North Korea Has Reportedly Executed 3 High Schoolers for Distributing K-Dramas

North Korea has reportedly executed three teenagers for distributing and watching K-dramas from South Korea.

As reported by outlets like Chosun Ilbo, three high school students were caught watching and importing TV shows from their neighboring country in early October. The act of consuming audiovisual content from South Korea is considered a crime as stated in a new law passed in December 2020. While underage individuals were not executed for disobeying the law previously, it seems the punishment is now applicable even to teenagers.

According to reports, the three male students were based in Hyesan, a city near the border between North Korea and China. They watched multiple episodes of South Korean and American TV shows, and were later caught circulating these materials with their peers.

Despite the harsh consequences, it’s known that North Korean citizens still consume South Korean content. According to a survey conducted by the Unification Media Group, 96% of respondents noted that they have watched hit K-dramas such as Squid Game and Crash Landing on You.

This isn’t the first time North Korea has executed its citizens for being exposed to content from South Korea. Last year, it was reported that seven individuals were killed for watching K-pop music videos, which Kim Jong-un describes to be a “vicious cancer.” Meanwhile, in December 2021, the country banned laughing and drinking for 11 days in commemorating the 10th anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death.

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US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

Dec. 5—KYIV, Ukraine — The head of U.S. intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.

Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”

“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” Haines, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

She said her team was “seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and looking ahead expects both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.

“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” Haines said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that time frame.”

On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence estimate, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was “falling significantly.”

Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.

The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55% of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25% wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.

Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster, found in a similar poll carried out in November that 53% of respondents supported peace talks, 41% spoke in favor of continuing the fight, and 6% were undecided. It said that poll of 1,600 people had a margin of error of no more than 3.4%.

The British Defense Ministry noted that “despite the Russian authorities’ efforts to enforce pervasive control of the information environment, the conflict has become increasingly tangible for many Russians” since Putin in September ordered a “partial mobilization” of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine.

“With Russia unlikely to achieve major battlefield successes in the next several months, maintaining even tacit approval of the war amongst the population is likely to be increasingly difficult for the Kremlin,” the British ministry said.

In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure nationwide, pressing an offensive in the Donetsk region city of Bakhmut and shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.

In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of most Russian oil was insufficient.

“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelenskyy said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.

“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organizations. This money will be used for further destabilization of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelenskyy said.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.

Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.

“We will sell oil and oil products to those countries, which will work with us on market conditions, even if we have to somewhat cut production,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Sunday.

In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.

Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including Kharkiv in the northeast, Kherson in the south and Donetsk in the east.

“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.

“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.

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Nigeria’s Kaduna train attack: How I survived hijacking and captivity

Nigeria’s reopening of a vital high-speed train link nine months after an audacious hijacking is bringing back traumatic memories for some of the survivors, who are struggling to recover from their ordeal.

Gunmen mined the track between the capital, Abuja, and the northern city of Kaduna on the evening of 28 March, forcing the train carrying 362 passengers to stop.

Shots then came from all directions as the attackers surrounded the train, which had armed policemen on board, and managed to abduct 62 of the passengers. At least nine people died in the chaos and confusion.

Among those kidnapped was Hassan Usman, a barrister based in Kaduna, and his wife.

He told the BBC that the bedraggled group of abductees – made up of 39 men, 18 women and five children – were forced to trek for four days to the remote area where they were to be held captive, walking in the heat without food and only being given occasional water to drink.

Gunmen started shooting at the train after the mines exploded

The 47-year-old became the de facto spokesperson for the captives, some of whom were held for five months, and has since set up a WhatsApp group for the survivors so they can give each other comfort and support.

Seeing the smartly dressed lawyer today, it is hard to comprehend that he was the shaggy haired man in grey overclothes who pleaded for the government to heed to the demands of the abductors as other hostages beside him were flogged in a video released in July by the militants.

He says it was a harrowing experience for all the captives but particularly the women who had to deal with unhygienic conditions.

They had no sanitary pads and were forced to use rags. They all drank water from the small nearby lake where they were also allowed to bath.

