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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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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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