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

PUTIN "PROBABLY" APPROVED MURDER

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.

SNAPSHOT

Photo: ESA/NASA/ZUMA

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.


ISIS DESTROYED IRAQI MONASTERY

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."

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

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.


AUSTRIA SETS MIGRANTS QUOTA

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.

9

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.


SECOND EBOLA CASE IN SIERRA LEONE

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.


ON THIS DAY


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


ASIAN SHARES TUMBLE AGAIN

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.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



VATICAN OPPOSES BREXIT

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.


A RELEASE DATE FAR, FAR AWAY

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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Geopolitics

Bulgaria And Hungary: Risks Of A Pro-Russian Alliance Inside The EU

Bulgaria had sworn off Russian gas imports, but then its government collapsed. Now pro-Russian politicians are in power, which for the European Union means there is much more at stake than just energy supply.

Bulgarians are split between pro-Western and pro-Russian politics.

Philip Volkmann-Schluck

The letter Z, a symbol of support for Putin’s war in Ukraine, has appeared on Bulgarian government buildings in Sofia. Last week, demonstrators fixed a Z in black tape to the entrance of the Ministry of Energy’s headquarters.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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They were protesting their government’s announcement that it would reopen negotiations with Russia about importing gas – although Bulgaria had declared public support for Kyiv and subsequently stopped all Russian imports. “Putin’s gas is a trap,” one of the placards reads.

These scenes have been growing more common in the Bulgarian capital since the reformist government led by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov was ousted last month in a no-confidence vote. Petkov had pledged to tackle corruption and taken a strong stance against Russia's invasion. But his coalition government fell after just seven months in office when an ally quit.

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Writing contest - My pandemic story
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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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