Protests of strict lockdown hit Shanghai, other China cities

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Protests against China’s strict “zero-COVID” policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures.

Crowds stood and filmed as police started shoving at people who had gathered in on the same street in Shanghai where police had cleared hundreds away with force just hours before.

They shouted, “We don’t want PCR tests, we want freedom!” according to a witness who did not want to be named for fear of retribution.

Since Friday people have held protests across China, where street demonstrations are extremely rare. But anger and frustration have flared over the deaths from a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi that the public believes was caused by excessive lockdown measures that delayed rescue.

A crowdsourced list on social media showed that there were demonstrations in 50 universities. Videos posted on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Beijing in the north and at least five other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. The Associated Press could not independently verify all the protests.

Online, videos from the scenes quickly emerged. Some of the most shared videos came from Shanghai, which had borne a devastating lockdown in spring in which people struggled to secure groceries and medicines and were forcefully taken into centralized quarantine.

In the dark early hours of Sunday, standing on the road named after a city in Xinjiang where at least 10 people had just died in an apartment fire, protesters chanted “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down.”

A protester who chanted with the crowd confirmed that people did shout for the removal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader — words that many would never have thought would have been said in one of China’s biggest cities.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered along a street in Shanghai starting around midnight on Saturday. They split into two different sections of Middle Urumqi Road. There was one group that was more calm and brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the apartment fire. The other, said a protester who declined to be named out of fear of arrest, was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

The energy was encouraging, the protester said. People called for an official apology for deaths in the Urumqi fire. Others discussed the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in which the ruling Communist Party had ordered troops to fire on student protesters. One ethnic Uyghur individual shared his experiences of discrimination and police violence.

“Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don’t have any courage,” said the protester who said it was his first time demonstrating. “Actually in my heart, I also thought of this. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.”

At first the scene was peaceful. Around 3 a.m., it turned violent. Police started surrounding the protesters and broke up the first more active group before they came for the second that had brought flowers. The goal was to move people off the main street.

A protester who gave only his family name, Zhao, said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper sprayed. He said police stomped his feet as he tried to stop them from taking his friend away. He lost his shoes in the process, and left the protest barefoot.

Zhao says protesters yelled slogans including “(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom,” in reference to the protest staged by a lone man in Beijing ahead of the 20th Communist Party congress in Beijing in October.

After three years of harsh lockdowns that have left people confined in their homes for weeks at a time, the Xinjiang fire appears to have finally broken through the Chinese public’s ability to tolerate the harsh measures.

China’s approach to controlling COVID-19 with strict lockdowns and mass testing was hailed by its own citizens as minimizing deaths at a time when other countries were suffering devastating waves of infections. Xi had held up the approach as an example of the superiority of the Chinese system in comparison to the West and especially the U.S., which had politicized the use of masks and had difficulties enacting widespread lockdowns.

In recent weeks, that attitude has changed as tragedies under excessive enforcement of “zero COVID” have piled up.

In Shanghai hundreds of police stood in lines, forming clusters around protesters in a strategy to clear them out, protesters said. Through the effort of a few hours, the police broke apart the protesters into smaller groups, moving them out from Urumqi Road.

By 5 a.m. Sunday, the police had managed to clear the crowd.

The protester who declined to be named said that he saw multiple people being taken away, forced by police into vans, but could not identify them. A crowdsourced attempt online has so far identified six people being hauled away, based on images and videos from the night, as well as information by those who knew the detained. Among the detained is a young woman who is only known by her nickname “Little He.”

Posters circulated online calling for further action in Shanghai and in Chengdu, a major city in China’s southwest, on Sunday evening. Shanghai’s protest called for the release of those taken away.

In Beijing, students at the nation’s top college, Tsinghua University, held a demonstration Sunday afternoon in front of one of the school’s cafeterias. Three young women had stood there initially with a simple message of condolence for the victims of the Urumqi apartment fire, according to a witness, who declined to be named out of fear of retribution.

Students shouted “freedom of speech” and sang the Internationale. The deputy party secretary of the school arrived at the protest, promising to hold a schoolwide discussion.

Meanwhile, two cities in China’s northwest, where residents have been confined to their homes for up to four months, eased some anti-virus controls Sunday after public protests Friday.

Urumqi, where the fire occurred, is a city of 4.8 million people and capital of the Xinjiang region, as well as the smaller city of Korla were preparing to reopen markets and other businesses in areas deemed at low risk of virus transmission and to restart bus, train and airline service, state media reported.

