20-year-old gas station cashier in Germany fatally shot by anti-masker: Police

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(NEW YORK) — A 20-year-old gas station cashier was fatally shot in Germany Saturday after telling a customer to put on a face covering, according to the Trier Police Department.

A 49-year-old man was taken into custody on suspicion of murder after the shooting in the town of Idar-Oberstein, in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The customer entered the gas station around 7:45 p.m. local time and got into an argument with the cashier, who asked him to mask up, police said in a press release. Germany currently has a requirement to wear masks in stores.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pro-Putin party takes majority in Russian parliamentary election sullied by fraud

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(MOSCOW) — Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, which backs President Vladimir Putin, has kept its supermajority in the country’s parliament, sweeping elections that were marred with allegations of widespread ballot rigging and saw many of the Kremlin’s top opponents barred from running.

With virtually all ballots counted, Russia’s election’s commission said United Russia had taken nearly 50% of the vote and won nearly 90% of first-past-the-post districts, meaning the party will retain its two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, which allows it to change Russia’s constitution.

Russia’s elections are closely managed, and the pro-Kremlin party’s victory was seen as a foregone conclusion, but on Monday, opposition parties accused the Kremlin of using blatant fabrication to inflate the result and produce an overwhelming win even in Moscow, usually a center of dissent.

After polls closed Sunday night after three days of voting, early partial results showed several opposition parties and politicians making strong showings in the capital, with some seemingly in reach of victory with most votes counted.

But those results were all wiped out when, after many hours, authorities published results from online voting, which handed victories to pro-Kremlin candidates. Opposition parties, even those from the so-called “loyal opposition,” cried foul, accusing the Kremlin of using the online votes to conceal vote manipulation and steal victory for its candidates.

The Communist Party, which largely acts as a tame opposition in the parliament, said it would not recognize the results in Moscow, where six of its candidates lost out once the online votes were added.

Critics started raising suspicions about Moscow’s online count after it took far longer for it to be completed than the paper ballot count for most of the rest of the country — a sign, critics said, that officials were waiting to see how much they needed to alter the vote. The online voting was in effect a black box, with independent monitors unable to observe it or properly check how the results were signed off on by officials, independent monitors said. Workers at state companies and organizations have also reported being pressed by their managers to vote online en masse.

Several candidates called a protest at Moscow’s Pushkin Square on Monday. A few hundred people gathered under heavy rain to demonstrate, watched by a cordon of riot police.

“Such a giant difference between the results at the ‘live’ polling stations and the online vote can’t be true,” Mikhail Lobanov, a Communist candidate with wide support among liberal voters, told the crowd, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Lobanov said he had been on track to beat Yevgeny Popov, a pro-Kremlin TV personality, by a margin of 10,500 votes before the online votes suddenly gave Popov a lead of 20,000 votes at the last moment.

There were also allegations of widespread analogue ballot rigging around Russia. Throughout the weekend, there was a stream of videos seeming to show elections officials stuffing wads of ballots into voting urns or trying to block monitoring cameras while others did so.

Independent researchers also spotted that Russia’s central elections committee now encrypts the results data published on its website, a step reportedly intended to prevent researchers from crunching the data themselves, which in the past has allowed them to identify signs of rigging.

“Online voting represents right now represents an absolute evil — a black box that no one checks,” Sergey Shpilkin, a data scientist who in the past has used statistical analysis to demonstrate likely falsification in Russian elections, told Russian news website Meduza.

The head of Russia’s elections commission Ella Pamfilova in a video meeting with Putin said the elections had seen far fewer violations than usual and claimed Russia’s system was “one of the most transparent” in the world.

The United States and some European countries criticized the elections as unfair amid the Kremlin’s use of repressive laws to prevent opponents from participating. Ned Price, the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, in a statement said the Russian government had conducted “widespread efforts to marginalize independent political figures” and had “severely restricted political pluralism and prevented the Russian people from exercising their civil and political rights.”

