lowest willingness to take to the streets since March 2018, according to the poll.
    Some human rights groups and allies of Navalny have accused police of using disproportionate force to break up the recent protests in support of the opposition politician.
    OVD-Info, a protest monitor, said police had detained more than 11,000 people nationwide during the rallies.
    The Kremlin has rejected allegations of state repression against Navalny’s supporters.
    Navalny’s team last week declared a moratorium on street protests until the spring and summer but has since urged Russians to gather near their homes on Valentine’s Day to shine their mobile phone torches and light candles in heart shapes.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Steve Orlofsky)

2/10/2021 For Hungary’s Poor It’s Wood Or Food. Trash Also Burns, Creating Deadly Smog by Marton Dunai and Marton Monus
Zoltan Berki Sr, 55, searches for firewood in an old abandoned house in Ozd, Hungary, December 19, 2020. To Zoltan Berki Sr.
pollution means chest pain and coughs, but cold is a more imminent danger. "We collect what we find and take
it home to burn," Berki said. "They heat up nicely, and we can't afford to buy anything." REUTERS/Marton Monus
    SAJONEMETI, Hungary (Reuters) – Zoltan Berki usually wakes up before dawn, as his five small children sleep next door, to feed the old iron furnace that stands in a wall cavity to warm up both rooms.    This is the only part of his house that he can afford to heat during winter.
    Come rain or shine, Berki, a stocky 28-year-old Roma man, cycles an hour to work to save on the bus fare, so he is up anyway.
    But he also has to burn some materials before daylight, to conceal the thick black smoke that billows from his chimney when he uses plastic or rubber.    Such household pollution is illegal in Hungary, including in this town near the Slovakian border.
    People do it anyway.    On a foggy winter’s day, dense smoke of different hues spews from nearly every chimney.    It stays low in the air, gradually filling the narrow valleys.
    “Firewood is expensive,” Berki said one recent afternoon, as his family played around him, crammed into a small room.    “Either I buy wood or food. So I go to the forest, or the junkyard, and if we find plastic or rubber we burn that.”
    The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled last week that Hungary had breached pollution limits for over a decade in the Sajo river valley, as well as other areas, which could be grounds for financial penalties unless reversed.
    The ruling should be seen as “a wake-up call,” European Commission spokeswoman Vivian Loonela said.
    The Hungarian government did not respond to a request for comment.
    Although Hungary has reduced its carbon emissions in the past decades and is not the worst offender in Europe, pockets of high pollution persist, and rules are rarely enforced, according to locals and environmental rights groups.
    The capital Budapest and the southern city of Pecs suffer too, but the situation in the Sajo valley, where pollution and poverty go hand-in-hand, is especially severe.
    In Berki’s home, the hand-sized doors of the furnace open with a creak.    Berki starts the flames and throws in a wood plank or two to build heat.    Then he burns whatever he can.    Plastic bottles, cut-up tyres and window frames all work.    An old shoe often suffices.
    Scavenging for material https://reut.rs/3tKI0wD to burn is common for the poorest people in the small, run-down town of Sajonemeti and those nearby, among the most destitute communities in Europe since Communist-era heavy industry vanished 30 years ago, leaving thousands jobless.
    Aware of the rules, Berki avoids burning some fuel by day.
    “The neighbours can see, and you can also smell it,” he said.    “We throw the rubber and the plastic bottles and such things on at night.”
    The valley forms a dead end and prevents winds as cold air settles in, so heavy smog can linger for weeks.    Several such areas exist in Hungary, together contributing to thousands of premature deaths every year, according to Europe’s top court.
YEARS OF ALARM
    Hungarian environmental groups have been raising the alarm for years.
    In 2020 Zsuzsanna F. Nagy, northeastern Hungary’s foremost environmental activist, surveyed locals about their heating practices, and found that while some people burned rubbish, even those who tried to heat homes properly often burned lignite or other coal products that were unfit for home use.
    That echoed the assessment of the Clean Air Action Group, a Budapest-based green organisation, which said coal types can vary widely, and by using the wrong ones, households could erase gains made by a post-Communist cleanup of industry.
    The gap between quality coal and low-grade alternatives can mean a 60-fold difference in particulate emissions, it said.
    In Hungary, a country of 10 million people, air pollution causes an annual 13,000 premature deaths, a million people fall sick and billions of euros are lost to economic damage, Clean Air project leader Judit Szego said.
    According to the European Environmental Agency, Hungary ranks third in Europe behind Bulgaria and Poland in health damage, losing an annual 1,128 life years per 100,000 residents due to particulate pollution, or small flying dust, alone – compared with about 500 in the UK or 250 in Sweden.
    Air pollution can cause allergic reactions, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, the National Public Health Institute said in a 2017 study.
    Berki’s five children all use inhalers because they suffer from asthma symptoms, he said. To his father, Zoltan Berki Sr., pollution means chest pain and coughs.
    On Sunday, the elder Berki went to dig up leftover coal by hand – a common sight in winter.
    The man-made mounds are littered with materials for burning, including logs from the old coal mine rail tracks which are infused with diesel.
    “Smokes like hell but burns nicely,” he said as he piled up a few.    “We collect what we find and take it home to burn. They heat up nicely, and we can’t afford to buy anything,.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/12/2021 Russia Says It Would Be Ready To Cut EU Ties If Hit With Painful Sanctions
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following a meeting with European Union's foreign policy
chief Josep Borrell in Moscow, Russia February 5, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday it would be ready to sever ties with the European Union if the bloc hit it with painful economic sanctions, a statement that Germany described as disconcerting and incomprehensible.
    Ties between Russia and the West, already at post-Cold War lows, have come under renewed pressure over the arrest and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    Three European diplomats told Reuters on Thursday the EU was likely to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, possibly as soon as this month.
    Pressure for sanctions has grown since Moscow infuriated European countries last week by expelling German, Polish and Swedish diplomats without telling the EU’s foreign policy chief, who was in Moscow for a visit.    Paris and Berlin say there must be a response.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was asked in an interview published on the ministry’s website on Friday whether Moscow was moving towards cutting ties with the EU.
    “We proceed from the fact that we’re ready (for that).    In the event that we again see sanctions imposed in some sectors that create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive spheres,” Lavrov said.
    “We don’t want to isolate ourselves from global life, but we have to be ready for that.    If you want peace then prepare for war.”
    A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said “these statements are really disconcerting and incomprehensible.”
    The Kremlin offered a softer interpretation of Lavrov’s words later on Friday.    It said Russia wanted to develop ties with EU rather than sever them, but that Moscow felt it had to be ready for Brussels to take steps to cut ties.
    “If the EU goes down that path then yes, we should be ready, because you have to be ready for the worst,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
    “Of course, if we encounter an extremely destructive line that damages our infrastructure and our interests, then of course Russia has to be ready in advance for those kinds of unfriendly steps.”
    The foreign ministry later said Moscow would be prepared to cut ties if Brussels initiated such a break, the RIA news agency reported.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Dmitry Antonov in Moscow and Paul Carrel in Berlin; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

2/14/2021 Kerry Calls Russian FM To Discuss Paris Agreement by OAN Newsroom
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens as Joe Biden speaks about climate change issues in the State
Dining Room of the White House on January 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)
    The Biden administration pushed ahead with rejoining the Paris Agreement and its plans to play a larger role in The Arctic Council.    On Friday, Biden’s Climate Envoy John Kerry spoke with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the phone.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Photo by DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
    Kerry agreed to cooperate in the future within The Arctic Council.    The foreign minister reportedly welcomed the U.S.’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement, which is a multi-national treaty focused on so-called climate change.
    This is yet another reversal of work done by the Trump administration as President Trump pulled out of the pact.    He called it a “disaster for America.”

2/14/2021 Russians Hold ‘Flashlight Protests’ In Support Of Navalny by OAN Newsroom
People drew hearts with their cellphone flashlights in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny
and his wife Yulia Navalnaya Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
    The Russian opposition are changing the tactic of anti-government protests with a nationwide “flashlight demonstration.”    On Sunday, thousands of Russians took to the streets with flashlights in a show of defiance against the latest round of political repressions.
    Protesters formed heart signs with candles and flashlights to show that “love overcomes fear” on Valentine’s Day.
    Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has remained in detention as he faces imprisonment for revealing massive corruption of the Putin regime.
    Experts said the Kremlin is failing to contain the protests.
    “You can no longer ignore a person who has become a nationwide political figure, even though, of course, he’s barred,” Moscow political analyst Maria Lipman stated.    “He has been barred from taking part in political process and now he’s behind bars.    Still, he was able to enlarge the awareness of him among the Russian people.”
    The Putin regime tried to outlaw the flashlight protest, but ongoing demonstrations have shown the latest failure of its repressive machine.

2/15/2021 Russian Ex-Journalist Accused Of Treason Says He Doesn’t Know His Alleged Crime by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and an aide to the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos who remains in custody on state
treason charges, is escorted after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former Russian newspaper journalist accused of treason says state investigators have still not told him exactly what his alleged crime was, over six months after his arrest.
    Ivan Safronov, 30, covered military affairs as a reporter before starting work at Russia’s space agency last May.    He was detained last July and is being held in prison, accused of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic.
    Safronov, whose treatment has provoked an outcry among some Russian journalists, faces up to 20 years in jail.    He denies treason.
    “They say I committed a crime in 2017, but they don’t say exactly what I did – they tell me to remember,” Safronov said in an interview published on Monday by Kommersant newspaper, where he used to work.
    “I spent three months trying to dig up something on myself, but I haven’t remembered any crimes,” he said in written responses to questions submitted by the daily.
    The Kremlin declined comment on Safronov’s remarks.    It said it was up to Russia’s courts to review the case.
    Safronov, who said he cannot communicate with his close relatives as all of them have been made witnesses, suggested the accusations were linked to his acquaintance with a Czech journalist he met in Moscow in 2010.
    When the Czech left Russia at the end of a work assignment, he set up a pay-to-view information agency for other media outlets containing analysis and press digests, Safronov said.
    He said he was sent possible coverage topics and submitted texts from 2017-19 based on “information from open sources.”
    “Investigators see the fact of my acquaintance with (the journalist) as recruitment, his messages as intelligence missions, and a state secret was somehow found in my answers,” he said.
    Safronov said he had no access to state secrets as a journalist and that investigators had told him “the accusation is not linked to journalism work.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/15/2021 Lavrov Blames EU For Demise Of Its Russia Ties
Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attends a news conference following a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg, Russia February 15, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday blamed the European Union for its deteriorating relations with Russia and accused the bloc of systematically destroying mechanisms for cooperation.
    Ties between Russia and the West, already at post-Cold War lows, have come under renewed pressure over the fate of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose jailing and treatment by Moscow have raised the prospect of further sanctions on Russia.
    Last week Lavrov said Moscow would be ready to sever ties with the European Union if the bloc hit it with painful economic sanctions, a statement that Germany described as disconcerting and incomprehensible.
    At talks with Finland’s foreign minister on Monday, Lavrov laid the blame for the bad state of ties on Brussels.
    “Relations have been consistently torn apart by the European Union,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.    “The carcass of these relations was consciously destroyed at the initiative of Brussels.”
    Pressure for sanctions has grown since Russia infuriated European countries this month by expelling German, Polish and Swedish diplomats without informing the EU’s foreign policy chief, who was in Moscow for a visit at the time.
    Lavrov on Monday said: “The EU has consistently destroyed all mechanisms without exception.”
    However, he said, this did not mean Russia would pull back from its relations with individual member states.
    “Don’t confuse Europe with the European Union.    When it comes to Europe, we are not going anywhere,” Lavrov said.    “We have many friends in Europe.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/15/2021 Hundreds In Serbia Mourn Medics, Demand Better COVID Protection
A woman lays a flower and pays her respects to medical workers who have died from the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Hundreds of people held a minute’s silence in front of Serbia’s government building on Monday to pay their respects to doctors and nurses killed by COVID-19 and to demand more is done to protect health workers.
    People placed white roses at the entrance to the building and lit candles.
    Of the 4,245 people who have died in Serbia from COVID-19, around 2.5% or 105 were doctors, according to official figures.
    The Union of Doctors and Pharmacists, which organised the protest, says the death toll among doctors is higher than in other countries in the region.
    “For a small country such as Serbia, this is a huge number of people we have lost because of bad organisation,” said Ferenci Tot, a respiratory diseases specialist, who was among the protest organisers.
    In neighbouring Croatia only one doctor has died from COVID-19, in Albania 24 doctors have died and in Bosnia 23 doctors, according to local media reports.
    Doctor Dejan Zujovic, a pulmonologist who has worked in COVID-19 red zones in Belgrade, said long working hours and poor protection equipment were the main reasons for such a high death rate among doctors.
    “People do not go on holidays, they are exhausted and their immunity suffers,” he said.
    Government officials have said they will investigate the deaths of medical workers but little has been done so far.
    The head of the government’s Crisis Committee, Predrag Kon, drew public criticism when he said doctors and nurses became infected while having coffee rather than while working with patients.
    To prevent further deaths, hours spent in COVID-19 red zones should be limited to six a day, with a one-month time limit on rotas, said Doctor Gorica Djokic, a secretary general of the Union of Doctors and Pharmacists.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

2/15/2021 Exclusive: Russia In Prisoner Swap Talks With U.S. Over Detained American – Lawyer by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a
defendants' cage during his verdict hearing in Moscow, Russia June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States are in talks on a possible prisoner swap that could secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine jailed for spying, within two to three months, his lawyer told Reuters on Monday.
    Russia convicted Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, of spying last June and sentenced him to 16 years in jail.    He denied spying and said he was set up in a sting operation. Washington demanded his release.
    Moscow said that Whelan had been caught red-handed with classified information in a Moscow hotel room where agents from the Federal Security Service detained him on Dec. 28, 2018.
    Whelan’s Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said that talks on an exchange were now taking place between Russian and U.S. security services.
    “I speak with the siloviks (Russia’s security services).    They say that negotiations are under way.    The question with an exchange will be resolved,” he said.
    “As far as I understand some kind of initiative has appeared, I think the American side has begun initiating talks…specifically under Biden,” he said.
    Zherebenkov has said in the past that he believed Moscow wanted an exchange deal that could include Whelan.    It has not been previously reported that talks with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration were happening.
    “According to my information, negotiations are underway and the question of a handover will be resolved in the coming two to three months,” he added.
    The U.S. Embassy did not reply to a request for comment.
    Zherebenkov said he was not in a position to say if the talks were broaching the case of Trevor Reed, another former U.S. marine who was jailed by Russia for nine years in July for endangering the lives of two Moscow policemen.
    Washington has protested both Whelan and Reed’s cases, describing the latter’s trial as “theater of the absurd” and lacking serious evidence.
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Jan. 27 that Reed and Whelan were wrongly presented in the West as innocent victims and had been convicted of crimes in Russia.    It said talk of their exchange was being used to exert pressure on Moscow.
    Zherebenkov said there were various views in Moscow as to which Russians held in custody by the United States could be exchanged for Whelan.
    He named arms dealer Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine.    Russia has long sought their release.    He also suggested unnamed Russian entrepreneurs and people he described as computer programmers.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/16/2021 Australia Probes Kremlin-Centered Money Laundering Scheme by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the Government via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence
outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Australia has continued to investigate a money laundering scheme centered around a top official with Russia’s Putin regime.
    According to Transparency International Russia, nine Russian citizens stashed more than $30 million in Australian banks in recent years.    The money was allegedly laundered on behalf of the son of the deputy attorney general of Russia.
    The suspects run a mining company in East Siberia that has no official revenue.    The report found the suspects conspired with Putin regime officials to sell Russia’s minerals to Mainland China and then hold the revenue in Australian banks.
    “The price they listed was $27 for 1 kilogram, while the real price is between $50 and $100,” explained Evgeniy Kislov, laboratory director of the Institute of     Geology for the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.    “I know that a large shipment of the precious mineral, back in 2015, went to the city of Doning in China’s Heilongjiang province.    It was sold there for $15,000 per 1 kilogram and in Beijing that would cost up to $50,000 for 1 kilogram.”
    Russian anti-corruption activists have said the Australian scheme is part of a broader criminal activity by the Kremlin to sell Russia’s national wealth to China and other countries.

2/16/2021 Ukrainian Minister Says ‘Information Attacks’ Hitting Vaccine Procurement by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Health Minister Maksym Stepanov speaks during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – The Ukrainian health minister said on Tuesday that Kyiv’s vaccine purchases were being hampered by “dirty information attacks” that had triggered a corruption investigation against his ministry.
    Maksym Stepanov denied wrongdoing after the anti-corruption agency NABU this month launched an inquiry into the procurement of China’s Sinovac vaccines through an intermediary importer, Lekhim.
    Ukraine lags behind most European countries in procuring COVID-19 vaccines and has yet to start mass vaccinations.
    The corruption row deepened this week when the government announced new legislation on NABU’s status, which a leading activist group, AntAC, described as revenge for the inquiry and a ruse to dismiss NABU chief Artem Sytnyk.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denied NABU’s independence was under threat and said the wording of the legislation was discussed with the International Monetary Fund, which declined immediate comment.
    The text of the bill, which needs parliament’s approval to become law, has not been made public.
    Any threat to the independence of NABU, which was set up with the backing of Western donors, could further derail the flow of foreign aid to Ukraine at a time when its economy has been hammered by coronavirus lockdowns.
    But Stepanov said it was the corruption allegations that were costing Ukraine dear.
    “Due to dirty information attacks, we have already started seeing reluctance on the part of prospective vaccine companies regarding future cooperation,” he told a morning briefing.
    Stepanov said the disinformation was intended to disrupt Ukraine’s vaccination campaign and force it to turn to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.    Kyiv has dismissed the idea of buying Sputnik because of enduring anger over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
    Last week, Reuters reported that shipments of the Sinovac vaccine to Ukraine could be delayed until April.
    Ukraine is counting on more loans from a $5 billion IMF programme this year, but the IMF said on Saturday Kyiv needed to implement more reforms first.
    Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the new NABU legislation was needed to address the concerns outlined in a constitutional court ruling last year about how NABU was set up.
    “From what we hear now, we can say in advance that this bill does not pose any threat to NABU as an institution,” he said in a statement.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)

2/16/2021 Poland’s Ruling Nationalists Go Back To Drawing Board With Media Tax
FILE PHOTO: The first pages of Poland's main private newspapers have black front pages with the slogan 'Media without choice'
written on them in protest against a proposed media advertising tax that outlets say threatens the industry's independence
and its diversity of views at a shop in Warsaw, Poland February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists on Tuesday said they would rewrite a proposal that would tax media advertising after criticism from media firms, the opposition and its own coalition partner.
    Last week, several private TV and radio stations and web portals in Poland took themselves off air in protest against the tax, which they said would threaten the industry’s independence and its diversity of views.
    Critics say Poland is following the example of central European ally Hungary in trying to increase control over the media.    Much of Poland’s independent media is funded through advertising or subscription.
    The government says the tax is needed to help raise funds for healthcare and culture, both hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as to target internet giants overseas making advertising revenue in the country.
    A Ministry of Finance spokeswoman told state news agency PAP that businesses could submit their opinions until the end of the day.
    “We will after these consultations draft a new bill that acknowledges these concerns and then we will present it for the next steps in the (legislative) process,” government spokesman Piotr Muller told a news conference.
    On Tuesday, a number of Poland’s main opposition groupings came together to sign a declaration decrying the tax, saying: “There’s no democracy without freedom of speech.”
    The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s junior coalition partner, the centrist Accord, has also said it could not support the current draft of the tax, in part due to the effect it would have on businesses.
    A spokesman said it would consult with media and businesses affected before seeking a compromise with its coalition partners.
    The other coalition partner, the right-wing United Poland, has said it supports the general direction of the proposals but will comment on it fully in the coming days.
    A spokesman and a senior member of PiS did not respond to a request for comment on the opposition declaration.
    Muller said businesses had told the government they were worried about setting a fair taxation threshold.    Previously, government officials said the tax would be set at between 2% and 15% of advertising income, depending on the size of the firm.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/16/2021 White House Mulling Sanctions Over Nord Stream 2 Pipeline by OAN Newsroom
DAMEROW, GERMANY – MARCH 26: A worker stood next to a machine which was bending sections of pipe to fit the construction terrain at a
pipe depot on March 26, 2019 near Damerow, Germany. The Eugal gas pipeline will transport natural gas arriving from Russia through the
Nord Stream 2 pipeline 480km across eastern Germany, from Lubmin on the Baltic Sea to the Czech border. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
    The U.S. is reviewing whether to place sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Eastern Europe.
    On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Joe Biden thinks the pipeline, meant to span between Russia and Germany, is a “bad deal for Europe.”    She continued, the U.S. is mulling sanctions in an effort to bring the project in line with Europe’s energy goals.
    “We’re continuing to monitor activity to complete or to certify the pipeline,” Psaki stated.    “If such activity takes place, we’ll make a determination of the applicability of sanctions.    Importantly, sanctions are only one among many important tools to ensure energy security.”
SASSNITZ, GERMANY – OCTOBER 19: Workers are working on an iron cage in the production hall at the Nord Stream 2
facility at Mukran on Ruegen Islandon October 19, 2017 in Sassnitz, Germany. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
    The pipeline has been largely criticized by the global community over fears it would divide Eastern Europe and would allow the Ukraine to fall into the influence of Russia.    The controversial pipeline is currently over 90 percent completed.

