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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)

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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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