United Russia took nearly 50% of the vote despite polls suggesting its support was around 30%, as high food prices and unpopular pension reforms have eaten into its popularity. Ahead of the elections, the Kremlin launched a campaign of repression on a scale unprecedented under Putin’s 20 year-rule, barring dozens of opposition candidates from running, with many arrested and some forced abroad.

It dismantled the movement of its fiercest critic Alexey Navalny, who was jailed in January after surviving a nerve agent poisoning last year.

Navalny, from jail, had sought to exploit the Kremlin party’s unpopularity at the elections with a tactical voting campaign called “Smart Voting,” advising people to vote for any candidate with the best chance of beating United Russia.

On Monday, he claimed the campaign had worked, arguing the campaign’s recommended candidates had won 12 out of Moscow’s 15 districts before the online votes were added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina found guilty of terrorism-related charges

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(LONDON) — After spending more than a year behind bars and standing trial, the man who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film Hotel Rwanda was found guilty of terrorism-related charges on Monday.

Former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, 67, was tried in Rwanda’s high court alongside 20 other defendants on a number of charges, including forming an illegal armed group, murder, abduction and armed robbery as an act of terrorism. While reading the verdict before the Kigali courtroom, Judge Beatrice Mukamurenzi said evidence shows that Rusesabagina and the co-accused were part of a terrorist group and committed acts of terrorism, “which they later bragged about in different announcements and videos.”

“They attacked people in their homes, or even in their cars on the road traveling,” Mukamurenzi added.

So far, Rusesabagina has been convicted of forming an illegal armed group, being a member of a terrorist group and financing a terrorist group. The three-judge panel was still reading out the verdict on the other charges.

The charges that Rusesabagina faces stem from his leadership of an exiled opposition coalition called the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, known by its French acronym MRCD. In 2018, there were a series of deadly attacks on villages in southern Rwanda, near the country’s border with Burundi, and Rwandan authorities inculpated the National Liberation Front, or FLN, which is the armed wing of the MRCD. In a video statement released later that year, Rusesabagina pledged his “unreserved support” for the FLN, declared Kagame’s government to be “the enemy of the Rwandan people” and called for “any means possible to bring about change.”

Rusesabagina has acknowledged that the MRCD had an armed wing but denied his involvement and has maintained his innocence on all charges. The 20 other defendants in the trial were accused of being FLN organizers and fighters.

Rusesabagina’s family and attorneys have condemned the closely watched trial as a “sham” and said they were expecting a conviction.

“We are happy that the charade of the trial is ending,” the Rusesabagina family told ABC News in a statement ahead of the verdict. “We have told the world over and over that there is no fair trial process in Rwanda, and the past months have shown that. There is no independent judiciary, and there will be no justice for our father. All we can do now is make this clear to everyone — a dictator will be jailing a humanitarian.”

A decision in the high-profile case was expected a month ago but was postponed, with no reason given for the delay. Rusesabagina, who has been boycotting the court proceedings since March claiming he was not getting a fair trial, did not physically attend Monday’s session, according to his family and lawyers.

Rusesabagina, a married father of six, was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between the East African nation’s two main ethnic groups came to a head. The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, slaughtering more than 800,000 people over the course of 100 days, mostly Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to estimates from the United Nations.

More than 1,200 people took shelter in the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda’s history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to protect the hotel’s guests from massacre. The events were later immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda,” with American actor Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina earning an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2005.

After the movie’s release, Rusesabagina rose to fame and was lauded as a hero. He also became a prominent and outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in office for the last two decades. Some genocide survivors who stayed at the Hotel des Mille Collines have since accused Rusesabagina of exaggerating his role in saving them or even profiting from it.

Rusesabagina, who fled Rwanda with his family in 1996 and is now a Belgian citizen and permanent U.S. resident, traveled to Dubai on Aug. 27, 2020, to meet up with a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina alleges had invited him to speak at churches in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. Later that night, the pair hopped on a private jet that Rusesabagina believed would take them to Burundi’s capital, according to Rusesabagina’s international legal team.

