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Snipers and Icy Water: Ukrainians Risk Dnipro River Crossings

Gunning the engine of his aging skiff, Oleksiy Kovbasyuk races away from Kherson toward an island in the Dnipro River, where stranded Ukrainians are desperate for help — or to escape.

Russian troops retreated from the southern city of Kherson last month to the other side of the Dnipro, but their snipers and artillery are still trained along the broad river, rendering it a new front line.

Forty-seven-year-old Kovbasyuk’s concern is that vulnerable residents isolated on the islands in the river, a gray zone where Ukrainians either desperate for a ride out or for more supplies need his help.

“Some of these people haven’t left their dacha since Kherson was liberated. They need some bread,” Kovbasyuk, wrapped in a hat and red scarf against the cold, told AFP journalists on his boat.

The crossing, with snow falling, is short but perilous.

“I got two bullet holes in my boat … right after Russian soldiers fled to the other side,” the construction worker said.

Russian shelling missed his boat by just meters last week at the regularly targeted industrial waterfront south of Kherson city, where his boat was stored.

His destination one day this week was Potemkin Island, 8 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide, just downstream from Kherson city.

The patch of land surrounded by icy currents has been caught up in intense shelling. Of the several hundred small summer homes on the island, only a handful are still inhabited.

Still Kovbasyuk is determined to bring food to those who want to stay and on evacuating others to the newly liberated west bank.

Icy winds buffet the boat and freezing water splashes over its side for 40 minutes until Kovbasyuk arrives and meets Oleksandr Sokolyk, a 64-year-old pensioner, also shuttling people to the mainland.

“Oleksiy, brother! I’m so happy to see you!” says the pensioner, hugging his friend on a pontoon next to a dacha.

The island was once an oasis of calm just a short trip from Kherson.

But that was before the Russian invasion in February and Kherson’s easy capture by Moscow’s forces shortly after.

The fighting escalated in September as Ukrainian troops were clawing back territory. Now there is relentless crossfire over the river.

“The situation seems better now in Kherson. They have electricity. We haven’t had any power here for a week,” Sokolyk said.

“And we spend every night under shelling. Left to right, right to left, just flying over us.”

Olga Shpinyova, in an elegant purple hat and winter coat is leaving the island to stay with her sister in Kherson.

“It will be better there than in my own flat in a building without water, heating or electricity,” she said, her dog, Tosha, and two small bags in hand.

She told AFP she had decided to leave the island after urgent pleas from her daughter and a close call when her home was shelled.

“I was lucky to be at my daughter’s house at the time. It saved my life. My daughter called and said, ‘You have to leave!'” Shpinyova told AFP.

Authorities announced civilian evacuations by ferry between December 3 and 5 but they never materialized.

“We can’t organize regular transport on the river. The occupiers wouldn’t let us,” the regional governor Yaroslav Yanushevych told AFP.

“Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee the security of the people” crossing, he said.

On the return journey to Kherson with three people boarded, a missile fell right in front of Sokolyk’s boat.

“I have no idea where it came from,” he told AFP in shock.

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Russian Gas Swap Scheme Gets Cold Shoulder in Central Asia

A Russian scheme to facilitate natural gas sales to China and other Asian markets through a “gas union” with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has met political resistance in the two Central Asian countries, at least partly because of unease over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Uzbek Energy Minister Jurabek Mirzamahmudov dashed cold water on the proposal, first made public early last week, saying his nation will never risk its independence for economic benefits.

“If we import gas from another country, we cooperate only based on a commercial contract. We will never agree to political conditions in exchange for gas,” he said in a video statement.

“Even if a gas agreement is concluded with Russia, this does not mean a union … Uzbekistan does not border with Russia. Therefore, negotiations are conducted to deliver it through neighboring Kazakhstan. This would be a technical contract … not a union,” Mirzamahmudov said.

The scheme was put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a November 28 meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Moscow.

While details of the proposed union remain vague, according to some analysts, the plan makes some economic sense for the Central Asian countries, especially Uzbekistan, which produces barely enough natural gas for its own consumption in winter and has been suffering shortages during cold spell.

As part of a gas union with Russia, a major exporter, they would be able to receive ample supplies through an existing pipeline that runs to the two countries from Russia and then sell surplus gas through another existing pipeline that runs through their territory from Turkmenistan to China.

