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Archive for the ‘Injustice of Russia’ Category

Syria opposition to boycott Russian peace talks

2018-01-27

VIENNA – Syria’s main opposition group on Friday said it would boycott Russian peace talks next week in a major blow to Moscow’s diplomatic efforts towards resolving the brutal seven-year conflict.

“Russia has not succeeded in promoting its conference,” the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) said on its Twitter account.

“The SNC has decided not to participate at Sochi after marathon negotiations with the UN and representatives of countries involved in Syria.”

Dozens of rebel groups had already refused to join the talks in the Black Sea resort next Monday and Tuesday organised by the Syrian regime’s powerful ally Moscow, and the question of whether the main opposition would attend has overshadowed two days of separate UN-backed peace talks in Vienna.

Those talks stretched late into Friday night, with both regime officials and the SNC meeting separately with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura — who did not strike an especially optimistic tone after the grueling negotiations.

As with eight previous rounds of failed UN-backed talks in Geneva, there was no sign that the warring sides had met face to face at discussions intended to lay the groundwork for a new post-war constitution.

De Mistura, speaking to reporters early Saturday, admitted there had been a disheartening lack of progress up until now in finding a solution for a war that has killed more than 340,000 people.

“I share the immense frustration of millions of Syrians inside and outside the country at the lack of a political settlement to date,” he said.

– Russian ambitions –

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has decided to send his envoy Staffan de Mistura to the Sochi conference next week, a UN spokesman said Saturday, despite the opposition boycott.

Russia had long sought UN participation in the Sochi conference aimed at advancing toward an end to the six-year war in Syria.

Guterres “is confident that the congress in Sochi will be an important contribution” to reviving the peace talks held under UN auspices in Geneva, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The UN spokesman indicated that Guterres had received assurances that the Sochi conference would not seek to sideline the UN talks.

Guterres was briefed by De Mistura on the outcome of the Vienna talks and has taken into account a statement from Russia that the result of the Sochi conference “would be brought to Geneva as a contribution to the intra-Syrian talks process under the auspices of the United Nations,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The UN chief has “decided to accept the invitation of the Russian Federation to send a representative to attend the Sochi Congress” and has asked De Mistura to go, he added.

De Mistura earlier stressed the legitimacy of the UN-led talks over Russia’s parallel peace push, however, saying firmly that a political transition for Syria “is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process”.

“I hope that the forthcoming Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi will contribute to a revived and credible intra-Syrian process under the UN in Geneva,” he added.

Ahead of an SNC press conference on Saturday morning there was little detail about why the opposition had ultimately decided to boycott Sochi, though spokesman Yahya al-Aridi earlier described the talks in Vienna as “tough”.

Western powers have viewed the Russian peace initiative — which is also backed by Turkey and Iran — with suspicion, worrying that Moscow is seeking to undermine the UN-backed talks with an ultimate view to carving out a settlement that strengthens its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

– ‘Black comedy’ –

Haid Haid, a consulting research fellow at Chatham House think-tank, said Russia’s long-term strategic interests were at play in Sochi.

“They want to present themselves as peace brokers, not only in Syria but in the Middle East in general, a role traditionally carried out by the Americans,” Haid said.

“For the Russians to take this role, they have to do what the Americans were not able to do” — find a solution in Syria, he said.

The Vienna talks were also marked by anger from the regime over a leaked set of political proposals from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Britain and France that would involve strengthening the role of Syria’s prime minister — at the expense of Assad’s authority.

Top government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters it was “tantamount to a black comedy” that these countries were seeking to shape Syria’s political future, as Arabic and English versions of the document circulated online.

“All of them have participated in the bloodshed of the Syrian people,” he said of the five nations, blasting the US as the country “that created ISIS” and adding that Saudi Arabia was anything but a “beacon of freedom in the east”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86959.

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Russian opposition leader arrested amid election protests

January 29, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Protesters gathered across Russia on Sunday to support opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s call to boycott the March presidential election, and Navalny himself was arrested while walking to the Moscow demonstration.