2/17/2021 Putin Says Russia Needs To Safeguard Parliamentary Elections From Foreign Meddling
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Council for Science and Education via a video conference call
at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia Feb 8, 2021. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday Russia needed to ensure that its parliamentary vote scheduled for September is free of foreign meddling following mass protests calling for the release of one of his fiercest critics.
    Tens of thousands of people took to the streets last month to urge Russia to free Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny ahead of the September election.    The 44-year-old opposition politician was detained and later jailed for alleged parole violations upon his return to Russia.    He had been treated in Germany for a nerve agent poisoning he sustained in Siberia last August.
    The Kremlin has suggested that Navalny is a CIA asset who is being used by Western intelligence services to destabilise Russia, and Moscow has repeatedly told the European Union to keep out of its domestic affairs.
    Russia has itself been accused of meddling in several elections abroad, including in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.
    “The citizens of Russia will make their choice (at the parliamentary elections), and we must defend this choice from any attempts of external interference,” Putin said at a televised meeting with the leaders of the political parties represented in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
    “We cannot allow any blows against Russia’s sovereignty, against the right of our people to be the master on their our land,” he said, without detailing which countries he was referring to.
    Navalny said last year he thought Russia’s intelligence services had poisoned him with a nerve agent because authorities saw him as a threat ahead of the parliamentary elections.
    The Kremlin has rejected any suggestion that Putin or authorities had anything to do with Navalny’s poisoning.
    Some European countries have called for sanctions against Moscow over the Navalny case, including halting the construction of the undersea Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, designed to export gas from Russia to Germany by bypassing Ukraine.
    Putin accused the countries that have called for sanctions against the project of trying to use Nord Stream 2 as a tool to punish Russia.
    “Why is everyone circling around Nord Steam 2?” Putin said.
    “They (Western countries) want to force Russia to pay for their geopolitical project in Ukraine,” he added, referring to the conflict that erupted in the country’s east after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

2/17/2021 Czech PM Asks EU’s Michel To Help Ease German Border Controls For Trucks
FILE PHOTO: German border police officers stop cars and trucks at the A17 motorway near Czech-German border, after controls between Germany and the Czech Republic
have been re-established, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Breitenau, Germany, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Central European countries asked European Council President Charles Michel to help ease controls imposed by Germany on the Czech and Austrian borders to free up the flow of goods and industrial components, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday.
    Germany installed frontier checks on Sunday, drawing concerns about supply-chain disruptions.
    The restrictions along the normally open borders were prompted by alarm over outbreaks in the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region of strains of the coronavirus that spread faster and cause more illness.
    Long lines of trucks formed on the Czech-German border daily since Monday as German authorities only allowed in drivers and some commuters with negative coronavirus tests.
    “What is happening on German borders is of course against the internal market and a great problem for us all,” Babis told a news conference after leaders of the Visegrad Group of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia met Michel in the Polish city of Krakow.
    The region’s industries are tightly integrated with Germany. Large volumes of goods from Hungary and Slovakia and further southeast also pass to Germany through the affected Czech and Austrian borders.
    “We informed Charles Michel about it and asked for help,” Babis told the televised news conference.
    “The conditions for our drivers are extremely strict.    I understand Germany but when the (border) situation was reversed in the first wave (of the pandemic), we were very flexible.    We cannot cripple international freight, manufacturing and other production.”
    The Czech Republic reported 12,486 new cases of infection for Tuesday, the highest since Jan. 8, and the country’s health minister warned hospitals across the country may overflow in two to three weeks unless the trend changes.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

2/17/2021 Switzerland Plans Cautious Easing Of Pandemic Lockdown From March by John Revill and John Miller
FILE PHOTO: The Swiss Parliament Building (Bundeshaus) is pictured during a federal council meeting on the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland plans to make its first “cautious steps” towards ending its coronavirus lockdown next month, the government said on Wednesday, contrasting with neighbours that are sticking with many restrictions.
    In the first step, shops, museums and libraries are due to reopen from March 1. Zoos, gardens and sports facilities will also be reopened, with a final decision to come on Feb. 24.
    Ministers have been caught being caught between health experts supporting stricter limits and struggling businesses calling for a reopening, but a easing in the number of infections has allowed the government to change course.
    “The efforts of the last few months are now paying off, the population has been very disciplined,” said Health Minister Alain Berset.
    “New infections have halved within a month, so the situation is not so bad. We would all like to do more activities again, such as sports.”
    With the initial reopening, private events with up to 15 people would also be allowed, said the government, up from the current limit of five.
    Switzerland’s reopening contrasts with neighbouring Austria which will decide on March 1 on a potential loosening of pandemic restrictions that happen around Easter, at the earliest.
    “We’re taking a risk, but we think that’s acceptable as long as everybody plays along,” Berset told a press conference in Bern.
    Additional easing from April 1 could follow if infections remain low, he added.
    Measures to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic will push Switzerland into a 15.8 billion Swiss franc ($17.59 billion) deficit for 2020, due mainly to higher spending and lower tax receipts.
    Still, the government said it would expand its spending to deal with the pandemic, which has so far claimed 9,128 lives.
    It has decided to expand support package for large companies hit hard by the crisis, ramping up a compensation scheme to 10 billion francs, from 5 billion francs previously.
($1 = 0.8981 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Revill and John Miller, editing by Mihcael Shields)

2/17/2021 EU Executive Expected To Increase Pressure On Hungary Over NGO Law, Sources Say
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission is expected to announce more legal proceedings against Hungary on Thursday for failing to change a law requiring civil organisations to disclose foreign donors, three officials said.
    The European Union’s top court ruled last year that the law “introduced discriminatory and unjustified restrictions with regard to both the organisations … and the persons granting them such support” in breach of fundamental EU rights, including on protection of personal data and freedom of association.
    The Commission, the EU’s executive, is now preparing to launch further legal proceedings against Hungary because it has failed since the ruling to change the 2017 law, the three officials said on condition of anonymity.
    A decision by the Commission to trigger an “infringement procedure,” which is used against member states seen to be violating the bloc’s laws, was pending final approval on Wednesday, they said.
    The Hungarian government and Hungary’s EU mission did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has rejected EU criticism of the law, and of other legislation which the Commission says undercuts democratic standards.
    If the decision is taken to launch an infringement procedure, Hungary will be sent a “letter of formal notice” and will have two months to respond.
    If Hungary does not comply within this period, the Commission can demand that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) fine Budapest.
    The EU has long accused Orban of failing to meet democratic standards on the freedom of courts, media, non-governmental organisations and academics, and of violating the law with his stance on migration.
    Orban dismissed the criticism in an interview with Reuters last September, saying he was a “freedom fighter.”
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Jan Strupczewski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/17/2021 Russia Dismisses European Court Of Human Rights’ Call To Free Navalny
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is accused of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, is seen inside a defendant dock during a court hearing in
Moscow, Russia, Russia February 16, 2021, in this still image taken from video. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s justice minister on Wednesday dismissed as “unlawful” a European Court of Human Rights ruling demanding the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and accused the court of meddling in the Russian judicial system.
    The Strasbourg-based court (ECHR) said it had ruled on Tuesday to “indicate to the Government of Russia” that it should with immediate effect free Navalny, whose arrest and jailing have sparked anti-Kremlin protests in Russia.
    The ECHR, the international court of the Council of Europe, Europe’s main human rights forum, said its decision to demand Navalny’s release was motivated by a possible risk to his life.
    It said in a statement that information provided by Russia – a member of the Council of Europe – about the conditions in which Navalny was being held had been contested by the opposition politician.
    “This demand is baseless and unlawful, because it does not contain any reference to any fact or any norm of the law, which would have allowed the court to take this decision,” Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko said.
    He was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the decision was an unprecedented degree of meddling in the work of the Russian court system and that the demand was impossible to fulfil, as it had no basis in Russian law.
    Russia passed a law last year giving its national legislation precedence over international treaties and rulings from international bodies in cases when they conflict with the Russian constitution.
    Navalny’s allies had earlier published a letter from a member of the court containing its decision which a Navalny ally, Leonid Volkov, said was binding.
    Navalny, 44, was detained after returning to Russia from Germany last month and jailed on Feb. 2 for violating the parole terms on what he says was a politically motivated charge.
    He had been treated in Germany for a poisoning with what many Western countries say was a nerve agent in Siberia last August, and has blamed the attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    The Kremlin has dismissed Navalny’s accusations and questioned whether he was poisoned.
    Several Western countries have called for his release and said they could impose sanctions against Russia over the case.
    Navalny’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)

2/18/2021 Putin Regime Breaches Russian Constitution With Navalny Arrest by OAN Newsroom
Russian Federal Bailiffs service officers stand at the Babushkinsky district court prior to the start of a trial against Russian
opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    The Putin regime is breaching the Russian Constitution with its attempts to persecute opposition leader Alexey Navalny.    On Wednesday, the Kremlin rejected an order by the European Court for Human Rights to immediately release Navalny from detention.
    Officials claim the court’s decision amounts to interference with Russia’s internal affairs.    However, the European court has the highest authority in Russia, according to the Russian Constitution, which means the regime’s actions are unconstitutional.
    The EU said the Putin regime must, instead, investigate the failed poisoning of Navalny.
    “We are calling for immediate, unconditional release of Navalny because the charges brought up against him, we consider as politically motivated,” stated Peter Stano, lead EU spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Security.    “Attempted assassination is still not being investigated in Russia, so this is the priority where the Russian authorities should concentrate and focus their energies, and solve it as soon as possible instead of harassing Mr. Navalny.”
    Navalny said the Putin regime is getting weaker every day as it’s losing the last remnant of legitimacy.

2/18/2021 EU To Impose Sanctions On Russians Over Navalny By March Summit, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya are seen on board
a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow, January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Vasilyeva/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is set to impose travel bans and asset freezes on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, possibly in the run-up to an EU summit, after a meeting of envoys gave approval for punitive measures, diplomats said.
    Reuters reported on Feb. 11 that the sanctions, in response to the jailing of Putin’s main domestic critic Alexei Navalny, could be the first to be imposed under a new EU framework that was enacted in December and allows the bloc to take measures against human rights violators worldwide.
    “I expect additional sanctions to be in place before the EU summit in March,” said a senior EU diplomat, referring to the March 25-26 gathering of the bloc’s 27 leaders in Brussels. EU foreign ministers meet on March 22.
    A meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday showed broad support for sanctions, with countries including Sweden, Germany, France, Poland and Baltic countries all calling for the travel bans and asset freezes.
    There was no discussion of halting the huge Nord Stream II gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, however, despite calls from some EU members for it to be targeted with sanctions.    It was not immediately clear if powerful business elites, known as oligarchs, would be targeted, as Navalny’s supporters want.
    Pressure for sanctions has grown since Moscow infuriated European countries on Feb. 5 by expelling German, Polish and Swedish diplomats without telling the EU’s foreign policy chief, who was in Moscow for a visit.    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the EU an “unreliable partner” during a news conference, which EU lawmakers say aimed to humiliate Brussels.
    “Sanctions need to be soon, otherwise their impact is weakened,” a second senior EU diplomat said.
    Some countries have put forward names of those they think should be subject to sanctions, but declined to give details out of concern potential targets could move assets out of European banks.
    The EU already imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.    Last year it imposed travel bans and asset freezes on six     Russian officials close to Putin over Navalny’s poisoning in August.    Moscow has denied blame for Navalny’s illness and says it has seen no proof he was poisoned.
    Navalny was detained after returning to Russia from Germany last month and jailed on Feb. 2 for violating the parole terms on what he says was a politically motivated charge.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/18/2021 Poland’s Opposition Loosens Abortion Stance To Please Younger Voters
FILE PHOTO:Demonstrators takes part in a protest against the verdict restricting
abortion rights in Warsaw, Poland, January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s main opposition party called on Thursday for changes in the law to allow pregnancies to be terminated on demand, in a substantial policy shift amid growing strife over abortion in the predominantly Catholic nation.
    However while the centrist Civic Platform (PO) announced a change in its platform, legislative changes are unlikely in the current parliamentary term, which is due to continue until 2023.
    A Constitutional Court ruling mandating a near total ban on abortion from last October has upturned nearly three decades of broad consensus in Poland that abortion should be allowed only in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s health and foetal abnormality.
    The ruling also exposed growing support among young voters in particular for a liberalisation of abortion rules in line with the European mainstream, despite the nationalist government’s backing of the court verdict.
    The PO said on Thursday it wanted women to have access to abortions at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in “difficult” situations after consulting with a doctor and psychologist, while also calling for broader access to sex education, birth control, in vitro and prenatal testing.
    “This is a response to what our voters expect.    A clear stance on this matter,” PO head Borys Budka told a news conference.
    Political observers say young voters, many of whom filled the streets with protests for weeks after the court ruling, may be crucial to the outcome of the next parliamentary election, due in 2023.
    Opinion surveys have shown a sharp turn towards the left among youth, while the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) appeals to older, poorer voters. Budka’s PO has relied on centrist voters and moderate conservatives for over two decades.
    A February poll published by Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna showed that over 40% of Poles, especially younger voters, believe abortion rules should be liberalised.
    An SW Research poll conducted soon after the court ruling indicates that over 70% of Poles were against the decision to further restrict abortion rights in the country.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Frances Kerry)

2/18/2021 Kremlin Says European Court’s Call To Free Navalny Is Unacceptable Meddling
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is accused of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, is seen inside a defendant dock during a court hearing
in Moscow, Russia, Russia February 16, 2021, in this still image taken from video. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Thursday that a call by the European Court of Human Rights for Russia to free jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny amounted to meddling in its internal affairs and that Moscow viewed that as unacceptable.
    The Strasbourg-based court ruled on Wednesday that Russia should immediately free Navalny, whose arrest and jailing sparked anti-Kremlin protests in cities across Russia.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

2/18/2021 Georgia’s Prime Minister Resigns, Opposition Calls For Early Election
FILE PHOTO: Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia speaks to the media as he visits a polling station
during a parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced his resignation on Thursday, prompting celebrations from the opposition, which called for an early election.
    Gakharia, who had held the post since 2019, said he was stepping down because of a disagreement with his own team over the detention of Nika Melia, a prominent opposition politician.
    “I believe that confrontation and rivalry within the country endanger the future of Georgia’s democratic and economic development,” Gakharia wrote on Twitter.
    “Therefore, I have announced my resignation in the hope of reducing polarisation and de-escalating the situation.”
    Gakharia had said that Melia’s detention was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions in the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people.
    Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, had been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he has dismissed as politically motivated.
    A court in the capital Tbilisi on Wednesday ordered that Melia be taken into custody for allegedly failing to post bail.
    Following Gakharia’s resignation, the Interior Ministry announced it was postponing carrying out the order to take Melia into custody.
    A crowd gathered outside his party’s offices and waved Georgian flags in celebration, according to Sputnik Georgia.
Inside UNM headquarters, Melia called for an early election.
    “On behalf of all opposition parties, I declare: let’s sit at the negotiating table with representatives of this government and start negotiations on new early elections,” Melia said.
    Georgian Dream won the parliamentary election in October last year, but the opposition said the vote was rigged and marred with violations.
    Melia said at the time that his party did not recognise its outcome and called for a re-run.
    Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of Georgian Dream, said it was putting forward Defence Minister Irakli Garibashvili as a candidate to replace Gakharia, TASS news agency reported.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Larry King and Alison Williams)

2/18/2021 Russia Hands Anti-Kremlin Activist Suspended Sentence Under ‘Undesirable’ Law
Anti-Kremlin activist Anastasia Shevchenko, who is accused of carrying out activities on behalf of Open Russia opposition group financed by exiled
former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, attends a court hearing in the city of Rostov-On-Don, Russia February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court handed Anastasia Shevchenko, an anti-Kremlin activist, a suspended four-year sentence on Thursday after finding her guilty of carrying out activities on behalf of an “undesirable” group, her lawyer said.
    The ruling frees Shevchenko, 41, a mother of two in southern Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, from house arrest where she was put in 2019 in what supporters said was a politically motivated case to stop her activism and punish her for public dissent.
    State prosecutors had asked the court to jail her for five years.    She hugged her son in court after the sentence and was greeted with cheers by supporters as she left the court.
    Shevchenko was accused of carrying out activities on behalf of Open Russia, a British-based group founded by exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
    It is one of more than 30 groups that Russia has labelled as undesirable and banned under a law adopted in 2015.
    Shevchenko’s supporters said the specific activities that led to her case – taking part in a political seminar and an anti-Kremlin rally – were legal forms of political expression.
    They also said that the Open Russia movement, which she was part of, is a separate entity to the outlawed organisation.
    The sentence comes amid a crackdown on allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny who returned to Russia last month after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Siberia.
    Rights advocates say the laws on “undesirable” organisations and “foreign agents” can be used to pressure and target civil society members. Russia denies that and says the laws are needed to protect its national security from outside meddling.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan)

2/18/2021 Two Journalists Jailed For Two Years In Belarus For Filming Protests
Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, Belarusian journalists working for the Polish television channel Belsat accused of coordinating mass protests
in 2020 by broadcasting live reports, stand inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KYIV (Reuters) – A Belarusian court sentenced two Belarusian journalists from Poland-based TV news channel Belsat who filmed protests against President Alexander Lukashenko to two years in prison on Thursday.
    Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, were detained in an apartment in November from where they had been filming protests taking place over the death of a protester who was killed several days earlier.
    Both women pleaded not guilty after being accused of orchestrating the demonstrations by filming them.
    The two journalists appeared in a cage at the hearing on Thursday, hugging and making “V” for victory signs.    Their lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.
    “Just look at Darya and Katsiaryna – strong, smiling, and saying goodbyes to their loved ones through bars.    Lukashenka can’t break us,” exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.
    Neighbouring Lithuania, where Tsikhanouskaya is based, urged Minsk to end a “spiral of repression” while Poland said Belarus should end its persecution of journalists.
    More than 33,000 people have been detained in a violent crackdown on protests against Lukashenko’s rule following a contested election last August that his opponents say was rigged to extend his rule.    He has been in office since 1994.
    The crackdown prompted Western countries to impose new sanctions on Minsk.    Lukashenko has refused to step down, buttressed by support from Moscow, which sees     Belarus as a buffer state against the European Union and NATO.
    “Every time I went to work, I risked my health and life,” Andreyeva had said in a statement earlier.    “I managed to hide from rubber bullets, explosions of stun grenades, blows from truncheons.    My colleagues were much less fortunate.”
    “I have everything: youth, a job that I love, fame and, most importantly, a clear conscience.”
    The journalists were filming protests after the death of 31-year-old Roman Bondarenko, who died in hospital in November after what protesters say was a severe beating by security forces. The interior ministry denied responsibility.
    Polish President Andrzej Duda instructed Polish diplomats in Minsk to convey to the Belarusian government his opposition to the repression of freedom of speech and civil rights.    He called for it to stop and for an amnesty for detainees, presidential aide Krzysztof Szczerski said.
    Lukashenko has mixed promises of reform with a renewed crackdown this week that saw police raiding the homes of journalists and rights activists and one of Lukashenko’s main electoral opponents put on trial for corruption.
    A separate trial begins on Friday of a journalist from the local outlet TUT.BY who contradicted the government’s assertion that Bondarenko had been drunk at the time of his death.
    The Belsat TV channel specializes in news from Belarus and employs mostly Belarusian citizens.
(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)

2/18/2021 Brussels Condemns Slovenian Premier’s Criticism Of Reporter
FILE PHOTO: Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa arrives on the second day of a European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission on Thursday condemned Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s criticism of a reporter who wrote a piece suggesting that media freedom was under pressure in his country, a member of the European Union.
    In a tweet, Jansa accused Politico reporter Lili Bayer of lying in her story entitled “Inside Slovenia’s war on the media,” in which she quoted journalists and watchdogs as saying Jansa was creating a climate of fear in the media.
    “Well, @liliebayer was instructed not to tell the truth, so she quoted mainly ‘unknown’ sources from the extreme left and purposely neglected sources with names and integrity,” Jansa tweeted, in English.
    Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans responded with a tweet of his own: “Vilifying, threatening or attacking journalists is a direct attack on free media.    That is why journalists like @liliebayer deserve our support.”
    Senior members of the European Parliament also defended Bayer, including former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who accused Jansa of bullying.
    Jansa responded with a tweet reading: “And, @guyverhofstadt, we answered all her questions – and @POLITICOEurope ignored all our answers.    Who is bullying who?
    Slovenia takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency in July and will be in charge of setting the agenda of EU inter-government meetings and representing the 27-nation bloc in some international forums.
    The Commission has already clashed with nationalist governments in Hungary and Poland over curbs on media independence, and has promised specific recommendations on the safety of journalists later this year.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

2/21/2021 Kremlin Claims Navalny’s Political Future Is None Of Their Business by OAN Newsroom
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny looked at photographers standing behind a grass of the cage in the
Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Alexei Navalny’s political future is none of the Kremlin’s business.
    On Saturday, Navalny had his appeal case rejected by Russian courts and is now set to serve a two year and eight month prison sentence.    He will be released from prison just before the 2024 Russian presidential election if he serves the full sentence.
    However, the Kremlin said Navalny’s political future is none of their concern.
SAINT PETERSBURG – SEPTEMBER 05: In this handout image provided by Host Photo Agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke during a briefing at
the G20 Growth Agenda meeting on September 5, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Grigoriy Sisoev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)
    “It is absolutely none of our business.    You know that we have legislation that regulates the procedure for citizens’ participation in the electoral process, gives them the right to elect and be elected,” Peskov stated.    “This applies to all citizens who are somehow not affected in their rights in accordance with our Russian laws.    There cannot be any other criteria.    Everyone has equal rights and responsibilities.”
    While many accused the Kremlin for targeting Navalny over his political opposition, they claimed he is simply one of many political opponents.
[PESKOV'S COMMENTS REMINDS ME MUCH LIKE WHAT I AM HEARING COMING OUT OF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION LATELY.]