Russia, meanwhile, would instantly acquire a new means of earning revenue from gas sales to China and possibly other Asian markets, helping it to make up for lost energy sales to Europe because of sanctions imposed in response to the war in Ukraine.

However, the scheme has encountered strong public opposition in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, fueled by fears the deal may come with political strings attached. Many worry that the territorial ambitions of “the northern brother” may extend beyond Ukraine, which like them is a former member of the Moscow-led Soviet Union.

“We have nothing to gain from the Kremlin’s gas union and everything to lose,” Abdulla Abdukadirov, an Uzbek economist and former official, told VOA. “Russia wants to boost its position here through our strategic resource.”

Kazakhstan, which shares a 7,600-kilometer border with Russia and enjoyed $21.5 billion in bilateral trade last year, sees Moscow as a strategic partner and belongs to two Putin-led blocs: the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

But Astana has maintained distance from Moscow during the war in Ukraine and has not recognized Russia’s annexation of four partially occupied regions of that country. This has triggered criticism from Russian public figures, who remind Kazakhs that ethnic Russians comprise nearly 16% of their population.

So far, the Kazakh government has said only that it is studying the Russian proposal, while the Uzbek administration had been silent on the matter until Wednesday’s remarks by Mirzamahmudov, the energy minister.

However, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev did not receive Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin when he visited the country last week, even though Russia is Uzbekistan’s second-largest business partner, with $7 billion in trade this year.

Mishustin held talks instead with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulla Aripov, and spoke at a bilateral economic forum in Samarkand.

“Our biggest initiatives are in the energy sector,” Mishustin said, arguing that EEU membership would offer Uzbekistan “free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.”

The Russian prime minister also pressed Tashkent “to speed up implementation” of a 2018 agreement for the joint construction of a Russian-designed nuclear power plant, which would be completed within 10 years under the supervision of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy agency.

Several officials have told VOA that Uzbekistan is no longer interested in the project, though the government won’t confirm this openly.

Abdukadirov, the Uzbek economist, sees the Russian energy moves as motivated by a desire to undermine recently renewed economic and security partnerships between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

“Russia clearly does not want this, since it wants to control the region and its hydrocarbons. Kazakhstan has large oil and gas resources, Uzbekistan has some,” he said. “Russia oversees energy sales, including to China. Uzbekistan’s role is limited. So, Moscow, which also exports energy, wants to ensure no competition.”

Abdukadirov argued that the natural gas swaps proposed by Putin would benefit only Moscow. “Russia wants to sell our own gas to us and others while it directly exports its gas to China,” he said.

Iskander Akylbayev, Central Asia director at U.K.-based Oxford Policy Advisory Group, pointed out that Uzbekistan recently suspended gas exports to China through the existing pipeline because of domestic shortages, and said “Kazakhstan plans to stop or limit gas exports next year. This certainly concerns Beijing.”

“Russia considers it logical to send some excess gas to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through a trilateral union with special tariffs and agreements,” he said. But he acknowledged that in the long term, both states could become more dependent on Russia.

Paul Stronski of the Carnegie Endowment said Russia “is eager to show it’s not isolated” by striking an energy deal with the Central Asian countries, but Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are “wary of aligning too closely with Moscow, given its weaponization of energy and the fear of Western sanctions.”

Landlocked and struggling in the energy sector, Astana and Tashkent could use support “but are very good at placating the Kremlin by having meetings, letting Russia pronounce what it wants, and then really watering down whatever comes of it,” he said. “Central Asians are good about deferring to Russia symbolically but limiting the substance.”

Stronski said the Central Asian countries can “stand up to Russia to some extent” by working together and by including gas-rich Turkmenistan. “Working regionally gives each state political cover, enhancing leverage with both Russia and China.”

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UK Approves First New Coal Mine in Decades, Sparking Anger

Britain’s Conservative government on Wednesday approved the United Kingdom’s first new coal mine in three decades, a decision condemned by environmentalists as a leap backwards in the fight against climate change.

Hours earlier, the government reversed a ban on building new onshore windfarms in Britain. Opponents called that announcement a cynical attempt to offset criticism of the mine decision.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove decided the mine in the Cumbria area of northwest England would have “an overall neutral effect on climate change and is thus consistent with government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change,” the government said.