Many of the crowds that turned out in generally frigid weather skewed sharply young, apparently reflecting growing discontent among Russians who have lived most or all of their lives under President Vladimir Putin, who came to power on New Year’s Eve 1999.

“As long as I’ve been alive, Putin has always been in. I’m tired of nothing being changed,” said 19-year-old Vlad Ivanov, one of about 1,500 protesters who assembled in St. Petersburg. Navalny, Putin’s most prominent foe, organized the protests to urge a boycott of Russia’s March 18 presidential election, in which Putin is sure to win a fourth term. He was wrestled to the ground and forced into a police bus as he walked toward the demonstration on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

The anti-corruption campaigner was denied permission to be a presidential candidate because of an embezzlement conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated. Late Sunday night, hours after police detained him, Navalny said on Twitter that he had been released before a trial. Russian news reports cited police earlier as saying he was likely to be charged with a public-order violation for calling unauthorized demonstrations.

Independent radio station Ekho Moskvy reported after his release that Navalny had not yet been presented with a charge. No figures were available for how many people participated in the protests, but the turnout was clearly smaller than for rallies Navalny organized last year. The size and scope of the earlier protests, which took place in provincial cities regarded as the center of Putin’s support, rattled the Kremlin.

Protests were reported in dozens of cities, from the Pacific Coast to the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad. Navalny’s web page showed a small group of protesters in remote Yakutsk, where it was minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).

A crowd that police estimated at 1,000 people, but appeared larger, assembled in central Pushkin Square, brandishing placards reading “They’ve stolen the election from us” and “Elections without Navalny are fake.”

After that gathering dispersed, columns of protesters took off in several directions. One group skirted the Kremlin, then headed down the Novy Arbat, a prime shopping and entertainment area, and to the riverside government headquarters building informally called the Russian White House.

Shouting “Putin is a thief,” some of the protesters threw handfuls of snow through the high spiked fence surrounding the building. Police did not interfere, a contrast to their typically quick and harsh responses to unauthorized gatherings.

The OVD-Info organization, which monitors political repression, reported that 257 people were arrested in the demonstrations throughout the country. Hours before the Moscow protest, police raided Navalny’s headquarters, where there is a studio for live video transmissions. One broadcaster on the stream said police apparently were using a power grinder tool to try to get into the studio.

The anchors hosting the feed reported that police said they had come because of an alleged bomb threat. One anchor, Dmitri Nizovtsev, was detained by police, according to video broadcast from the headquarters. Navalny’s Moscow coordinator, Nikolai Lyaskin, also was detained Sunday, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Several hundred demonstrators assembled in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, complaining both of Putin’s rule and of Navalny’s exclusion from the March 18 presidential election. “They took these elections away from us, they took away our votes. Our candidate was not allowed to run,” said Vladivostok demonstrator Dmitri Kutyaev.

Navalny rose to prominence with detailed reports about corruption among top Russian officials, which he popularized on social media to circumvent state control of television.

Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

Rival US and Russian resolutions defeated on Syria weapons

November 17, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Rival U.S. and Russian resolutions to extend the mandate of experts trying to determine who was responsible for chemical attacks in Syria were defeated Thursday at a heated Security Council meeting that reflected the deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow.

The result of the two votes means that the expert body — the Joint Investigative Mechanism known as the JIM — will cease operations when its current mandate expires at midnight Thursday. The U.S., its allies and human rights groups called it a serious blow to efforts to hold accountable those responsible for carrying out chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

During a three-hour drama, Russia first vetoed the U.S. draft resolution which was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members. Bolivia joined Russia in voting “no” and China and Egypt abstained.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia withdrew the Russian resolution over Moscow’s insistence that it be voted on second not first as required under council rules. But using another council rule, Bolivia then resubmitted and called for a vote on that resolution.

