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Putin’s Fiercest Critic Is in a Coma. Was He Poisoned?

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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent critic, Alexei Navalny, fell into a coma on Thursday aboard a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. 
  • Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, alleges that Navalny was poisoned at the airport after drinking a cup of tea he ordered from a cafe.
  • Many opposition figures have accused Putin of poisoning Navalny, who has been feverishly campaigning for anti-Kremlin candidates in regional elections to be held next month.
  • Navalny is said to be stable but still in serious condition, though police said they currently are not considering this a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.

Navalny Allegedly Poisoned

Alexei Navalny, Russian President Valdimir Putin’s fiercest critic, fell into a coma Thursday after his spokesperson said he drank a cup of tea that had been laced with poison. He is reportedly in serious condition.

That spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said the incident began as the two were preparing to fly back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia. While waiting for their plane, Yarmysh said Navalny ordered a cup of tea from an airport cafe. 

As they boarded the plane, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Later in the flight, Navalny reportedly began to sweat and seemed like he might be falling ill. According to Yarmysh, he asked her to talk to him so he could “focus on the sound of a voice.”

Shortly after the flight began, Navalny went to the restroom, where he collapsed and lost consciousness. The plane’s pilot later made an emergency landing in Omsk, another city in Siberia. Once the plane landed, paramedics rushed on board to treat Navalny. 

During this time, a passenger on the flight recorded part of the response, where Navalny can be heard loudly moaning in pain. 

Once off the plane, Navalny was transported to a hospital in Omsk and put on a ventilator. He has not woken up since. 

Though he is still in serious condition, doctors treating Navalny have said he has stabilized.

Opposition Figures Accuse Putin

Yarmysh said she believes Navalny’s coffee was poisoned because it was the only thing he had to drink that morning before falling into his coma.

She also immediately accused Putin of orchestrating the attack, saying, “Whether he personally gave the order or not, the blame is entirely with him.”

Once news broke, other opposition figures soon began blaming Putin, as well.

“We are sure that the only people that have the capability to target Navalny or myself are Russian security services with definite clearance from Russia’s political leadership,” anti-Krelim activist Pyotr Verzilov told the Associated Press. “We believe that Putin definitely is a person who gives that go-ahead in this situation.” 

Verzilov is believed to have also been poisoned in 2018 for activism against the Kremlin, or Russia’s executive branch of government. 

Internationally, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he’s “deeply concerned” by the incident. 

Who is Navalny?

Navalny has faced harassment for a number of years for his own activism against the Kremlin. In 2017, several men attacked him by throwing antiseptic in his face, damaging an eye.

In a situation that captured international headlines in late 2017, Navalny was barred from running from Russian presidential elections after campaigning heavily against Putin, who has been in power for two decades and could remain in power until 2036 under a new law that extends his term limits.

Navalny has also been frequently arrested by authorities for his activism. Last year, while in prison, he was rushed to the hospital following a severe allergic attack. The next day, he was discharged back to prison. Navalny’s team has asserted that the allergic reaction was actually a poisoning, and like Thursday’s incident, they believe Putin was behind it.

In March, Navalny was forced to close his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which had exposed crimes by Russia’s elite for more than a decade. 

As far as why he might have been poisoned on Thursday, Yarmysh said she suspects the alleged attack is tied to next month’s regional elections. In fact, on Thursday, Navalny was flying back from a meeting with activists and opposition candidates for those elections.

Navalny’s influence could pose a major threat to Putin in the upcoming elections. Between Putin’s struggle to navigate Russia through the coronavirus pandemic and a declining economy, it’s possible that Navalny could mobilize voters against pro-Kremlin candidates.

Navalny’s Condition

Doctors in the hospital where Navalny is being treated have remained tight-lipped. While they’ve yet to confirm whether or not Navalny was poisoned, they said they’re naturally considering that as a possible cause.

Still, the state-run news agency Tass has reported that police are not considering this to be a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.

Reportedly, doctors have denied Navalny’s wife, Yulia, the ability to see her husband. That’s because she didn’t have their marriage certificate on her and because Navalny was unable to consent.

Verzilov told the AP that he’s worried the doctors treating Navalny are facing pressure from Russia’s security services.  Alongside that, Navalny’s personal doctor reportedly wants him transferred to a hospital in Germany; however, doctors have refused to turn over the medical documents that would be necessary to make such a transfer.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, said authorities will not consider a request to allow Navalny to be transferred out of the country until test results indicate what has caused Navalny’s condition. Russia still has not fully opened its borders, and like many countries, it remains under a coronavirus lockdown.

“If [Navalny] was actually poisoned, if certain statements are made, and if law enforcement agencies adopt other decisions, an investigation will be opened,” Peskov said amid calls for Russia’s Investigative Committee to open a criminal probe.

See what others saying: (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post) (BBC)

International

Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

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The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.


Health Minister Makes Announcement

Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”

The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.

The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.

While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.

The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.

Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.

The World Reacts

Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.

On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.

“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”

Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.

In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)

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Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.


Saved By The Bell

The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.

A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.

In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.

Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.

“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”

A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.

Britains Divided by Controversial Policy

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.

“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”

“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.

“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”

An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.

“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”

The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.

The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.

Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans

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Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.


Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.

The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”

Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.

Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.

“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”

“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”

Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.

The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.

Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.

Memories of Apartheid Resurface

“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.

South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.

“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.

Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.

We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.

Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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