“During the first few months, we were sleeping openly on bare ground which was sometimes wet, but when the rains started they made makeshift camps and allowed us inside only until the showers stopped,” said Mr Usman.

The captives ate once a day at 11:00 – usually a soup made from corn flour and baobab leaves.

“We realised that the food items were being smuggled in and that getting supplies was a problem. They occasionally brought rice which we cooked with just palm oil and sometimes with beans,” he said.

There were days when they were allowed a second meal at 18:00, but this was rare.

“The women did the cooking and the men did most of the chores like fetching water, firewood and washing the utensils.”

‘Boko Haram tried to recruit us’

For weeks, the identity of the kidnappers was unknown – with speculation that they were members of bandit groups notorious for kidnapping for ransoms in the north-west.

But Mr Usman confirmed growing suspicions that the gunmen were members of the Islamist Boko Haram militant group that usually operates in the north-east where it started its insurgency in 2009.

A gunmen posing with train hostages

The gunmen, one of whom was pictured with the hostages, said they were Boko Haram members

There have long been suggestions that the group, which says it wants to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state, is expanding southwards.

“They told us that they were Boko Haram and they captured us to drive some of their demands from the government.

“Sometimes they gave us their phones to listen to most of what they preach,” he said, explaining these included sermons from Boko Haram’s first two leaders Mohammed Yusuf and Abubakar Shekau – who are both now dead.

“They even tried to persuade us to join their group and propagate their cause.”

When any of the captives fell sick or needed medication, the militants would seek advice.

“They would always ask the professionals among us, the drugs needed to treat people and they mostly bought [them],” the lawyer said.

“Their charlatan doctors also administered injections to the sick especially for malaria and typhoid treatments.”

At one point, the leader of the kidnappers suggested he take the younger captives to his house for better care, but the parents resisted, Mr Usman said.

Destitute after ransoms paid’

While most of the victims of the train attack were released after their families and associates paid huge ransoms, the kidnappers held on to others to make demands of the government.

Some analysts suggest this may have included the release of militants held in prison – though this has never been confirmed.

A protest about the train hostages in Abuja, Nigeria - July 2022

Relatives of the train hostages held protests, angered by the government’s response to the kidnapping

Mr Usman said his family negotiated his release with the militants – though they have never shared the details of the agreement with him.

All he knows is that it was not a straightforward process and on the day he was to be freed it all went wrong.

“The soldiers patrolling along one axis refused to allow my people access to the meeting point to pick me.”

This prompted the militants to make the torture video and he was only released the next day.

The ransoms some families paid have left them destitute – he said the sum for several of the captives was as much as 100m naira ($225,000; £184,000) each.

On the WhatsApp group, where the survivors now regard each other as one big united family, people recount their dire situations.

“Many cannot afford three meals a day, some were given a notice to leave by their landlords,” said Mr Usman.

The lawyer bemoaned the lack of help given to the survivors, many of whom need trauma therapy.

“We have a Ministry of Humanitarian Services whose responsibility is to help such people – I think there is need for its intervention at the moment.”

One of the women who was abducted sobbed as she spoke to me about her months in captivity.

The woman, who did not want to be named, vowed never to travel between Abuja and Kaduna again – by rail or road – as she was so traumatised by her experience.

Many thousands of people frequently commute between the two cities as government workers often cannot afford to rent in Abuja.

Passengers standing in the aisle of a train travelling between Abuja and Kaduna - archive shot

The trains between Abuja and Kaduna are often packed with civil servants commuting between the cities

They chose to leave their families in Kaduna or states further north and travel home at weekends to see them.

The train, which opened in 2016, had been considered a safer alternative to the highway – the most notorious road in the country for kidnapping ambushes.

Other survivors admitted they would feel apprehensive about boarding the train again, but Mr Usman has welcomed the reopening of the 174km (108-mile) train link – due to happen on Monday morning.

His advice for the government is to ensure adequate security measures and 24-hour surveillance of the rail track.

Nigeria’s defence chief Gen Lucky Irabor has sought to reassure them, saying that CCTV had now been installed and even he and the president would be able to “see everything happening on the line from their offices”.