It failed to receive the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption. Only Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted in favor while seven council members voted against and four abstained. Japan late Thursday proposed a 30-day extension of the JIM and the Security Council was expected to discuss it on Friday.

At the heart of the dispute was the demand by Russia, Syria’s most important ally, for major changes in the way the JIM operates and the U.S. insistence that the JIM’s current mandate and independence be preserved.

After the votes, the United States and Russia blamed each other for ending the JIM’s operations, both insisting they wanted it to continue. “To my Russian friends, the next chemical weapons attack is on your head,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “By not having a JIM, you are basically telling the entire world that chemical weapons are OK to use. That’s what we should be embarrassed about today.”

Russia’s Nebenzia shot back saying: “Today it became absolutely clear we need a robust professional mechanism that will help to prevent the threat of chemical terrorism in the region, and you need a puppet-like structure to manipulate public opinion — which on the basis of false information will time after time accuse the Syrian government of violating international norms.”

Those who voted against the Russian resolution put forward by Bolivia “bear the full brunt of responsibility for the cessation of the operations of the JIM,” Nebenzia said. Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015, and used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.

Syria repeated its denial of using chemical weapons. The JIM has also accused the Islamic State extremist group of using mustard gas in 2015 adsnd again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo. Nebenzia accused the JIM of “fundamental flaws” in blaming President Bashar Assad’s government for the attacks.

He cited its use of “remote working methods” and failure to visit Khan Sheikhoun, “focusing solely on dubious testimony from opposition and even terrorist groups, the disregard for the whole range of rules and methods provided for under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Haley countered that Russia and its allies “want a JIM that doesn’t have independence.” “They want a JIM that doesn’t have reporting,” she said. “They want a JIM that they can micromanage, or that any member can micromanage.”

Haley noted that this was the 10th veto by Russia to support Syria. “You have to realize when a country is playing games with people’s lives,” she said. “That’s exactly what is happening here. And it’s been happening for 10 times.”

The vote took place against the backdrop of the military and political situation in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand. A new round of U.N.-hosted Syrian peace talks is scheduled to start in Geneva on Nov. 28.

Haley said: “The only thing that today has proved is that Russia cannot be trusted in the political process with Syria.” “Russia will not be a good and trusted actor because they want to control who’s at fault,” she said. “They want to control what happens. They want to control that area because they want to work with Iran and Syria to make sure that they have it all under control.”

Nebenia said Haley “betrayed what was trying to be hidden all the time, but in fact the whole thing was envisaged and invented to show that Russia should not be trusted in the Syrian political process.”

“It’s not coincidental,” he said, “because the political process in Syria is … slowly gaining momentum and Russia is very instrumental in it. And so this is the very opportune moment to tell that Russia should not play the role here.”

Nebenzia said he didn’t think Thursday’s votes would affect the Geneva talks which Russia supports.

Russia drafts legislation targeting foreign media

November 14, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers submitted legal amendments Tuesday that would allow the government to register international media outlets as foreign agents, a retaliatory move to a demand the U.S. made to a Russian TV channel.

The amendments, which are set to be voted on Wednesday, came after the Russian state-funded RT registered with the U.S. Justice Department as a foreign agent following pressure from the U.S. government.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that RT served as a tool for the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied any interference. The amendments under consideration in Russia were proposed by lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislature. Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said the revisions would give the Justice Ministry authority to register foreign media outlets as foreign agents.

Following the registration, the news outlets would be subject to requirements that already apply to foreign-funded non-governmental organization under a 2012 law on foreign agents. The law requests all groups that receive foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activities to register as foreign agents. Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against almost any non-governmental organization.

The law was approved after a slew of massive anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow in 2011-2012. President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of instigating them. At the same time, Putin has harshly criticized the U.S. demand regarding the RT channel as an attack on freedom of speech. He said Russia would retaliate.

