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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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Asia

Afghanistan: Stay Home, Female Kabul Government Workers Told

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The new Taliban mayor of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has told female municipal employees to stay home unless their jobs cannot be filled by a man.

Hamdullah Nomany said the Taliban “found it necessary to stop women from working for a while”.

It is the latest restriction imposed on Afghanistan’s women by the country’s hard-line new Islamist government.

During their previous rule in the 1990s women were barred from education and the workplace.

After seizing the country last month following the withdrawal of US forces, the Taliban said women’s rights would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”.

But the Taliban favour a strict interpretation of Islam’s legal system, Sharia law.

Since taking power working women have been told to stay at home until the security situation improves, and Taliban fighters have beaten women protesting against the all-male interim government.

The Islamist group appears to have shut down the women’s affairs ministry and replaced it with a department that once enforced strict religious doctrines.

And this weekend secondary schools reopened, but with only boys and male teachers allowed back into classrooms. The Taliban said it was working on reopening schools for girls.

According to the Kabul mayor about a third of the municipality’s 3,000 employees are women. He said some would carry on working.

“For example, women work in the women’s toilets in the city where men cannot go,” he said.

“But for the positions that others [men] can fill, we have told them [women] to stay at home until the situation is normalised. Their salaries will be paid,” he added.

On Sunday, there were small protests outside the women’s affairs ministry while another group of women held a press conference to demand their rights.

One of those protesting at the ministry said “we do not want this ministry to be removed. The removal of women [means] the removal of human beings.”

In a separate development, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it had been unable to fulfil its duties since the Taliban’s takeover.

The organisation said in a statement that its buildings, vehicles and computers had all been taken over by the Taliban.

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America

US Honours Victims of ‘September 11’ Terror Attacks

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Memorial events are being held this saturday across the United States in honour of victims of the September 11 terror attacks on its territory 20 years ago.

According to White House, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan to visit all three sites where the attacks unfolded: The World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Shanksville with second gentleman Doug Emhoff before they join the Bidens at the Pentagon.

The 20th anniversary comes amid the backdrop of the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from its war in Afghanistan, which was started in response to the attacks.

Biden last week also directed the declassification of certain documents related to the attacks, which the families of some victims have sought in hopes of implicating the Saudi government.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks when 19 al-Qaida attackers hijacked four commercial airplanes in a plot orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.

Two planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center before American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

The passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against the hijackers before the plane crashed into the filed, missing its intended target in Washington.

The anniversary marks a transitional moment as awareness of the attacks moves from memory to history, said Alice Greenwald, president and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

“The 20th anniversary, in my view, … is the first of the next generation of remembrances,” said Dan Murphy, who is on the team designing the planned visitor education center at the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial site.

“There’s been 19 times we’ve read the names, we’ve talked about that moment, we’ve somberly looked back. That will never, ever go away. But … on the 20th anniversary, I think this is the first time we talk about 9/11 into the future.”

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Asia

North and South Korea Restore Cross-border Communications

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In a surprise announcement, North and South Korea said Tuesday that they had restored previously severed cross-border communications, a move that could bolster prospects for stalled nuclear diplomacy.

The development comes more than a year after Pyongyang blew up ties — and an inter-Korean building that had been symbolic of the relationship.

The two Koreas, which remain technically in a state of war, said that the decision to restore links had come after a series of personal letters were exchanged by their leaders, starting in April, in an attempt to shore up ties.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement that the two sides had reopened all inter-Korean communication lines as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“The top leaders of the north and the south agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters,” the agency said.

“The restoration of the communication liaison lines will have positive effects on the improvement and development of the north-south relations,” it added.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office also noted that the two sides had exchanged personal letters, and characterized the moves as a first step toward improving ties.

Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have held three summits, though inter-Korean relations were essentially cut off in June last year after the North unilaterally ended all official military and political communication links with the South.

The North Korean regime had cited Seoul’s alleged failure to crack down on activists who had used balloons to float anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

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