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Associated Press writer Dake Kang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Russia’s Secret Recruits Allegedly Abandoned, Starving, and Missing in Action

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty

ABUJA, Nigeria—Russia’s infamous Wagner Group has abandoned dozens of former Central African Republic (CAR) rebels in Ukraine’s Donbas region after recruiting them to fight Vladimir Putin’s war, two former CAR fighters told The Daily Beast.

The CAR sources, who were recruited by Wagner after quitting the Union for Peace (UPC) rebel group last December, said that many of the about 100 ex-UPC fighters currently in Ukraine have lost contact with Wagner after the group trained them and flew them to the Donbas region about eight months ago.

“Some of our colleagues have called us [on the phone] to inform us that the Russian soldiers who took them to eastern Ukraine deployed them to a particular town and left them to fight on their own,” Ali, who was not part of the group sent to Ukraine, told The Daily Beast. “As we speak, they haven’t been paid for months and they can’t even feed themselves.” (The Daily Beast has changed the names of the Black Russians in the story to protect them from possible retribution.)

Some ex-UPC recruits, often referred to as “Black Russians” by many in CAR, are now having to “steal from civilians” to be able to survive the hardships in Ukraine, according to Ali.

In February, the same month Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 200 former UPC rebels traveled to Moscow for military training that was originally expected to last for weeks at a Wagner camp, according to senior CAR military officials who spoke with The Daily Beast in March. Only half returned to the country that month while the rest remained in Russia for deployment in Ukraine.

Putin’s Private Army Accused of Committing Their Most Heinous Massacre Yet

“By the middle of March, everyone [the Black Russians] were in eastern Ukraine fighting for Russia,” Hassan, who—like Ali—wasn’t among the Black Russians sent to Ukraine but has been in touch with some of his colleagues there, told The Daily Beast. “But our people are now saying that they have been left on their own by their [Russian] commanders. No one is looking after them.”

The situation is “terrible” for Black Russians in Ukraine, according to Hassan, who said he has spoken to three of his colleagues this November and that they all fear for their lives. “They’ve told me that they don’t even have ammunition to fight,” said Hassan. “Some of them have not been seen by their colleagues for months.”

Before joining Wagner, the rebels were part of a coalition of fighters from major rebel groups created in 2020 to disrupt a Central African general election.

Last December, hundreds of rebels from the UPC, whose leader Ali Darassa was sanctioned about a year ago by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), began to surrender to the CAR government. Both the government and Wagner group offered incentives for rebels to abandon the UPC, including promises that the fighters would work closely with CAR troops and Wagner mercenaries to fight other rebels. Fighters like Ali and Hassan—both in their 30s—switched sides, hoping they’d be well catered for. But, like their colleagues currently in Ukraine, they aren’t faring much better at home.

For most of the year, Black Russians have received no pay from Wagner or the CAR government which promised to place them on monthly stipends, according to both Ali and Hassan. Yet, they continue to work closely with Wagner in fighting rebel groups in the country who have come together under the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) and are seeking to topple the government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

“It’s very difficult working with the Russians because they don’t trust any of us,” said Hassan. “Oftentimes, they make us move around the country with them without telling us exactly where we are going to.”

But what is most disturbing to Ali and Hassan is the fact that dozens of their colleagues in CAR have kept disappearing in recent months without a trace.

“For two months now up to 50 of our colleagues have mysteriously disappeared,” said Ali. “No one knows where they are and the Russians aren’t answering questions regarding their whereabouts.”

There’s suspicion among Black Russians in CAR that their missing colleagues may have been sent to Ukraine to fight for Russia but “no one is sure,” according to Ali.

“There are also a few people who are suspecting that they may have been sent on a dangerous mission at home or abroad and have been killed in the process,” said Ali. “No one may ever know the truth because these Russians do everything in secret.”

Out of fear they too could go missing, Ali and Hassan—just last week—decided to pull away from Wagner. They aren’t the only ones. According to both men, as many as 30 former UPC rebels have recently left the group. One local publication even put the number of Black Russians who have so far separated from Wagner at 40.

‘Putin’s Chef’ Accused of Secret Plot Against Russian Elite

Neither the CAR government nor Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close friend of Putin who runs the Wagner Group, has responded to emails sent to them by The Daily Beast requesting comments on the allegations made by Ali and Hassan. Emails sent to the spokesperson of the CAR government and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.

A significant number of Black Russians continue to work with the Wagner Group despite allegations of poor treatment and mysterious disappearances. But for those who’ve had enough of the organization’s excesses, there’s no better time to say goodbye.

“If we didn’t leave, one day people would also say we’ve gone missing,” said Hassan. “With these Russians, anything is possible.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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South Africa pit bull attacks: ‘We can’t live in a world where dogs eat children’

Keketso Saule’s aunt shows a photo of her nephew on her mobile phone

Warning: Some readers may find details in this story distressing.