The amendments to cover non-Russian media outlets are on a rapid course. The State Duma is set to approve them on Wednesday. They would then go pass quickly to the upper house and then to Putin for signing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the proposed amendments would be applied. They are broadly phrased to allow the government to declare practically any foreign media outlet as a foreign agent. But Russian officials and lawmakers emphasized Tuesday that they would take a measured approach, one strictly proportionate to the U.S. action.

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma’s committee for information, emphasized that the amendments were a framework intended to provide a legal basis for government action. “It will up to the Justice Ministry to decide whom to list as foreign agents,” Levin said. “I expect the amendments to be applied strictly quid pro quo in response to the moves against Russian media.”

Andrei Klimov, the head of a panel established by the upper house of the Russian parliament to investigate alleged foreign interference in Russian affairs, also said the Russian government’s application of the foreign media rules would be selective and mirror actions by the United States.

At the same time, Klimov kept the door open for broader restrictions in the future, saying lawmakers will ponder prospective legislation to restrict foreign nationals’ involvement in Russia’s affairs.

Legislation to be drafted next year could define the status of foreigners involved in “undesirable activities” in Russia, as well as Russians engaging in “undesirable cooperation” with them, Klimov said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based independent press freedom watchdog, criticized the U.S. Department of Justice order for the RT to register as a foreign agent as a “bad idea.” “This is a shift in how the law has been applied in recent decades, so we have little information about how its reporting requirements might affect individual journalists,” CPJ North America Program Coordinator Alexandra Ellerbeck said. “We’re uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda.”

At the same time, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Russia not to take retaliatory steps. “It’s outrageous that the Russian government, which has attacked, undermined, and stifled independent media, and failed to properly investigate the murders of leading independent journalists in the country, is now threatening measures to curtail the work of international media organizations,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

Ognianova added that while the U.S. move on RT was “ill-advised,” Russia also would be amiss “to use it as a pretext to justify punitive action.”

Russia hackers pursued Putin foes, not just US Democrats

November 02, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton’s emails they went after. The hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election last year had ambitions that stretched across the globe, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press.

The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that went back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users — from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. The targets were spread among 116 countries.

“It’s a wish list of who you’d want to target to further Russian interests,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings. He said the data was “a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence.”

The AP findings draw on a database of 19,000 malicious links collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, dozens of rogue emails, and interviews with more than 100 hacking targets. Secureworks stumbled upon the data after a hacking group known as Fancy Bear accidentally exposed part of its phishing operation to the internet. The list revealed a direct line between the hackers and the leaks that rocked the presidential contest in its final stages, most notably the private emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The issue of who hacked the Democrats is back in the national spotlight following the revelation Monday that a Donald Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos, was briefed early last year that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the notion that Russia interfered “unfounded.” But the list examined by AP provides powerful evidence that the Kremlin did just that. “This is the Kremlin and the general staff,” said Andras Racz, a specialist in Russian security policy at Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Hungary, as he examined the data.

“I have no doubts.”

THE NEW EVIDENCE

Secureworks’ list covers the period between March 2015 and May 2016. Most of the identified targets were in the United States, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Syria.

In the United States, which was Russia’s Cold War rival, Fancy Bear tried to pry open at least 573 inboxes belonging to those in the top echelons of the country’s diplomatic and security services: then-Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-NATO Supreme Commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, and one of his predecessors, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

The list skewed toward workers for defense contractors such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin or senior intelligence figures, prominent Russia watchers and — especially — Democrats. More than 130 party workers, campaign staffers and supporters of the party were targeted, including Podesta and other members of Clinton’s inner circle.

The AP also found a handful of Republican targets.

Podesta, Powell, Breedlove and more than a dozen Democratic targets besides Podesta would soon find their private correspondence dumped to the web. The AP has determined that all had been targeted by Fancy Bear, most of them three to seven months before the leaks.

“They got two years of email,” Powell recently told AP. He said that while he couldn’t know for sure who was responsible, “I always suspected some Russian connection.”