2/23/2021 EU To Sanction Four Russians Over Navalny, Including Prosecutors by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is accused of slandering a Russian World War Two veteran, stands inside a defendant dock during a court hearing
in Moscow, Russia, Russia February 20, 2021, in this still image taken from video. Press Service of Babushkinsky District Court of Moscow/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in a mainly symbolic response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    The agreement, which is expected to be formally approved by the EU in early March, came after France, Germany, Poland and the Baltic states urged the 27-member bloc to send a message to Putin that debate and protest must be allowed in Russia.
    Navalny was arrested after returning to Moscow last month from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia with what Western nations said was a nerve agent.    His arrest sparked protests across Russia.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the decision was taken to go ahead with sanctions quickly, but gave no details.
    “The relations (with Russia) are certainly at a low, there is no other word for it,” Maas said.
    One EU diplomat said the proposed new travel bans and asset freezes would target, among others, Alexander Bastrykin, whose Investigative Committee handles investigations into major crimes and reports directly to Putin.
    Bastrykin is already under British human rights sanctions.
    Also to be targeted, the diplomat said, is Igor Krasnov, who became Russia’s prosecutor-general a year ago.
    The third official on the draft list is Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia’s National Guard, who publicly threatened Navalny with violence in September 2018.    The fourth man named by the diplomat is Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the federal prison service.
    The sanctions will be imposed under a new framework that allows the EU to take measures over human rights violators worldwide, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters. He said he hoped the sanctions would be ready in about a week.
    The EU has already sanctioned six Russians and a state scientific research centre in response to the treatment of Navalny.
OLIGARCHS
    The proposed new listings fall far short of the demands made by Navalny’s allies, who have drawn up a list of 35 people including members of Russia’s business leaders- the so-called oligarchs – they want to see targeted.
    EU governments say sanctions against senior state officials can better withstand legal challenges, while it is more difficult to prove business executives’ involvement in any human rights abuses.
    Before the EU meeting, Leonid Volkov, a senior Navalny aide, said in Brussels that sanctions against oligarchs might be a way to weaken Putin if they came to feel that association with the president was more of a liability than a source of protection.
    But Volkov welcomed Monday’s decision.
    “Even if it’s too little … it’s the first time personal sanctions are applied with regard to human rights violations, so it opens a way for further negotiation on this with Europe,” he said.
    Navalny says the Kremlin was behind last August’s poisoning, but it denies this.    He was jailed on Feb. 2 for violating the terms of parole on what he says was a politically motivated conviction. He lost an appeal on Saturday.
    Russia accuses the EU of meddling in its affairs.    It levelled the same accusation against the European Court of Human Rights, which is not an EU body, after it also demanded Navalny’s release in a ruling on Feb. 17.
    Pressure in Europe for new sanctions has grown since Moscow expelled German, Polish and Swedish diplomats on Feb. 5 without telling Borrell, who was visiting Moscow at the time.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Editing by William Maclean, Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage)

2/23/2021 Egg Supply Tightens In Poland As EU Bird Flu Crisis Hits Industry by Sybille de La Hamaide and Agnieszka Barteczko
FILE PHOTO: A worker sorts eggs at a chicken farm in Brudnice, central Poland January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Andrews
    PARIS (Reuters) – Avian influenza in Europe is now approaching levels last seen in 2016 with egg supply shrinking in Poland, one of the hardest hit countries due to the loss of laying hens, in a sign that the virus is starting to strain the poultry industry.
    The disease, commonly called bird flu, has been found in several European countries, decimating flocks with bruising losses for farmers already hit hard by Covid-19.
    Asia is also experiencing outbreaks of the same highly pathogenic H5N8 strain as the livestock sector also reels from the deadly African Swine Fever epidemic.
    Russia said over the weekend it has registered the first case of A(H5N8) bird flu being passed to humans from birds in seven workers at a poultry plant, raising concern that the virus could mutate into a human-to-human disease.br>     The disease tends to start in autumn, carried by migrating wild birds on their way from Asia to Europe.
    “The number of outbreaks has surged even more than in difficult years,” Monique Eloit, head of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), told Reuters.
    Around 5 million birds have already been culled in Poland, the European Union’s largest poultry producer, data from the local chief veterinary inspectorate showed.
    The total represents a small fraction of the EU’s poultry flock and there is no sign yet of any shortage of chicken.
    There were 6.4 billion chickens slaughtered for meat in the EU-27 in 2019, according to statistics issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
    The loss of laying hens has, however, reduced the supply of eggs and put some upward pressure on prices.
    Prices for eggs on the wholesale market in Poland jumped by about 18% to 20% at the end of January, said Katarzyna Gawronska, the director of the National Chamber of Poultry and Feed Producers.
    Data issued by the European Commission show egg prices are also rising in several other EU countries, including France and Germany, although they remain weak in another major producing country, Spain.
    “Taking into account the losses in poultry in Poland and throughout Europe, the egg market has recently experienced a sharp price spike – these prices were dormant earlier,” Gawronska said.
    Poland produced 648,000 tonnes of eggs in 2019, making it the European Union’s sixth largest egg producer, EU data showed.
    German farmers were fearful of export bans on their eggs.
    Florian Anthes, spokesman for German poultry farming and industry association ZDG, said there was concern about the prospect of export curbs as keeping hens indoors for long periods to avoid the disease would hit marketability of free-range eggs.
    In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, Germany exported about 1.7 billion eggs worth about 300 million euros mostly to the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Austria, figures from German agricultural agency BLE showed.
    In France, bird flu had mainly hit duck farms in the southwest that supply the foie gras industry.
    But the bird flu crisis there has slowed in the past weeks after 3 million birds were culled due to the disease, the farm ministry said.    That represents about 3.5% of the total number of ducks slaughtered each year in France.
    Other countries including Sweden and Germany have had to destroy large flocks to prevent the virus spreading.Bird flu outbreaks, like other animal diseases, often trigger trade restrictions.
    That prospect forced some producers, including France’s largest poultry group LDC, to recall exports which were already on their way to China.
    However, importing countries’ increasing approach to limit restrictions to those regions affected by the virus were seen softening the impact.
    To combat the disease farmers are ordered to ensure that nets to keep out wild birds are installed properly, to disinfect facilities and check hygiene regimes.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Hans Seidenstuecker in Frankfurt; editing by David Evans)

2/23/2021 Georgian Police Storm Opposition Party Offices, Detain Its Leader
Georgian law enforcement officers are seen in front of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition
party office after storming it, in Tbilisi, Georgia February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Police stormed the party offices of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him early on Tuesday, deepening a political crisis that prompted the prime minister to resign last week.
    Seventeen people were hurt in clashes at the party’s offices, the health ministry was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.    Melia’s supporters used furniture to barricade themselves inside, prompting police to spray gas before officers led Melia away.
    Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, has been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.
    The Interior Ministry said it had no option but to use coercive measures as activists had ignored numerous warnings not to obstruct their work and had declined to leave the building.
    It also said in a separate statement that its computer infrastructure had been hit by a cyber-attack from abroad.
    The U.S. Embassy said it was deeply concerned by his detention and expressed regret that its call for restraint and dialogue had been “ignored.”
    “Today, Georgia has moved backward on its path toward becoming a stronger democracy in the Euro-Atlantic family of nations,” it said in a statement.
    The European Union’s ambassador to Georgia urged efforts to find common ground between the two sides.
    “The logic of escalation is getting the upper hand.    The political crisis is deepening,” the diplomat, Carl Hartzell, wrote on Twitter.
    Last week, a court ordered Melia to be detained for allegedly failing to post bail.    The Interior Ministry at the time announced it was postponing carrying out the order to detain him following Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s resignation.
    Gakharia abruptly stepped down on Feb. 18, saying his decision had been prompted by a disagreement with his own team over the order to detain Melia.
    Gakharia had said that Melia’s detention was unacceptable if it threatened to fuel political divisions in Georgia.
    Late on Monday, Georgia’s parliament voted to form a new government led by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who served as prime minister in 2013-15.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, David Chkhikvishvili and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/24/2021 Bulgaria Accuses AstraZeneca Of Taking Country’s Vaccine ‘Hope’ Away
FILE PHOTO: A man receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the
Military Medical Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria, February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s health minister has accused AstraZeneca of failing to stick to its delivery schedule of COVID-19 vaccines to the country and demanded the immediate shipment of at least 52,800 doses that were postponed to March 1.
    In a sharply worded letter, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said AstraZeneca’s failure to comply with the agreed deliveries was compromising the massive vaccination campaign the Balkan country launched late last week.
    The health ministry spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which was published on the website of Bulgaria’s NOVA television on Wednesday.
    Dozens of Bulgarians have rushed to get a shot since Saturday, improving the country’s record of inoculations, which was the worst in the European Union, but also quickly depleting the supplies of AstraZeneca doses.
    AstraZeneca has told the EU it would cut vaccine deliveries to the 27-member bloc by 60% in the first quarter due to production problems.    On Tuesday, an EU official told Reuters the company expected to deliver less than half of the doses it was contracted to supply to the bloc in the second quarter.
    Under an EU scheme, Bulgaria ordered 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and arranged to receive them over 7 months, initially expecting to receive 450,000 doses in February, but has so far received only 117,000 shots.
    Two deliveries for a total of 142,400 doses, confirmed on Feb. 15, were now being delayed to March 1 and reduced by about two-thirds, the letter said.<
    In the letter, Angelov demanded the immediate delivery of at least the 52,800 doses promised for March 1, saying that the Bulgarian government was ready to arrange air transport at its own expense as early as “tomorrow.”
    “I emphasize that failure to stick to the announced delivery schedule by AstraZeneca compromises the vaccination campaign in Bulgaria,” Angelov wrote.
    “With the lack of vaccines that were supposed to be delivered by your company the message that your company sends to the Bulgarian people would sound like this: ‘AstraZeneca has taken the hope out of your hands’,” he said.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

2/25/2021 Norway To Reassess National Anti-Virus Measures In Late March, Says Health Minister
FILE PHOTO: People walk on the street in Oslo, Norway March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lefteris Karagiannopoulos/File Photo
    OSLO (Reuters) – The Norwegian government will reassess the national measures introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the second half of March, Health Minister Bent Hoeie said on Wednesday.
    Some of the measures include forbidding the serving of alcohol in bars and restaurants after 2200 CET and a forced stay in a quarantine hotel for at least a week for anyone coming from abroad who does not own property, or can borrow the use of a property, in Norway.
    Norway has the second-lowest rate of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, after Iceland, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
    Still, authorities are concerned about a recent rise in cases in the capital Oslo and the southern region of Agder, after a multi-week decline in cases.
    “There is a clear risk of (a rise in cases) because of the variants,” Camilla Stoltenberg, the head of the Norwegian Institute Public Health, told a news conference.
    On the vaccine front, some 400,000 vaccine doses have so far been given in the nation of 5.4 million inhabitants, of which some 100,000 are second doses.
    Non-EU Norway is part of the European bloc’s procurement programme and gets its vaccines from neighbouring Sweden, who buys more than it needs and passes doses on to Norway.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; editing by Victoria Klesty)

2/25/2021 Russia Beefs Up Fines For Protest Violations After Navalny Rallies
FILE PHOTO: People attend a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader
Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia January 23, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation on Wednesday beefing up fines for offences committed during street protests after thousands were detained at unsanctioned rallies in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    The legislation increases fines for insubordination to law enforcement officers to up to 4,000 roubles ($54.30) from 1,000 roubles in addition to a maximum of 15 days in detention.
    The amended law also introduces fines of up to 20,000 roubles for protest organisers who violate funding regulations.
    Russian authorities have accused foreign countries of supporting the protests calling for Navalny’s release.    More than 11,000 people have been detained in the protests, according to a monitoring group.
    Ahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for September, Putin called on senior intelligence officials to identify “actions that have nothing to do with democracy and are aimed at undermining the stability and security of our state.”
    “This activity is paid for from overseas,” Putin said, without giving details.
    Russia has itself been accused of meddling in severalelections abroad, including in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote.    It has denied the accusations.
    Putin also called on the FSB security service to thwart any external attempts to meddle in the election, a plea he also made to leaders of political parties last week.
    Navalny, 44, was flown to Germany for treatment last August after collapsing in Russia following what he said was an attempt to kill him.    Germany said he was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent, an assertion backed by many Western countries but questioned by the Kremlin, which denies any involvement in the incident.
    Navalny was detained on his return to Russia last month and sentenced to jail on Feb. 2 for parole violations on what he said were trumped-up charges.
    Russia has ignored a demand by the European Court of Human Rights to release Navalny, and European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to Putin in a mainly symbolic response to Navalny’s jailing.
($1 = 73.6630 roubles)
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/26/2021 Political Foes Clash Over Moldova Registration Of Russian Vaccine by Alexander Tanas and Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus
in a department store in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2021 REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s medical agency on Friday said it had approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, despite President Maia Sandu saying it could not be registered until the World Health Organisation had done so.
    Sandu denied statements by her predecessor Igor Dodon and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad, that Moldova had become the 38th country, including Russia, to register the shot.
    “Moldova will only use a vaccine that has undergone WHO registration procedure,” Sandu told reporters.
    Pro-Moscow Dodon has been a thorn in Sandu’s side since she triumphed in a November election. Sandu, who favours closer relations with the European Union, has accused parliament, which is dominated by lawmakers aligned with Dodon, of trying to sabotage her presidency and curb her power.
    But Moldova’s Medicines and Medical Devices Agency on Friday said it had authorised two vaccines registered for emergency use by the WHO – Pfizer/BioNTech, and a shot developed by Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca – as well as Sputnik V.
    “Deliveries of the vaccine to Moldova will start very soon,” Dodon wrote on his Telegram channel.    “I would like to mention that the successful registration of the vaccine in our country took place despite the efforts of the Moldovan president’s office to block it.”
    RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev also said the vaccine had been registered, but the Moldovan presidency was doubling down.
    “Sputnik V does not yet have this approval and, due to the lack of our own research capabilities, we are waiting for the WHO opinion,” said Sandu’s press secretary, Sorina Stefirta.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas in CHISINAU and Alexander Marrow in MOSCOW; additional reporting by Polina Ivanova and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by David Goodman and Giles Elgood)

2/26/2021 Polish Judge Critical Of Government Reforms Should Be Allowed To Work, Says Court
FILE PHOTO: Judge Igor Tuleya stands in front of the National Public Prosecutor's Office
in Warsaw, Poland January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – A Polish judge fiercely critical of the government’s judicial reforms is immune from prosecution and can work, an appeal court said, contradicting a Supreme Court disciplinary chamber ruling in a sign of divisions in the legal system.
    The removal of judge Igor Tuleya’s immunity from prosecution in November by the disciplinary chamber highlighted a rift over the rule of law between the Polish government and critics including the European Union and many judges, who say the chamber is not independent and do not accept its authority.
    “Igor Tuleya is without interruption a judge of a common court of the Republic of Poland, with the immunity assigned to this office and the right to adjudication,” an excerpt of the justification of a ruling cited by state-run news agency PAP read.
    Critics see the reforms of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as a means to increase political control over the courts, but the government says they are necessary to improve efficiency and remove residual Communist influence.
    Tuleya is facing disciplinary proceedings over allowing media access to a 2017 court hearing at which he ruled on a sensitive case regarding the lawfulness of a parliamentary vote on the budget at which opposition politicians were not present.
    “It is certainly satisfying that the appeal court in Warsaw shared the view that the disciplinary chamber is not a court, that these are not judges,” Tuleya told Reuters.
    Tuleya has been accused by the government of putting himself above the law.
    “The only binding and final ruling on Mr Tuleya’s case is the one held by the disciplinary chamber of Supreme Court,” Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said.
    “The Court of Appeal has no authority to withdraw a ruling of the Supreme Court.    This is another example of how some judges in Poland refuse to comply with the Polish constitutional system in their own interests.”
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/26/2021 Georgians Take To The Streets To Protest At Opposition Leader’s Detention
Georgian opposition supporters hold a rally to protest against the detention of the United National Movement (UNM)
leader Nika Melia in Tbilisi, Georgia February 26, 2021. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Hundreds took to the streets of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Friday to demand the release of opposition leader Nika Melia, after his detention threatened to intensify a political crisis that led to the prime minister’s resignation last week.
    Waving red and white Georgian flags, protesters marched through the city centre and gathered outside parliament to protest at Melia’s detention and call for fresh parliamentary elections after a contested vote in the South Caucasus country last year.

    Police on Tuesday detained Melia, chairman of the United National Movement (UNM) opposition party, after storming its offices and clashing with his supporters.
    Melia has been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.
    The case prompted Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia to step down and warn that Melia’s detention could to exacerbate political divisions in the country of 3.7 million.
    The United States and other Western countries have voiced concern at Melia’s detention and said it could harm the prospect of dialogue between the opposition and the ruling party.
    European Council President Charles Michel is set to visit Georgia next week as part of a three-country visit that will also include Moldova and Ukraine.
    Michel will meet officials including Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili — chosen by parliament on Monday to replace Gakharia — as well as members of the opposition.
    Georgian Dream won a parliamentary election in October last year, but the opposition said the vote was rigged and marred with violations.    Melia said at the time that his party did not recognise its outcome and called for a re-run.
(Reporting by David Chkhikvishvili; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by William Maclean)

3/2/2021 UN: Navalny’s Poisoning & Imprisonment Are Illegal by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures as he stands behind a grass
of the cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Navalny was taken to a prison in Pokrov city after Moscow city
court rejected appeal against his prison sentence on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    The United Nations has expressed support for Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.    On Monday, the intergovernmental organization said the chemical attack against Navalny and his eventual incarceration is an attempt to crack down on political opposition by the Putin regime.
    “The attempt on Mr. Navalny’s life did not happen in a vacuum, it happened because of who he is and what he has been doing,” stated Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur for Free Speech (UN).    “He’s a politician and an anti-corruption activist.”
    The United Nations also refuted claims by Russian state media that falsely accused Navalny of hate speech towards migrants.
    “There is no excuse, no justification for the violations that Mr. Navalny has suffered,” Khan continued.    “The right to life, his right not to be tortured, his right to have free speech, to carry out his political activities — none of that is affected by what he may or may not have said before.”
    The United Nations is now considering a probe into Navalny’s poisoning and incarceration.    It noted these actions were undertaken by the Putin regime in violation of both Russian and international law.

