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Moscow court rejects opposition leader Navalny’s appeal
A Moscow court has rejected Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal of his prison sentence and another judge later has ordered him to pay a fine for defaming a World War II veteran

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV Associated Press
20 February 2021, 23:32
• 5 min read

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MOSCOW — A Moscow court on Saturday rejected Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal of his prison sentence, even as the country faced an order from a top European rights court to free the Kremlin’s most prominent foe.

A few hours later, a judge in a separate case ordered Navalny to pay a fine for defaming a World War II veteran.

During the first court hearing, Navalny urged Russians to stand up to the Kremlin in a fiery speech mixing references to the Bible and “Harry Potter.”

Navalny, 44, an anti-corruption crusader and President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for violating terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. He appealed the sentence and asked to be released. A Moscow City Court judge instead reduced the prison sentence to just over 2 1/2 years, deducting a month-and-a-half that Navalny spent under house arrest in early 2015.

The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European Сourt of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful.

Navalny has been held in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison, but Russian news reports said that after losing his appeal, he would likely be sent to a prison in the western part of Russia within the next few days to serve out his sentence.

His arrest and imprisonment have fueled a huge wave of protests across Russia. Authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown, detaining about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.

In his speech at the hearing, Navalny referenced the Bible as well as “Harry Potter” and the animated sitcom “Rick and Morty” as he urged Russians to resist pressure from authorities and challenge the Kremlin to build a fairer and more prosperous country.

“The government’s task is to scare you and then persuade you that you are alone,” he said. “Our Voldemort in his palace also wants me to feel cut off,” he added, in a reference to Putin.

“To live is to risk it all,” he said, citing “Rick and Morty.” “Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.”

Navalny also addressed the judge and the prosecutor, arguing that they could have a much better life in a new Russia.

“Just imagine how wonderful life would be without constant lying,” he said. “Imagine how great it would be to work as a judge … when no one would be able to call you and give you directions what verdicts to issue.”

He insisted that he was unable to report to the authorities in line with his probation requirements while he was convalescing in Germany after his poisoning, emphasizing that he returned to Russia immediately after his health allowed.

“I wasn’t hiding,” he said. “The entire world knew where I was.”

Navalny said he was an atheist before but has come to believe in God, adding that his faith helped him face his challenges. He said he believed the Bible phrase that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, and that he felt no regret about deciding to return home to Russia.
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“Even though our country is built on injustice and we all constantly face injustice … we also see that millions of people, tens of millions of people, want righteousness,” Navalny told the court. “They want the righteousness and sooner or later they will have it.”

Asked about the impact of Navalny’s prison sentence on Russia’s politics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the country’s “rich and multifaceted” political scene will develop regardless of the verdict.

Russia has rejected Western criticism of Navalny’s arrest and the crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.

In a ruling Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life.” The Strasbourg-based court noted that Navalny has contested Russian authorities’ argument that they had taken sufficient measures to safeguard his life and well-being in custody following the nerve agent attack.

The Russian government has rebuffed the European court’s demand, describing the ruling as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s affairs. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the Russian Justice Ministry on Saturday sent a letter to the court asking it to revise its order.

In the past, Moscow has abided by European Court of Human Rights rulings awarding compensations to Russian citizens who have contested verdicts in Russian courts, but it never faced a demand by the European court to set a convict free.

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In a sign of its long-held annoyance with the Strasbourg court’s verdicts, Russia last year adopted a constitutional amendment declaring the priority of national legislation over international law. Russian authorities might now use that provision to reject the ECHR’s ruling.

After losing his appeal, Navalny had a second court hearing on charges of slandering a World War II veteran and was ordered to pay a fine of 850,000 rubles (about $11,500). Prosecutors asked for a 950,000-rubles ($13,000) fine.

Navalny called the 94-year-old veteran and other people featured in a pro-Kremlin video last year as “corrupt stooges,” “people without conscience” and “traitors.” He rejected the slander charges, describing them as part of official efforts to disparage him.

Navalny said at the hearing that his accusers “will burn in hell.”