Map of routes between Abuja and Kaduna

Map of routes between Abuja and Kaduna

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SKA: Construction to begin on world’s biggest telescope

Prototype dish: The South African site will see the installation of parabolic antennas

One of the grand scientific projects of the 21st Century begins its construction phase on Monday.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the largest telescope in the world when completed in 2028.

Split across South Africa and Australia, with a headquarters in the UK, the facility will address the biggest questions in astrophysics.

It will perform the most precise tests of Einstein’s theories, and even search for extra-terrestrials.

Delegations from the eight countries leading the project are attending ceremonies in the remote Murchison shire in Western Australia and in the Karoo of South Africa’s Northern Cape.

When the festivities are over, the bulldozers will move in.

“This is the moment it becomes real,” said Prof Phil Diamond, director general of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation.

“It’s been a 30-year journey. The first 10 years were about developing the concepts and ideas. The second 10 was spent doing the technology development. And then the last decade was about detailed design, securing the sites, getting governments to agree to set up a treaty organisation (SKAO) and provide the funds to start,” he told BBC News.

The Murchison radio quiet zone

The telescope is being built in areas already used for radio astronomy

The initial architecture of the telescope will incorporate just under 200 parabolic antennas, or “dishes”, as well as 131,000 dipole antennas, which look a little like Christmas trees.

The aim is to construct an effective collecting area measuring hundreds of thousands of square metres.

This will give the SKA unparalleled sensitivity and resolutions as it probes targets on the sky.

The system will operate across a frequency range from roughly 50 megahertz to, ultimately, 25 gigahertz. In wavelength terms, this is in the centimetres to metres range.

This should enable the telescope to detect very faint radio signals coming from cosmic sources billions of light-years from Earth, including those signals emitted in the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

One of the SKA’s great quests will be to trace the full history of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe.

The telescope should be able to detect hydrogen’s presence even before great clouds of it collapsed to form the first stars.

“The SKA is going to contribute to so many areas of astronomy,” said Dr Shari Breen, the observatory’s head of science operations.

“One would be these ‘fast radio bursts’ that have been detected. These things output the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of energy from our Sun in just a fraction of a second. And we have no idea what they are. How is that possible? Hopefully the SKA will have an answer.”

The telescope is being built in areas already used for radio astronomy on a smaller scale.

To expand these sites, however, has required various land agreements, with farmers in the Karoo; and with the Wajarri Yamaji, the Aboriginal title holders in the Murchison.

The Wajarri community have organised Monday’s celebration to inaugurate the SKA.

Various procurement contracts will be announced around the ceremonies.

These will take the total financial outlay to date to just under €500m (£430m) – out of an expected final construction budget of €2bn.

Prototype low-frequency antennas for Australia

The low-frequency antennas for Australia look like Christmas trees

The first major milestone should come in 2024, when four dishes in Australia and six antenna stations in South Africa are made to work seamlessly together as a basic telescope. This proof-of-principle moment will then trigger the array’s full roll-out.

By 2028, the SKA will have an effective collecting area of just under 500,000 square metres. But the set-up is such that it can continue growing, perhaps up to the much desired one million square metres, or one square kilometre.

One way this could happen is if more and more countries join the organisation and provide the necessary funds.

The current members are: South Africa, Australia, the UK, China, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland. These countries have ratified the treaty.

France, Spain, and most recently Germany, have got themselves on to the accession path.

Canada, India, Sweden, South Korea and Japan have indicated their intention to join at some point.

“And we’re actually in the process of talking to other countries as well, to see what interest they might have in joining the observatory,” said Prof Diamond.

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Nigerian student Aminu Adamu Mohammed apologises to Aisha Buhari over tweet

President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha Buhari, has been Nigeria’s first lady since he took office in 2015

A Nigerian university student arrested and detained for more than two weeks after he allegedly defamed President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife on Twitter has apologised to the first lady.

Aminu Adamu Mohammed was released on Friday after authorities dropped the charges on ”compassionate grounds.”.

Mr Mohammed denied spreading ”false” information during a court appearance.

He denied defaming Aisha Buhari in a tweet suggesting she had misused public money to her satisfaction.