Residents of Phomolong township in South Africa woke up to horrific screams last Sunday morning.

They came from a three-year-old boy as he was attacked and then mauled to death by two American pit bull terriers.

The toddler had been outside with friends in a neighbour’s gated front yard, where the two pit bulls were usually tied up in a cage. But that morning they were loose and roaming around.

It was as the children were playing that the dogs pounced on Keketso Saule.

His devastated family say the savage attack lasted for several minutes.

“Had someone not pulled him away the dogs would have finished [eating] him,” his distraught aunt, Nthabeleng Saule, told the BBC.

“One side his face was gone and you could see his brain.”

A video taken during the attack shows horrified relatives and neighbours shouting in shock and looking on at the vicious dogs unsure of what to do and how to intervene.

It was only when someone poured hot water on the dogs that people were able to drag Keketso’s lifeless body away from them.

"Even the child's mother, grandmother and grandfather witnessed what happened. It's going to take time for them to understand why they [the dogs] ate the child"", Source: Nthabeleng Saule, Keketso's aunt, Source description: , Image: Nthabeleng Saule

“Even the child’s mother, grandmother and grandfather witnessed what happened. It’s going to take time for them to understand why they [the dogs] ate the child””, Source: Nthabeleng Saule, Keketso’s aunt, Source description: , Image: Nthabeleng Saule

In a groundswell of anger, the crowd, who had rushed to the scene, turned on the dogs and began throwing things at them.

They managed to stun and catch one, setting it alight.

The police then arrived as the community bayed for revenge, and the 21-year-old owner of the dogs, Lebohang Pali, was arrested and charged with keeping dangerous dogs and could face a fine or a jail term of up to two years or both.

The second dog was taken away and euthanised by the animal welfare group SPCA.

Mr Pali has since been granted bail – set at 300 rand ($18, £15). It is unclear if he will return to the house that he was renting.

When we visited the neighbourhood in Free State province, about 250km (155 miles) south-west of Johannesburg, the charred remains on the street outside the Saule family home told of the grisly weekend scenes.

Rocks, sticks and a burnt-out tyre littered the area where the dog had been burnt. Residents came to out to speak of their shock and anger about what they witnessed on Sunday.

“This incident has broken our hearts,” said Emily Moerane, a young mother carrying her toddler.

“We don’t want pit bulls anymore,” she said, adding that if the owner of the dog did not face justice they would “take the law into our hands”.

Inside the Saule home, Kekesto’s aunt showed us a photo of the smiling bright-eyed little boy on her phone.

Battling to hold back the tears, she spoke of the family’s trauma.

“Things are just not right, not right at all. Even the child’s mother, grandmother and grandfather witnessed what happened,” she said.

“It’s going to take time for them to understand why they [the dogs] ate the child.”

Surrendering pit bulls

One of the onlookers outside told me that there was another pit bull on the street, pointing to a house directly opposite the Saule home.

The dog’s owner, Mokete Selebano, welcomed me and took me out to his back yard, his brown pit bull playfully jumping on him and his wife.

Mokete Selebano, his wife and dog in Phomolong, South Africa

Mokete Selebano, who lives in Phomolong, has decided to give up his pit bull Junior

“This is Junior – he’s like my son,” he said.

But fearful of the community’s animosity towards pit bulls, Mr Selebano said he was going to give up his pet.

“We can’t live like this in a world where dogs eat children. If the community is angry then there’s nothing that I can do. But seeing him go is very painful to me and my wife.”

Following a recent spate of deadly pit bull attacks, many people like Mr Selebano have been voluntarily surrendering their dogs.

Three days after Kekesto’s death a 15-month-old toddler died in hospital after being attacked by a pit bull in the Eastern Cape province.

In Bloemfontein, 49 pit pulls were handed over to the SPCA after eight-year-old boy Olebogeng Mosime was killed by one the week before.

On the same day Kekesto died, a girl was attacked by three pit bulls in Cape Town. She was injured and rushed to hospital, and the community turned on the animals, stoning them and setting them alight.

The dogs handed over to the SPCA will all be individually assessed and the organisation has appealed to the government for help in dealing with the influx.

The non-profit group Animals 24-7 has a log of fatal dog attacks reported in the South African media since 2004. With the two deaths this week, which are yet to be included in its list, it will bring its total number of deaths by pit bulls to 37 over the last 18 years.

Eighteen of the victims were children – five of whom have been killed this year, making it the worst on record for child deaths.