Request to allow abortion waiting period in Tennessee denied
A federal court has denied a request to keep Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period for abortions in effect while it hears an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found the law unconstitutional

By TRAVIS LOLLER Associated Press
20 February 2021, 05:48
• 2 min read

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal court on Friday denied a request to keep Tennessee’s 48-hour waiting period for abortions in effect while it hears an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found it unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled in October that Tennessee’s waiting period law serves no legitimate purpose while placing a substantial burden on women who seek abortions in Tennessee. The 2015 law required women to make two trips to an abortion clinic, first for mandatory counseling and then for the abortion at least 48 hours later.

Directors of Tennessee abortion clinics testified at the 2019 trial that the two-visit requirement posed logistical challenges that caused abortions to be delayed far beyond the 48 hours required by law. The delay pushed some women beyond the time when they could have medication abortions, which have lower risks of complications than surgical abortions. A few women were pushed beyond the time when they could receive an abortion altogether.

Tennessee had asked the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put aside Friedman’s ruling until the state’s appeal is resolved, arguing that Friedman erred in balancing the law’s benefits with its burdens, applying the wrong legal standard. In a split 2-1 decision, a panel of 6th Circuit judges wrote that regardless of the analysis, the facts seem to point to the law posing an undue burden on women seeking abortion in Tennessee. The panel concluded that the state was not likely to succeed in its appeal and so was not entitled to have Friedman’s ruling put on hold.

Writing for the majority, Judge Karen Nelson Moore said the Tennessee law “appears to be yet another unnecessary, unjustified, and unduly burdensome state law that stands between women and their right to an abortion.”

Judge Amul Thapar disagreed, writing that “the Supreme Court says that waiting periods are constitutional.”

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A Family Slowly Bounces Back From COVID-19

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RESTON, VA — A lot has changed for Reston resident Joshua “Josh” Funk and his family since last year, when he, his wife and their children were diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I went back to work in July,” Funk said. “I finally was able to get approval to go back to work, even though the agency where I worked was first denying my entry back to work and denying my release form for me to get workers’ compensation.”

Although Funk was no longer contagious and had one clear COVID-19 test, the agency wouldn’t allow him to return to the job until he’d gotten a second cleared test.

At that point, Funk had already been out of work for several months. His family had burned through its meager savings and were unable to pay the rent.

Fortunately, a group of friends from the Four Winds community where Funk worked launched a GoFundMe page that raised more than $6,000 to help out the family.

“I was in shock when they made the GoFundMe,” Funk told Patch back in July. “And when I opened it, there was already $500 in there. When I showed that to my wife, she burst into tears and couldn’t believe it.”

With the money from the GoFundMe, Funk was able to pay off what he owed on his car and buy food for his family for several months.

“I actually got one test that said it was negative, and one was a false positive at the end,” he said. “My agency came back and said they would not allow me to come back after they had already approved me to go back to work.”

Fortunately, Funk’s doctor recommended they go back and look at the blood results, which showed he was immune to the disease and that it was safe for him to start working again.

While Funk had officially recovered from COVID-19, the virus had weakened his body considerably and taken a heavy toll on his ability to breathe. His doctor told him that it was as if a grenade had gone off inside his lungs. He had to get used to heat and humidity again.

“In the morning, walking towards the car, it was 70 degrees,” he said. “By the time I got to work and then started working, all of a sudden, the heat started rising and as soon as it hit 80, I couldn’t breathe. Readjusting to my environment was hell for two months. It was worse than having asthma. Just trying to readjust to everything was scary. Knowing that my family needed to eat, all their needs just pushed and forced me to go forward.”

Funk also experienced frequent headaches and felt exhausted all of the time. Every night, he would go home and collapse into his bed.

“I had to sleep between eight and nine hours,” he said. “I couldn’t move until my body decided to actually let me start moving. It was something that I couldn’t overpower.”

While all of this was going on, Funk’s wife, Evelin, and one of their children who had also recovered from COVID-19 were also worn out, because they couldn’t fall asleep on most nights.

As the weather became cooler, conditions for the Funk family improved. They began to eat healthier and take vitamins, which help with their recovery. Funk has also applied for rental assistance to pay what he still owes on his rent.