Rusesabagina did not know that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and had tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali.

Rwandan prosecutors allege that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rusesabagina’s whereabouts were unknown for several days until Rwandan authorities paraded him in handcuffs during a press conference at the RIB’s headquarters in Kigali on Aug. 31, 2020. Rusesabagina alleges he was bound and blindfolded by RIB agents who took him from the plane to an undisclosed location where he was gagged and tortured before being jailed, according to an affidavit that includes a memorialization of a conversation between Rusesabagina and one of his Rwandan lawyers. The RIB has denied the claims.

Since then, Rusesabagina has been held at a prison in Rwanda’s capital, including more than eight months in solitary confinement, according to his international legal team. The U.N.’s Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is torture.

Rusesabagina’s family and legal representatives have accused Rwandan authorities of kidnapping him and bringing him to the country illegally. The Rwandan government has admitted to paying for the plane that took Rusesabagina to Kigali, but Kagame said there was no wrongdoing because he was “brought here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do.”

Rusesabagina’s trial in his home country has captured worldwide attention since it began in February, with his family and attorneys calling on the international community to intervene. They said his privileged documents are routinely confiscated in prison and he has been denied access to his international legal team, including his lead counsel, Kate Gibson, who has previously represented Rwandan accused before the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda.

“Paul Rusesabagina’s inevitable conviction is the end of a script that was written even before he was kidnapped in August 2020,” Gibson told ABC News in a statement ahead of Monday’s verdict. “The only thing that has been surprising in watching this horror show unfold over the last year, has been the brazenness and openness with which the Rwandan authorities have been willing to systematically violate all of the fair trial rights to which Paul was entitled.”

“The Rwandans had every opportunity to showcase their judicial system and put on the fairest of fair trials,” she added. “They did the opposite.”

Rusesabagina’s family and lawyers have also expressed concern about his health and treatment behind bars. They said he is a cancer survivor who suffers from hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and that he has been denied his prescribed medication.

“If the international community does not step in,” the family said, “he will probably be in jail for the rest of his life.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At least eight dead in shooting at Russian university, police say

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(MOSCOW) — A gunman opened fire at a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday, killing at least 8 people and injuring about two dozen others, according to Russian authorities.

Police said they detained the alleged shooter at Perm State University following a gunfight, during which the suspect was wounded. Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles serious crimes, said it has identified the suspect as a student of the university.

Videos posted on social media showed panicked students jumping out of windows to escape the attack and barricading themselves inside classrooms. The Russian Ministry of Health said at least 19 people were injured and receiving medical care.

Russian media published videos purportedly showing the alleged gunman, dressed in black and carrying a long firearm, as he approached Perm State University’s campus. Several Russian news outlets have named the suspect and cited a lengthy post on Russian social network VKontakte from an account allegedly belonging to him that described a plan to carry out a mass killing.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it has opened a murder investigation and is investigating the circumstances of the shooting.

The regional governor of Perm, Dmitry Makhonin, said earlier that the shooter was killed during the attack; but this was not confirmed by police, who said he was injured and detained.

Monday’s mass shooting was one of the deadliest in recent Russian history. Unlike in the United States, school shootings are rare in Russia; though attacks by students have started to become more frequent in recent years. In 2018, an 18 year-old student shot and killed 20 people and wounded 70 others before taking his own life at Kerch Polytechnic College in Crimea.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

World awaits verdict in trial of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina

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(NEW YORK) — After spending more than a year behind bars, the man who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda” is due to learn his fate.

A Rwandan judge is set to deliver a verdict on Monday in the closely watched trial of former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and 20 co-defendants, who are accused of terrorism-related offenses. A decision in the high-profile case was expected a month ago but was postponed, with no reason given for the delay.

Rusesabagina, who was tried on 13 charges including murder and financing terrorism, could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He has maintained his innocence, while his family and attorneys have condemned the trial as a “sham.”