Four child deaths were reported in 2017, the worst recorded year since 2004 with eight fatalities in total – and since 2016 at least one death by a pit bull has been reported every year.

According to law firm DSC Attorneys, which handles personal injury cases, incidents involving dogs are on the rise.

“We have had over 70 dog bite-related queries this year to date – so an average of six per month – and in October alone we had 50% more enquiries than the preceding month,” the firm’s director Kirstie Halsam told the BBC.

The killing of 10-year-old Storm Nuku by his family’s two pet pit pulls in September prompted the Sizwe Kupelo Foundation to start an online petition calling for the dogs to be banned as pets in South Africa.

“The defence by pit bull lovers that it is how you raise the dog does not hold water. So many people, including joggers have been attacked and killed by pit bulls,” says the petition, which has more than 129,000 signatures so far.

“It is time that the South African government takes decisive steps and impose a complete ban on the ownership of pit bulls as domestic animals.”

Dog-fighting rings

Fear of crime is felt to be a major factor in training animals like pit bulls to be guard dogs. Mr Selebano, who got Junior as protection for his wife when she was alone at home, says there are many pit bulls in Phomolong township.

Pit bull owners walking their dogs on a street in Soweto, South Africa - 2009

Pit bulls are popular as guard dogs in South Africa – and can often be seen in townships

The increase in pit bull ownership, particularly in townships, is not only for protection, but for illegal dog fighting.

The animals are trained to be aggressive, kept in tight enclosures on chains for the sole purpose of fighting and killing each other. Often organised by syndicates, people pay to watch and gamble on the fights.

In July, the SPCA busted a dog-fighting ring in Cape Town’s Grassy Park, rescuing seven dogs, including three pit bull puppies, after authorities became aware of a video of dogs being encouraged to fight.

Dog fighting carries a penalty of a $4,700-fine or imprisonment of up to two years or both.

“Backyard breeding” has also become a problem – with owners cross breeding pit bulls with other breeds like Boerboels for illegal dog fights.

Lins Rautenbach and her American pit bull terrier

Lins Rautenbach, Pitbull Federation of South Africa, says a dog’s behaviour comes down to its owners

This means the dogs may look like American pit bull terriers but are more aggressive and more prone to bite people, particularly children.

Critics of an outright ban on pit bulls say it will not solve the problem of irresponsible ownership.

“These maulings are nothing short of tragic,” Lins Rautenbach, spokesperson for the Pitbull Federation of South Africa, told the BBC.

But she put the blame squarely with the dogs’ owners – saying laws need to be put in place to deal with them.

“Banning the breed means people in South Africa who want to feel safe will move from this to another breed.

“So we’ll maybe see a drop in pit bull maulings, but we’ll see an increase in say Rottweiler or German Shepherd maulings,” she said.

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UPDATE 1-Kim Jong Un says North Korea’s goal is for world’s strongest nuclear force

(Adds quotes)

By Josh Smith

SEOUL, Nov 27 (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country’s ultimate goal is to possess the world’s most powerful nuclear force, as he promoted dozens of military officers involved in the recent launch of North Korea’s largest ballistic missile, state media reported on Sunday.

The announcement comes after Kim inspected a test of the country’s new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and pledged to counter U.S. nuclear threats with nuclear weapons on Friday.

Building the nuclear force is for reliably protecting the dignity and sovereignty of the state and the people, and “its ultimate goal is to possess the world’s most powerful strategic force, the absolute force unprecedented in the century,” Kim said in the order promoting the officers.

He called the Hwasong-17 the “world’s strongest strategic weapon” and said it demonstrated North Korea’s resolve and ability to eventually build the world’s strongest army.

North Korean scientists have made a “wonderful leap forward in the development of the technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles,” Kim said, without elaborating. (Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Inside Russia’s attempt to destroy Ukraine “with darkness and cold”

Vinnytsia, Ukraine — Russia’s invading forces have left Kherson, but they’re still raining terror down on the southern Ukrainian city’s people.

“I hate the Russians,” said Lilia, after finding her mother’s body. Natasha was killed just a few steps from the safety of her home by a Russian missile strike. Lilia’s father died hours later, too, but she’s not alone.

“They took the most precious people in my life, but I have a son,” she said. “For him I must live.”

Ex-leader of Ukraine urges U.S. to hold firm in fight “for global security”

Survivors of Russia’s unending volley of rocket fire are left in the cold and the dark, because many of Vladimir Putin’s missiles have been aimed at Ukraine‘s power grid.

The Russian military is using winter as a weapon. With electricity cut, millions of families were unable to cook meals on Saturday as Ukraine commemorated the Great Famine of the 1930s, when the Soviet Union intentionally starved millions of Ukrainians to death.