“I was able to pretty much jump-start myself,” he said. “My landlord’s amazing. She’s waiting and trying to help me with a lot of the payments I’m still behind without complaint, without trying to get me out of there.”

 

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The clashes — with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and live rounds — turned Yangon and other cities across the country into battlegrounds as the military

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Cuomo said in a statement Saturday that Bennett was a “hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID” and that “she has every right to speak out.”

He said he had intended to be a mentor for Bennett, who is 25.

“I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate,” Cuomo’s statement said. “The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”

A second former aide has come forward with sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who responded with a statement Saturday saying he never made advances toward her and never intended to be inappropriate.

Charlotte Bennett, a health policy adviser in the Democratic governor’s administration until November, told The New York Times that Cuomo asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life, including whether she had ever had sex with older men.

Another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, a former deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, recently accused Cuomo of subjecting her to an unwanted kiss and inappropriate comments. Cuomo denied the allegations.

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Cuomo, however, said he had authorized an outside review of Bennett’s allegations.

The governor’s special counsel, Beth Garvey, said that review would be conducted by a former federal judge, Barbara Jones.

Sen. Rick Scott on Sunday declined to call the GOP the party of former President Donald Trump and acknowledged President Joe Biden was “absolutely” the legitimate winner of the 2020 White House race.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Scott (R-Fla.) — the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — reiterated his message that “the Republican civil war is canceled.”

But Scott’s remarks to host Chris Wallace also underscored the tense intraparty disputes he is navigating as he leads the GOP effort to retake the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

Asked by Wallace whether the Republican Party is “still Donald Trump’s party,” Scott replied that the GOP is “the voters’ party” and “always has been.”

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The clashes — with tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and live rounds — turned Yangon and other cities across the country into battlegrounds as the military moved to crush resistance to its deeply resented seizure of power.

The United Nations’ human rights office said at least 18 people died and 30 others were wounded in several cities across the country, including Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay and Bago. Deaths, the office said, occurred “as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds.”

“Use of lethal force against non-violent demonstrators is never justifiable under international human rights norms,” the office said.

Image without a caption
A protester in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday uses a fire extinguisher as security forces crack down on demonstrations against the military coup. (Sai Aung Main/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester who was in the Yangon neighborhood of Hledan when police opened fire said they gave only one short whistle blast as a warning and immediately began shooting.

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“First they shot with real bullets, then tear gas. Later they used rubber bullets,” the protester said, identifying himself by part of his name, Yan, out of fear of retaliation from security forces.

In Myanmar coup, grievance and ambition drove military chief’s power grab

He said he saw a man shot in the head who he believed had died, along with six others suffering from gunshot wounds.

“Now people are regrouping and protesting again,” Yan said about 1 p.m. local time, saying the violence has made protesters “angrier” rather than scared.

Mass protests began soon after the military’s seizure of power and arrest of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won reelection in a landslide in November. The military refused to recognize the election results, alleging voter fraud.

Sunday’s violence marks a significant escalation, particularly in Yangon, which had largely avoided a severe crackdown, even as protesters were killed in other parts of the country. One man was shot dead by police in Yangon’s Shwe Pyi Thar township on Feb. 21 during a civilian neighborhood watch patrol, but this is the first time people died during protests.

Image without a caption
Myanmar riot police move forward during a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on Sunday. (AP)
Confrontations with police in downtown Yangon began with a crowd forming around a prison truck transporting a group of students who had been arrested. The protesters advanced toward the police line, which then charged, sending people scurrying down different side streets.

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Police then began firing stun grenades as protesters took shelter in homes and shops. At one point, a middle-aged protester walked back into the street, facing the police alone. “Shoot me, don’t shoot the young people!” he shouted.

Facebook bans Myanmar’s military, citing threat of new violence after Feb. 1 coup

Later, a group of teachers and lawyers assembled outside the Kyauktada police station, where the students were being held. “There are 16 students in the station and in the car maybe more than 17,” said a foreign-language teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “Almost all of our students have been arrested.”