But in a series of tweets and video messages over the weekend, the 24-year-old undergraduate apologised to Mrs Buhari for the initial tweet.

”It was never my intention to hurt your feelings” he said, promising to ”change for the better.”

Mr Mohammed also thanked Mrs Buhari for forgiving him, describing her as ”our mother.”

He described his experience as ”the darkest hours of my life.”

He did not give details but he expressed his ”heartfelt gratitude” to those who showed him support saying his case should serve as a ”lesson to all of us”.

Aminu Adamu Mohammed during a court appearance

Amnesty International said Aminu Adamu Mohammed was subjected to “torture” after his arrest

His apology to Mrs Buhari has sparked controversy on social media in Nigeria with many users saying the first lady should apologize to him instead because of the way he was treated.

But there are some who say his apology was right in order to resolve the dispute.

The arrest and the subsequent charge against the student had sparked outrage in Nigeria with many social media users and rights campaigners calling for his immediate release.

On Thursday, Amnesty International said Mr Mohammed was subjected to “torture” and other forms of “ill-treatment” after his arrest, calling it a “deeply repressive act” that “brazenly violates his human rights”. Nigerian authorities have not yet commented on these allegations.

Mr Mohammed is studying environmental management at the Federal University in Dutse, in the northern state of Jigawa, and is due to start his final exams on Monday.

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Iran’s morality police faces uncertain future after attorney general says agency is closing

The future of Iran’s much-protested morality police remained uncertain Sunday after the country’s attorney general suggested the agency would be abolished.

An Iranian lawmaker didn’t specifically address the attorney general’s claim but acknowledged the government is aware of the sweeping protests that followed the September death of a women arrested by morality police.

“Both the administration and parliament insisted that paying attention to the people’s demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots,” lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi said Sunday, according to ISNA, a semi-official news agency.

His remark follows recent reports that Attorney General Mohamed Jafar Montazeri said the morality police “had been closed.” Montazeri also reportedly said the judiciary will “continue to monitor behavior at the community level.”

The attorney general’s comments have not, however, been reported by Iranian state media.

The morality police are in charge of enforcing Iran’s veiling laws. Mahsa Amini, 22, was arrested by the agency in September for allegedly breaking the country’s dress code. Her death inspired protests in Iran and beyond, and have included women removing headscarves they are required to wear.

Montazeri said the law requiring hijabs is being reviewed, according to a Friday report by ISNA.

“We are working fast on the issue of hijab and we are doing our best to come up with a thoughtful solution to deal with this phenomenon that hurts everyone’s heart,” Montazeri said.

The protests garnered attention during the World Cup in Qatar after the U.S. soccer team removed the Islamic Republic’s symbol from multiple social media images of the Iranian flag to support women fighting for human rights.

Iran officials criticized the U.S. for the move, saying the soccer club removed God’s name from the flag. The emblem represents the belief that “there is no god but God.”

With News Wire Services

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Iran’s attorney general signals that morality police could be ‘abolished’

Iran‘s Attorney General said Saturday that the country’s controversial morality police will be “abolished,” local media reported, amid ongoing nationwide protests.

“The morality police had nothing to do with the Judiciary and the same institution that established it, has now abolished it,” Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying at a religious event by the semi-official news agencies ISNA and ILNA, as well as by several other media outlets.

Montazeri, who is not responsible for overseeing the morality police in his role as attorney general, added that the “the judiciary will continue to supervise social behaviors.”

It was unclear if he meant the morality police would be abolished for good or that they would return in some form.

Montazeri’s brief and unscripted comment came in response to a question about “why the morality police were being shut down,” the outlets reported.

NBC News cannot independently verify his comments.

Iran’s Interior Ministry and police have not commented on the status of the morality police.

Official state media outlets that attended the event did not report on Montazeri’s comments, signaling that they were not sanctioned by the political establishment.

Iran has been gripped by months of protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iran’s Kurdistan region, who died in the hospital three days after she had been detained by the morality police in September.

Amini had allegedly failed to fully cover her hair and defied the country’s strict dress codes when she was arrested in Iran’s capital, Tehran.