“We are happy that the charade of the trial is ending,” the Rusesabagina family told ABC News in a statement ahead of the verdict. “We assume they will finish the sham by finding him guilty on Monday. We have told the world over and over that there is no fair trial process in Rwanda, and the past months have shown that. There is no independent judiciary, and there will be no justice for our father. All we can do now is make this clear to everyone — a dictator will be jailing a humanitarian.”

Rusesabagina, a 67-year-old married father of six, was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between the East African nation’s two main ethnic groups came to a head. The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, slaughtering more than 800,000 people over the course of 100 days, mostly Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to estimates from the United Nations.

More than 1,200 people took shelter in the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda’s history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to protect the hotel’s guests from massacre. The events were later immortalized in “Hotel Rwanda,” with American actor Don Cheadle’s portrayal of Rusesabagina earning an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2005.

After the movie’s release, Rusesabagina rose to fame and was lauded as a hero. He also became a prominent and outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in office for the last two decades.

Rusesabagina, who fled Rwanda with his family in 1996 and is now a Belgian citizen and permanent U.S. resident, traveled to Dubai on Aug. 27, 2020, to meet up with a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina alleges had invited him to speak at churches in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. Later that night, the pair hopped on a private jet that Rusesabagina believed would take them to Burundi’s capital, according to Rusesabagina’s international legal team.

Rusesabagina did not know that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) and had tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali.

Rwandan prosecutors allege that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The charges that Rusesabagina faces stem from his leadership of an exiled opposition coalition called the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, known by its French acronym MRCD. In 2018, there were a series of deadly attacks on villages in southern Rwanda, near the country’s border with Burundi, and Rwandan authorities inculpated the National Liberation Front, or FLN, which is the armed wing of the MRCD. In a video statement released later that year, Rusesabagina pledged his “unreserved support” for the FLN, declared the Rwandan government to be “the enemy of the Rwandan people” and called for “any means possible to bring about change.”

Rusesabagina has acknowledged that the MRCD had an armed wing but denied his involvement. The 20 other defendants in the trial are accused of being FLN organizers and fighters.

Rusesabagina’s whereabouts were unknown for several days until Rwandan authorities paraded him in handcuffs during a press conference at the RIB’s headquarters in Kigali on Aug. 31, 2020. Rusesabagina alleges he was bound and blindfolded by RIB agents who took him from the plane to an undisclosed location where he was gagged and tortured before being jailed, according to an affidavit that includes a memorialization of a conversation between Rusesabagina and one of his Rwandan lawyers. The RIB has denied the claims.

Since then, Rusesabagina has been held at a prison in Rwanda’s capital, including more than eight months in solitary confinement, according to his international legal team. The U.N.’s Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is torture.

Rusesabagina’s family and legal representatives have accused Rwandan authorities of kidnapping him and bringing him to the country illegally. The Rwandan government has admitted to paying for the plane that took Rusesabagina to Kigali, but Kagame said there was no wrongdoing because he was “brought here on the basis of what he believed and wanted to do.”

Rusesabagina’s trial in his home country has captured worldwide attention since it began in February, with his family and attorneys calling on the international community to intervene. They said his privileged documents are routinely confiscated in prison and he has been denied access to his international legal team, including his lead counsel, Kate Gibson, who has previously represented Rwandan accused before the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda.

“Paul Rusesabagina’s inevitable conviction is the end of a script that was written even before he was kidnapped in August 2020,” Gibson told ABC News in a statement ahead of Monday’s verdict. “The only thing that has been surprising in watching this horror show unfold over the last year, has been the brazenness and openness with which the Rwandan authorities have been willing to systematically violate all of the fair trial rights to which Paul was entitled.”

“The Rwandans had every opportunity to showcase their judicial system and put on the fairest of fair trials,” she added. “They did the opposite.”

Rusesabagina’s family and lawyers have also expressed concern about his health and treatment behind bars. They said he is a cancer survivor who suffers from hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and that he has been denied his prescribed medication.

“If the international community does not step in,” the family said, “he will probably be in jail for the rest of his life.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

US general admits drone strike near Afghan airport that killed 10 was a ‘mistake’

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(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie admitted at a briefing Friday that the Aug. 29 drone strike near Kabul airport was “a mistake.”