“We cannot be broken,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in an address to his nation, honoring those killed by Joseph Stalin then — and Vladimir Putin now. “Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger, now, with darkness and cold.”

People pray, lay flowers and light candles at Holodomor Genocide Museum, which commemorates the

Even in the capital Kyiv, the electricity supply is unreliable. Locals have found shelter anywhere they can, including in tents. Inside one of them, we found Constantin, a videogame designer.

“We should live, we should stay, we should fight,” he told CBS News. “This is the only way of how we can actually win this war… Even if we have to sleep in a tent.”

Even in the dire circumstances, there are reasons for Ukrainians to have hope — more signs that Russian forces are taking a beating.

The latest British intelligence assessment of the war says Putin’s army is running so short on weapons and other supplies, that it appears to be resorting to firing cruise missiles from the 1980s that have been stripped of their nuclear warheads.

While such missiles “will still produce some damage” just with their impact any unused fuel they slam down still carrying, the U.K. said they were “unlikely to achieve reliable effects against intended targets.”

“Whatever Russia’s intent, this improvisation highlights the level of depletion in Russia’s stock of long-range missiles,” according to the British assessment.

The smartest dog in the world | 60 Minutes Archive

Saturday Sessions: Paolo Nutini performs “Lose It”

Saturday Sessions: Paolo Nutini performs “Petrified in Love”

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Equatorial Guinea: World’s longest-serving president to continue 43-year-rule

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema seized power in 1979

The world’s longest-serving president has won re-election in Equatorial Guinea to continue presiding over his authoritarian regime.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, 80, secured almost 95% of votes, officials announced six days after the vote.

“The results prove us right again,” Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the president’s son, said. “We continue to be a great party.”

Some opposition candidates stood, but none were expected to win.

President Obiang has a strong grip on the oil-rich central African nation, with family members in key government roles.

He seized power in 1979 after a military takeover and has survived several coup attempts.

Upon gaining office from his predecessor and uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, he made some reforms but retained Nguema’s absolute control over the nation.

Political opposition is barely tolerated and severely hampered by the lack of a free press, as all broadcast media is either owned outright by the government or controlled by its allies.

It is thought that President Obiang, who has previously denied accusations of human rights abuses and election rigging, intends to use his sixth term to clean up his international reputation.

In September, the government abolished the death penalty, in a move which was praised by the United Nations.

Equatorial Guinea has a history of what critics call fraudulent election results.

What you need to know about Equatorial Guinea

In 1968, Spanish Guinea gained independence and became the Republic of Equatorial Guinea with Francisco Macias Nguema as president.

Rights groups have labelled the country’s two presidents – Francisco Macias Nguema and Teodoro Obiang Nguema – as some of the worst rights abusers in Africa.

The Spanish, French and Portuguese-speaking country discovered vast oil reserves in 1996, but much of the 1.4 million population has not benefitted from this, with poverty still rampant.

You can read more about Equatorial Guinea here and President Obiang here.

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Venezuela’s gov, opponents resume talks; US eases sanction

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuela’s government and its opposition on Saturday agreed to create a U.N.-managed fund to finance health, food and education programs for the poor, while the Biden administration eased some oil sanctions on the country in an effort to boost the newly restarted talks between the sides.

The agreement signed in Mexico City by representatives of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, including the faction backed by the United States and led by Juan Guaidó, marked the resumption of long-stalled negotiations meant to find a common path out of the South American country’s complex crisis.

The U.S. government, in response, agreed to allow oil giant Chevron to pump Venezuelan oil.

The broad terms of the agreement for the United Nations-managed social fund were announced by the head of a group of Norwegian diplomats guiding the negotiations.

Venezuelan resources held in the international financial system will be directed to the fund, though neither side in the talks nor Norway’s facilitator, Dag Nylander, said whether the U.S. or European governments have agreed to allow frozen assets to be funneled to the new mechanism.

“In line with UN norms and procedures, (the fund’s) objective would be to support the implementation of social protection measures for the Venezuelan people,” Nylander said. “The parties have identified a set of resources belonging to the Venezuelan state frozen in the international financial system to which it is possible to progressively access, understanding the need to obtain the authorizations and approvals” from foreign institutions and organizations.

A U.N. report published earlier this year estimated humanitarian needs at $795 million to help about 5.2 million people in Venezuela through health, education, water and sanitation, food and other projects.

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. ramped up economic sanctions against Venezuela and granted Guaidó authority to take control of bank accounts that Maduro’s government has in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other U.S.-insured banks.

Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January 2019, arguing that his capacity as then-president of the country’s National Assembly allowed him to form a transitional government because Maduro had been re-elected in a sham vote in late 2018. Dozens of countries, including the U.S., Canada and Colombia, recognized him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

European banks also hold Venezuelan frozen assets.

About 7 million people have left Venezuela amid a complex political and humanitarian crisis. Three-quarters of those who remain in the country live on less than $1.90 a day, an international measure for extreme poverty.

Maduro’s delegates walked away from negotiations in October 2021 after businessman Alex Saab was extradited on money laundering charges from Cape Verde to the U.S. Maduro conditioned a resumption on the release of Saab. He remains in custody, but his wife, Camila Fabri de Saab, will be part of Maduro’s delegation.

The Treasury Department on Saturday announced its decision to allow California-based Chevron to resume “limited” energy production in Venezuela after years of sanctions that have dramatically curtailed oil and gas profits that have flowed to Maduro’s government.

Under the new policy, profits from the sale of energy would be directed to paying down debt owed to Chevron, rather than providing profits to Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., commonly known as PDVSA.

A senior U.S. administration official, briefing reporters about the U.S. action under the condition of anonymity, said that easing the sanctions was not connected to the administration’s efforts to boost global energy production in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that the decision was not expected to impact global energy prices.

___

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington.

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Hospital: 2nd Israeli, wounded in Jerusalem blasts, dies

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli man died Saturday from wounds he sustained in twin blasts that hit Jerusalem earlier this week, bringing to two the number of dead in the explosions that Israeli police blamed on Palestinians.

Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem announced that Tadesse Teshome Ben Madeh had died. He was critically wounded in one of the blasts at the city’s bus stops.

“The trauma and intensive care teams of Shaare Zedek fought for his life, but unfortunately his injury was very fatal,” the hospital said.

The first explosion occurred near a typically crowded bus stop on the edge of the city. The second went off about half an hour later in Ramot, a settlement in the city’s north. One of the blasts immediately killed Aryeh Schupak, 15, a dual Israeli-Canadian national who was heading to a Jewish seminary when the blast went off.

The blasts wounded about 18 Israelis, three of them seriously.

While Palestinians have carried out stabbings, car rammings and shootings in recent years, bombing attacks have been very rare since the end of a Palestinian uprising nearly two decades ago.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem explosions.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been surging for months, amid nightly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank prompted by a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis that killed 19 people in the spring.

More than 130 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2006. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting Israeli army incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.

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US nuclear waste repository begins filling new disposal area

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Workers at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository have started using a newly mined disposal area at the underground facility in southern New Mexico.

Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant made the announcement this week, saying the first containers of waste to be entombed in the new area came from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee — one of the many labs and government sites across the country that package up waste and ship it to WIPP.

Known as Panel 8, the new area consists of seven separate rooms for placing special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.

Each room measures 33 feet (10 meters) wide, 16 feet (4.9 meters) high and runs the length of a football field minus the end zones.

Carved out of an ancient salt formation about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) deep, the subterranean landfill located outside of Carlsbad received its first shipment in 1999. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually entomb the radioactive waste left from decades of bomb-making and nuclear weapons research.

In 2014, a fire and separate radiation release forced a nearly three-year closure of the repository and a costly overhaul of the policies and procedures that govern WIPP and the nation’s multibillion-dollar cleanup program for Cold War-era waste.

Operations had to be reduced after the repository reopened because areas of the facility were contaminated and airflow needed for mining and disposal operations was limited. Now, a multimillion-dollar project is underway to install a new ventilation system, and state regulators are considering a permit change that some critics have said could lead to expanded operations.

The state Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau issued a plan this month aimed at ensuring the public has opportunities to comment on modifications or permit renewal applications.

Sean Dunagan, president and project manager of Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that manages the repository, said in a statement that operations already have become more efficient with the new panel.

Creating a panel requires mining nearly 160,000 tons of salt, and it takes about 2 1/2 years to fill it with waste. For example, Panel 7 is filled with 20,056 containers, with most of them being 55-gallon (208-litre) drums.

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Ex-‘street general’ Charles Blé Goudé returns to Ivory Coast

Charles Blé Goudé was once the right-hand man to the former President Laurent Gbagbo

Ivory Coast politician Charles Blé Goudé, once seen as a divisive figure, has flown home after being acquitted by the International Criminal Court.

His charisma and fiery rhetoric led to his nickname “street general”.

But as a key ally of former President Laurent Gbagbo he was accused of being behind some of the post-election violence just over a decade ago.