A coroner’s report said in October that Amini had died from multiple organ failure and ruled out blows to the head and body as a cause of her death. Police had said Amini died after she fell ill and slipped into a coma, but her family has said witnesses told them officers beat her. Police have denied this allegation.

After her death, young protesters took to the streets, tearing off their hijabs and desecrating symbols of the Islamic Republic. With women and young girls at the forefront, videos appeared on social media of many of them removing and burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in public, in open defiance of the cleric-run Islamic Republic.

Demands for women’s rights later morphed into wider calls to overthrow the regime, posing one of the most serious challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution. Some have chanted slogans against the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ebrahim Raisi.

The government has blamed what it calls “foreign enemies” for stoking the unrest.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, was quoted late last month by a website close to the Guard as saying that more than 300 people have been killed, including “martyrs,” an apparent reference to security forces.

Human Rights Activists in Iran, a U.S.-based rights group said in a tweet Saturday that at least 470 protestors have been killed and over 18,000 have been detained so far.

NBC News cannot independently verify either figure.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the “extraordinary courage” of Iranian women for “standing up, speaking up, speaking out for their basic rights,” in an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell late last month.

Meanwhile, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday, that authorities executed four people accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency on Sunday. Three others received lengthy prison sentences.

Members of the network stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them, according to the report. It said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.

IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi. Three other members of the group received sentences of five to 10 years in prison, the news agency reported.

NBC News has not been able to verify this report.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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Nadhim Zahawi tells nurses to accept lower pay rise to send ‘message’ to Vladimir Putin

Nadhim Zahawi on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, when he said he wanted to send a ‘very clear message’ to Vladimir Putin

Nadhim Zahawi has urged nurses to accept a lower pay rise to send a “very clear message” to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

Up to 100,000 nurses plan to walk out on Dec 15 and 20 as the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) demands an above-inflation pay rise of 19 per cent for its workers.

Mr Zahawi, the Conservative Party chairman, confirmed that the Government has contingency plans in place to minimise disruption across the public sector.

But he told unions it was time to “try and negotiate” and insisted soaring costs facing Britons this winter were predominantly because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We have to come together, this is not a time to be divided,” he told Sky’s Sophie Ridge.

“I hope to send a very clear message to Mr Putin that he cannot use energy as a weapon in this way.

“And we will remain united which is why we’ve accepted the pay review bodies on the NHS, on schools and on others.”

Mr Zahawi insisted that one million nurses would still receive a pay rise of at least £1,400, on top of a one per cent increase last year.

This is in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body, which suggested an average rise of 4.75 per cent for nurses in England and Wales, with extra for the lowest paid.

Pressed by Times Radio on whether nurses would find his comments “offensive”, Mr Zahawi replied: “Well, all I would say is let’s all reflect and think about what Putin is doing. There is a price to pay for peace.

“And he’s deliberately using energy as a weapon, which has made inflation so high.

“Putin wants us to be divided on this issue. If we chase inflation-busting or inflation-targeting public sector pay, then we will embed inflation for much longer and hurt the most vulnerable.”

On Sunday Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, accused ministers of “spoiling for a fight with nurses” Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesman, claimed it was “ludicrous and insulting to suggest Vladimir Putin is responsible for nurses going on strike”.

On Saturday night, The Telegraph revealed pharmacists would be drafted in to help break strike action and ease winter pressures on the NHS under plans currently being considered.

Mr Zahawi emphasised the NHS would “look at all contingency planning” to ensure patients could get urgent treatment during walkouts and noted the Government’s duty to ensure safe treatment levels in the health service.

Ministers are braced for the cancellation of thousands of elective procedures and screening appointments, meaning chemists could be allowed to diagnose minor conditions and prescribe antibiotics for the first time.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, wrote to striking unions on Saturday night urging them to protect accident and emergency services by maintaining minimum staffing levels.

Strikes are likely to proceed and continue into the new year if the 19 per cent pay rise demand is not met, despite some progress on issues including employee parking costs and emergency unit security.