Ten people were killed in the strike, which the U.S. believed was targeting a terrorist, but instead killed an aid worker.

“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children were tragically killed in that strike,” said McKenzie. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died or associated with ISIS Khorasan or were a direct threat to US forces.”

“I offer my profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed,” said McKenzie.

He noted that the drone strike was carried out “in the earnest belief that it would prevent and terminate a threat to our forces and the evacuees at the airport, but it was a mistake. And I offer my sincere apology.”

“As a combatant commander,” he added. “I am fully responsible for this strike in this tragic outcome.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Dirty tricks, clone candidates and arrests: Russia’s parliamentary elections begin

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(MOSCOW) — In St. Petersburg’s municipal elections this week, Boris Vishnevsky is running against himself. But that does not mean he has no challengers. Far from it, in fact.

The veteran anti-Kremlin opposition politician is running against two men who have legally changed their names to be the same as his. They have even altered their appearances on the ballots, adopting beards to resemble him.

It is an update on a long-running tactic in Russian elections, known as “a double,” where authorities try to siphon votes away from an opponent by putting up candidates with the same name in the hope confused voters will put their mark next to the wrong person on their ballot paper.

Vishnevsky filed a complaint to the elections commission but it was rejected. He said had faced similar tactics before, but not at such lengths.

“We’ve simply never had such a thing before,” Vishnevsky told ABC News in an interview last month. “We’ve had situations before where they’ve put up people with the same last names in elections, but before this we’ve never had someone changing their last name and first name.”

The clone candidate ploy — which is being used in multiple races in Moscow too — is just one of a torrent of alleged dirty tricks, manipulation and crude repression being deployed around Russia’s parliamentary elections that are taking place this weekend and that the Kremlin is determined will produce a convincing result for its ruling party. The three-day vote, which starts Friday, decides seats in Russia’s lower house of parliament, as well as in regional and local councils.

Russia’s elections are heavily managed and as usual the outcome is not in doubt: President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, will keep its constitutional majority in Russia’s 450-seat lower house, known as the Duma. A handful of parties, vetted by the Kremlin, make up the rest.

But the environment these elections are happening in is different, coming as Russia has rapidly slid over the past year from authoritarianism to something far closer to a full-fledged dictatorship, where no real political opposition is tolerated.

Authorities have blocked opposition candidates on a broad scale, introducing new procedural and legal barriers or, in some cases, simply jailing or driving them out of the country with the threat of arrest.

This time, anti-Kremlin candidates who once would have been tolerated on the ballot have no place. In June, Dmitry Gudkov, one of the opposition’s best-known politicians, left for exile in Ukraine, saying he and his family had been threatened with jail. Even the traditionally tame opposition parties have come under attack, in particular the Communist Party, which saw one of its top leaders, Pavel Grudinin, barred from running.

“Faster and faster democratic progress is devolving into dictatorship,” said Darya Artamonova, a 19 year-old candidate running in municipal elections in a suburb in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, one of the only opposition candidates permitted on the ballot there. During the campaign she told ABC News her parents were sent a funeral wreath expressing condolences for her death, an obvious threat.

In the past 18 months, the Kremlin has launched a broad campaign of repression larger than anything in Putin’s 20-year rule. Critics and independent analysts say the campaign is aimed at squeezing out organized dissent in the country.

That has included outlawing the movement of Alexey Navalny, Putin’s best-known opponent who authorities jailed in January after he survived a nerve agent poisoning. A new law bans anyone associated with Navalny’s organizations from running for office for five years.

An arsenal of new laws has given authorities broad capabilities to jail or block critics from the vote. Safeguards to prevent ballot stuffing have also been weakened: Authorities have pushed people to vote online, a tactic critics say will facilitate rigging. Holding the vote itself over three days also makes monitoring more difficult. Russia’s election commission this year will also not live-stream CCTV from voting stations.

