Putin Murder Link, Austria’s Migrant Quota, Star Wars Delay

Putin Murder Link, Austria’s Migrant Quota, Star Wars Delay


Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who later fled to Britain and worked for the MI6, a public inquiry in the UK has found. The report on the years’ long investigation was published this morning, saying that Litvinenko’s murder “was probably approved” by the Russian Federal Security Service chief “and also by President Putin.” Litvinenko died in London at age 43 after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

  • Litvinenko’s widow Marina welcomed the report, which she said proved “the words my husband spoke on his deathbed when he accused Mr. Putin.” She also called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to expel “all Russian intelligence operatives” and to sanction Russia and Putin.
  • Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect accused of having poisoned Litvinenko, dismissed the report as “absurd.” Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry described the findings as politically motivated, news agency Tass reports.



NASA astronaut Scott Kelly has shared a series of impressive photographs of the “Northern Lights,” or Aurora Borealis, that he took from the International Space Station.


Satellite imagery obtained by AP confirmed that ISIS destroyed a 1,400-year-old Christian monastery in Iraq, adding to the long list of religious and heritage sites the terrorist group has razed. St. Elijah’s Monastery, located on a hill near Mosul, was the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq. “Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely,” imagery analyst Stephen Wood said, explaining that the destruction might have begun in August or September 2014.

  • According to Reuters, ISIS fighters this morning attacked oil installations in Libya, where a unity government was just formed, and threatened to commit more attacks soon.
  • French President François Hollande announced that airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria would be “accelerated.”


More than 50 Brazilian cities have canceled or drastically scaled back their traditional Carnival celebrations because of public spending cuts. But as Marcelo Toledo reports for Folha de S. Paulo, some say killing the party will only make things worse. “In Mariana, where the collapse of a wastewater dam at an iron ore mine caused unprecedented destruction, the Carnival will go ahead. But it’ll be a much smaller party than usual, with artists from surrounding cities that have cancelled their own celebrations. Municipal authorities say the disaster will cost 70 million reais ($17 million) this year alone. ‘We discussed this a lot, just as we did for the Christmas celebrations,’ says Mayor Duarte Júnior. ‘People are asking us not to let traditions die. The tragedy that took place here left an image of a devastated city, but the urban area was actually left untouched. If we don’t celebrate Christmas and Carnival, we’ll all die together.’”

Read the full article, Austerity Carnival: Brazil’s Economic Crisis Spoils Party Season.


The Austrian government announced plans yesterday to limit the number of migrants to 37,500 for 2016, saying it would take a maximum of 127,500 people between now and 2019, newspaper Kurier reports. “We need to fight against the causes of migration,” Chancellor Werner Faymann said, promising “massive reinforcements” of border controls. An estimated 90,000 migrants registered in 8-million-strong Austria last year, with tens of thousands more crossing the country for Germany.

  • German President Joachim Gauck has increased the pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to impose quotas there too. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday, he said that “a limitation strategy may even be both morally and politically necessary,” warning that “if democrats do not want to talk about limitations, then populists and xenophobes will ultimately set a limit.” Germany welcomed an estimated 1.1 million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and North Africa in 2015 alone, and widespread sexual attacks recently perpetrated by migrants have boosted calls for a policy change.


Two astronomers believe they may have found evidence that a ninth planet the size of Neptune lies on the fringe of the Solar System. “Planet 9” could actually be the long hypothesized, and conspiracy-fueling, Planet X.


The World Health Organization confirmed today that it has identified a new case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, the second in one week, Reuters reports. It was only a week ago that the WHO announced the end of the outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people.


From the supersonic Concorde plane to Lenin, time for your 57-second shot of history.


Stock markets across Asia closed lower today despite making gains in early trading, prolonging what has been described as the worst start of the year in recent memory, The Wall Street Journal reports. After yesterday’s global plunge, equities in China, Hong Kong and Japan suffered the heaviest losses, with the Shanghai Composite Index finishing down 3.2%, 44% lower than its June peak. European stocks rose slightly in early trading, with investors waiting for today’s speech from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. The ECB is expected to continue with its quantitative easing program.



The Holy See wants Britain to stay in the European Union. The Vatican believes that a vote in favor of a “Brexit” in a referendum that could be held later this year would be “something that is not going to make a stronger Europe,” Pope Francis’ Foreign Secretary, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said yesterday. This came amid reports published in the Financial Times that Goldman Sachs had made a “six-figure” donation to the pro-EU campaign Britain Stronger in Europe.


Star Wars fans will have to wait a few more months than expected to see Kylo Ren, Rey and Finn again. Disney announced that the next film in the series, initially scheduled for summer 2017, will be released on Dec. 15, 2017. The working title? Space Bear.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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