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Russia Court Releases Top Opposition Leader Without Charges

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A prominent Russian opposition activist and former lawmaker, who was detained and faced possible jail ahead of parliamentary elections, was released Thursday evening without charges in a rare about-face.

Russia’s opposition says that authorities have in recent months been stepping up a campaign of intimidation against dissenters ahead of a parliamentary vote in September, allegations the Kremlin has rejected.

Earlier this week police had detained Dmitry Gudkov, 41, and another well-known Kremlin critic, Andrei Pivovarov, 39, with the latter yanked off a Warsaw-bound plane minutes before takeoff.

Gudkov was detained over unpaid rent from 2015 and faced up to five years in prison. His supporters called the detention a form of punishment for his plans to take part in elections.

Police also detained Gudkov’s aunt and conducted searches at his country house outside Moscow as well as the homes of his allies and relatives.

On Thursday evening, Gudkov — a former lawmaker with A Just Russia party — was suddenly released. “I am free,” Gudkov said on social media, thanking supporters and adding that his aunt had also been set free.

Freed without charges

His lawyer Mikhail Biryukov told AFP that the opposition politician had been set free without being formally charged.

Supporters hailed his release but suggested that he would not be allowed to run for parliament. Gudkov’s release came as the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, often called the Russian Davos, started on Thursday in Russia’s second city.

President Vladimir Putin is set to address the forum — the country’s main showcase for investors — on Friday. Gudkov’s case brought to mind the sudden release from jail of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, whose arrest triggered protests in 2019.

Supporters said police planted drugs on him as punishment for his work. Late last month a Moscow court sentenced five former police officers to lengthy prison terms for planting drugs on Golunov in a case allies called a rare admission of wrong-doing from Russian law enforcement.

Kremlin critic Pivovarov remains in jail after a court on Wednesday ordered that he be held in pre-trial detention for two months.

Pivovarov, the former executive director of Open Russia, a recently disbanded pro-democracy group, was pulled off a Warsaw-bound flight on Monday as his plane was taxiing toward take-off.

A criminal probe was launched against the activist for cooperating with an “undesirable organization.” Pivovarov faces up to six years in prison if convicted.

Open Russia, founded by self-exiled Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, announced last week it was shutting down to shield its members from prosecution.

The group was designated an “undesirable” organization in Russia in 2017 in line with a law targeting foreign-funded groups accused of political meddling.

The European Union has called for Pivovarov’s immediate release. Alexei Navalny, the most prominent Kremlin opponent to emerge in recent years, was imprisoned in February on old embezzlement charges.

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World

Pope Cautions Against Child Labour

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Child labour is on the surge worldwide and should be prevented and equally denounced with the strongest measures possible UN has said.

On June 12, Saurday, the world marked a day against child labour.

The number of children forced into child labour has risen to 160 million, an increase of 8.4 million children in the last 4 years.

Millions more are at risk of being drawn into it due to the impacts of Covid-19.

The UN denounces an increase in child labour worldwide and warns the world is losing ground in the fight against the phenomenon.

Pope Francis marked the World Day Against Child Labour tweeting “Children are the future of the human family: all of us are expected to promote their growth, health and tranquility.

A joint report by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF, released in view of World Day Against Child Labour, June 12, Saturday captured a significant surge in child labour.

This new report; “Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward”, the two agencies warn that progress to end child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016.

The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic.

A simulation model shows that this number could rise to 46 million if they don’t have access to critical social protection coverage.

The ILO-UNICEF report notes that even in regions where there has been some headway since 2016, such as in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, Covid-19 is endangering that progress.

However, a similar progress has eluded sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years.

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Asia

Myanmar’s Ethnic Shanni Military Leader Assassinated

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Major General Sao Khun Kyaw, the second-in-command of the Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA) has succumbed to gunshot wounds after an assassin shot him at close range.