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South African worshippers swept away in Jukskei river flash flood

Rescue teams resumed their search of the river on Sunday after stopping late on Saturday evening

Nine people have died in South Africa and eight are missing after a flash flood in a river swept away worshippers taking part in a church ceremony.

Some of the more than 30 congregants were standing on rocks in the river on Saturday when a torrent of water surged through, an eyewitness said.

The pastor was saved after he clung on to an overhanging tree branch as he was being carried away, the witness added.

Rescuers resumed the search of Johannesburg’s Jukskei river on Sunday.

It is notorious for flooding during South Africa’s rainy season.

The search operation involves the police and fire service as well as specialist aquatic rescue teams.

After having recovered two bodies on Saturday they have so far found seven more on Sunday, Robert Mulaudzi, spokesperson for the City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, told reporters.

Victor Ncube, who had been taking part in the church service, told local news station eNCA that he managed to pull five people out of the river who had been swept 100 metres downstream.

Others had been carried too far down the river for him to try to save them, he said.

Of the 33 who had been at the service, eight are still unaccounted for, the authorities say.

Additional reporting by the BBC’s Nobuhle Simelane in Johannesburg

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US intel chief thinking ‘optimistically’ for Ukraine forces

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The head of U.S. intelligence says fighting in Russia’s war in Ukraine is running at a “reduced tempo” and suggests Ukrainian forces could have brighter prospects in coming months.

Avril Haines alluded to past allegations by some that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisers could be shielding him from bad news — for Russia — about war developments, and said he “is becoming more informed of the challenges that the military faces in Russia.”

“But it’s still not clear to us that he has a full picture of at this stage of just how challenged they are,” the U.S. director of national intelligence said late Saturday at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.

Looking ahead, Haines said, “honestly we’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict” and her team expects that both sides will look to refit, resupply, and reconstitute for a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive in the spring.

“But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be in fact prepared to do that,” she said. “And I think more optimistically for the Ukrainians in that timeframe.”

On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense, in its latest intelligence estimate, pointed to new signs from an independent Russian media outlet that public support in Russia for the military campaign was “falling significantly.”

Meduza said it obtained a recent confidential opinion survey conducted by the Federal Protection Service, which is in charge of guarding the Kremlin and providing security to top government officials.

The survey, commissioned by the Kremlin, found that 55% of respondents backed peace talks with Ukraine while 25% wanted the war to go on. The report didn’t mention the margin of error.

Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster, found in a similar poll carried out in November poll that 53% of respondents supported peace talks, 41% spoke in favor of continuing the fight, and 6% were undecided. That poll of 1,600 people had a margin of error of no more than 3.4 percent.

The British Defense Ministry noted that “despite the Russian authorities’ efforts to enforce pervasive control of the information environment, the conflict has become increasingly tangible for many Russians since the September 2022 ‘partial mobilization.’”

“With Russia unlikely to achieve major battlefield successes in the next several months, maintaining even tacit approval of the war amongst the population is likely to be increasingly difficult for the Kremlin,” it said.

In recent weeks, Russia’s military focus has been on striking Ukrainian infrastructure and pressing an offensive in the east, near the town of Bakhmut, while shelling sites in the city of Kherson, which Ukrainian forces liberated last month after an 8-month Russian occupation.

In his nightly address on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lashed out at Western efforts to crimp Russia’s crucial oil industry, a key source of funds for Putin’s war machine, saying their $60-per-barrel price cap on imports of Russian oil was insufficient.

“It is not a serious decision to set such a limit for Russian prices, which is quite comfortable for the budget of the terrorist state,” Zelenskyy said, referring to Russia. He said the $60-per-barrel level would still allow Russia to bring in $100 billion in revenues per year.

“This money will go not only to the war and not only to further sponsorship by Russia of other terrorist regimes and organisations. This money will be used for further destabilisation of those countries that are now trying to avoid serious decisions,” Zelenskyy said.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, the United States and the 27-nation European Union agreed Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel. The limit is set to take effect Monday, along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.

Russian authorities have rejected the price cap and threatened Saturday to stop supplying the nations that endorsed it.