3/2/2021 U.S. And EU Impose Sanctions On Russia Over Navalny Poisoning, Jailing by Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision
to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions to punish Russia for what it described as Moscow’s attempt to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent last year, in President Joe Biden’s most direct challenge yet to the Kremlin.
    The sanctions against seven senior Russian officials, among them the head of its FSB security service, and on 14 entities marked a sharp departure from former President Donald Trump’s reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight in Siberia in August and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with a nerve agent.    The Kremlin has denied any role in his illness and said it had seen no proof he was poisoned.
    Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning with what many Western countries say was a military-grade nerve agent.    He was jailed on Feb. 2 for parole violations on what he says were politically motivated charges, and sent to a penal colony on Monday.
    “The (U.S.) intelligence community assesses with high confidence that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) used a nerve agent to poison Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, discussing the sanctions.
    Among those blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department were Alexander Bortnikov, director of the FSB; Andrei Yarin, chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate; and deputy ministers of defense Alexei Krivoruchko and Pavel Popov.
    The Treasury also said it blacklisted Sergei Kiriyenko, a former prime minister who is now Putin’s first deputy chief of staff; Alexander Kalashnikov, director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service; and Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov.
    As a result, all assets of the seven under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are generally barred from dealing with them.    In addition, any foreigner who knowingly “facilitates a significant transaction” for them risks being sanctioned.
    It was unclear whether the seven had U.S. assets, making it hard to judge whether the sanctions were more than symbolic.
    “We also reiterate our call for the Russian government to release Mr. Navalny,” said the spokeswoman.
    Psaki defended the decision not to sanction Putin or Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence believes approved an operation to capture or kill murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, saying this reflected a need “to be able to maintain a relationship moving forward.”
    Navalny, a critic and political opponent of Putin, was targeted for raising raise questions about Russian corruption and was the latest example of Russian efforts to silence dissent, U.S. officials told reporters on a conference call.
    “Russia’s attempt to kill Mr. Navalny follows an alarming pattern of chemical weapons use by Russia,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on a call, referring to the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England with a military-grade nerve agent.
    In addition 14 entities associated with Russia’s biological and chemical agent production, including 13 commercial parties – nine in Russia, three in Germany and one in Switzerland – and a Russian government research institute, were hit with punitive measures.
    The United States acted in concert with the European Union, which on Tuesday imposed largely symbolic sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to Putin, a move agreed by EU ministers last week in response to Navalny’s jailing.
    The EU sanctions apply to Alexander Bastrykin, whose Investigative Committee handles major criminal probes and reports to Putin; Viktor Zolotov, head of Russia’s National Guard who threatened Navalny with violence in 2018; as well as to Krasnov and Kalashnikov.
    The EU sanctions fall short of calls by Navalny’s supporters to punish wealthy businessmen around Putin known as oligarchs who travel regularly to the EU.
    Unlike Western sanctions imposed on Russia’s economy in 2014 in response to its annexation of Crimea, travel bans and asset freezes have less impact, experts say, because state officials do not have funds in EU banks or travel to the EU.
    Further sanctions are likely as the United States assesses the Russian role in the massive SolarWinds cyber hack and allegations that Russia sought to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election and offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.
    Biden has taken a tougher approach to Putin than Trump.
    “We expect this relationship to remain a challenge,” said a U.S. official, saying Washington would work with Moscow when it served U.S. interests.    “Given Russia’s conduct in recent months and years, there will also undoubtedly be adversarial elements.”
    Before the U.S. announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond in kind to any new U.S. sanctions over Navalny, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Speaking after the announcement, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizov, said Moscow would respond to the latest round of EU sanctions, RIA news agency reported.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose, Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Heather Timmons in Wahington, Marine Strauss and Robin Emmott in Brussels, and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

3/2/2021 Russian Court Orders Ex-Journalist Accused Of Treason To Be Held Until May
FILE PHOTO: Ivan Safronov, a former journalist and an aide to the head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos who remains in custody on state treason
charges, stands inside a defendants' cage as he attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Tuesday ordered former journalist Ivan Safronov to be kept in custody until May 7 on charges of treason, the court’s press officer said.
    Safronov, who left journalism and began working at Russia’s space agency in May, was detained by security agents outside his flat on July 7 and accused of passing military secrets to the Czech Republic in 2017.    He denies the charge.
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/2/2021 EU Imposes Sanctions On Four Russians Over Navalny Jailing by Marine Strauss
FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from video footage shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement,
inside a defendant dock during the announcement of a court verdict in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021. Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, a move agreed by EU foreign ministers last week in response to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
    The United States also imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities in a move coordinated with the EU, senior officials in the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden said.
    The EU sanctions will affect four individuals including Alexander Bastrykin, whose Investigative Committee handles investigations into major crimes and reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    The others are Igor Krasnov, Russia’s prosecutor-general since 2020; Viktor Zolotov, the head of Russia’s National Guard who publicly threatened Navalny with violence in September 2018; and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the federal prison service.
    Navalny, 44, was arrested in January on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning with what many Western countries say was a military-grade nerve agent while in Siberia last August.    He was jailed on Feb. 2 for parole violations on what he says were politically motivated charges.
    The Kremlin denies any involvement in what happened to Navalny and has said it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
    The EU sanctions are being imposed under a new framework that allows the bloc to take measures in response to human rights violations anywhere in the world, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters last week.
    The EU has already sanctioned six Russians and a state scientific research centre in response to the treatment of Navalny.
    The senior officials in Biden’s administration, speaking to reporters on a conference call, also reiterated a call by Biden for Russia to release Navalny from prison. Biden has taken a tougher approach to Putin than Trump.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; editing by Philip Blenkinsop nd Timothy Heritage)

3/2/2021 Former Enemy Serbia Donates COVID-19 Vaccines To Bosnia’s Muslims, Croats
FILE PHOTO: Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and Bosnia's members of tripartite presidency Sefik Dzaferovic, Milorad Dodik
and Zeljko Komsic hold a joint news conference, following the donation of a batch of vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
by Serbia's President Vucic, at Sarajevo International Airport in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Former wartime enemy Serbia donated 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Bosniak-Croat region of neighbouring Bosnia on Tuesday, allowing it to launched its inoculation campaign.
    The Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of Bosnia’s two autonomous entities alongside the Serb Republic, has ordered 1.2 million doses under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme, and nearly 900,000 from the European Union, but has not received any yet.
    At Sarajevo airport, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic handed the vaccines to members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, Zeljko Komsic and Milorad Dodik, and vowed to send another 5,000 doses in the coming days.
    “I am happy that we can save … lives with vaccines, it is important and great thing,” Vucic told reporters.    “Serbia is acting as a friend and a neighbour.”
    In 1992-95, Serbia under then-strongman President Slobodan Milosevic backed nationalist Bosnian Serbs in a devastating war to purge Bosnia of its Muslims and Croats and carve out a Greater Serb homeland. Around 100,000 people were killed.
    The 1995 Dayton peace accord created a federal Bosnia divided into two autonomous entities along largely ethnic lines.
    Serbia is now at peace with former 1990s foes, including fellow former Yugoslav republic and European Union member state Croatia, and is a candidate to join the EU.
    Bosnia is the third ex-Yugoslav republic to receive vaccines from Serbia, after North Macedonia and Montenegro.
    “When global multilateral mechanisms … have failed, President Vucic sent (us) an offer (for vaccines) and we have accepted it,” Dzaferovic said.
    Bosnia’s Serb republic, which maintains close ties with Serbia, last month started inoculations with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.    Belgrade also allocated 5,000 vaccine doses to administer to Serb Republic medical staff.
    Around 1 million people in Serbia have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.    In the Western Balkans, inoculations on a much smaller scale are under way in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, while Kosovo and the Bosniak-Croat region have yet to launch their campaigns.
    So far, Bosnia has recorded 130,979 cases of the new coronavirus and 5,071 deaths.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/2/2021 Belarus Jails Journalist For Revealing ‘Medical Secrets’ In Protester’s Death
FILE PHOTO: Journalist Katerina Borisevich reacts inside a defendants' cage during a court hearingbr> in Minsk, Belarus February 19, 2021. Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS
    KYIV (Reuters) – A Belarusian court sentenced a journalist to six months in prison on Tuesday for divulging medical secrets, after she had contradicted official statements about the death of a protester who the authorities suggested was drunk at the time.
    Katerina Borisevich from the local news outlet TUT.BY had reported that there was no alcohol in the bloodstream of protester Roman Bondarenko when he died.    Officials said he had suffered fatal injuries in a drunken brawl while his allies said he had been beaten by security forces.
    Artyom Sorokin, the doctor who had shared Bondarenko’s medical report with Borisevich, was given a suspended sentence.
    The death of the 31-year-old became a flashpoint in months of mass protests against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko, who launched a violent crackdown that has triggered Western sanctions on Minsk but support from Russia.
    The authorities said that revealing information about Bondarenko posed a threat to public safety.
    “The only fair verdict in this case would be a complete acquittal … Neither Katya nor Artyom committed any crimes,” Marina Zolotova, TUT.BY’s editor-in-chief, told Euroradio, a Belarus-focused radio station based in Poland.
    Supporters of Borisevich, 36, shouted “We love you, Katya!” as she was led away after the trial, footage shared on social media showed.
    In November, Bondarenko was detained by police after a clash with unidentified people who were removing red and white ribbons – symbols of the opposition against Lukashenko – from a fence in a courtyard in Minsk.
    A few hours later, Bondarenko was taken unconscious from the police station to an emergency hospital, where police and medics said he died the next day due to beatings inflicted by unidentified people.
    Authorities denied any police involvement in his death.
    There have been several recent trials of opposition figures and journalists.    In February, two journalists were jailed for filming protests.
    The crackdown led the top United Nations human rights official Michelle Bachelet to warn of a “human rights crisis.”    Belarusian diplomats said their country was being unfairly maligned.
    On Tuesday, the Belarusian authorities said they were seeking the extradition of opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in a disputed election last August.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Edmund Blair and Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2021 Austria And Denmark Plan Vaccines With Israel To Bolster Slow EU Supply by Francois Murphy and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker hands over doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a doctor at Messe Wien Congress Center,
which has been set up as coronavirus disease vaccination centre, in Vienna, Austria February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Austria and Denmark, chafing at the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines within the European Union, have joined forces with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines against mutations of the coronavirus.
    The move by the two EU member states comes amid rising anger over delays in ordering, approving and distributing vaccines that have left the 27-member bloc trailing far behind Israel’s world-beating vaccination campaign.
    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said it was right that the EU procures vaccines for its member states but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had been too slow to approve them and lambasted pharmaceutical companies’ supply bottlenecks.
    “We must therefore prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines,” the conservative chancellor said in a statement on Tuesday.
    Danish Prime Minister Danish Mette Frederiksen was also critical of the EU’s vaccine programme.
    “I don’t think it can stand alone, because we need to increase capacity.    That is why we are now fortunate to start a partnership with Israel,” she told reporters on Monday.
    When asked whether Denmark and Austria wanted to take unilateral action in obtaining vaccines, Frederiksen said: “You can call it that.”
    The European Commission said member states were free to strike separate deals should they wish to.    “It’s not that the strategy unravelled or it goes against the strategy, not at all,” spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said.
    An EMA spokeswoman did not have an immediate comment.
FIRST MOVERS?
    Kurz and Frederiksen are due to travel to Israel this week to see Israel’s rapid vaccine roll-out up close.
    Israel, which was quick to sign contracts for and to approve vaccines from U.S. drug makers Pfizer and Moderna, has given 94 doses per 100 people and the EU just seven, according to monitoring by Our World in Data.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made the campaign a showcase of his bid for re-election on March 23, has spoken of “an international corporation for manufacturing vaccines.”
    None of the three countries has significant vaccine making capacity, however, raising questions over how realistic their ambitions are to gain greater self-sufficiency.
    A growing number of EU countries have placed side orders for vaccines from Russia and China, even though the EMA has yet to rule on whether they are both safe and effective.
    Slovakia said on Monday it had ordered 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and expects half to arrive this month to help it end a surge in infections.
    The neighbouring Czech Republic – tackling the worst COVID-19 outbreak of any EU country – is also considering ordering Russia’s Sputnik V.
    Hungary, meanwhile, has taken delivery of a vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban announcing on Sunday that he had received the shot.
    The three vaccines so far cleared for use in the EU, made by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, rely on production in countries including Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
    Kurz said Austria and Denmark would work with Israel on vaccine production against mutations of the coronavirus and jointly research treatment options in an alliance called the First Movers Group.
    The initiative, which seeks greater protection against future pandemics in addition to joint EU vaccine supply, follows Germany’s decision last month to set up a task force to address supply bottlenecks and boost local manufacturing.
    Kurz invited pharmaceutical companies with a local presence including Pfizer, Valneva, Novartis, Polymun and Boehringer Ingelheim on Tuesday to discuss the new initiative.
    Pfizer, which declined comment for this story, has said it will make 2 billion doses this year – 70% of them in the EU – and has conducted extensive research into their effectiveness against coronavirus variants.
    A spokesman for Boehringer Ingelheim said its focus was not on human vaccines “but if we receive requests we will of course look into them.”
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt and Robert Muller and Jason Hovet in Prague; Writing by Douglas Busvine and Caroline Copley; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2021 EU Top Court Says Polish Judges Have Right To Appeal Nominations
FILE PHOTO: General view of Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Judges applying to join Poland’s Supreme Court should have the right to challenge the opinions of a body reviewing candidates, the European Union’s top court said, drawing a swift rebuke from Warsaw, which said the EU court was overstepping its mandate.
    Poland is in a long-running row with the EU over reforms the bloc says hurt court independence by increasing political control over judges.    The nationalist Law and     Justice (PiS) says the reforms are necessary to make courts more efficient.
    Tuesday’s verdict by the Court of Justice of the European Union touches on a public body — the National Council of the Judiciary — that critics say has become a tool to politicise the courts.    The Council evaluates judicial appointments.
    The European court said successive amendments to a law on the Council which in effect remove judicial review of its decisions could infringe EU law.    It added the final decision on whether it does breach EU law rested with a Polish court.
    “Where an infringement has been proved, the principle of the primacy of EU law requires the national court to disapply such amendments,” the court said.
    The Court of Justice has in recent years brought several cases against Poland over its overhaul of the judiciary.    Among the changes made by PiS since taking power in 2015 are amendments to the way Council members are elected.
    Critics said this has led to the Council being politicised.
    The court said that EU law prohibits amendments that could lead to judges not being seen to be independent or impartial.
    However, it added: “It is ultimately for the referring court to rule on whether that is the case here,” it said.
    Poland’s Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, an architect of the government’s judiciary reforms, said the European court’s decision was unacceptable.
    “The Polish Constitution is the law of the highest rank, not European law as the CJEU would like to see it,” he said.
    “This judgement goes beyond the European treaties and, in this sense, also violates them.    The role of the court is not to create a political process, but its role is to apply the law, and in this respect this court has openly stepped out of its role.”
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by William Maclean)

3/3/2021 Biden sanctions Russia over poisoning by Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia Tuesday in response to the poisoning and continued detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the first of several steps the Biden administration plans to take to confront Russian aggression.
    The U.S. sanctioned seven senior members of the Russian government and added 14 entities to the Department of Commerce’s blacklist, mirroring sanctions imposed earlier by the European Union and the United Kingdom for the attempted murder of Navalny. The sanctions prevent the top figures allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin from accessing financial and property assets in the U.S.
    The intelligence community determined with “high confidence” that the Federal Security Service used the nerve agent Novichok to poison Navalny last August, according to officials.    Russia has denied accusations that it was behind the attack.
    Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and one of Putin’s fiercest critics, returned to Russia in January after recovering from the nerve agent attack in Germany.
    He was detained shortly after his arrival in Moscow and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his probation while he was treated abroad.    Navalny’s detention has sparked widespread protests across Russia.
    The sanctions are the first ordered by President Joe Biden against Moscow as the administration reassesses relations with Putin and considers punitive action over Navalny’s attempted assassination, interference in U.S. 2020 election, the SolarWinds cyber attack and reported bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan.
    The sanctions, though largely symbolic, signal a new approach from the previous administration and were coordinated with the EU, which was also expected to place additional restrictions on Moscow Tuesday, officials said.    The Trump administration declined to punish Russia over Navalny’s poisoning last summer despite international outrage over the attack.
    White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday the penalties were aimed at putting the U.S. on the “same timeline” as the EU, noting that the administration was still reviewing Russia’s recent adversarial actions.
    “The president and his national security team reserves the right to respond at the time and manner of their choosing and sanctions are part of that,” she said.
    The Treasury Department sanctioned the following officials: Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, first deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff Andrei Yarin, deputy defense minister Aleksei Krivoruchko, deputy defense minister Pavel Popov, prosecutor general Igor Krasnov and federal prisons director Alexander Kalashnikov.
    The penalties also included an expansion of sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, new export restrictions on items that could be used for biological agent and chemical production as well as visa restrictions, according to senior administration officials.
    The administration also renewed calls for Navalny’s immediate release.
The U.S. said its intelligence concluded that Moscow was behind the poisoning of
jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES, FILE

3/4/2021 Kremlin Dismisses U.S. Call To Destroy Chemical Weapons, Says It Has None
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual end-of-year news
conference, held online in a video conference mode, in Moscow, Russia December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed as baseless and illogical U.S. calls for Russia to destroy its chemical weapons, saying that Moscow had destroyed them long ago in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
    The U.S. State Department called on Moscow at a news briefing on Tuesday “to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and to declare and destroy its chemical weapons program under international verification.”
    Washington announced sanctions that day on senior Russian government officials and Russian entities in response to what U.S. officials said was Moscow’s attempt to kill Navalny with a nerve agent.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the State Department comment regarding chemical weapons.
    “Such statements are devoid of logic and grounds and are nothing more than an attempt to unsuccessfully camouflage their policy to further contain Russia,” he said.
    “Russia announced many years ago and verified the destruction of all the chemical weapons on its territory… Russia has no chemical weapons,” he told reporters on a call.
    He said that the United States should also fulfil its obligations under the convention.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov in Moscow and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Hugh Lawson)

3/4/2021 Moscow Metro Facial ID Payment System Raises Privacy Concerns, Rights Group Says by Alexander Marrow
FILE PHOTO: A passenger rides an escalator at a metro station, as the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) continues, in Moscow, Russia April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A new facial recognition payment system on the Moscow metro, due to be launched this year, raises concerns about privacy and human rights, a Russian digital rights group said on Thursday.
    Moscow has one of the world’s largest video-surveillance systems. It has used the technology to enforce COVID-19 quarantines and thwart would-be protesters from attending rallies in January in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
    From the end of 2021, the metro will make the Face Pay system operational at turnstiles and ticket machines, the head of the metro’s security service, Andrei Kichigin, said, according to Interfax news agency report earlier this week.
    The metro says the payment system will quicken the flow of people, particularly at busy times, and that its wider network of around 5,000 facial recognition cameras at turnstiles only threatens criminals.
    “The facial recognition system knows no surnames, first names, or any other personal details,” Kichigin said in video footage filmed on Monday and shared with Reuters, adding that only wanted people are included in the database.
    “Information is stored in a data processing centre that only interior ministry staff have access to,” Kichigin said.
    The metro said it was too soon to give details on how data from the Face Pay system would be stored because it was still in the testing phase.
    Concerns over which officials have access to that database and how any information might be used raised privacy and human rights concerns, said Sarkis Darbinyan, head of the legal department at Roskomsvoboda, a group dedicated to protecting digital rights and freedom of information.
    “(Face Pay) is undoubtedly dual-use technology, which can be used on the one hand for the convenient use of transport, but on the other hand, for surveillance and capturing people’s personal data,” Darbinyan said.
    “Law enforcement officials, who no one controls, will have access to these [facial recognition] video cameras, so naturally there will be cases of abuse, tracking and some kind of political repression,” he said.
(Editing by Edmund Blair)

3/4/2021 Cuba Starts Late Stage Trials Of COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate In Havana by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO: A police officer stands in front of a street in quarantine amid concerns about the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Havana, Cuba, February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba has begun late stage trials of its most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccine, edging closer to a potential home-grown inoculation that could help the Caribbean island nation contain infections and ease its economic crisis.
    The country started this week recruiting around 44,000 volunteers in Havana between the ages of 19 and 80 for its randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the two-shot vaccine in which some will receive a third booster shot with another Cuban vaccine candidate.
    If the vaccine proves successful, Cuba has said it would inoculate its entire population of 11 million with what would be the first COVID-19 vaccine developed and produced in Latin America.
    Cuba said it would also export the vaccine and offer it to tourists.    The country has a long history of vaccine exports and medical tourism.
    “I feel very happy.    I hope this will have a good result, not just in me but in the whole world,” pensioner Maria del Carmen Rodriguez, 83, told Reuters after receiving her first shot at a clinic in Old Havana.
    As part of the trial, Rodriguez was not aware of whether she received the vaccine or a placebo.
    While Latin American and Caribbean countries are largely competing with richer nations to access limited vaccine supply produced abroad, Cuba has chosen to bet on its own shots even as it faces its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
    The daily number of cases has quintupled over the past two months after Cuba opened borders late last year and eased lockdown restrictions.
    The country’s most advanced experimental vaccine is aptly named Soberana (Sovereignty) 2, reflecting national pride in Cuba’s relative self-reliance in areas like healthcare in spite of the crippling decades-old U.S. trade embargo.
    Late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro oversaw the development of a large biotechnology sector from the 1980s onwards in part to circumvent U.S. sanctions.
    Cuba said in January that late stage trials of Soberana 2 would also take place in ally Iran, which is also under U.S. sanctions and dealing with a higher infection rate. [nL8N2JK0BS]
    The Cuban vaccine, like most of the current coronavirus shots, targets the spike proteins on the outside of the virus that it uses to enter human cells.
    The government, which this week announced development of a fifth experimental vaccine intended for people who have recovered from COVID-19, says it aims to vaccinate all inhabitants this year.
    This could enable the cash-strapped country to ease lockdown restrictions and in particular kickstart the important tourism sector, providing some relief for an ailing state-run economy smarting under the former Trump administration’s tightening of U.S. sanctions.
    Vicente Vérez, director of the state-run Finlay Vaccine Institute that created Soberana 2, said last month the country had the technological capacity to produce around 100 million doses this year, “enough to satisfy internal demand and export it.”
    Cuba could also use the vaccine as part of a technology transfer as it has in the past, given a lack of resources on the island that has spawned widespread shortages of medicine.
    Neighboring countries like Mexico, Venezuela and Jamaica have already expressed an interest in acquiring Soberana 2 should it succeed.
    The large Phase III trial should be complete in November, with final results available in January 2022, according to Cuba’s official registry of clinical trials.
    The country has said it expects later this month to launch late stage trials of another homegrown vaccine called Abdala after a poem by 19th century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.
(Reporting by Reuters TV and Nelson Acosta in Havana and Sarah Marsh in Chester, UK; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