In Ukraine, which is fighting a grinding war against Russia-backed separatists, Fancy Bear attempted to break into at least 545 accounts, including those of President Petro Poroshenko and his son Alexei, half a dozen current and former ministers such as Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and as many as two dozen current and former lawmakers.

The list includes Serhiy Leshchenko, an opposition parliamentarian who helped uncover the off-the-books payments allegedly made to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — whose indictment was unsealed Monday in Washington.

In Russia, Fancy Bear focused on government opponents and dozens of journalists. Among the targets were oil tycoon-turned-Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in prison and now lives in exile, and Pussy Riot’s Maria Alekhina. Along with them were 100 more civil society figures, including anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny and his lieutenants.

“Everything on this list fits,” said Vasily Gatov, a Russian media analyst who was himself among the targets. He said Russian authorities would have been particularly interested in Navalny, one of the few opposition leaders with a national following.

Many of the targets have little in common except that they would have been crossing the Kremlin’s radar: an environmental activist in the remote Russian port city of Murmansk; a small political magazine in Armenia; the Vatican’s representative in Kiev; an adult education organization in Kazakhstan.

“It’s simply hard to see how any other country would be particularly interested in their activities,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. He was also on the list.

“If you’re not Russia,” he said, “hacking these people is a colossal waste of time.”

WORKING 9 TO 6 MOSCOW TIME

Allegations that Fancy Bear works for Russia aren’t new. But raw data has been hard to come by.

Researchers have been documenting the group’s activities for more than a decade and many have accused it of being an extension of Russia’s intelligence services. The “Fancy Bear” nickname is a none-too-subtle reference to Russia’s national symbol.

In the wake of the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence agencies publicly endorsed the consensus view, saying what American spooks had long alleged privately: Fancy Bear is a creature of the Kremlin.

But the U.S. intelligence community provided little proof, and even media-friendly cybersecurity companies typically publish only summaries of their data.

That makes the Secureworks’ database a key piece of public evidence — all the more remarkable because it’s the result of a careless mistake.

Secureworks effectively stumbled across it when a researcher began working backward from a server tied to one of Fancy Bear’s signature pieces of malicious software.

He found a hyperactive Bitly account that Fancy Bear (which Secureworks calls “Iron Twilight”) was using to sneak thousands of malicious links past Google’s spam filter. Because Fancy Bear forgot to set the account to private, Secureworks spent the next few months hovering over the group’s shoulder, quietly copying down the details of the thousands of emails it was targeting.

The AP obtained the data recently, boiling it down to 4,700 individual email addresses, and then connecting roughly half to account holders. The AP validated the list by running it against a sample of phishing emails obtained from people targeted and comparing it to similar rosters gathered independently by other cybersecurity companies, such as Tokyo-based Trend Micro and the Slovakian firm ESET .

The Secureworks data allowed reporters to determine that more than 95 percent of the malicious links were generated during Moscow office hours — between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday.

The AP’s findings also track with a report that first brought Fancy Bear to the attention of American voters. In 2016, a cybersecurity company known as CrowdStrike said the Democratic National Committee had been compromised by Russian hackers, including Fancy Bear.

Secureworks’ roster shows Fancy Bear making aggressive attempts to hack into DNC technical staffers’ emails in early April 2016 — exactly when CrowdStrike says the hackers broke in.

And the raw data enabled the AP to speak directly to the people who were targeted, many of whom pointed the finger at the Kremlin.

“We have no doubts about who is behind these attacks,” said Artem Torchinskiy, a project coordinator with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund who was targeted three times in 2015. “I am sure these are hackers controlled by Russian secret services.”

THE MYTH OF THE 400-POUND MAN

Even if only a small fraction of the 4,700 Gmail accounts targeted by Fancy Bear were hacked successfully, the data drawn from them could run into terabytes — easily rivaling the biggest known leaks in journalistic history.