Moreover, the campaign has targeted independent media. Authorities have designated most of Russia’s leading independent news sites as “foreign agents,” a label that imposes restrictions and opens reporters up to risk of criminal prosecution. A top election monitoring group, Golos, has also received the same designation.

The intense control around the elections, analysts said, reflects the Kremlin’s concerns that the ruling party United Russia is polling at below 30%, a historic low.

In Russia, where the parliament is effectively a tame extension of the Kremlin, the main purpose of elections is about producing a big result for United Russia to validate Putin, according to Andrey Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“They are not about political representation,” Kolesnikov wrote in an article this week. “What will happen over the three days of September 17–19, 2021, is more of a confidence vote on Putin and his regime.”

To boost the result, authorities have been pressing state employees and military personnel to register to vote, with some state organizations telling staff they must persuade at least two others to do so too. On Friday, long lines appeared at some polling stations in Moscow, a sign critics said of state workers being obliged to go vote. At one station in the central Arbat neighborhood, a man in a line told ABC News many of those waiting were soldiers from a nearby defense ministry headquarters building. Moscow’s elections commission later confirmed the queue was being caused by military personnel voting.

Navalny’s team is seeking to exploit United Russia’s unpopularity. His group has launched a tactical voting campaign known as “Smart Voting.” The campaign calls for people to vote for any candidate with the best chance of beating United Russia’s, regardless of who they are. This week Navalny’s team published a list of candidates — the majority from Russia’s Communist Party — it recommends people should vote for.

The authorities have moved to block the tactical voting campaign, forcing Russian search engines to remove “Smart Voting” from their searches.

On Friday, Apple and Google deleted Navalny’s app from their stores in Russia, under pressure from Russia’s government. In a letter published by Navalny’s team, Apple said it was obliged to because Navalny’s organization is banned as extremist and that authorities allege it illegally enables “election interference.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Drone strike kills top ISIS leader wanted for 2017 ambush of Green Berets

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(LONDON) — French officials announced overnight that their military forces had killed the top ISIS leader in Africa, a terrorist for whom the United States had offered a $5 million reward due to his connection to the deadly attack on a team of Green Berets in Niger four years ago.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Twitter that Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, was “neutralized by French forces.”

“This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said of the region in northwest Africa.

The drone strike occurred in late August but al-Sahrawi’s death was confirmed this month, French and U.S. counterterrorism officials told ABC News.

Al-Sahrawi was wanted by the U.S. for leading the group of more than 100 militants responsible for attacking Operational Detachment-Alpha 3212, a team of soldiers from 3rd Special Forces Group on Oct. 4, 2017, leaving four Americans and at least six Nigerien soldiers dead outside the tiny village of Tongo Tongo.

The 2017 ambush is the subject of a four-year ABC News investigation and an ABC Documentaries film set for release on Hulu in November, “3212 UN-REDACTED: An Ambush In Africa. The Pentagon’s Betrayal.”

Macron did not explicitly say that France’s anti-insurgent Task Force Barkhane in Mali had been assisted by U.S. intelligence, but sources in Paris and in Africa confirmed that was the case. American intelligence had previously assisted in numerous raids carried out by French Special Forces in 2018 that killed many of the Tongo Tongo attackers and recovered American weapons and one vehicle from the Green Beret team attacked in 2017.

The parents of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in action in the 2017 attack and decorated with the Bronze Star Medal with “V” for Valor, praised the French but said the U.S. should have taken the lead on al-Sahrawi’s capture or killing.

“We are profoundly grateful to the French Armed Forces for removing this threat to West Africa. At the same time, we are disappointed that the United States did not exert the effort to bring this individual to justice,” Johnson’s mother and stepfather, Debbie and Ray Gannon, told ABC News in a statement. “We should have made the effort to either kill or capture the individuals who were responsible for the ambush of ODA 3212 ourselves, instead of relying on other countries.”

Also killed in the 2017 attack were Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright of Lyons, Georgia, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson of Miami, and Staff Sgt. Bryan Black of Puyallup, Washington.