It said coal from the mine would be used to make steel — replacing imported coal — rather than for power generation.

The mine will extract coking coal, the type used in steelmaking, from under the Irish Sea and process it on the site of a shuttered chemical plant in Whitehaven, a town 550 kilometers northwest of London.

Supporters say the mine will bring much-needed jobs to an area hard hit by the closure of its mines and factories in recent decades.

Opponents say the mine is a major blow to the U.K.’s status as a world leader in replacing polluting fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. They argue it will undermine global efforts to phase out coal and make it harder for Britain to meet its goals of generating 100% of electricity from clean energy sources by 2035 and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

John Gummer, a Conservative politician who heads the Climate Change Committee, a government advisory body, said the decision “sends entirely the wrong signal to other countries about the U.K.’s climate priorities.”

Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace U.K., said “the U.K. government risks becoming a superpower in climate hypocrisy rather than climate leadership. How can we possibly expect other countries to rein in fossil fuel extraction when we’re building new coal mines here?”

Britain has taken steps to bolster its domestic energy supply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil and gas prices soaring. The U.K. imports little Russian oil or gas, but its lightly regulated energy market leaves customers highly exposed to price fluctuations.

Many homes and businesses have seen bills double or triple in the past year, though a government price cap — due to end in April — has prevented even steeper hikes.

The invasion of Ukraine has made countries across Europe reconsider plans to cut their use of fossil fuels. Britain has also approved more North Sea oil and gas drilling, while the Czech Republic reversed a plan to stop coal mining in a key region.

France recently restarted a shuttered coal plant, abandoning an earlier vow by President Emmanuel Macron to close all coal-burning plants in the country by the end of this year.

The mine decision came a day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak lifted a ban on building new windfarms on British soil.

Wind produced more than a quarter of the U.K.’s electricity in 2021. But since 2015, the Conservative government has opposed new wind turbines on land because of local opposition. A majority of Britain’s wind farms are at sea.

While running for the Conservative Party’s leadership in the summer, Sunak pledged to keep the ban. But amid growing calls for change from Conservative lawmakers, the government said Tuesday it could allow wind farms in areas where communities support them, pending a “technical consultation.”

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Russian Court Upholds Ex-Reporter’s 22-Year Treason Sentence

A court in the Russian capital on Wednesday rejected an appeal from a former journalist who was convicted of treason and given a 22-year prison sentence following what was widely seen as a politically motivated trial. 

The appeals court upheld the September sentence handed to Ivan Safronov, who worked as a military affairs reporter for leading business newspaper Kommersant before becoming an adviser to the head of Russian space corporation Roscosmos. 

His conviction and sentencing came amid a sweeping crackdown on the media and Kremlin critics during the fighting in Ukraine. 

Safronov was accused of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national. He insisted on his innocence and rejected the charges as “absurd.” He argued he did nothing illegal and had published while working as a journalist all the information gathered from sources in government agencies and military industries. 

Safronov, who has been in custody since his July 2020 arrest in Moscow, said he never had access to any classified documents and that investigators failed to produce any witness testimony to back the espionage charges. 

His colleagues denounced the verdict as utterly unfounded and pushed for Safronov’s release, maintaining Russian authorities may have wanted revenge for his reporting, which exposed military incidents and shady arms deals. 

The European Union has urged Russian authorities to drop all charges against Safronov and “release him without any conditions,” denouncing “systematic repressions of the regime against independent journalism.” 

Rights activists, journalists, scientists and corporate officials who have faced treason accusations in Russia in recent years have found it difficult to defend themselves because of secrecy surrounding their cases and a lack of public access to information. 

Safronov’s father also worked for Kommersant, covering military issues after retiring from the armed forces. In 2007, he died after falling from a window of his apartment building in Moscow. 

Investigators concluded he had killed himself. Some Russian media outlets questioned the official version, pointing to his intent to publish a sensitive report about secret arms deliveries to Iran and Syria. 


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Oldest Known DNA Reveals Life in Greenland 2 Million Years Ago

Scientists discovered the oldest known DNA and used it to reveal what life was like 2 million years ago in the northern tip of Greenland. Today, it’s a barren Arctic desert, but back then it was a lush landscape of trees and vegetation with an array of animals, even the now extinct mastodon.