3/4/2021 Moldovan Top Court Rejects Pro-EU President’s Bid To Appoint New Ministers by Alexander Tanas
FILE PHOTO: Moldova's President Maia Sandu attends a news briefing with European Council President
Charles Michel (not pictured) in Chisinau, Moldova February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza/File Photo
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s constitutional court on Thursday rejected a request by the pro-Western President Maia Sandu to be allowed to appoint new ministers, prolonging a months-long standoff between Sandu and her Russia-friendly predecessor Igor Dodon.
    Sandu won the presidential election in November in the country of 3.5 million, where the West and Russia vie for influence, but has clashed with a parliament dominated by lawmakers aligned with Dodon.
    She is pushing to hold a snap general election which Dodon’s Socialist party opposes.    Both sides are also at odds about appointing a new government in the interim after the previous administration, appointed under Dodon, resigned, prompting her to turn to the court.
    “The standoff between the president and parliament remains the same,” said political analyst Corneliu Ciurea.    “There is no clarity about the dissolution of parliament and early elections.”
    Sandu did gain a partial victory as the court granted her the powers to appoint state officials to key ministries such as finance and health.
    Dodon welcomed the court’s decision, writing that it “did not allow Maia Sandu to violate the constitution, change ministers and appoint others at will.”
    Sandu’s adviser Olesea Stamate welcomed the power to appoint new officials, saying this would help make the government more accountable.
    Sandu wants to hold a snap parliamentary election, hoping a win for the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), the party she led before becoming president, would shore up her power and allow her to make good on promises to tackle corruption.
    Moldova has been beset by instability and corruption scandals in recent years, including the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/4/2021 Slovak PM Sorry For Jokingly Offering Ukraine Territory For Russian Vaccine
FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium,
October 15, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic apologised on Thursday after jokingly suggesting that Russia take a part of western Ukraine as payment for delivering doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to Slovakia.
    Matovic bypassed his cabinet partners to order the Russian vaccine even though it has not yet been approved for use in the European Union, of which Slovakia is a member.
    Asked in a radio interview what he had promised Russia in exchange for the vaccine, Matovic jokingly said he had offered “Transcarpathian Ukraine,” referring to the western Ukrainian region bordering Slovakia.
    Jokes about territorial integrity are an especially sensitive issue for Ukraine, after Russia annexed its Crimea peninsula in 2014 and has backed armed separatists battling Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s actions triggered EU and U.S. sanctions against Moscow.
    Matovic said on Twitter on Thursday that Slovakia’s position on respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and maintaining international law was clear.
    “I apologise to all Ukrainians for my inappropriate reaction, which could undermine their just efforts,” he said, without elaborating.
    Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine would have taken further steps had Slovakia not apologised.br>     “No one will ever have the right to insult Ukraine with any word or hint that questions its territorial integrity or tries to demonstrate that the fate of Ukraine is being decided somewhere other than Ukraine,” Kuleba told reporters in Kyiv.
    “And in this regard, for all our friendship with our Slovak colleagues, our reaction to such actions will not only be tough, but extremely tough.”
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additonal reporting by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/4/2021 Putin Calls For Internet Bound By Moral Rules, Criticises Opposition Rallies
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with participants of the We Are Together nationwide volunteer
campaign at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin called on Thursday for the internet in Russia to be bound by moral rules to stop society fraying and railed against what he said was its role in drawing children into opposition street protests, prostitution and drugs.
    The comments come amid mounting efforts by Moscow to exert greater influence over U.S. social media giants and frustrations over what authorities say is their failure to follow Russian laws.
    Last December, parliament’s lower house backed big new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and another bill that would allow U.S. social media giants to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
    “The internet has already penetrated into all spheres of our lives … it must obey not just the laws of formal, legal rules, but also the moral laws of the society in which we live, otherwise this society will collapse from the inside,” he said.
    As tens of thousands rallied to protest the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny earlier this year, Moscow accused U.S. social networks of failing to take down fake posts about anti-Kremlin demonstrations earlier this year.
    Authorities also accused the opposition of getting children to take part in unsanctioned opposition protests, something the opposition says is a deliberate smear and untrue.
    “We encounter (online) child pornography, child prostitution, drug dealing where it is precisely children and teenagers who are the target audience,” Putin said.
    “Drawing them out onto the street to be hooligans, fight with the police, and then hiding behind the children, actually putting them in front,” he continued in televised comments.
    Separately on Thursday, the Vedomosti newspaper reported that the Russian government was discussing a possible new tax on global IT firms that use Russian data to analyse user behaviour and offer contextual advertising.
    The funds gathered from the tax would be used to support domestic IT companies, it said.    The measure was discussed at a government meeting with the IT industry last week that was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, it said.
    A decision on introducing the tax is expected by halfway through this year, Vedomosti cited an unnamed source at the meeting as saying.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans)

3/5/2021 Swedish Police: Mass-Stabbing Committed By Afghan Migrant by OAN Newsroom
Police are seen in the area after several people were attacked in Vetlanda, Sweden, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Swedish police say a man has assaulted at least
eight people in a southern Sweden town, and that the case was being investigated as "a suspected terrorist crime.” Police said a man in his 20s attacked
in the small town of Vetlanda, about 190 kilometers (118 miles) southeast of Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city. (Mikael Fritzon/TT News Agency via AP)
    Authorities are investigating the motive behind an axe attack in Sweden.    On Thursday, the Eastern Region deputy police chief, Carina Lennquist, confirmed the recent mass-stabbing in the small town of Vetlanda was committed by an Islamist migrant.
    “The suspect that we have in custody right now is 22-years-old and he lives here in Vetlanda,” she stated.    “He is originally from Afghanistan and he’s been living here for some years, what we know.”
    The suspect went on a rampage with a knife and an axe, stabbing seven people on Wednesday before he was shot and wounded by the police.    Authorities asserted he’s already facing charges on seven-counts of attempted murder, but a counter-terrorism investigation is still underway.
    “We have to look in many directions and one of them is a possible terrorist attack, so we haven’t closed that,” Chief Lennquist explained.    “What we suspect right now, I can’t really tell you, but we have cooperation with Europe, with the Swedish National Police.”
    Mainstream media have tried to deny the attack’s connection to migrant violence, but the head police officer of Jonkoping Region, Malena Grann, said they are looking into the suspect’s ties to ethnic crime networks and terror-cells.
    “We are investigating a possible terror motive,” he stated.    “The motive is an important part of the investigation and that would influence a different crime classification and that is why the motive is very important, but at the moment the case is classified as attempted murder.”
    Three victims faced life threatening wounds while two were seriously injured and three suffered light to moderate injuries.    That’s according to the surgical care director of Jonkoping Regional Hospital.
    This incident follows a 2017 incident in Stockholm in which an Uzbek migrant who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State drove a truck into crowds of shoppers.     Five people were killed before the driver crashed into a department store.    The perpetrator of that attack, Rakhmat Akilov, was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison.
    An investigation into Sweden’s latest possible terrorist attack is ongoing and officials said they will continue providing updates.

3/5/2021 Czech Capital Prague, Labour Ministry Face Cyber Attacks
FILE PHOTO: Seagulls fly over people looking at the Prague Castle amid coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) restrictions in Prague, Czech Republic, December 28, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech capital Prague and the Labour Ministry said there had been cyber attacks on their email systems but although the mayor of Prague said it was a large attack, he added the damage caused was limited.
    “There has been a massive cyber attack on public service systems.    The city’s servers survived the attack. An outage was made to install a safety patch to the emailing system,” Mayor Zdenek Hrib said late on Thursday on Twitter.
    On Friday morning, he said that the city’s emails were working and that there was no need to recover data from backup systems.
    Labor Minister Jana Malacova told Seznam Zpravy news website that her ministry was attacked too, without giving further details.
    The National Cyber and Information Agency (NUKIB) said it was providing assistance to the attacked institutions.    There was no indication yet who carried out the cyber attacks.
    “NUKIB, together with other partners, including the organised crime unit of the police, is helping the targeted institutions to solve the situation and to minimize the damage,” the agency said in a statement.
    It said that it would not comment further on the scale of the incident or specify which organisations were attacked.
    The attacks followed several attempts to hack state organisations in the Czech Republic over the past year, including Prague airport or hospitals.
    The Labour Ministry plays a key part in helping people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as it distributes billions of crowns worth of aid.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/5/2021 Swiss Plan Free Coronavirus Tests For Population
FILE PHOTO: A woman sits in front of a COVID-19 testing site of the Stadtspital Waid and Triemli hospital, as the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Zurich, Switzerland March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland unveiled a 1 billion Swiss franc ($1.08 billion) plan on Friday to offer free coronavirus tests for its entire population as part of measures to ease the country’s exit from COVID-19 restrictions.
    Under the proposals each person would be given five self-test kits per months, as soon as reliable tests are available, the government said, while all tests at pharmacies and testing centres will be free of charge.
    Companies and schools should carry our repeated tests using pooled saliva samples to improve prevention and detect outbreaks early, it said. Workers at companies which test frequently could be exempt from quarantine requirements.
    To ensure more testing is carried out, the government proposed to pay for the voluntary tests.    It estimated the expanded testing scheme will cost more than 1 billion francs this year.
    A final decision on the proposal is due on March 12, with the plan due to take effect from March 15.    Cross-border commuters will also be covered.
    “In order to specifically interrupt chains of infection, it must be possible to quickly identify who is carrying the virus,” the government said.    “Testing is therefore a central component of pandemic control.”
    Switzerland is slowly emerging from its latest lockdown, with shops, museums, and libraries reopening and sporting and cultural activities for youngsters resuming this week.
    Schools and many ski lifts are open, but restaurants and cultural venues remain closed.
    The next stage of reopening is planned for March 22 if the course of the pandemic allows, the government has said.    It will decide on March 19 what steps to take next.
    So far 9,331 people have died https://www.covid19.admin.ch/en/overview?ovTime=total of COVID-19 in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein during the pandemic, while 562,290 cases have been confirmed.
    Church bells rang out at noon and people observed a minute of silence to mark a year since the country’s first death from COVID-19.
($1 = 0.9263 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Revill, Editing by Michael Shields)

3/5/2021 Bulgaria To Cancel $1.74 Billion Armoured Vehicle Tender, Defence Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis poses with Bulgaria's Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov during a NATO defence
ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Virginia Mayo/Pool/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s defence minister said on Friday he has asked the government to cancel a 1.46 billion euro ($1.74 billion) tender to buy 150 armoured vehicles as offers by the two short-listed bidders far exceeded the estimated budget for the order.
    Krasimir Karakachanov said he has asked state arms company Terem to deliver a report on whether the Bulgarian arms companies could carry out the project, including assembling the machines and importing some of the equipment from foreign arms producers.
    Bulgaria had short-listed U.S. General Dynamics and Finland’s Patria and started assessing their offers in October.
    Last month, Karakachanov said both bids exceeded the estimated budget by between 30% and 50%.
    “I have proposed to the government to cancel the procedure, because the two companies that reached the final stage have offered prices higher than the budget that the parliament had approved,” Karakachanov said.
    He said the next government, which will take office after the April 4 parliamentary election, would be able to decide how to proceed with the large military procurement deal aimed at improving the Balkan country’s operational capabilities within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Barbara Lewis)

3/5/2021 Glitch Hampers Hungary’s Vaccination Drive As COVID-19 Cases Rise
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for an EU summit amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary said on Friday it would have to delay the vaccination of tens of thousands of people after a bureaucratic glitch disrupted its distribution of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot.
    Around 74,000 people had been due to get a dose over the weekend but, a government official said, there had been a synchronisation error between public records and a list of those registered for shots.
    “We will apologise to them in a text message,” Istvan Gyorgy, a state secretary in charge of the government’s vaccination working group, told an online press briefing.
    The shots would be administered at a later date and plans were still on track to vaccinate 400,000 people over the coming week, he added.
    Earlier on Friday, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned that the country could be facing a sharp rise in hospitalisations, up to around 15,000-20,000 from current levels of around 6,800.
    “We will see pressure rising on hospitals,” he told state radio.    “There will be enough (hospital) beds and ventilators,” he added.
    Orban said tough new lockdown measures announced on Thursday were needed to prevent a “tragedy.”    The curbs include closing all shops except food stores and pharmacies from Monday until March 22 and closing primary schools.
    The prime minister said around 2.4 million people could have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by early April, rising to about 4.7 million by early May.
    As of Friday, nearly 900,000 Hungarians have received at least the first dose of a vaccine, representing about 9% of the population, Gyorgy told the press briefing.
    Since mid-November, Hungary has had a night-time curfew, hotels and restaurants have been closed and remote learning has been in place in all secondary schools.
    Last week it became the first European Union country to start inoculating people with China’s Sinopharm vaccine after rolling out Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, although neither has been granted approval for emergency use by the bloc.
    The Russian and Chinese shots are being administered along with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and shots developed by Moderna and AstraZeneca, all of which have received the EU green light.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than, Anita Komuves and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

3/5/2021 U.S. Blacklists Ukraine’s Kolomoisky Over Alleged Corruption by Mark Hosenball and Daphne Psaledakis
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian and U.S. state flags fly in central Kiev, Ukraine September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Friday said it designated former Ukrainian public official Igor Kolomoisky as ineligible to enter the United States, accusing him of involvement in significant corruption during his time in office.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement accused Kolomoisky, once the governor of the province of Dnipropetrovsk, close to the border with Russia, of using his office as a governor for personal benefit.
    “While this designation is based on acts during his time in office, I also want to express concern about Kolomoyskyy’s current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future,” Blinken said, using another spelling of the Ukrainian’s name.
    Kolomoisky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment.
    Kolomoisky was regarded as one of the strongest backers in Ukraine’s business community of Zelenskiy, a former comedian who once had a show on a television channel controlled by the oligarch.
    In 2019, Kolomoisky told Ukrainian media that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two business associates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then a top political advisor to former U.S. President Donald Trump, had visited him in Israel seeking to arrange a meeting between Giuliani and Zelenskiy.
    A source familiar with the activities of Giuliani and Kolomoisky said Giuliani himself – who was trying to dig up dirt on President Joe Biden and his son Hunter during the election campaign – subsequently approached the Ukrainian.
    Parnas and Fruman currently face charges filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan alleging they conspired to violate U.S. laws restricting political donations and contributions by foreign nationals.    Law enforcement sources have said that U.S. investigators are looking at their contacts with Giuliani.
    A U.S. lawyer for Kolomoisky did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Kolomoisky and associates also controlled one of Ukraine’s largest financial institutions, PrivatBank.    Allegations that they looted the bank sparked major investigations in both Ukraine and the United States.
    Friday’s move by the State Department also barred Kolomoisky’s wife and children from entering the United States.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Mark Hosenball and Lisa Lambert; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bill Berkrot)

3/5/2021 Czechs Ask Germany, Poland, Switzerland For Help With COVID-19 Patients by Robert Muller and Jiri Skacel
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff members transport a patient infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
after transfer from Zlin region to Prague, Czech Republic, November 6, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic has asked Germany, Switzerland and Poland to take in dozens of COVID-19 patients as the situation in its own hospitals has reached a critical point, Prague’s Health Ministry said on Friday.
    The country of 10.7 million has been one of the hardest-hit globally, especially in recent weeks.
    Many regional hospitals, overwhelmed by the inflow of coronavirus cases, have had to transfer patients elsewhere but these options have narrowed as capacities have thinned across the country.
    “The large number of newly infected patients has intensified pressure on the healthcare system, and the number of patients requiring hospitalisation is growing,” the ministry said.
    As of Friday morning, there were 8,153 COVID patients hospitalised, including 1,735 requiring intensive care, Health Ministry data showed.
    “In some regions, the hospitals have exhausted their capacity and they are no longer able to provide appropriate care or to accept new patients without help from others,” Health Minister Jan Blatny said.
    He said the government has given the go-ahead to seek dozens at least of hospital beds abroad, following offers from the three countries.    Actual patient transfers are to be organised upon requests from hospitals, he said.
    Across the country, just 13% of the overall intensive care capacity was free, including beds intended for COVID-19 and all other patients, despite hospitals having halted all non-urgent procedures.
    The badly affected Karlovy Vary region on the border with Germany has started preparing for transfers, which may begin next week, CTK news agency reported.
    The country has reported 21,325 coronavirus deaths and 1.3 million infections.
    On Monday, the government closed more shops and banned movement between districts for anything other than work purposes, and it ordered regular testing at companies.
    A number of hospitals have declared a “mass casualty event”, meaning not all patients may get the standard of care they would normally receive.
    In one hospital that has declared an emergency, in Mlada Boleslav, home to car maker Skoda Auto north-east of Prague, the main problem was lack of staff.
    “The numbers have started to grow over the capacity, mainly in terms of nurses,” said Jan Dudra, deputy director at the hospital.    “Under normal circumstances, we have two nurses per 10 patients, today the situation is such that we have 15 patients and one nurse to take care of them.”
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Hugh Lawson)

3/5/2021 Russian Court Orders Navalny To Pay Damages In Lawsuit Filed by Kremlin Ally
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision
to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ordered jailed dissident Alexei Navalny to pay 500,000 roubles ($6,700) in damages in a lawsuit filed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked businessman, the court said.
    Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for two and a half years last month over alleged parole violations related to an embezzlement case he said was trumped up for political reasons, something the authorities deny.
    Prigozhin’s company, Konkord, said the court told Navalny to pay damages for comments he made that were deemed defamatory, inaccurate and offensive.    It did not elaborate on what those comments were.
    Konkord said in December that Prigozhin had filed lawsuits against Navalny and his allies worth a total of 77 million roubles, the Interfax news agency reported.
    The Kremlin’s critics have cast those lawsuits as well as the jailing of Navalny and prosecution of some of his allies as part of a coordinated campaign to cripple their activities.    Russian authorities deny those charges.
    Navalny surfaced in a jail in Russia’s Vladimir region to the east of Moscow, his allies said this week.
    Prigozhin has been accused by the United States of election meddling and has been sanctioned by the U.S. and European Union.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maria Tsvetkova; editing by Larry King)

3/8/2021 Switzerland Outlaws Islamic Veils In Crackdown Of Terrorism by Switzerland by OAN Newsroom
Monika Ruegsegger-Hurschler, National Councillor SVP, gives an interview at the meeting place of the supporters
of the initiative to ban face coverings, in Bern on Sunday March 7, 2021. (Peter Klaunzer/Keystone via AP)
    Citizens of Switzerland voted to outlaw face coverings in public, including a ban on Islamic veils.    According to Swiss election officials on Sunday, 51.2 percent of voters cast their ballots in support of the ban.    Only 48.8 percent voted against the ban.
    The referendum was called by the Swiss People’s Party who asserted that Islamic face coverings are preventing the integration of migrants into the Swiss society.
    Party officials said the ban is necessary to curb Islamic extremism nad those who refuse to adopt secular values should leave Switzerland.
    Islamic communities across Switzerland are expressing concerns with the new ban, but the nation’s security services said they are ready to respond to any potential challenges.