The teacher explained that lawyers were trying to negotiate with the police not to send the students straight to Insein Prison, an increasingly common practice as arrests mount.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, since the coup, over 850 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced.

Meanwhile, the city’s Myaynigone neighborhood, a hip enclave of bars and cafes, has been transformed into a battleground with barriers erected on major roads to slow down police, along with spikes and slicks of diesel.

Image without a caption
Protesters in Yangon take cover behind homemade shields on Sunday. (Sai Aung Main/AFP/Getty Images)
As reporters entered the area, lookouts called down from balconies to warn them about the obstacles.

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One of the barricades was manned by a group of software engineers, including one who identified himself as Thiha. He asked that his full name not be used out of concern for authorities and said that police had fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades at them earlier in the day.

“I was crying a little bit, but [the gas] didn’t affect me too badly because I was far away,” he said, adding that he and his friends were protesting “for freedom” and for the future of his career.

“Everything we worked for is blocked without a VPN,” he said, referring to the junta’s strict Internet restrictions.

Deeper in the neighborhood, protesters in hard hats, some armed with bats and steel rods, milled around, singing and chanting. Some handed out boxes of food, with phrases like “the revolution must succeed” scrawled on the plastic foam.

Scott’s interview came after he appeared Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida, where he said in a speech that he would not “mediate” debates among Republicans over Trump’s role in the party.

Trump is scheduled to speak at the conference on Sunday, delivering his first major address since leaving office amid the fallout of last month’s insurrection at the Capitol.

“I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements,” Cuomo said. “I will have no further comment until the review has concluded.”

Bennett told the Times that her most disturbing interaction with Cuomo happened last June 5 when she was alone with him in his Albany office. She said Cuomo started asking her about her personal life, her thoughts on romantic relationships, including whether age was a factor, and said he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.

Bennett said she also dodged a question from Cuomo about hugging by saying she missed hugging her parents. She said Cuomo never touched her.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Bennett said she informed Cuomo’s chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, about the interaction less than a week later. She said she was transferred to another job on the opposite side of the Capitol. At the end of June, she said she also gave a statement to a special counsel for Cuomo.

Garvey acknowledged that the complaint had been made and that Bennett had been transferred as a result to a position in which she had already been interested.

Bennett told the newspaper she eventually decided not to push for any further action by the administration. She said she liked her new job and “wanted to move on.”

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Jefferson County Tornado Leaves 1 Dead, Several Injured

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL — Severe thunderstorms and at least one tornado swept through Jefferson County Monday night and early Tuesday morning, causing massive damage to property and roadways, killing at least one person.

The tornado reported in Fultondale resulted in one death and injured several other residents. The person killed was identified as 14-year-old Elliott Hernandez, who was trapped in the basement of his home, according to police.

Hernandez was a student at Fultondale High School.

Early Tuesday morning Fultondale Mayor Larry Holcomb said in a live interview with WIAT that the city has received about 30 reports of minor injuries, including scratches and bruises, after the storm passed through. Of those injured, 18 have been hospitalized.

“There are still people trapped in their homes that we are trying to access at this time,” Holcomb said. He added that rescue teams from Gardendale, Birmingham, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Tarrant and Center Point are assisting.

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, six more people were discovered in search efforts, but none of those people had sustained serious injuries.

Gardendale Civic Center has opened as a storm shelter for anyone who has damage to their home from the storm.

“The people of Fultondale took a hard hit last night — I’m grieved over the loss of life, injuries, homes & damaged businesses,” Gov. Kay Ivey said via social media Tuesday. “I offer my prayers & deepest sympathies & pledge the full support & resources our state has to offer. I am with you, Fultondale!”

Several Jefferson County schools were forced to close for the day Tuesday as power outages and road closures are widespread from Fultondale into Center Point in the aftermath of the storm.

“We are working with crews to help clean up from last night devastating tornado,” The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency said in a statement Tuesday. “Please stay away from the following areas due to downed power lines, it is a very dangerous situation. Carson Road; New Castle Rd. between Carson and Pine Hill, Pine Hill Road and Indian Valley Road.”

 

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