“The study opens the door into a past that has basically been lost,” said lead author Kurt Kjaer, a geologist and glacier expert at the University of Copenhagen.

With animal fossils hard to come by, the researchers extracted environmental DNA, also known as eDNA, from soil samples. This is the genetic material that organisms shed into their surroundings — for example, through hair, waste, spit or decomposing carcasses.

Studying really old DNA can be a challenge because the genetic material breaks down over time, leaving scientists with only tiny fragments.

But with the latest technology, researchers were able to get genetic information out of the small, damaged bits of DNA, said senior author Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge. In their study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, they compared the DNA to that of different species, looking for matches.

The samples came from a sediment deposit called the Kap Kobenhavn formation in Peary Land. Today, the area is a polar desert, Kjaer said.

But millions of years ago, this region was undergoing a period of intense climate change that sent temperatures up, Willerslev said. Sediment likely built up for tens of thousands of years at the site before the climate cooled and cemented the finds into permafrost.

The cold environment would help preserve the delicate bits of DNA — until scientists came along and drilled the samples out, beginning in 2006.

During the region’s warm period, when average temperatures were 20 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 19 degrees Celsius) higher than today, the area was filled with an unusual array of plant and animal life, the researchers reported. The DNA fragments suggest a mix of Arctic plants, like birch trees and willow shrubs, with ones that usually prefer warmer climates, like firs and cedars.

The DNA also showed traces of animals including geese, hares, reindeer and lemmings. Previously, a dung beetle and some hare remains had been the only signs of animal life at the site, Willerslev said.

One big surprise was finding DNA from the mastodon, an extinct species that looks like a mix between an elephant and a mammoth, Kjaer said.

Many mastodon fossils have previously been found in what were temperate forests in North America. That’s an ocean away from Greenland, and much farther south, Willerslev said.

“I wouldn’t have, in a million years, expected to find mastodons in northern Greenland,” said Love Dalen, a researcher in evolutionary genomics at Stockholm University who was not involved in the study.

Because the sediment built up in the mouth of a fjord, researchers were also able to get clues about marine life from this time period. The DNA suggests horseshoe crabs and green algae lived in the area — meaning the nearby waters were likely much warmer back then, Kjaer said.

By pulling dozens of species out of just a few sediment samples, the study highlights some of eDNA’s advantages, said Benjamin Vernot, who researches ancient DNA at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and was not involved in the study.

“You really get a broader picture of the ecosystem at a particular time,” Vernot said. “You don’t have to go and find this piece of wood to study this plant, and this bone to study this mammoth.”

Based on the data available, it’s hard to say for sure whether these species truly lived side by side, or if the DNA was mixed together from different parts of the landscape, said Laura Epp, an eDNA expert at Germany’s University of Konstanz who was not involved in the study.

But Epp said this kind of DNA research is valuable to show “hidden diversity” in ancient landscapes.

Willerslev believes that because these plants and animals survived during a time of dramatic climate change, their DNA could offer a “genetic roadmap” to help us adapt to current warming.

Stockholm University’s Dalen expects ancient DNA research to keep pushing deeper into the past. He worked on the study that previously held the “oldest DNA” record, from a mammoth tooth around a million years old.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you can go at least one or perhaps a few million years further back, assuming you can find the right samples,” Dalen said.

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Germany: 25 Arrested on Suspicion of Planning Armed Coup 

Federal prosecutors said some 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states against adherents of the so-called Reich Citizens movement. Some movement members reject Germany’s postwar constitution and have called for bringing down the government.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann described the raids as an “anti-terrorism operation,” adding that the suspects may have planned an armed attack on institutions of the state.

Germany’s top security official said the group was “driven by violent coup fantasies and conspiracy ideologies.”

Prosecutors said 22 German citizens were detained on suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Three other people, including a Russian citizen, were held on suspicion of supporting the organization, they said. Another 27 people were under investigation.

German media outlet Der Spiegel reported the searched locations included the barracks of Germany’s special forces unit KSK in the southwestern town of Calw. The unit received scrutiny in the past over alleged far-right involvement by some soldiers.

Federal prosecutors declined to confirm or deny that the barracks was searched.