“More death does not make losing Bryan any better. But knowing there is one less evil man in this world brings me peace,” said Michelle Black, who authored the book “Sacrifice: A Gold Star Widow’s Fight For The Truth,” about her husband and the Tongo Tongo gunfight. “Perhaps it will prevent other families from suffering terror at his hands and for me that is enough.”

Bryan Black’s parents, Henry and Karen Black, also were grateful for the French operation, she said.

In a ceremony for all four families of the fallen soldiers in July, LaDavid Johnson and Jeremiah Johnson, both support soldiers who were killed with the Green Beret team, were posthumously inducted into the Green Berets.

“Although nothing can take away the pain of losing our four fallen heroes, there is comfort in knowing that justice has been served,” said former Green Beret Maj. Alan Van Saun, who was company commander of the ambushed detachment ODA 3212, and who appears in the ABC documentary film.

“I am grateful for our French and African partners who worked tirelessly to bring this chapter to an end, but I know there is still a lot of work to be done to bring stability to the Sahel,” Van Saun told ABC News.

The French Defense Ministry said that the operation was conducted between Aug. 17-22, in partnership with the Malian armed forces, against ISIS fighters in the dangerous forest area south of the village of In Delimane in Mali’s Liptako region.

A senior French commander told ABC News that al-Sahrawi was “weakened after the loss of two of his logistics commanders in the same period,” after the French neutralized Rhissa al-Sarhaoui and the commander known as Ikarey.

The French commander told ABC News that, based on U.S. intelligence, “we understood al-Sahrawi left Menaka on a motorbike and was about to cross the Nigerien border.”

Al-Sahrawi was then targeted by a drone airstrike that killed the ISIS leader and resulted in the captured of ten of his men, French and U.S. officials said.

“This zone is a red one. Almost a stateless area. This is a huge get and could rebalance the power at least for the Malian Liptako,” said the French commander, who added that confirming al-Sahrawi’s death “took several weeks.”

“The killing of al-Sahrawi follows a series of tactical successes by the French, who recently killed or captured several senior ISGS [Islamic State in the Greater Sahara] commanders,” said Sahel expert Heni Nsaibia of the risk consultancy firm Menastream. “It appears that these events and the question of who will succeed al-Sahrawi have created serious tensions within ISGS. We are talking about numerous No. 1- and 2-ranking commanders eliminated in just months. This means that it will be difficult for the group to effectively restructure and reorganize at this point.”

In a statement, Macron paid tribute to France’s fallen troops in northwest Africa.

“The Nation is thinking this evening of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel … of the bereaved families, of all of its wounded,” Macron said. “Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight.”

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Prince Andrew becomes 1 target of anti-monarchy campaign in UK

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(LONDON) — The anti-monarchy campaign group Republic has launched giant billboards across the U.K. with slogans questioning the British monarchy.

“Secretive. Divisive. Undemocratic. Abolish the monarchy,” read some, while others have pictures of Prince Andrew, captioned: “Wanted: a democratic alternative to the monarchy,” and “No one is above the law,” referring to the lawsuit filed against the prince in New York.

Virginia Giuffre is suing the prince for alleged sexual assault and Wednesday the U.K.’s High Court confirmed that it will assist Giuffre’s lawyers in serving the prince his papers.

Prince Andrew has long denied Giuffre’s allegations which first surfaced in 2014, telling the BBC in a 2019 interview “I’ve said consistently and frequently that we never had any sort of sexual contact.”

“The lawyers acting for Ms. Giuffre have now provided further information to the High Court, and the High Court has accepted the request for service under the Hague Service Convention,” a representative for the High Court told ABC News in a statement.

The scandal surrounding Prince Andrew’s court case and other recent unrest in royal circles have boosted the anti-monarchist group, according to ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson.

“To put ads up like this isn’t a cheap exercise and it shows that Prince Andrew’s scandal, the disquiet caused by Meghan and Harry and the cash-for-honours controversy involving Prince Charles means that the anti-monarchist groups are gaining traction in this country as well as financial backing,” said Jobson.