For the hackers to have made sense of that mountain of messages — in English, Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian, Arabic and many other languages — they would have needed a substantial team of analysts and translators. Merely identifying and sorting the targets took six AP reporters eight weeks of work.

The AP’s effort offers “a little feel for how much labor went into this,” said Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

In response to the AP’s investigation, the DNC issued a statement saying the evidence that Russia had interfered in the election was “irrefutable.”

Rid said the investigation should put to rest any theories like the one then-candidate Donald Trump floated last year that the hacks could be the work of “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

“The notion that it’s just a lone hacker somewhere is utterly absurd,” Rid said.

Donn reported from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Myers reported from Chicago. Chad Day, Desmond Butler and Ted Bridis in Washington, Frank Bajak in Houston, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Erika Kinetz in Shanghai contributed to this report. Novaya Gazeta reporters Nikolay Voroshilov, Yana Surinskaya and Roman Anin in Moscow also contributed.

Russia’s security agency detains 6 Crimean Tatar activists

October 11, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s domestic security agency said Wednesday it detained six people in Crimea accused of involvement in an extremist organization, a move described by one of the suspects’ lawyer as part of Moscow’s crackdown on the Crimean Tatars.

Emil Kurbedinov, a lawyer for one of the six detainees, said that police also rounded up nine other Crimean Tatars who protested the detentions in the Crimean town of Bakhchisarai. The Federal Security Service or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, said it has stopped the activities of a local cell of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which Russia and several other ex-Soviet nations banned as a “terrorist” organization.

The FSB said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that it has opened a criminal probe against six people suspected of involvement in the group. Kurbedinov, a lawyer for Suleiman Asanov, whom the FSB accused of organizing the cell, described the charges as “absurd.” He said all six detainees were local Crimean Tatar activists who opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Russia has faced criticism for infringing on the ethnic group’s rights since the annexation. “It’s yet another attempt to intimidate people with ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ labels,” Kurbedinov said by phone from Bakhchisarai.

Kurbedinov said nine other Crimean Tatars who were protesting the detentions were taken into custody for holding an unsanctioned demonstration and were set to face court hearings Thursday. Zair Smedlyayev, who heads an association of Crimean Tatars, also said the move was part of a continuing crackdown on the Turkic ethnic group.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital, said Turkey was monitoring the situation of Crimean Tatars and thanked Ukraine for defending their rights.

Court jails Russian opposition leader Navalny for 20 days

October 02, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Monday sent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to jail for 20 days for calling for an unsanctioned protest, which would keep him away from a major rally this weekend.

Police detained Navalny on Friday, preventing him from traveling to a rally in a major Russian city that had given its official permission to hold the gathering. Charges brought against the Kremlin’s top rival relate to the upcoming rally in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and President Vladimir Putin’s hometown, which has not been sanctioned.

After he announced his presidential bid last year, Navalny, arguably Russia’s most popular opposition politician, inspired a grassroots campaign in Russian regions to support his nomination. “20 days in jail. Old man Putin got so scared of our rallies in the regions and decided to make himself a little present for himself for his birthday,” Navalny tweeted shortly after the ruling Monday evening.

The rally in St. Petersburg was scheduled for Saturday, which is also Putin’s birthday. Navalny’s campaign late Monday called for rallies to protest his arrest in other Russian cities this Saturday. A Russian law on public gatherings, which was hastily adopted following massive anti-government rallies in 2011-2012, carries 30 days in jail for repeated violations.

In another Moscow courthouse, a judge is expected to hand down a ruling later Monday in the case of Navalny’s campaign chief, Leonid Volkov, who faces similar charges. The Kremlin has dismissed Navalny, who has faced repeated jailings and criminal cases, as an urbanite out of touch with people living in Russia’s 11 time zones where Putin draws his support from.

Yet that began to change earlier this year when Navalny, a 41-year-old lawyer, opened campaign offices in 80 cities and towns. Most of those places had not seen a diverse political life for decades, and Navalny attracted thousands of supporters.

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