Along with detentions in Germany, prosecutors said one person was detained in the Austrian town of Kitzbuehel and another in the Italian city of Perugia.

Prosecutors said those detained are alleged to last year have formed a “terrorist organization with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany and replace it with their own form of state, which was already in the course of being founded.”

The suspects were aware their aim could only be achieved by military means and with force, prosecutors said.

Some of the group’s members had made “concrete preparations” to storm Germany’s federal parliament with a small armed group, according to prosecutors. “The details [of this plan] still need to be investigated” to determine whether any of the suspects can be charged with treason, they said.

The group is alleged to have believed in a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories consisting of narratives from the so-called Reich Citizens as well as QAnon ideology,” according to the statement. Prosecutors added that members of the group also believe Germany is ruled by a so-called “deep state;” similar baseless claims about the United States were made by former President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors identified the suspected ringleaders as Heinrich XIII P. R. and Ruediger v. P., in line with German privacy rules. Der Spiegel reported that the former was a well-known 71-year-old member of a minor German noble family, while the latter was a 69-year-old former paratrooper.

Federal prosecutors said Heinrich XIII P. R., whom the group planned to install as Germany’s new leader, had contacted Russian officials with the aim of negotiating a new order in the country once the German government was overthrown. He was allegedly assisted in this by a Russian woman, Vitalia B.

“According to current investigations there is no indication however that the persons contacted responded positively to his request,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors identified another individual detained by police Wednesday as Birgit M.-W. Der Spiegel reported she is a judge and former lawmaker with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

The party, known by its German acronym AfD, has increasingly come under scrutiny by German security services due to its ties with extremists.

AfD’s co-leaders Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel condemned the reported plans, which they said they had only learned of through the media.

“We have full confidence in the authorities involved and demand a swift and comprehensive investigation,” they said in a statement.

Prosecutors said that apart from a council of leaders, or Rat, the group had tasked several members with the formation of an armed wing. Led by Ruediger v. P., they planned to obtain weapons and conduct firearms training.

The raids showed that “we know how to defend ourselves with full force against the enemies of democracy,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

“The investigation offers an insight into the depths of the terrorist threat within the Reich Citizens milieu,” Faeser said. “Only the further investigation will provide a clear picture of how far the coup plans had come.”

Sara Nanni, a Green party lawmaker, suggested the group may not have been very capable.

“More details keep coming to light that raise doubts about whether these people were even clever enough to plan and carry out such a coup,” Nanni said in a post on the social network Mastodon. “The fact is: no matter how crude their ideas are and how hopeless their plans, even the attempt is dangerous!”

Officials have repeatedly warned that far-right extremists pose the biggest threat to Germany’s domestic security. This threat was highlighted by the killing of a regional politician and the deadly attack on a synagogue in 2019.

Faeser announced earlier this year that the government planned to disarm about 1,500 suspected extremists and to tighten background checks for those wanting to acquire guns as part of a broader crackdown on the far right.

Germany’s chief federal prosecutor planned to make a statement on the case later Wednesday.

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Spain Under Pressure Over Migrant Deaths on Moroccan Border

Rights groups are pressuring Spain’s government over the deaths of at least 23 people after thousands of migrants forced their way through the European Union’s only land border with Africa between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

In the worst tragedy on a European frontier in recent years, the migrants died in a crush, and scores more were injured, when about 2,000 people, many from Sudan, stormed the 6-meter-high fence to try to get through the border on June 24. The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) said another 77 people were missing after the incident.

Spain’s state prosecutor and the country’s ombudsman have opened investigations into the incident, and their conclusions could prove politically damaging to Madrid and Rabat if they challenge the official version of events.

Migrant aid groups and opposition politicians have accused both Spain and Morocco of covering up what really happened to the migrants and failing to account for missing people.


Two separate media investigations have suggested at least one migrant died on the Spanish side of the border, contradicting the Spanish government’s insistence that no one died on Spanish soil.

Beyond last June’s incident, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner said last week migrants in Morocco had “no genuine and effective” access to asylum in Melilla, leaving them with little choice but to try to cross illegally.

Both the Spanish and Moroccan governments have defended the actions of their security forces, saying the migrants had been violent, and police had used reasonable force.

The ongoing controversy raises questions regarding not just the Melilla incident, but how a key European Union border with Africa is policed.