Around 3,000 people were killed in a brief civil war that followed the disputed 2010 presidential poll.

Mr Blé Goudé, 50, arrived in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, on a commercial flight from neighbouring Ghana on Saturday afternoon.

There was heavy security at the airport and his supporters were advised not to go there to show respect for all the victims of the 2010 conflict.

But thousands of them gathered in the suburb of Youpougon – a former stronghold of Mr Blé Goudé’s – where he was expected to make a statement, according to his entourage.

In 2010, Mr Blé Goudé was head of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots movement.

Mr Gbagbo had declared himself the victor of that year’s election, which the electoral commission said had been won by his main rival, and current President, Alassane Ouattara.

Fighting broke out and eventually ended when Mr Gbagbo was captured in April 2011. He was later arrested by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mr Blé Goudé fled Ivory Coast the day before Mr Gbagbo’s capture, going to Ghana by road where he lived in hiding for almost two years.

He was then arrested and transferred to the ICC where he first appeared in 2014 charged with committing crimes against humanity, including accusations that he led a militia.

But both Mr Gbagbo and Mr Blé Goudé were acquitted in 2019 after the judges said that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The decision was confirmed by the ICC’s Appeals Chamber last year.

The former president returned to Ivory Coast in June 2021, where he has since tried to play the role of a peacemaker urging reconciliation.

Mr Blé Goudé obtained a passport from the Ivorian authorities in May and shortly after got the green light to go home.

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Nottingham fire death family were planning new life in USA

Aboubacarr Drammeh and Fatoumatta Hydara, originally from Gambia, married in 2014

A husband whose wife and two children died after a fire at their home has said they were due to join him for a new life in the USA.

Fatoumatta Hydara, 28, one-year-old Naeemah and Fatimah, aged three, died in hospital following the fire in Fairisle Close, Nottingham, on Sunday.

Aboubacarr Drammeh, who was in the US at the time, said he was in the process of securing visas for his family.

Jamie Barrow, 31, of Fairisle Close, has been charged with their murders.

Naeemah and Fatimah died shortly after arriving at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, while Ms Hydara, who had been put on a life-support machine, died two days later.

Mr Drammeh, 40, was planning to move his family to Minnesota, where he works as a biomedical technologist.

“We had an interview booked for 29 November and that would have been the final interview before we would hopefully have secured their visas,” he said.

“That’s not going to happen now and I can’t understand why.”

Aboubacarr Drammeh, wife Fatoumatta Hydara and their two children Fatimah, 3, and one-year-old Naeemah

Mr Drammeh said the family “really enjoyed vacations” together

He said he had missed several calls from the children’s grandmother at about 05:00 GMT on the day of the fire.

“I called back and she started crying,” he said.

“I just went straight to the airport. I’ve done that journey so many times but all the other times it’s been exciting because I was going to see my family.

“This time around… I still can’t recall it. It’s just a blur.”

Mr Drammeh said he would never get over spending his 40th birthday, on Wednesday, in the hospital mortuary, adding “that was just so hard”.

‘Caring and compassionate’

He said he last spoke to his wife few hours before the fire.

“We joked among ourselves and kept talking about the upcoming trip and about her coming to America,” he said.

He described his wife, who he last saw in September, as “caring and very compassionate”.

“She was a Muslim and she truly believed in her faith,” he said.

“She’d help whoever she could. [She] really cared about people.”

Ms Hydara, who moved to Nottingham at the age of 14 with her Gambian parents, had worked for St John Ambulance and at care homes and wanted to pursue a career in women’s health, her husband said.

Family pic

Ms Hydara died on Tuesday – two days after her daughters Naeemah Drammeh and Fatimah Drammeh were pronounced dead

Mr Drammeh said his three-year-old daughter Fatimah enjoyed playing and children’s TV.

“She loved nursery rhymes and when on FaceTime with me she’d make me do the ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ song,” he said.

He described their daughter Naeemah, who turned one in July, as someone who also brought him a huge amount of joy.

“They were both really happy children,” he said.

“We wanted to move to the US but regardless of where we are in the world the most important thing to us was to give them a better life and a good education.”

A joint police and fire investigation concluded the fire was started deliberately.

Mr Barrow appeared at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on Friday and was remanded into custody to appear at the city’s crown court on Monday.

Jamie Barrow

Jamie Barrow, of Fairisle Close, was arrested on Sunday and charged with three counts of murder on Thursday

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Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia’s Salem Aldawsari fired a ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a World Cup win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate.

Such Arab unity is hard to come by and fleeting when it arrives. But Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has provided a moment where many in the Arab world have rallied by Doha and the Saudi team’s win.