3/8/2021 Swiss Agree To Outlaw Facial Coverings In ‘Burqa Ban’ Vote by Michael Shields
A member of the district election office Stadtkreis 3, wearing a protective mask, counts ballots on the day of a Swiss
referendum on banning burqas and other facial coverings, in Zurich, Switzerland March 7, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
    The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
    The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
    “In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face.    That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, had said before the vote.
    Facial covering is “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland,” he said.
    Muslim groups condemned the vote and said they would challenge it.
    “Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland said.
    It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
    “Anchoring dress codes in the constitution is not a liberation struggle for women but a step back into the past,” the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland said, adding Swiss values of neutrality, tolerance and peacemaking had suffered in the debate.
    France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
    Two Swiss cantons already have local bans on face coverings, although almost no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
    The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
(Additional reporting by John Revill, Editing by David Goodman, Elaine Hardcastle and Catherine Evans)

3/10/2021 Hungarian Chocolatier’s Vaccine Bunnies Offer Hope For Easter by Krisztina Fenyo
Chocolate Easter bunnies holding syringes are seen in the workshop of the Hungarian confectioner Laszlo Rimoczi, during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Lajosmizse, Hungary, March 9, 2021. Picture taken March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    LAJOSMIZSE, Hungary (Reuters) – With spring and COVID-19 vaccines within sight, Hungarian confectioner Laszlo Rimoczi is sending a message of hope for Easter by creating chocolate bunnies holding vaccine syringes.
    Rimoczi said the vaccines, made of fine Italian chocolate and sprinkled with silver food colouring powder, signalled there was a way out of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Unlike his Christmas chocolate Santas, Rimoczi’s bunnies no longer wear masks.
    “There is no filling in the vaccines at all, it is just a 100% good quality Italian milk or dark chocolate,” Rimoczi said as he moulded the chocolate vaccines in his small workshop in Lajosmizse, 70 km (45 miles) south of Budapest.
    Rimoczi’s business – he makes chocolate delicacies and sells them in a small shop in his house – suffered losses as the pandemic hit last year.    His biggest hit yet were the masked Santas.
    “For those who think … I will ruin the good mood of children at Easter, I can do bunnies without vaccines as an alternative,” Rimoczi added.
    Rimoczi has registered in the government’s vaccination programme and is looking forward to getting his real COVID-19 jab but is awaiting his call up from his family doctor.
(Writing by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

3/10/2021 ‘Lukashenko. Goldmine’: Film Alleging Belarusian Leader Has Gilded Life Gets 3 Million Views Online
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with members of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) in Minsk, Belarus February 26, 2021.
Maxim Guchek/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
    (Reuters) – A film accusing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on gilded residences, planes and Rolls-Royce and Maybach cars has gained more than 3 million YouTube views since its release on Monday.
    The film by the Poland-based opposition news service NEXTA was released as opposition activists gear up for a new round of protests against last year’s reelection of Lukashenko, who has ruled for 27 years and calls himself “the people’s president.”
    It echoes a video released by allies of poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after his jailing which fuelled mass protests in Russia earlier this year.    It showed a palace it said was owned by President Vladimir Putin; the Kremlin said it did not belong to him.
    The Belarusian authorities have not commented since the film’s release but Lukashenko last week accused his opponents of preparing a fake story in order to destabilise the former Soviet republic – a close Russia ally.
    “I want you to understand: I have been working as president for a quarter of a century, and if there were already some billions, as they say, or palaces, I would have already been torn to pieces from all sides,” he said during a factory visit.
    “I did not steal anything from my state, I did not take anything.”
    The mass protests that erupted last August over an election that his opponents say was blatantly rigged represent the biggest challenge to Lukashenko’s rule.    They dwindled after a fierce crackdown but opposition leaders aim to restart them soon.
    A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko is often seen driving tractors, visiting factories and playing ice hockey to promote his image as a man of the people and has suggested vodka and saunas as a treatment for coronavirus.
    The film, titled “Lukashenko.    Goldmine,” sparked many comment and jokes on social media, but is more likely to change mindsets outside of Belarus than within, where opinion is now firmly divided, said political analyst Valery Karbalevich.
    “The overwhelming majority of the Belarusian society has already determined its attitude to the authorities,” he said.
    NEXTA founder Stsiapan Putsila alleged Lukashenko’s Independence Palace in Minsk cost the state budget $250 million and said he had 17 more residences around the country.    Lukashenko previously said his cars were gifts from businessmen.
    “In fact, the image of the people’s president was destroyed much earlier … the Robin Hood image, an unselfish fighter against corruption, has long been dispelled,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.
    “The purpose of the film is to stir up protest activity.”
(Editing by Matthias Williams; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/10/2021 Armenia Government Says Top General Dismissed, Army Issues Defiant Statement
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan delivers a speech during a rally held by his supporters
in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia March 1, 2021. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s government said the dismissal of a top army general at the centre of a political crisis went into effect on Wednesday, almost two weeks after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan fired him and accused the military of a coup attempt.
    The army had demanded Pashinyan quit on Feb. 25, prompting Pashinyan to sack the chief of the army’s general staff.    But that move needed the approval of the president, which he declined to give.
    The standoff is a major challenge for Pashinyan, who was swept to power by protests in 2018 but has been under fire over his handling of last year’s conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Pashinyan’s government said in a statement on Wednesday that the general’s dismissal was now legally effective because the president had not signed the decree within the time allotted or gone to court under specific articles of the law.
    “Head of the General Staff Onik Gasparyan … is legally dismissed from his post from March 10,” the statement said.
    In a statement in response, Gasparyan denounced his dismissal as unconstitutional and said that Armenia’s political crisis could only be ended by Pashinyan’s resignation and snap parliamentary elections, the Interfax news agency reported.
    “I will continue to serve the motherland and the Armenian people in a different capacity,” he said, without elaborating.
    Another statement attributed to the leadership of the armed forces said it agreed with Gasparyan’s statement and his overall assessment of the situation, News.am and Russian media outlets reported.
    “There is one solution to the current situation, it is in the message (from Gasparyan),” the statement was quoted as saying.
    Pashinyan later proposed Artak Davtyan, the former chief of general staff, to replace Gasparyan, the TASS news agency reported.
    Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since last November when he agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    The deal secured significant territorial gains for Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and until recently was fully controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Pashinyan, who has rejected calls to resign, said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Larry King)

3/10/2021 Russia Moves To Slow Twitter’s Speed After Protest Row, Threatens Total Block by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Twitter logo displayed in front of Russian flag is seen in
this illustration picture, October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it was slowing down the speed of Twitter in retaliation for its alleged failure to remove banned content, and threatened a total block if the U.S. platform did not comply with its deletion demands.
    The move, which escalates a growing stand-off between Moscow and U.S. social media firms, comes weeks after Russian authorities accused Twitter and others of failing to delete posts it said illegally urged children to take part in anti-Kremlin protests.
    Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Russia has traditionally taken a more hands-off role in policing the internet than neighbouring China.    But as domestic political tensions have risen this year over the arrest and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny – which triggered nationwide protests – it has signalled a tougher line.
    Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator, said in a statement that as of Wednesday there were more than 3,000 posts containing illegal content on Twitter, which it accused of ignoring its deletion requests for years.
    Twitter was already under pressure in Russia after it was named as one of five social media platforms being sued for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency cited a Moscow court as saying on Tuesday.
    The regulator did not mention content related to opposition protests in Wednesday’s statement, but referred to what it said was illegal content on Twitter containing child pornography, information about drug abuse and calls for minors to commit suicide.
    “The slowing down will be applied to 100% of mobile devices and on 50% of non-mobile devices,” the regulator said.
    “If (Twitter) continues to ignore the requirements of the law, the enforcement measures will be continued… (right up to blocking it),” the regulator said.
    The move would affect video and photo content but not text, Interfax cited a regulatory official as saying.
‘CONTROL THE INFORMATION SPACE’
    The Kremlin said there was no desire to block content but that companies had to abide by the law.
    Some activists, however, said they believed the curbs were linked to recent protests.
    “Of course the main motive is the increase in street protest action,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, an internet freedom advocate with the Roskomsvoboda group.
    “It’s 10 years since the Arab spring this year… they’ve understood the internet is a driving force.    Any desire to control the Russian internet is connected to the desire to control the information space.”
    Navalny’s allies say they plan new protests in coming months.
    Some government websites were unavailable for some Russian internet users shortly after the announcement about Twitter.
    Telecoms operator Rostelecom said the disruption to several government websites, including those of the Kremlin and parliament, was not caused by new restrictions imposed on Twitter but by an equipment malfunction.
TOUGHER INTERNET LAWS
    Vadim Subbotin, an official at the watchdog, said it was possible that the authorities could target and slow down other internet platforms if they failed to comply with the law, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Parliament’s lower house in December backed big new fines on platforms that fail to delete banned content and other legislation that would allow them to be restricted if they “discriminate” against Russian media.
    Moscow has gradually introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and platforms to store user data on servers in Russia.
    Some of those measures have spurred fears of China-style Internet curbs, but have only been partially successful.
    Russia tried to ban the Telegram messenger service in 2018 for example, but proved technically unable to block the app and last year publicly lifted the ban.
(Additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alex Richardson)

3/11/2021 China, Russia join forces on lunar outpost project by John Bacon, USA TODAY
    China and Russia agreed to collaborate on building and operating a robotic scientific outpost on the moon or in lunar orbit, the China National Space Administration announced.
    The agency said the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint effort to build an “international lunar research station.”    CNSA and the Russian space Roscosmos are working out details of the station’s design, construction and operations.
    “Both nations want to open the station to international cooperation so it can serve as a platform to boost scientific exchanges and foster peaceful exploration and development of outer space,” the CNSA statement said.
    Harry Kazianis, a senior director at the Washington-based public policy think tank Center for the National Interest, said an “authoritarian alliance in space” should worry the United States.
    “This mirrors what China and Russia are doing on sharing weapons technology, economic ties and more,” Kazianis told USA TODAY.    “Both nations see space as the next great power battleground.    By working together, they can try and blunt any U.S. advantages in this domain of the future.”
    Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, said last month that the United States is concerned with developing cyberthreats from China and Russia.
    “It’s something that we have to protect against today,” Raymond said.    “That’s why the establishment of the U.S. Space Force is so important. We are purposely built to stay ahead.”
    China has four missions planned for this year to work on a permanent orbiting station.    The core module could be launched as soon as April.
    Russia has collaborated with space agencies from the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe on the International Space Station for decades.    Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, said, “We appreciate the Russian-U.S. cooperation in the outer space. We hope it will be continued and hope it will not fall victim to various Russophobic manifestations.”
Crew members check the capsule of the Chang’e 5 probe Dec. 17, 2020, in north China’s
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. REN JUNCHUAN/XINHUA NEWS AGENCY VIA AP

3/11/2021 Russia-Ukraine War Reignites With New Clashes In Donbas, Ceasefire Violated 31 Times Over Past Two Days by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting via video conference with officials and government cabinet
members in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated attacks on Ukrainian troops in the eastern regions of the country.    The government of Ukraine is now announcing a “full preparedness” of its military to another round of escalation in an ongoing war.
    “There is a threat and we see it,” stated Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Ukrainian delegation for Donbas peace talks.    “And we’ll provide a reciprocal response to every threat posed to our military.”
    The Ukraine-Russian ceasefire was violated at least 31 times over the past two days, which resulted in the deaths of two members of Kremlin-backed terror groups.    The war in Eastern Ukraine is now entering its eighth year.
    “During its entire history, Ukraine — and it’s important to point out — Ukraine has never pursued aggressive goals,” Kravchuk continued.    “Ukraine has always defended itself from the enemy and today we are defending from the enemy behind the Kremlin walls.”
    Amid the clashes, Ukraine and the European Union drafted a new proposal to end the war and reintegrate its eastern regions.    The plan has been presented to the Kremlin, which is not expected to ratify it anytime soon as the war continues.

3/11/2021 Russia Moves To Slow Twitter’s Speed After Protest Row
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Twitter logo displayed in front of Russian flag is seen
in this illustration picture, October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it was slowing down the speed of Twitter in retaliation for what it described as a failure to remove banned content, threatening to block the U.S. platform outright if it did not comply with its deletion demands.
    The move escalates a growing stand-off between Moscow and U.S. social media firms. It comes weeks after Russian authorities accused Twitter and others of failing to delete posts that Moscow said illegally urged children to take part in anti-Kremlin protests.
    In Wednesday’s announcement, Russia’s Roskomnadzor communications regulator referred to what it said was illegal content on Twitter containing child pornography, information about drug abuse and calls for minors to commit suicide.
    Twitter said it was worried about the impact on free speech of the Russian action, and denied that it allowed its platform to be used to promote illegal behaviour.
    “We remain committed to advocating for the Open Internet around the world and are deeply concerned by increased attempts to block and throttle online public conversation,” a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
    “Let us be clear – we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding child sexual exploitation, it is against the Twitter Rules to promote, glorify or encourage suicide and self harm, and we do not allow the use of Twitter for any unlawful behaviour or to further illegal activities, including the buying and selling of drugs.”
    Russia has traditionally taken a more hands-off role in policing the internet than neighbouring China.    But as domestic political tensions have risen this year over the arrest and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny – which triggered nationwide protests – it has signalled a tougher line.
    Roskomnadzor said that as of Wednesday there were more than 3,000 posts containing illegal content on Twitter, which it accused of ignoring its deletion requests for years.
    “The slowing down will be applied to 100% of mobile devices and on 50% of non-mobile devices,” the regulator said.
    “If (Twitter) continues to ignore the requirements of the law, the enforcement measures will be continued… (right up to blocking it),” the regulator said.
    Twitter was already under pressure in Russia after it was named as one of five social media platforms being sued for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal protests, the Interfax news agency cited a Moscow court as saying on Tuesday.
‘CONTROL THE INFORMATION SPACE’
    The Kremlin said there was no desire to block content but that companies had to abide by the law.
    Some activists, however, said they believed the curbs were linked to recent protests.
    “Of course the main motive is the increase in street protest action,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, an internet freedom advocate with the Roskomsvoboda group.
    “It’s 10 years since the Arab spring this year… they’ve understood the internet is a driving force.    Any desire to control the Russian internet is connected to the desire to control the information space.”
    Navalny’s allies say they plan new protests in coming months.
    Some government websites were unavailable for some Russian internet users shortly after the announcement about Twitter.
    Telecoms operator Rostelecom said the disruption to several government websites, including those of the Kremlin and parliament, was not caused by new restrictions imposed on Twitter but by an equipment malfunction.
    Vadim Subbotin, an official at Roskomnadzor, said it was possible that the authorities could target and slow down other internet platforms if they failed to comply with the law, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Moscow has gradually introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and platforms to store user data on servers in Russia.
(Additional reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva and Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Alex Richardson, Peter Graff)

3/12/2021 Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Moved From Initial Detention Facility: Lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision
to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been moved from a detention facility in Russia’s Vladimir region where he was incarcerated last month and moved to an unknown location, one of his lawyers said on Friday.
    Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, was moved from jail in Moscow last month to serve out a sentence of around two-and-a-half years after a court ruling the West condemned as politically-motivated.
    He was initially held at the Kolchugino jail in the Vladimir region northeast of Moscow. The TASS news agency, citing a law enforcement source, reported at the time that Navalny was being held there for quarantine before being moved to the IK-2 penal colony, also in the Vladimir region.
    Vadim Kobzev, one of Navalny’s lawyers, said he had visited his client on Thursday, but that another lawyer had tried to see him on Friday only to be told, eventually, that Navalny had been moved somewhere else.
    “The prison said he wasn’t there and that’s it,” Kobzev told Reuters, adding that Navalny was in good health when he had visited him a day earlier.
    Citing laws on protecting personal information, a spokeswoman for the Federal Penitentiary Service said she could not disclose information on Navalny’s whereabouts.
    Navalny, 44, was arrested in January on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning with what many Western countries say was a nerve agent.
    The Kremlin denied any involvement in what had happened to him, questioned whether he had really been poisoned, and suggested the whole thing may have been staged.
    Navalny was jailed last month for violating parole on what he said were trumped-up charges and is set to serve around two-and-a-half years in prison.
    Western countries have called for his release, and the United States and European Union have imposed sanctions against Moscow over the case.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Polina Nikolskaya and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/12/2021 PM Rutte’s Conservatives Seen Winning Dutch Election Amid Pandemic by Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg
An election sign is seen in The Hague, Netherlands March 9, 2021. Picture taken March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch voters look set to give Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD Party a fresh four-year mandate in a national election on March 15-17 that is widely seen as a referendum on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
    With a ban on gatherings of more than two people, restaurants and bars shut and the first night-time curfew in place since World War Two, voting has been spread over three days to help ensure social distancing at polling stations.
    A majority of voters reluctantly support the lockdown, given the Netherlands’ current infection rate of 31 per 100,000 people, towards the high end of Europe’s range.
    Rutte is running as “a safe pair of hands and I think that resonates with a large group of voters,” said Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute, a think-tank based in The Hague.
    Rutte, 54, has been Dutch prime minister since 2010, making him one of Europe’s longest serving leaders.
    While the government’s coronavirus response has included blunders such as flip-flopping over face masks and a slow vaccine rollout, voters credit Rutte with ensuring enough hospital beds were available through two COVID-19 waves.
    Government support for companies has kept unemployment at just 4%, dulling the economic pain of the prolonged lockdown.
    Three polls released this week showed Rutte’s VVD taking 24-26% of the vote, compared with 11-14% for its closest rival, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party, which leads the parliamentary opposition.
NO TIME FOR ‘EXPERIMENTS’
    “I believe that in a crisis… people look at the current leader, and they are not too much into experiments,” said Wilders.
    In the first Dutch election in two decades where immigration has not been the pivotal issue, Wilders has campaigned for more spending on healthcare and small businesses, and against the curfew, which caused rioting when it was introduced.
    Among other major parties, Labour, the Green-Left and the pro-education D-66 parties are vying with the centre-right Christian Democrats for third place.    Two or three of these will likely join a new VVD-led coalition.
    Some voters remain undecided after a year of struggles.
    “I don’t feel supported by the party now at the helm and I just don’t know who I will vote for,” said cafe owner Jaap de Vriend in Leiden, who said he had usually supported the VVD.
    “In the last year… I sold everything I could just to save my business,” said De Vriend, who converted his cafe into a takeaway deli to stay afloat during the lockdown.
    The National Institute for Health (RIVM) has advised against any swift relaxation of the lockdown measures, saying that hospitals could still be overwhelmed in a third wave of the pandemic driven by more contagious variants of the virus.
    Although Rutte’s government was among the last in Europe to begin vaccinations, they are expected to have reached 10% of the population by the end of March.    On government forecasts everyone who wants a shot will have had one by July.
    “We have light at the end of the tunnel… but it may still really take a while before we get there,” Rutte said at his last pre-election news conference.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Stephanie van den Berg and Bart Meijer; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Gareth Jones)

3/12/2021 Moscow Would Retaliate If U.S. Deployed Missiles In Japan: Ifax Cites Foreign Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following a meeting with Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign
Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Doha, Qatar March 11, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

3/12/2021 Western Countries Call On Russia At UN Rights Body To Release Navalny
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who
were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Dozens of countries including the United States called on Russia on Friday to release Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny saying his imprisonment was unlawful and demanding an investigation into his poisoning last year.
    In a statement read out by Poland to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, they said that actions by Russian authorities against the opposition leader were “unacceptable and politically motivated.”    The 45 countries were mainly European but also included Australia, Canada and Japan.
    Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for two and a half years last month over alleged parole violations related to an embezzlement case he said was trumped up for political reasons, something the authorities deny.
    “We call on the Russian Federation for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr Navalny and of all those unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, including for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief,” the joint statement said.
    “We are also concerned by the large number of arbitrary arrests of protesters who were expressing their support for Mr Navalny in many Russian cities,” the statement added.
    Russia has previously described such criticism as interference in its internal affairs.
    Britain’s ambassador, Julian Braithwaite, said it was “disgraceful” that Navalny, who was poisoned last year with what Western countries say was a military-grade nerve agent, had been jailed while the poisoning was not investigated.
    On Friday, Navalny’s lawyers said he had been moved from a jail in Russia’s Vladimir region and his whereabouts were unknown.
    U.N. human rights experts said on March 1 that Russia was to blame for the attempt to kill Navalny, and called for an international investigation into his poisoning.    Moscow denies poisoning Navalny and says it has seen no evidence.
    “Today’s statement should be just the start of greater Council scrutiny and action to end the crackdown,” John Fisher of New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
    The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities over the Navalny case.    The Kremlin called the moves absurd, unjustified and void of any real impact.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/16/2021 Kremlin Says Pressure On Countries To Reject Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine Is Unprecedented
FILE PHOTO: A shipment of doses of the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen after
arriving at Ezeiza International Airport, in Buenos Aires, Argentina January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that pressure on some countries to refuse to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 was at unprecedented levels but had no chance of succeeding.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the remarks when asked to comment on a U.S. government report which appeared to show that the United States had tried to dissuade Brazil from buying Sputnik V.
    The report, published on the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), detailed the work of the U.S. Office of Global Affairs (OGA) in “combating malign influences in the Americas.”
    The report outlined the agency’s diplomatic efforts to counter what it described as attempts by countries, including Russia, to increase their influence in the region, to the detriment of U.S. safety and security.
    “Examples include using OGA’s Health Attache office to persuade Brazil to reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine,” the government report said.
    Kremlin spokesman Peskov declined to comment specifically on the report but said Russia was against politicizing the situation around vaccines.
    “In many countries the scale of pressure is quite unprecedented … such selfish attempts to force countries to abandon any vaccines have no prospects,” he said.
    “We believe that there should be as many doses of vaccines as possible so that all countries, including the poorest, have the opportunity to stop the pandemic,” Peskov said.
    The U.S. Embassy in Moscow referred a request for comment to the U.S. Department of State.    The department did not immediately respond.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; writing by Alexander Marrow and Polina Ivanova; editing by Andrew Osborn and Philippa Fletcher)

3/16/2021 Russian Newspaper Seeks Investigation Into ‘Attack’ With Chemical Substance
FILE PHOTO: Novaya Gazeta's editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov speaks during an
interview in Moscow October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian newspaper that has exposed official corruption and human rights abuses urged Moscow city authorities on Tuesday to investigate what it said was an attack on its offices with a chemical substance.
    Novaya Gazeta, whose reporters have been subjected to numerous attacks since it was founded after the Soviet Union collapsed, reported a foul chemical smell at its Moscow editorial offices on Monday, which it described as a deliberate attack.    No one was reported hurt.
    Emergency service sources cited by Russian news agencies said nothing dangerous had been detected and that the smell appeared to have come from a basement sewer.
    But on Tuesday, Novaya Gazeta circulated a video published on social media that it said showed a hooded figure dressed as a Moscow food courier pausing by its office with a bicycle and spraying a substance for several seconds before walking off.
    Reuters could not independently verify the video’s authenticity.
    Novaya Gazeta proposed conducting a joint investigation with the Moscow government.
    “This can’t be left like this.    It’s a threat to Muscovites,” the newspaper said in a statement on its website.
    One of the newspaper’s journalists, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot dead in Moscow in 2006 after exposing abuses in a war in the southern Russian region of Chechnya.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy)