Hours after migrants burst through the border, shocking footage was published by AMDH of Moroccan gendarmerie officers walking among what appeared to be scores of bodies.

The heavily defended borders between Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s two North African enclaves, and Morocco have long been the flashpoint between well-armed security forces and migrants hoping to make a new life in Europe.

The Spanish interior minister repeatedly has insisted that no deaths occurred on Spanish soil, thereby absolving Madrid of any responsibility for the tragedy.

“I have said it before, and I will repeat it again: We are talking about tragic events that took place outside our country. There has been no loss of life on national territory,” Fernando Grande-Marlaska said last week in the Spanish parliament during a stormy session.

He said that while he “sympathized” with the causes, such as wars that have pushed people to try to migrate to Europe, he added “that does not justify a violent attack against the borders of a country.”

Naser Burita, the Moroccan Foreign Minister, said last week during a visit to Spain, that this was “not a normal incident, not in its origin or how it happened. It was very violent.” He said the circumstances justified the way Moroccan police controlled the incident and said it was handled in a “responsible” way.

Right to claim asylum

Elena Munoz, legal spokesman of the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid, an NGO, said in the June incident that 460 people were returned from Spain to Melilla without the right to claim asylum, thereby contravening international migration law, which states migrants should have 24 hours to make this claim.

“There are two investigations underway from the state prosecutor and the ombudsman to try to find out what happened. Already, the Council of Europe has said it is impossible for migrants to claim asylum in Melilla, so they must climb over the fences,” she told VOA.

“This is a delicate situation [for the government]. On all the land and maritime borders with Europe, human rights must be respected. People must be allowed access to the right to asylum.”

The Melilla tragedy has proved to be a political headache for Spain’s minority government, with some of its normal allies criticizing the leftist coalition over the issue.

“It is not acceptable that in the face of the evidence and investigations over the facts, the government and the minister deny everything,” Jon Inarritu, a lawmaker for the Basque nationalist EH Bildu party, which is a political ally of the ruling Socialist party, told VOA.

“This is the worst incident to happen on the Spanish and European frontier [and it] should be cleared up as soon as possible.”

In an initial report in October, the Spanish ombudsman condemned “excessive and lethal use of force” by Moroccan and Spanish law enforcement forces, but the ombudsman has yet to deliver its final findings.

Lighthouse Reports, a Dutch media organization that worked with four major European media outlets including the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais and France’s Le Monde, published an investigation last week that asserted at least one migrant died on the Spanish side of the border.

It showed an image of what it said was an African migrant on the Spanish side of the frontier.

A BBC documentary broadcast on November 1 said video footage showed “at least one dead body” at the entrance of the Melilla border post, as well as other bodies being removed by Moroccan security forces.

Spanish authorities confirmed that this area “was under their control,” the BBC reported.

A spokesman for the Spanish Interior Ministry, who asked not to be named in accordance with practice in Spain, told VOA it did not want to add anything to the comments of Grande-Marlaska in parliament.

In 2014, 15 migrants drowned trying to swim from Morocco to Ceuta after Spanish police in Ceuta, the other Spanish enclave in north Africa, fired rubber bullets and tear gas to repel them.

A Spanish judge initially indicted 16 Civil Guard officers, but the case was dropped this year by the Supreme Court.

This report includes information from Agence France-Presse.

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Morocco Knocks Spain Out of World Cup on Penalties

Achraf Hakimi calmly converted a penalty to send Morocco through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time with a 3-0 shootout win over former champions Spain after a cagey last-16 clash ended goalless on Tuesday.

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved spot-kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets after Pablo Sarabia had hit the post and Spanish-born Hakimi held his nerve to earn his team a quarter-final against either Portugal or Switzerland.

Morocco became only the fourth African nation to reach the last eight of the tournament, 12 years after Ghana did so in South Africa.

After a scrappy match finished deadlocked at 0-0 after extra time with few shots on target, Morocco fed off the raucous support of their red-clad supporters in the shootout as Spain crumbled.

Spain enjoyed more than 75% of possession and completed almost 800 passes but Morocco caused problems for it on the counter-attack and goalkeeper Unai Simon made some good saves.

It was the fourth time Spain has been knocked out of the World Cup on penalties and the second in a row.

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