Whether that momentum continues will be tested on Saturday as Saudi Arabia faces Poland — and as regional tensions, religious differences and renewed economic competition between countries resume.

“All Arabic countries are celebrating because one Arab team won,” said 27-year-old Saudi Rakan Yousef after Arab fans congratulated him in Doha, Qatar, on the Green Falcons’ win. “Even the emir of Qatar attended our match. … There’s this feeling now that we are all brothers. That’s why I’m speechless.”

The Arab world’s division start even with the Arabic language.

Spoken Arabic changes regionally, with the Berber-infused Arabic of North Africa, the rapid-fire Egyptian heard in movies and television comedies, the soft Levantine drawl and the guttural dialect of the Gulf Arabs.

Religion is another differentiator — there are Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite with subgroups within, and minority Christians, Druze, Baha’i and others. Different views on religion and regional rivalries bleed into conflicts, such as the ongoing war in Yemen.

But despite an attempt by al-Qaida to stir up extremists, the monthlong World Cup in energy-rich Qatar so far has seen unity among the Gulf Arab nations. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the heads of state in two countries that only some two years ago had boycotted Qatar, attended the tournament’s opening match.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, called Qatar’s hosting of the tournament “a milestone for all Arabs” and also attended the opening. That feeling was shared by others as well.

“We are proud to be here for the first World Cup in an Arabic country,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi similarly praised Qatar while dismissing the criticisms of journalists — and by extension, rights groups.

“Qatar did a tremendous job organizing a World Cup. … Qatar never claimed it was perfect,” Safadi said. “We have differences in opinion, we have differences in views but that should not take away from the fact that Qatar has really put together a World Cup that is unique in every sense of the word.”

But the biggest surprise came two days later as Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina by winning their opener in the tournament, with Aldawsari doing a cartwheel and a flip. Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, attended the match and wore a Saudi flag around his shoulders.

One veteran Saudi sports journalist, Majed al-Tuwaijri, even wept on air after the match.

“This is the most beautiful and important moment in my life and my 30-year media career,” he said, his voice choking up. “I find myself failing to express myself because of the complexity of my feelings toward this great historical victory.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman declared Wednesday a public holiday to commemorate the win. In the kingdom and outside of it, people cheered and waved the country’s green and white flag to celebrate.

The Saudi flag itself carries two images that show its complicated place in the wider Arab world. It bears a white sword and the Arabic inscription of the shahada, a Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D., Islam spread from the austere desert reaches of the Arabian Peninsula that later would become Saudi Arabia.

Today, Saudi Arabia maintains beheading as a form of execution and is one of the world’s top enforcers of the death penalty. The kingdom also has used its oil money since the 1980s to export an ultraconservative view of Islam called Wahhabism into mosques around the world. Extremists have exploited Wahhabi organizations receiving Saudi funding as well.

That history, as well as regional politics, make a wholehearted embrace of Saudi Arabia more complicated for Arabs in the Mideast. While some celebrated Saudi Arabia’s win in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave blockaded by Egypt and Israel is ruled by the militant group Hamas. The kingdom, while not diplomatically recognizing Israel, now allows Israeli airlines overflight rights.

The limits also can be seen in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been fighting the country’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since 2015. Houthi Information Minister Daifallah al-Shami on Twitter offered “a thousand congratulations” to Saudi Arabia for placing “Arab football back on the map.” He later deleted the tweet and apologized.

“There are red lines that no party or person should cross,” al-Shami wrote.

The Saudi win, which the daily newspaper Okaz described as “restoring the glories” of the kingdom, also fits into the new, more nationalistic Saudi Arabia forming under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As the prince has risen to power, the kingdom has socially liberalized by allowing women to drive, reopening movie theaters and curtailing its morality police. His comments to the team ahead of the tournament, urging them to “enjoy” the matches, have been repeated constantly in Saudi Arabia’s tightly controlled press.

But Prince Mohammed also led a self-described corruption crackdown targeting anyone with power in the kingdom. U.S. intelligence agencies believe the brutal slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul came at his orders, something denied by the kingdom.

Meanwhile, economic competition between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has been increasing as Riyadh tries to draw international business from Dubai. Qatar, which faced a Saudi-led boycott only two years earlier, has embraced the kingdom while solidifying ties with the United States as hedge. The inconclusive war in Yemen still rages.

Soccer provides a respite, but no panacea for those woes.

“You’d have to have a historical lobotomy to think this is a stable region,” said David B. Roberts, an associate professor at King’s College London who long has studied Gulf Arab nations.

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Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre and Gerald Imray in Doha, Qatar, and Renata Brito in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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