3/16/2021 Netherlands Eases Rules For Mail-In Ballots As Election Continues
A woman casts her vote during the Dutch general election, in The Hague, Netherlands, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government on Tuesday said that it would adjust rules for accepting mail-in ballots in an ongoing national election, after reports people had made a minor mistake in the proceedure.
    The election, in which Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD Party is expected to gain enough support to secure a fourth term, is running for three days, March 15-17, to allow social distancing room at polling stations.
    In addition, people 70 years and older were allowed to vote by mail for the first time.
    An estimated 6% of voters cast a ballot in person on the 15th, with the lion’s share expected to vote in person on the 17th.    Mail-in votes have already been received but will not be tallied until the 17th, with roughly a third of eligible seniors expected to vote by mail.
    After reports of mistakes, Interior Affairs Minister Kasja Ollongren said in a letter to parliament on Tuesday that ballots from voters who had included their voting pass in an inner envolope, rather than outside it in a second envelope as instructed, would be counted anyway.
    Five polls released this week showed Rutte’s conservative VVD taking 21-26% of the vote, compared with 11-16% for its closest rival, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party.    A member of Rutte’s current coalition, the pro-European D-66 Party, has pulled level with Freedom in recent polls.
    With a ban on public gatherings, the election campaign focused on a series of televised debates in which Rutte maintained his image as a steady hand during a time of crisis.
    But coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are rising at the fastest pace in months, and the National Institute for Health (RIVM) has advised against easing lockdown measures, saying that hospitals could still be overwhelmed in a third wave of the pandemic driven by more contagious variants.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/16/2021 Austria’s Kurz And Allies Seek ‘Correction’ On EU Vaccine Distribution
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz holds a graph as he attends a news conference in Vienna, Austria March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday he and allies from eastern Europe were pushing for the European Union to adjust the way it distributes COVID-19 vaccines after complaining it was uneven.
    Kurz and the leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia and Croatia last week wrote to the heads of the European Commission and Council, saying the distribution was not happening in line with national populations as had been agreed.
    Kurz’s opponents have accused him of trying to deflect blame away from his government for the relatively slow pace of vaccinations.
    The EU has a mechanism for redistributing doses left when others do not take up their full pro rata allocation, and the Commission has said it is up to member states to decide whether they want to go back to a strictly population-based method.
    “It has to be possible here to develop a correction mechanism,” Kurz told a news conference with his Bulgarian, Czech and Slovenian counterparts after a meeting that the leaders of Croatia and Latvia joined by video link.
    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are working “to find a solution,” Kurz added.
    Bulgaria and Latvia have administered a first vaccine dose to the smallest share of their adult populations in the EU, according to the latest weekly report https://covid19-vaccine-report.ecdc.europa.eu by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, at 4.1% each.
    In Malta that figure is 14.9%.    Austria is on 7.8%.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens)

3/16/2021 Russia Says Its COVID Vaccines Work On New Variants After South Africa Cases Discovered
FILE PHOTO: People line up to receive a dose of Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
at a vaccination centre in the State Department Store, GUM, in central Moscow, Russia January 18, 2021 REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s COVID-19 vaccines have proven effective against new variants of the coronavirus in trials, a scientist with Moscow’s consumer regulator said on Tuesday, after the agency reported its first cases of a variant first detected in South Africa.
    President Vladimir Putin last month ordered a review to determine the efficacy of the three vaccines produced and registered in Russia against new variants spreading in different parts of the world. He said he wanted the results by March 15.
    Consumer regulator Rospotrebnadzor said earlier on Tuesday it had identified the first two cases in Russia of the new variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa.
    “In fact, trials have already been done in Russia and we can say with confidence that the (Sputnik V and EpiVacCoriona) vaccines registered in Russia also work against new strains,” Alexander Gorelov, deputy head of research at Rospotrebnadzor’s Institute of Epidemiology, said on state television.
    Gorelov gave no details on trials that had tested vaccines against variants first discovered abroad.
    Researchers conducting trials under the review ordered by Putin said on Feb. 27 that results were looking strong when volunteers were re-vaccinated with Sputnik V against new mutations of the virus.
    Reporting on trial results last week, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that Sputnik V had shown itself effective against the virus variant that was first detected in Britain.
    The level of participants’ neutralising antibodies against that variant did not significantly differ from the level of those associated with the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, according to Murashko.
SMALL SAMPLE SIZE
    Rospotrebnadzor said it had conducted 8,159 tests for mutations of the coronavirus so far. It was collecting and testing samples from a wide range of people, including those who have recently travelled abroad or are suspected to have been infected with coronavirus for a second time.
    The regulator has also now found 28 cases of the coronavirus variant at first appeared in Britain, reporting the first case of that strain in January, though none of the variant first registered in Brazil.
    The variant associated with South Africa was first identified there in December, where it now predominates.    It has also now been detected in over 40 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
    South African scientists say there is no clear evidence that the variant triggers more severe disease or worse outcomes.    But it does appear to spread faster than previous iterations of the virus.
    Since the start of the pandemic, Russia has reported more than 4 million COVID-19 cases and over 90,000 deaths.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/16/2021 Russia Will Block Twitter In One Month Unless It Deletes Banned Content: Russian News Agencies
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Twitter logo is pictured in front of a displayed Russian flag
in this illustration taken March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will block Twitter in one month unless the U.S. social media giant complies with a demand to remove banned content, Russian news agencies cited a senior regulatory official as saying on Tuesday.
    Moscow said last week it had slowed down the speed of Twitter inside Russia in retaliation for what it described as a failure to remove a specific list of banned content.
    Twitter said at the time that it was worried about the impact on free speech of the Russian action, and denied that it allowed its platform to be used to promote illegal behaviour as alleged by Russian authorities.
    In a move that escalates the growing stand-off, Vadim Subbotin, the deputy head of Roskomnadzor, the communications watchdog, was cited as saying on Tuesday that Twitter had not addressed Russian concerns yet and would be blocked in Russia in a month unless it did so.
    “Twitter is not reacting to our requests as they should.    If the situation carries on then it will be blocked in a month without a court order,” the Interfax news agency cited Subbotin as saying.
    He was quoted as saying that Twitter could still avoid being blocked if it took action to delete the banned content, which Moscow has said includes child pornography and material on illegal drugs and child suicide.
    Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The U.S. platform was already under pressure in Russia after it was named earlier this month as one of five social media platforms being sued for allegedly failing to delete posts urging children to take part in illegal anti-Kremlin protests.
    Russia’s foreign ministry on Saturday accused the United States of using IT opportunities to engage in unfair competition and social media platforms of arbitrarily and indiscriminately censoring content.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/18/2021 Putin Offers Direct Talks With Biden, Says No Need For Insults by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting on social and economic development of Crimea and Sevastopol,
via video conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin recently criticized Joe Biden for his recent harsh remarks about bilateral ties.
    In a statement Thursday, Putin proposed direct talks with Biden to address any grievances that Washington may have about Russia.    The Russian leader said Biden’s recent remarks were not very diplomatic, adding they may reflects America’s own problems.
    His remarks came after Biden suggested Putin is a “killer” and said Russia would pay a price amid the latest attempts to revive the Russia hoax.    Mainstream media has falsely claimed that Russia reacted “angrily” to Biden’s statement.    In realty, however, Moscow has insisted on mutual diplomacy.
    “They will be forced to contend with this despite all their efforts to stop our development, despite their sanctions and insults,” Putin stated.    “On our part, in accordance with our national interests, we will develop relations with all countries of the world, including the United States.”
    The Russian president also wished Biden “good health” and expressed hope for productive work on mutually beneficial projects going forward.

3/18/2021 Russia Recalls Ambassador After Sanctions, Meddling Claims by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this March 28, 2014 file photo, a Russian national flag flies on a hilltop
near the city of Bakhchysarai, Crimea. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
    Russia has recalled its ambassador in Washington, D.C. over the latest U.S. sanctions on mutual trade.    On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry called its U.S. ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, back to Moscow for consultations amid the latest fallout in mutual ties.
    The move came after the U.S. Commerce Department slapped sanctions on technology exports to Russia.    Additionally, the Biden administration has attempted to revive the Russia hoax by alleging Russian meddling in 2020 election while ignoring the meddling by China and Iran.
    Biden claimed souring ties may help the Russian opposition, but in reality they appear to fortify the Kremlin’s resolve.
    “Western politicians keep calling those sanctions anti-Russian and words matter a lot in politics,” stated Russian opposition lawmaker Ilya Yashin.    “So, even if western politicians, diplomats and officials keep calling those sanctions anti-Russian, it is easier for Putin to persuade Russian society that those sanctions are anti-Russian.”
    The Kremlin has signaled possible retaliation against the U.S., which will eventually come at the expense of the Russian people.
    “So, I would like to ask representatives of the EU to correct their rhetoric and to call these sanctions by their real names: anti-oligarch, anti-Kremlin, anti-put in and not anti-Russian,” Yashin continued.

3/18/2021 ‘It Takes One To Know One’ Putin Retorts After Biden Says He Thinks He Is A Killer by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony launching the Talas Gold Mining Plant at Kyrgyzstan's Jerooy
gold deposit via a video link in Moscow, Russia March 17, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin retorted on Thursday that it takes one to know one after U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought the Russian leader was a killer and already poor relations between Moscow and Washington sank to a new post-Cold War low.
    Putin was speaking on television after Biden, in an ABC News interview that prompted Russia to recall its Washington ambassador for consultations a day earlier, said     “I do” when asked if he believed Putin was a killer.
    Biden also described Putin as having no soul, and said he would pay a price for alleged Russian meddling in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, something the Kremlin denies.
    Russia is preparing to be hit by a new round of U.S. sanctions in the coming days over that alleged meddling as well as over an alleged hack.    In a highly unusual move following Biden’s interview, Moscow recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations.
    Putin, responding to Biden’s characterisation of him, said he knew the U.S. leader personally, and, in an apparent reference to Biden’s age (78), said he sincerely wished him good health.
    Suggesting Biden was hypocritical in his remarks, Putin said that every state had to contend with “bloody events” and added Biden was accusing the Russian leader of something he was guilty of himself.
    “I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the courtyard with each other we used to say: it takes one to know one.    And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke.    The psychological meaning here is very deep,” Putin said.
    “We always see our own traits in other people and think they are like how we really are.    And as a result we assess (a person’s) activities and give assessments,” he said.
‘REALLY BAD REMARKS’
    Shortly before Putin’s remarks, his spokesman said Biden’s comments showed he had no interest in fixing ties with Moscow, which are strained by everything from Syria to Ukraine to Russia’s jailing of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
    Biden was quick to extend a key nuclear arms pact with Russia after he took office in January.    But his administration has said it will take a tougher line with Moscow than Washington did during Donald Trump’s term in office, and engage only when there is a tangible benefit for the United States.
    “These are really bad remarks by the U.S. president.    He has clearly shown that he doesn’t want to improve relations with our country,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said.    “We will now proceed from that.”
    “Of course, this hasn’t happened before in history,” Peskov told reporters, commenting on Biden’s remarks.
    Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy chairman of parliament’s upper house, said Moscow’s recall of its ambassador was the only reasonable step to take in the circumstances.
    “I suspect it will not be the last one if no explanation or apology follows from the American side,” Kosachyov said in a Facebook post.
    “This kind of assessment (by Biden) is not allowed from the mouth of a statesman of such a rank,” he added, calling it a watershed moment in U.S.-Russia ties.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Tom Balmforth, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Dmitry Antonov, Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[DON'T WORRY JOE WHAT PUTIN THINKS BECAUSE MOST AMERICANS ALREADY KNOW WHAT A CROOK YOU AND THE BIDENS ARE.].

3/18/2021 Poland Reports 27,278 New Coronavirus Cases, Highest Daily Total In 2021
FILE PHOTO: A staff member works at a mobile coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test centre in Warsaw, Poland November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Jakub Stezycki
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland has reported 27,278 new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday, according to health ministry data, the highest number so far this year.
    In total, the country of 38 million has reported 1,984,248 cases and 48,388 deaths.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz)

3/18/2021 Hungarian Government Sees No Scope To Ease Coronavirus Curbs Yet
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for an EU summit amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic will reach its peak in Hungary by the end of March the latest, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday, adding there was no room to ease lockdown measures yet.
    Gergely Gulyas told a briefing that the government was still planning a phased reopening of the economy, which will depend on the scale of COVID-19 vaccinations.
    Orban, who faces elections in early 2022, wants to immunise as many people as he can quickly, to be able to reopen and jump-start the economy, which shrank by 5.1% last year.
    On Thursday, Hungary reported its highest daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths at 207, with 10,386 people in hospital – also a record high – which puts major strain on the health system.
    “Based on the numbers, it is not the time to ease restrictions,” Gulyas said, adding that Orban would announce next week’s measures on state radio on Friday morning.
    Hungary has had a 1900 GMT night curfew since mid-November, and restaurants and shops are closed, except for food stores and pharmacies. All schools are in remote learning.
    Gulyas said the government was not planning to impose any regional closures or other new regional measures to curb the spread of the virus.
    Hungary, which has a population of 10 million, has inoculated 1.442 million people so far, and Gulyas said that by June the government planned to vaccinate everyone who had registered for a shot.
    It was the first EU nation to buy and use Chinese or Russian vaccines as shipments from Western suppliers lagged.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)

3/18/2021 In Standoff With President, Moldovan Parliament Nominates Its Own Candidate For Premier by Alexander Tanas
FILE PHOTO: Moldova's President Maia Sandu attends a news briefing with European Council President
Charles Michel (not pictured) in Chisinau, Moldova February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s parliament on Thursday nominated the country’s ambassador to Russia as prime minister, in a challenge to the candidate proposed by President Maia Sandu.
    The move is likely to prolong wrangling between Sandu, who became president in November on a pro-European Union ticket, and a parliament still dominated by lawmakers aligned with her pro-Russian predecessor, Igor Dodon.
    Sandu has previously accused parliament of trying to sabotage her leadership and is pushing to hold a parliamentary election, which she says is needed to give her more power to fight corruption and tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
    Sandu on Tuesday nominated Igor Grosu as prime minister, prompting a constitutional challenge from lawmakers.
    Corneliu Furculita, head of the parliamentary faction of Dodon’s Socialist party, invited Sandu for more talks.
    “The purpose of the consultations is to comply with the constitution, which stipulates that the president should consult with parliamentary factions in order to determine a candidate for prime minister,” he said.
    Sandu’s office did not immediately commented on Golovatiuc’s nomination.    The Constitutional Court is due to rule on Sandu’s nomination of Grosu, whom she proposed after parliament rejected her first candidate.
    Moldova has been beset by instability and corruption scandals in recent years, including the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/18/2021 Ukraine’s COVID-19 Cases Jump, Capital Kyiv Imposes Tough Restrictions
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective face mask is seen on a bus amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic in central Kyiv, Ukraine January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KYIV (Reuters) – New coronavirus infections spiked to their highest level in Ukraine since November on Thursday, prompting the capital Kyiv to impose a tight lockdown for three weeks starting on Saturday.
    Kyiv’s lockdown echoes similar measures to be introduced by Lviv, the largest city in the west of the country, on Friday including closures of cafes, restaurants, non-food stores and a ban on public events.
    “We need to gain time and do everything to prevent the collapse of the medical system,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
    Theatres and shopping centres will be closed, spectators banned from sporting events, cafes and restaurants limited to providing takeaway food, schools will begin remote learning and all state employees will work from home, Klitschko said.
    The former Soviet republic of 41 million people has been hit by a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks that Prime Minister Denys Shmygal has said is the third wave of the pandemic.
    Critics blame the pandemic surge in Ukraine on a lack of uniform nationwide lockdown measures and patchy compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
    On Wednesday, Ukraine registered a record new daily high of 289 coronavirus-related deaths, and the death toll was 267 on Thursday, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Facebook.
    Ukraine has recorded a total of 29,253 deaths from the respiratory pandemic as of Thursday and the total number of infections since the pandemic began a year ago crossed the 1.5 million mark, Stepanov said.
    He said the number of Ukrainians hospitalised for COVID-19 remained high with 4,376 new admissions in the past 24 hours, though down from a record 4,887 the day before.
    With the surge in new infections and deaths, the prime minister has urged regional authorities to impose stronger restrictions on movement to contain the disease.
(Reporting by Pavel)

3/18/2021 Putin, In State TV Quip, Wishes Biden Good Health After U.S. President Calls Him Killer
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President
Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that people tend view others as they actually see themselves after U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought Putin was a killer, and quipped that he wished the U.S. president good health.
    Putin was speaking on national television after Biden, in an ABC News interview broadcast on Wednesday, said “I do” when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/18/2021 Belarus Opposition Leader Says OSCE And U.N. Ready To Help Negotiate New Election by Andrius Sytas
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a statement in Vilnius, Lithuania, in this still
image obtained from social media video March 18, 2021. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya/Handout via REUTERS.
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Thursday that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations were ready to mediate in any negotiations with the government on a new election.
    She said talks could begin in May, with a view to holding an election in the autumn.
    However, there was no immediate comment from the OSCE or the United Nations, or from the Minsk government, as President Alexander Lukashenko called on Thursday for tougher punishments against protesters who have challenged his legitimacy.
    In a pre-recorded video statement released on Thursday from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Tsikhanouskaya said the international bodies were “ready to organise a platform and act as mediators, as well as to force the regime to negotiate.”
    The statement appeared to be an attempt to rekindle the anger that brought tens of thousands onto the streets after August’s presidential election, which Lukashenko said he had won but Tsikhanouskaya’s supporters say was stolen from her.
    The protests dwindled over the winter and Lukashenko, who refused to step down despite new Western sanctions, has so far weathered what has been the biggest challenge to him in his 27 years in power, helped by Moscow, which sees Belarus as a buffer against the European Union and NATO.
    Thousands of protesters have been rounded up and nearly all opposition figures have been driven into exile or jailed.
    Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania, said on Thursday that only protests could force the authorities to sit down with her, and launched an online petition for Belarusians to demand that the government negotiate the terms of a new election.
    But Lukashenko on Thursday told his government to toughen the punishments for protesters.
    “Our special services say that we will not be allowed to live in peace.    This means that you need to be ready for any manifestations of destructive activity: from calls for illegal strikes to manipulation of minds through the internet,” he said, in remarks reported by the state news agency, Belta.
    Lukashenko’s spokeswoman had no immediate comment on Tsikhanouskaya’s statement.
    Over the past month, three journalists who covered the protests have been sentenced to between six months and two years in prison, and a protester has been jailed for 10 years, all on charges that the opposition says were trumped up.
    United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Feb. 25 that there was a “human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension” in Belarus.
    She said 246 people had been sentenced to jail on politically-motivated charges as of Feb. 9.
(Reporting By Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Additional Reporting By Matthias Williams in Kyiv and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/19/2021 Bulgaria Charges Six People Over Alleged Russian Spy Ring
FILE PHOTO: Ivan Geshev, when nominee for Bulgaria's chief prosecutor role, arrives to attend a sitting
of the Supreme Judicial Council in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian prosecutors said on Friday they had charged six Bulgarians, including senior officials from the defence ministry and military intelligence, with spying for Russia.
    The Russian embassy in Sofia said in a comment on its website it expected that until a court ruled on the case that all speculation about Russia’s alleged involvement in intelligence activities against Bulgaria’s interests should stop.
    Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev told a news briefing it was the first time such a spy ring had been uncovered in Bulgaria since the end of the World War Two.
    Five of the suspects were arrested in a large-scale operation by national security officers in Sofia on Thursday, when one of the men tried to escape, the prosecutors said.
    They said a former senior official from Bulgarian military intelligence had recruited people with access to classified information from Bulgaria, NATO and the European Union.
    The leader of the group used his wife to pass the information to an official at the Russian embassy in Sofia, said Siyka Mileva, a spokeswoman at the state prosecution’s office.
    “We can conclude that the criminal group has posed a serious threat for the national security by collecting and handing to a foreign country information which constitutes state secrets of Bulgaria, NATO and the European Union,” she said.
    The prosecutors said the group had been operating for a long time and that the investigation was ongoing.
    Bulgaria, an EU and NATO member, has expelled six Russian diplomats for suspected spying in the past two years.
    “In the context of the complexity of the international situation, the ‘tireless’ attempts to drive a wedge into the Russian-Bulgarian dialogue and once again demonise our country are obvious,” the Russian embassy said in a statement.
    In communist times, the Balkan country was Moscow’s most reliable ally in eastern Europe.    Despite periodic strains, Russia remains Bulgaria’s biggest energy supplier and the two countries retain close cultural and other links.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova. Editing by Mark Potter)

3/19/2021 Poland’s Total Number Of COVID-19 Cases Surpasses 2 Million
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk in front
of the Palace of Culture and Science in the centre of Warsaw, Poland February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s total number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to health ministry data, as the country grapples with a third wave of the pandemic.
    The country of 38 million has reported 2,010,244 coronavirus cases and 48,807 deaths in total since the start of the pandemic, the ministry data showed.
    Poland surpassed one million cases at the start of December as the second wave of the pandemic slowed, but has faced a recent consistent and steep rise in cases fuelled by the more contagious variant of the virus first found in Britain.
    That variant makes up more than 60% of cases in Poland and will soon reach 80%, a Polish health ministry spokesman said on Friday.
    On Friday Poland reported 25,998 new coronavirus cases and 419 COVID-related deaths, carrying out 86,100 tests in the last 24 hours.
    The previous day it reported 27,278 new daily coronavirus cases, the highest number so far this year.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams, Jan Harvey and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

3/22/2021 Germany Agrees To More Wild Boar Hunting To Combat Swine Fever
FILE PHOTO: The town sign of Gross Drewitz is seen with a note reading "African swine fever in wild pigs, key area",
Gross Drewitz, Spree-Neisse, Germany, September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo
    HAMBURG (Reuters) – The governments of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic have agreed that intensified hunting of wild boar is needed to combat an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) among wild animals, Germany’s agriculture ministry said on Monday.
    Asian countries including China banned German pork imports in September 2020 after ASF was found in wild boar in east Germany, not farm animals, causing falling pig prices.
    There have been 845 ASF cases confirmed in wild boar close to the Polish border in the east German states of Brandenburg and Saxony, but none in farm animals.
    ASF has been present in Poland since 2014 and the Czech Republic since 2017, with wild animals suspected to be crossing into Germany and spreading the disease.
    Agriculture ministers from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic agreed in a video conference to more hunting to combat the disease, Germany’s agriculture ministry said in a statement.
    “Hunting should fundamentally be intensified in order to reduce the wild boar population and avoid the risk of a further spread of the disease,” the ministry said.
    Fencing has been built along the Polish border to prevent the spread of wild boar in cooperation with Poland, but there are still areas that need more protection, said German agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner.
    “We are making massive efforts to contain the outbreaks inside the current region and to eradicate this animal disease as fast as possible.”
    Germany is asking pork importers to accept the regionalisation concept under which imports are stopped only from the region of a country where ASF occurs, replacing blanket bans on all pork imports.    Vietnam and several other countries have agreed to this.
    ASF is not dangerous to humans but is fatal to pigs.    Pork buyers often impose import bans on countries where it has been found, even in wild animals.
(Reporting by Michael Hogan; Editing by David Goodman)