In yet another show of Western support for Ukraine’s efforts to battle back Russian forces and cope with fallout from the war, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland on Saturday visited the operations of a Ukrainian aid group that provides support for internally displaced people in Ukraine, among her other visits with top Ukrainian officials.

Nuland assembled dolls out of yarn in the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag with youngsters from regions including northeastern Kharkiv, southern Kherson, and eastern Donetsk.

“This is psychological support for them at an absolutely crucial time,” Nuland said.

“As President Putin knows best, this war could stop today, if he chose to stop it and withdrew his forces — and then negotiations can begin,” she added.

___

Merchant reported from Washington, D.C.

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Sbu Nkosi: Missing person case opened for South Africa wing

Sbu Nkosi could not tour Europe with South Africa in November because of a rib injury

South Africa’s World Cup winner Sbu Nkosi has been reported missing by his club in Pretoria.

The Bulls said their last contact with Nkosi was on 11 November and that they opened a missing person case with the police six days later.

The 26-year-old winger missed out on the Springboks’ autumn internationals because of a rib injury.

“Sbu Nkosi has been absent without leave for the past three weeks,” read a Bulls statement.

They said they had attempted “phone calls, texts messages, calls to relatives, partner and close friends as well as four house visits to his known place of residence”, and the lack of contact led to “grave worry and concern”.

Nkosi has played 16 Tests and was part of the South Africa squad that won the 2019 World Cup.

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Guest column: An Iowa perspective on the refugee crisis and the UN response

Between Thanksgiving and the end-of-year holidays lies Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, another date to star on your calendar.  On Dec. 10 this year, the United Nations will launch a year-long campaign to highlight the legacy, relevance, and activism of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in anticipation of its 75th anniversary on Dec. 10, 2023.

This year, to honor the dignity and equality of rights of everyone, as asserted in the UDHR, Johnson County United Nations Association (JCUNA) is hosting an event highlighting the 14th article of UDHR:  the right of everyone to seek asylum from persecution, excluding non-political crimes, in accordance with UN principles and purposes.

The Iowa City Office of Equity and Human Rights, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Refugee and Immigrant Association are partnering with JCUNA to present live and livestreamed a panel discussion on the refugee crisis and refugee rights Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m., in Room A of the Iowa City Public Library.

The distinguished panel of Iowans includes Solange Bashige, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Re Moe, a native of Burma and a staff member of EMBARC, an agency serving Burmese refugees in Iowa; Elisabeth Bernal, an immigrant from Mexico and a co-founder of Open Heartland; and Mak Sućeska, once a refugee from Bosnia and now Bureau Chief for the Bureau of Refugee Services, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services. Jim Olson, immediate past president of JCUNA, will moderate. Also present, via video, will be a staff member of UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, describing the scale of the current global refugee crisis in which more than 100 million people have been forced by violence or by a changing climate and sometimes by both together to flee their home countries.  Internally displaced persons increase this vast human need yet more. Even as we recognize how the violence in Ukraine has intensified the number of refugees as well as internally displaced persons, and the coming winter makes the crisis there and elsewhere worse still, we should note that the number of global refugees had doubled in the past 10 years, even before the current war in Ukraine began.

Audience members will have opportunities to ask questions and to learn ways that they can address the refugee crisis both globally and locally. Audience members will also join in the Refugee and Immigrant Association’s celebration of two refugees and Iowans: Felicien Nkhulikiye and Immaculee Mukahigiro.

The United Nations 2022 Theme for Human Rights Day 2022 is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.”  Knowing the assaults upon these values, JCUNA is all the more committed to their promise.  We share in the United Nations’ belief that human rights are the bedrock of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and must be the foundation of any claim to sustainable development or a just economy. We share, as well, in their belief that a risk to human rights anywhere is a risk to human rights everywhere. There is much work to be done. There is a role for everyone.

Join us at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Iowa City Public Library, or watch a live stream on city channel 4, to learn more about refugee struggles and accomplishments, as well as opportunities for assistance.  Make commemoration of Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, a part of your end-of-year holiday traditions.

Barbara Eckstein

Barbara Eckstein of Iowa City is president of Johnson County United Nations Association.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Opinion: An Iowa perspective on the refugee crisis and the UN response

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