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Belarus Accused of International Terrorism After Forcing Airline To Land



The government of Aleksandr Lukashenko claims someone called a bomb threat on the flight, although the charade was used to arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasevich

Sleight Detour to Minsk

Belarus has been accused of state-sponsored terrorism after it forced Ryanair flight 4978 to land Sunday in order to arrest a journalist on board.

Belarus; however, tells the story differently.

According to its Interior Ministry, a bomb threat was called in about the flight from Greece to Lithuania. While over Belarusian airspace, the flight got a call from air traffic control saying that it had to land in Minsk. Reportedly, President Aleksandr Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter plane to escort the flight all the way.

After landing, no bombs were found on the plane, but Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich was on board. Protasevich is a co-founder of the NEXTA telegram channel, which is one of the few remaining free-press outlets remaining in Belarus following a severe crackdown on the press in 2020. When he realized the plane was being forced to land, France24 reports that Protasevich told other passengers that “he was facing the death penalty.”

After seven hours on the tarmac, the plane took off again to Lithuania with everyone but Protasevich on board. Belarus maintains that the plane was not forced to land because Protasevich was on board, and the country’s top investigative body claims it’s taking the false-bomb report very seriously by vowing to investigate who made the outrageous threat.

Few believe the bomb threat story, finding it too convenient that the flight just so happened to be the flight of one of Lukashenko’s biggest critics onboard.

When his arrest became known, NEXTA’s leadership removed all of Protasevich’s NEXTA Telegram privileges to ensure the safety of its 250,000 members.

International Outrage

Around the world, leaders condemned the act. Speaking about the incident, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We strongly condemn the Lukashenko regime’s brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist. We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps.”

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, called the incident “utterly unacceptable.” While individual European states were more forceful. The Greek Foreign Ministry called Belarus’ actions a “state hijacking,” while Poland’s Prime Minister called it an “act of state terrorism.” Germany and France also added to the criticism, with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas remarking, “such an act cannot remain without clear consequences.”

Still, it’s unclear what those consequences can be. Belarus is not part of the E.U., meaning the bloc can’t impose internal restrictions. For international pressure, Belarus’ top leaders and institutions are already under crippling sanctions over how it cracked down on opposition figures in a hotly contested presidential election last year.

Some of the most critical reactions came from the Baltic countries, with Lithuania’s President demanding that Belarus’ airspace be declared unsafe and the Belarusian aircraft not be accepted at E.U. airports.

However, in places like Russia, Lukashenko’s actions were met with praise. Margarita Simonyan, editor of the RT propaganda television network, said the Belarusian president “played it beautifully.”

While countries decide what to do, some airlines have already taken matters into their own hands. Some carriers, like airBaltic, told its captains to “avoid entering Belarus airspace until the situation becomes clearer or a decision is issued by the authorities.” Carriers like Wizz air have made similar plans until more guidance is given.

For its part, Ryanair said it won’t reroute flights over Belarus until more guidance from the E.U. comes, but its CEO did note that the carrier has very few flights over Belarus anyways.

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


U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline



There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.

Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations

A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.

The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.

The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.

The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.

It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.

When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.

Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.

More Ongoing Investigations

Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.

Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.

“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.

The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.

On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.

German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.

The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble



A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.

A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes

The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.

Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.

At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.

Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.

“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.

He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.

“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.

The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.

Rescuers Race Against the Clock

After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.

Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.

In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.

With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.

In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.

The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)

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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns



“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters

Sturgeon Steps Down

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday. 

Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well. 

 “To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.

For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes  very difficult.”

Sturgeon’s Political Future

Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister. 

There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected. 

The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament. 

Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.

“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”

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

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