The cash-for-honors controversy which Jobson refers to emerged this month after two British papers, The Sunday Times and The Mail uncovered evidence they claim shows a close aide of Prince Charles’ agreed to arrange an honor and faster access to British citizenship for a Saudi businessman after he donated generously to the prince’s charities.

Prince Charles denies any involvement in this matter. Clarence House released a statement saying: “The Prince of Wales has no knowledge of the alleged offer of honours or British citizenship on the basis of donation to his charities and fully supports the investigation now under way by The Prince’s Foundation.”

“I don’t think it’s a danger to the monarchy but this is a sign that this is damaging their public image. After all, the monarchy is an unelected institution that requires public support for its very existence,” Jobson added.

“These billboards are expensive so Republic’s backers have had to put their hands in their pocket,” Jobson said.

Republic has set up a crowdfunding page which has so far made £25,000 (approximately $34,000 USD) to pay for the billboards which are now posted throughout the U.K. including in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and other cities.

The group says its launching this campaign in advance of Charles’ accession to the throne. “With polls showing young people wanting an elected head of state, the succession of King Charles will be a major turning point in the monarchy’s history and in the growth of Britain’s republican movement,” Graham Smith, Republic’s chief executive, is quoted as saying on the group’s website.

“We have been campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy for a long time but now we are at a crossroads. As the Queen’s reign draws to an end, it is time to demand a say in who should be our head of state,” Smith added.

“The royals are on a collision course with British values. The 2020s should be the decade when we finally get to decide who we have as our elected head of state,” Smith’s statement also reads.

The monarchy remains popular in the U.K., however. A recent Ipsos poll taken after the March interview involving Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, showed 41% of British people polled said that Britain’s future would be worse with the monarchy abolished. Thirty-one percent said its abolishment would make no difference, and only 19% said ending the monarchy would be better for Britain’s future.

The poll also showed that Queen Elizabeth remains the most popular royal with 40% choosing the queen as one of their favorite members of the royal family. Prince Charles ranked at 11% favorability, and Prince Andrew, at 2%.

“The Queen regularly tops the polls as the most popular member of the family” Jobson said, “and at this moment of transition between her and Charles obviously the anti-monarchy groups are trying to exploit the Prince of Wales’ comparative unpopularity and the uncertainty that the end of her reign will bring.”

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle featured in TIME100 Most Influential People issue

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(NEW YORK) — Prince Harry and Meghan have made this year’s TIME100 Most Influential People in the World list.

The TIME cover portrait featuring the Duke and Duchess of Sussex marks the first time the couple has formally posed together for a magazine cover shoot.

Photographed by Pari Dukovic, Prince Harry is seen wearing an all-black ensemble while Meghan rocks a white blouse and trousers.

The publication selected surprise pairings of its list members as well as guest contributors. Also, founder of World Central Kitchen José Andrés was selected to write about the royal couple.

“Springing into action is not the easy choice for a young duke and duchess who have been blessed through birth and talent, and burned by fame,” wrote Andrés on Prince Harry and Meghan. “It would be much safer to enjoy their good fortune and stay silent. That’s not what Harry and Meghan do, or who they are… In a world where everyone has an opinion about people they don’t know, the duke and duchess have compassion for the people they don’t know. They don’t just opine. They run toward the struggle.”

Throughout the series of photos featured in Time Magazine, Prince Harry and Meghan are seen wearing forest green looks while posing in front of picturesque outdoor backdrops.

TIME editor-in-chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal in his letter to readers, said the royal couple has “catalyzed essential conversations on topics from mental health to misinformation.”

In addition to the duke and duchess of Sussex cover, there are six others including Simone Biles, Billie Eilish, Kate Winslet, Cathy Park Hong, Jensen Huang and Ngozi Okonjo Oweala.

The list also includes features of rapper Lil Nas X, tennis star Naomi Osaka, Vice President Kamala Harris and a host of diverse notables.

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