3/22/2021 EU-Russia Relations Are ‘At A Low Point’: EU’s Michel
FILE PHOTO: European Council President Charles Michel arrives for a video conference meeting with Austria's Chancellor and Croatian,
Bulgarian, Latvian and Slovenian Prime Ministers at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 17, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Relations between the European Union and Russia are at a low point, with disagreement in many areas, European Council President Charles Michel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
    Michel, who chairs EU summits, spoke with Putin ahead of a video conference of EU leaders on Thursday-Friday set to discuss EU-Russia relations and after the EU imposed sanctions on Russians over rights abuses in Chechnya.
    “President Michel expressed the view that EU-Russia ties are at a low point and confirmed the EU’s approach of the five guiding principles, based on the EU’s core values,” the Council said in a statement.    “There is currently disagreement in many areas.”
    Disagreements included the situation in Ukraine, human rights, hybrid and cyber-attacks on EU countries and the assassination attempt on and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss and Philip Blenkinsop)

3/22/2021 EU Sanctions Russians Over Rights Abuses In Chechnya
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in the southern Russian region of Chechnya, the bloc’s toughest response to attacks on Russian citizens because of their sexuality.
    Russian authorities in the autonomous region deny what human rights groups, media and filmmakers have described as a purge, with dozens of LGBT+ people rounded-up and tortured since 2017.
    The EU blacklisted Aiub Vakhaevich Kataev, a senior official at the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry in Chechnya, and Abuzaid Dzhandarovich Vismuradov, deputy prime minister of the Chechnya region and the commander of a special security unit that the EU said was responsible for persecution. Vismuradov is already under U.S. sanctions.
    The repressions are directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, those presumed to belong to LGBTI groups,” the EU said in its Official Journal, where it published the asset freezes and travel bans.
    The EU said gay and lesbian individuals were wrongly accused of being opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov, who is the leader of Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya region and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Kadyrov is also under U.S. sanctions for rights abuses, which he denies.    His spokesman has said there could be no attacks on gay men because there were no such people in Chechnya.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/22/2021 Putin Raps EU Official Over Comments On Sputnik V Vaccine
FILE PHOTO: Vials of the Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are pictured in a carriage of the Academician
Fyodor Uglov medical train, at a railway station in the town of Tulun in Irkutsk Region, Russia March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Evgeny Kozyrev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin hit back on Monday at a European Union official who said its members had absolutely no need for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, describing the comment as strange and suggesting it was at odds with EU citizens’ interests.
    EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton had said the EU did not need the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 and could achieve immunity across the continent using European production.
    “It’s a strange statement.    We’re not imposing anything on anyone,” Putin said at a televised meeting about Russian vaccines.
    “This raises a question: Whose interests are these people defending and representing?    The interests of some pharmaceutical companies or those of the citizens of European countries?
    The European Medicines Agency (EMA), whose representatives are set to visit Russia next month, launched a rolling review of Sputnik V earlier this month.
    But some European officials have called into question the need for the Russian vaccine.
    An EMA official urged EU members this month to refrain from approving Sputnik V at a national level while the agency was still reviewing it.
    Putin also held a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel to discuss the possible use of Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, the Kremlin said on Monday.
    Earlier this month, Michel had cast doubt on Russia’s motives for promoting Sputnik V abroad, saying Moscow had organised limited but widely publicised operations to supply the vaccine to other countries.
    Putin told Michel that Russia was ready to resume cooperation with the trade bloc but that ties were currently unsatisfactory due to the EU’s confrontational and unconstructive policies at times, the Kremlin said.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya, Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alison Williams and Bernadette Baum)

3/24/2021 Engage Russia But Remain “Clear-Eyed” While Doing So, Blinken Tells NATO
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press briefing at the end of a NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting
at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The West must engage with Russia to promote mutual interests but remain “very clear-eyed," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, at the Biden administration’s first cabinet-level meeting with the NATO alliance scorned by Donald Trump.
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to resume dialogue through a council that has not met for two years, arguing that even a difficult relationship needed to be managed to reduce risks.
    Blinken, the first top U.S. official to visit NATO since Biden took office in January, charmed allies with a conciliatory tone, after four years when Trump portrayed the Western military alliance as outdated, and castigated members for spending too little on defence.
    Blinken called for a firm, shared position on Russia.
    “Ultimately, I think what we can hope is to have a relationship with Russia that is at least predictable and stable,” he told a press conference in Brussels.
    “Even as we work with Russia to advance our interests and advance alliance interests, we will also work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversary actions.”
    Stoltenberg lobbied for a revival of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) that was created in 2002 to facilitate consultation between the Western military alliance and Moscow.    With relations strained, the council last met in July 2019.
    “Dialogue is important. Especially when times are difficult as they are now, then it is important to sit down and discuss also difficult issues,” Stoltenberg told journalists after foreign ministers of the alliance met in Brussels.
    “Even without any improvement in the relationship between NATO allies and Russia, I believe that at least we have to manage a difficult relationship – on transparency, risk reduction and also addressing arms control,” he said, adding it was up to Moscow to accept an invitation by NATO.
    NATO’s Russia policy follows a two-track approach of deterrence and dialogue, though the alliance suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
    The NRC was revived in 2016 and met regularly until 2019.    But ties between Russia and the West are at post-Cold War lows, strained by issues ranging from Ukraine to allegations of hacking U.S. elections and the conflict in Syria.
    On Tuesday, Blinken had described what he said were Russian attempts to destabilise the West and China’s military rise as threats that required NATO to come together.
(Reporting by Sabine)

3/24/2021 Allies Of Kremlin Critic Navalny Raise Alarm Over His Health After Lawyers Denied Prison Access by Tom Balmforth and Polina Nikolskaya
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow, Russia, February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) -Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Wednesday they were concerned by a deterioration in his health and his lawyers said they had not been allowed to visit him in the prison camp holding him.
    Navalny, 44, was jailed last month for two and a half years on charges he called fabricated. He was arrested as he returned to Russia from Germany in January where he had been recovering from what doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning.
    Navalny began experiencing serious back pain last week, felt a numbness in his leg and was unable to stand on it, according to close ally Leonid Volkov, who said that Navalny had only been given two pills of Ibuprofen in response.
    Volkov said that Navalny’s lawyers Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev had tried to visit him for a meeting scheduled at 1000 GMT on Wednesday, but had not been allowed in all day.
    Kobzev, one of the lawyers, confirmed he had been denied access which he said was unacceptable.
    Navalny is being held in a prison camp in the Vladimir region around 100 km (62 miles) east of Moscow.
    Speaking by phone from outside the camp, Kobzev told Reuters that Navalny’s lawyers had visited him on a daily basis while he was in custody in the Vladimir region and that Wednesday was the first time they had not been allowed to see him.
    The federal prison service and the regional one in Vladimir did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Navalny’s lawyers said prison officials had told them it was not possible to visit their client due to unspecified security measures.
    Volkov said it was possible Navalny had been moved to the prison hospital and that the facility’s administration was trying to hide that fact.
    “Given all of the circumstances known to us, the sharp deterioration of his health can only cause extreme concern,” said Volkov.
    Navalny’s allies have held protests calling for his release and on Tuesday announced plans to stage what they hope will be the biggest anti-Kremlin street protest in modern Russian history this spring, in a new push to win his freedom.
    The authorities say such protests are illegal.
    The West has demanded Russia release Navalny, something Moscow has called unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.
    Russian authorities say they have seen no evidence that Navalny was poisoned and have suggested he is a Western puppet sent back to try to destabilise the political situation in Russia.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Polina Nikolskaya; editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/24/2021 U.N. Agrees Probe Into Torture, Arrests In Belarus Crackdown by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition supporters attend a rally to protest against the results of a presidential election
and urge President Alexander Lukashenko to step down in Minsk, Belarus November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. top human rights body agreed on Wednesday to set up a team of investigators to gather evidence about the alleged excessive use of force and torture by authorities in Belarus during their post-election crackdown on protesters.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory last August in a vote the opposition says was rigged and marred with violations.    Lukashenko, who is 66 and has led his country since 1994, denies electoral fraud.
    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on Minsk to release people unlawfully arrested in the protests and to investigate some 2,000 complaints of torture or ill-treatment in custody.
    On the basis of a resolution proposed by the European Union and approved by 20 countries, the Human Rights Council authorised a budget of $2.5 million and the hiring of nearly 20 experts and staff to conduct the investigation.
    “We must show our support to the people of Belarus and hold perpetrators of grave human rights violations accountable to end the vicious cycle of impunity,” Portugal’s ambassador Rui Macieira, speaking for the EU, told the Geneva forum.
    Belarus’s ambassador, Yury Ambrazevich, described the move as “yet another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of our state.”
    Seven countries including Russia, a close ally of Belarus, voted against the resolution, while 20 others abstained.
    “With gross human rights violations occurring on a daily basis in Belarus, today’s vote by the Council will be important in identifying those responsible for future prosecution,” said Dave Elseroad of the Human Rights House Foundation in a joint statement issued by more than 60 activist groups including Human Rights Watch and the World Organization against Torture.
    Russia’s ambassador, Gennady Gatilov, denounced the EU resolution as an “extreme case of politicisation” and inteference in electoral issues.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams and Gareth Jones)

3/24/2021 Canada Sanctions Nine Russian Officials, Kremlin Vows Response
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/
    OTTAWA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Canada’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it is imposing new sanctions on nine Russian officials over “gross and systematic violations of human rights in Russia,” prompting the Kremlin to vow a response against Canada.
    Global Affairs Canada said the sanctions were part of a diplomatic effort to pressure senior Russian officials over “the attempted murder” and detention of prominent critic Alexey Navalny, and the treatment of citizen protesters.
    “Canada will continue to increase pressure on the Russian government to unconditionally release Mr. Navalny and his supporters who have been unlawfully detained,” said Marc Garneau, minister of foreign affairs, in a statement.
    “Russia’s gross human rights violations will not go unanswered,” he said.
    Navalny was arrested earlier this year when he returned to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
    Thousands of people were subsequently detained at a series of street protests.    Navalny’s allies on Tuesday announced plans for an even bigger anti-Kremlin protest this spring, in a revived push to win his freedom.
    Canada said its sanctions were in line with actions previously taken by the European Union and the United States.
    The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Moscow would respond to Canada’s decision to impose what it described as illegal sanctions on Russia, the RIA news agency reported.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Julie Gordon in Ottawa; additional writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams and Steve Orlofsky)

3/24/2021 Poland Accuses Belarus Of Persecuting Polish Nationals
FILE PHOTO: A woman holding flowers carries a historical white-red-white flag of Belarus
in Warsaw, Poland, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland accused Belarus on Wednesday of persecuting its Polish minority, calling on its government to stop “taking hostages,” after Polish and Belarusian media said the head of a group representing the Polish diaspora had been arrested.
    In a worsening diplomatic standoff following tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions this month, the Polish foreign ministry said it had summoned a Belarusian charge d’affaires for discussions on Tuesday evening but gave no further details.
    Andzelika Borys, head of the Association of Poles in Belarus, was arrested in the city of Grodno on Tuesday and sentenced to 15 days in prison, Polish media said.
    Belarusian media said Borys was being held on charges of violating mass gathering rules, citing the interior ministry.    The Association of Poles in Belarus said it feared further “repressions” of the diaspora but would continue its work.
    The Belarusian interior ministry was not available for comment and the government issued no statement on her arrest or on reports of several other Poles in Belarus being detained.
    “I want to express my absolute condemnation of Andzelika Borys’ arrest…we cannot condone taking hostages in this way.    That’s what you can call this sort of large scale action that the Belarusian authorities are taking,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a televised statement.
    Poland has criticised the Belarusian leadership under President Alexander Lukashenko, and has hosted Belarusian opposition politicians.
    Warsaw has also called for coordinated action to help the protest movement in Belarus, where Lukashenko’s opponents say a presidential election last August was rigged to hand victory to him. The president had denied electoral fraud.
    The prosecutor’s office in the Belarusian city of Brest has also opened a criminal case into suspected glorification of war criminals, following a memorial evening in a Polish school in Belarus dedicated to Poles who fought against the Soviet Union.
    Poland expelled two Belarusian diplomats last week after a Polish diplomat was expelled this month.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper and Alicja Ptak in Warsaw, Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Editing by Timothy Heritage, William Maclean)

3/24/2021 Russia’s Putin Signs Bill To Lift Age Limits For Top Officials
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting dedicated to the production of vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) via a
video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia March 22, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Wednesday allowing civilian officials he has appointed to remain in their posts past the age of 70 if they choose, a government website said.
    Previously, high-ranking officials were not permitted to stay on past 65, an age limit that was then extended to 70.
    This limit will no longer apply to officials whose appointment and dismissal is decided by the president, according to the new law, signed on Wednesday by Putin, who is himself 68.
    A constitutional amendment introduced in the summer of 2020 opened the door to Putin remaining in office until 2036, meaning he could rule until the age of 83.
    Following a recent hike to the pension age, it is now set at 65 for men and 60 for women.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/24/2021 Finland Proposes Home Lockdown For Helsinki Residents For First Time During Pandemic
FILE PHOTO: People protest against Finnish government's regulations to fight the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, in Helsinki, Finland March 20, 2021. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via REUTERS/File Photo
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – The Finnish government on Wednesday proposed locking down residents of five cities, including the capital Helsinki, and only allowing people to leave their homes for limited reasons, to curb rising coronavirus infections and hospitalisations.
    The lockdown, which would be the first time Finland confines people to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, is subject to a parliamentary vote and assessment by the constitutional law committee.
    Earlier this month the government closed restaurants and secondary schools throughout the country.
    The Nordic nation of 5.5 million people has recorded 73,516 coronavirus infections and 811 deaths. It has been praised for its handling of the pandemic and has been among the least-affected countries in Europe.    It has 295 people in hospital with COVID-19.
    “These [five] are now the cities with the most difficult epidemic situations but the list can be updated if the situation changes,” Paivi Anttikoski, communications director at the prime minister’s office told Reuters.
    In the draft legislation published on Wednesday evening, the government said the lockdown would mean people would only be allowed to leave their home for a predetermined purpose such as buying food or traveling to a second home.
    Disobeying the restrictions would result in a fine.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto; Editing by Alexandra)

3/25/2021 Attorneys: Russia’s Navalny Develops Health Problems In Prison by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny spoke during an interview with AFP at the office of his
Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow on January 16, 2018. (Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    Attorneys for Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny are sounding the alarm over his worsening health while in prison.
    In a statement on Thursday, Navalny’s lawyers said the opposition leader is experiencing strong pain in his spine and right leg.    They added Navalny’s issues developed due to the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, which include sleep deprivation and exposure to cold temperatures.
    The Russian opposition are demanding an unconditional release of Navalny for medical reasons.
Russian jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny attended a court hearing in Moscow
on June 16, 2017. (Photo by ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Kremlin claimed Navalny’s condition is “stable,” but the opposition said that is a lie.
    “Navalny has been suffering for four weeks from this pain.    He forbids us to say anything.    We knew the day before that his problems with his leg deteriorated,” Olga     Mikhailova, attorney for Navalny said.    “Only yesterday, when we were not allowed inside the prison, we decided to make it public because we were concerned about his life and health.”
    Political experts said the Kremlin may be seeking a compromise solution by releasing Navalny, in exchange for downscaled opposition activities in Russia.

3/26/2021 Mourners Make Prague’s Old Town Square Into Sombre Memorial For Coronavirus Victims by Jiri Skacel
People pay their respects at the Old Town Square where thousands of crosses have been painted on a pavement to commemorate the first anniversary since the death
of the first Czech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in Prague, Czech Republic, March 25, 2021. Picture taken March 25, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Prague residents laying flowers, scribbling names or mourning quietly have turned the Czech capital’s medieval Old Town Square into an improvised memorial to the thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year.
    A civic group called “Million Moments for Democracy” sprayed 25,000 white crosses overnight on Monday on the cobble-stoned square, surrounded by gothic and baroque churches and Prague’s famed Astronomical Clock, to commemorate victims of the pandemic in the past year — and blame the government for missteps.
    The plan was to wash the crosses off that day, but Prague’s city hall said it would let them stay until rain washes them off.
    Then people spontaneously started chalking names, dates of deaths and notes to individual crosses, turning the original act into personal commemorations.
    Anna Vojtechova brought a flower and a small bottle of the Czech herbal liqueur Becherovka for her brother, who died aged 75 on March 1, the same day he registered for vaccination.
    “He was supposed to be vaccinated and did not live to see it.    He was healthy, not obese, no illness.    It chewed him up.    People must be hugely careful,” she said while fighting tears.
    Another mourner, Petr Popov, came to remember a friend from Prague’s Bulgarian community.    “I want to write his name down with chalk to pay respects," he said.
    Others, who have not been personally hit, also visit.
    Monika Mudranincova said she wanted to pay her respects.
    “We feel so sorry and it would be amazing if we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems there is none yet,” she said.
    During the first wave of the pandemic, a year ago, the Czech government quickly shut borders, schools and retail outlets, leading the country through with minimum losses.    But it was also quick to relax restrictions after the first wave and slow to build up testing and tracing capacities over the summer.
    The government reacted slowly to a new surge in infections in the autumn.    Another relaxation before Christmas and the spread of the more infectious British variant of the virus packed hospitals again in January and then March.
    Now the central European country of 10.7 million has become one of the world’s worst-hit in the pandemic, reporting over 1.5 million coronavirus infections and 25,639 deaths, and thousands more excess deaths above normal rates.
    The death toll is the highest per capita in the world apart from San Marino, according to Our World in Data website.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel, writing by Jan Lopatka, editing by Larry King)

3/26/2021 Poland Reports New Daily Record Of 35,143 Coronavirus Cases
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff treat a patient inside the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation coronavirus ward at the
Interior and Administration Ministry (MSWiA) hospital in Warsaw, Poland, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland reported a record number of coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day on Friday, with 35,143 new cases, health ministry data showed as the country’s healthcare system is testing the limits of its capacity.
    The government has announced more restrictions on Thursday to curb the surging number of infections.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/26/2021 Kremlin Dismisses Call From Navalny’s Wife To Free Jailed Critic For Medical Reasons
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya are seen on board
a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow, January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Vasilyeva/
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it would ignore a call by jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s wife to have her husband freed to receive urgent medical treatment and said his prison conditions could be worse.
    Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, said on Thursday that being woken up by a guard every hour during the night amounted to torture and that an appeal to be treated for acute back and leg pain had been refused in a deliberate attempt to run him down.
    Yulia Navalnaya, his wife, called on Putin to free her husband so he could be treated by doctors he trusted.
    But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday the Kremlin would be leaving her appeal without a response since such matters were handled by the federal prison service.
    Asked about Navalny’s allegation of torture by sleep deprivation, Peskov said that Russian citizens held in foreign prisons faced much harsher situations.
    “Some of them have been convicted without reason and illegally,” he said.
    “These various examples of discipline in prisons in other countries are often linked to much more crude and inhumane treatment,” said Peskov.
    Navalny was jailed last month for two and a half years on charges he called politically motivated.    He was arrested as he returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he had been recovering from what doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning.
    Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said the reports of Navalny’s worsening health were worrying.
    “Russia authorities must give @navalny access to medical care,” she tweeted.
    Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on summary killings whose investigation blamed Russia for last year trying to kill Navalny, something it has denied, said reports of Navalny’s deteriorating health were “profoundly disturbing.”
    “This same Russia is now imprisoning him, arbitrarily in conditions amounting to ill treatment or worse,” she wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/31/2021 Russia’s Navalny Declares Hunger Strike In Prison by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny spoke during an interview with AFP at the office of
his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow on January 16, 2018. (Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)
    In response to the poor conditions of his detention, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has declared a hunger strike in prison.
    In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Navalny said prison administrators have been denying him medical treatment after he developed severe pain in his spine and right leg.    The opposition leader explained he had to declare a hunger strike to change that situation.
    Earlier this week, a group of more than 20 Russian doctors signed an open letter calling on the Kremlin to release Navalny, saying he needs medical help.    The doctors have criticized the inhumane conditions in that prison.
    “You, those in whose hands the life and destiny of Alexey Navalny is.    Please do not prevent him from receiving medical assistance.    I, the people around and the whole world is now following the situation with Alexey Navalny, we are watching your activities,” Dr. Vadim Bondar said.    “Trust me no one likes what you’re doing, and your actions may play against you in the future.”
    The opposition leader said prison guards are always monitoring him and sometimes depriving him of sleep at night, amounting to torture.
    Navalny’s legal team has demanded his unconditional release.

    This page created on 1/1/2021, and updated each month by 1/31/2021, 2/28/2021, 3/31/2021.

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