Colonel Hsur Sai Tun said Maj-Gen Sao Khun Kyaw, an ethnic Shanni from Mohnyin Township in Kachin State died on Thursday.

“His security team was attacked and then he was shot by the assassin. Only he was killed and one of our other members was injured. We killed the assassin.

“There was no personal grudge, he was killed by Myanmar’s army,” he said, declining to comment on evidence of the assassin’s links to the junta.

The spokesman said the group is still investigating the assassination.

Maj-Gen Sao Khun Kyaw joined the armed struggle following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and moved to Kachin Independence Army territory.

He was appointed vice-chairman of the northern section of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, responsible for military affairs.

Major General Sao Khun Kyaw, widely known as Yebaw Than Chaung, deputy leader of the Shanni Nationalities Army

He was accused of being the key perpetrator of the 1992 killing of students in the front’s Pajaung camp, where 35 of 106 detained front members were executed between August 1991 and May 1992, accused of being government spies.

Some died during torture and others were summarily executed, including 15 suspects on Feb. 12, 1992.

Extensive torture and extrajudicial killings followed as leaders of the northern wing of the student army formed after the 1988 crackdown attempted to extract confessions from detainees.

Sao Khun Kyaw then left the front and joined the Restoration Council of Shan State, which was formed in 1999.

He worked as a central committee member in the armed group and was promoted to colonel.

In 2006, he was arrested by Myanmar’s military in Nam Kham Township, northern Shan State, on his way to Kachin State to join the SNA. Sao Khun Kyaw was given four death sentences.

He was released from prison, among many prisoners during the April 2018 presidential pardon, and returned to the SNA as the armed group’s deputy.

The SNA said it was formed in 1989 to fight for political equality, self-determination for the ethnic Shanni community and to establish a Shanni state.

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Asia

Suicide Bombers Blow up Church in Indonesia

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An explosion shook a Roman Catholic cathedral compound in the eastern Indonesian city of Makassar on Sunday morning, shattering the calm of Palm Sunday, a holy day for Christians.

The blast took place around 10:20 a.m. at the gate to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral compound, said Inspector General Raden Prabowo Argo Yuwono, the Indonesian National Police spokesman.

No churchgoers were killed, but at least 14 people were being treated for injuries at Makassar hospitals, Mr. Argo said.

Local police had previously said the bomber had acted alone.

Authorities were looking into which radical networks the bombers came from and whether the attack was linked to recent arrests of suspected militants, national police spokesman Argo Yuwono said.

In January, a counter-terrorism unit raided a militant hideout in Makassar and killed two men suspected by police of involvement in twin bombings at a Philippine church in 2019 that killed more than 20 people.

Father Wilhemus Tulak, a priest at the church, told Indonesian media that a suspected bomber tried to enter the church grounds on a motorbike, but had been stopped by a security guard.

Police did not say who might be responsible for the attack and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police blamed the Islamic State-inspired Jamaah Ansharut Daulah group for suicide attacks in 2018 on churches and a police post in the city of Surabaya that killed over 30 people.

Boy Rafli Amar, the head of the country’s National Counterterrorism Agency, described Sunday’s attack as an act of terrorism.

Makassar Mayor Danny Pomanto said the blast could have caused far more casualties if it had taken place at the church’s main gate instead of a side entrance.

Makassar, Sulawesi’s biggest city, reflects the religious makeup of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country with a substantial Christian minority and followers of other religions.

“Whatever the motive is, this act isn’t justified by any religion because it harms not just one person but others, too,” Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, said in a statement.

Gomar Gultom, head of the Indonesian Council of Churches, described the attack as a “cruel incident” as Christians were celebrating Palm Sunday, and urged people to remain calm and trust the authorities.

Indonesia’s deadliest Islamist militant attack took place on the tourist island of Bali in 2002, when bombers killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

In subsequent years, security forces in Indonesia scored some major successes in tackling militancy, but more recently there has been a resurgence of militant violence.

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