Category Archives: World

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Assange Wins First Stage in Effort to Appeal US Extradition

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won the first stage of his effort to overturn a U.K. ruling that opened the door for his extradition to U.S. to stand trial on espionage charges.

The High Court in London gave Assange permission to appeal the case to the U.K. Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court must agree to accept the case before it can move forward.

“Make no mistake, we won today in court,” Assange’s fiancee, Stella Moris, said outside the courthouse, noting that he remains in custody at Belmarsh Prison in London.  

“We will fight this until Julian is free,” she added.

The Supreme Court normally takes about eight sitting weeks after an application is submitted to decide whether to accept an appeal, the court says on its website.  

The decision is the latest step in Assange’s long battle to avoid a trial in the U.S. on a series of charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents more than a decade ago.

Just over a year ago, a district court judge in London rejected a U.S. extradition request on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. U.S. authorities later provided assurances that the WikiLeaks founder wouldn’t face the severe treatment his lawyers said would put his physical and mental health at risk.  

The High Court last month overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that the U.S. promises were enough to guarantee Assange would be treated humanely.

Those assurances were the focus of Monday’s ruling by the High Court.  

Assange’s lawyers are seeking to appeal because the U.S. offered its assurances after the lower court made its ruling. But the High Court overturned the lower court ruling, saying that the judge should have given the U.S. the opportunity to offer the assurances before she made her final ruling.

The High Court gave Assange permission to appeal so the Supreme Court can decide “in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state … in extradition proceedings.”

Assange’s lawyers have argued that the U.S. government’s pledge that Assange won’t be subjected to extreme conditions is meaningless because it’s conditional and could be changed at the discretion of American authorities.

The U.S. has asked British authorities to extradite Assange so he can stand trial on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse linked to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of leaked military and diplomatic documents.

Assange, 50, has been held at the high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019, when he was arrested for skipping bail during a separate legal battle. Before that, he spent seven years holed up inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Assange sought protection in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

American prosecutors say Assange unlawfully helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal classified diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks later published, putting lives at risk.  

Lawyers for Assange argue that their client shouldn’t have been charged because he was acting as a journalist and is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of the press. They say the documents he published exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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UNESCO: World Failing to Provide Quality Education for Children

A United Nations report released Monday said the world is failing to insure that by 2030 all children are receiving an “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities.” 

The indicators used to determine a participating country’s success included: early childhood education attendance; drop-out rates; completion rates; gender gaps in completion rates; minimum proficiency rates in reading and mathematics; trained teachers; and public education expenditure. 

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, said countries were already failing their children “even before taking into account the potential consequences of COVID-19 on education development.”  

This failure “is a wakeup call for the world’s leaders,” UNESCO’s report said, “as millions of children will continue to miss out on school and high-quality learning.” 

The education benchmarks are included in Sustainable Development Goal 4 – one of 17 goals set up in 2015 by the U.N. General Assembly. The goals are intended to be achieved by 2030. 

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French Fashion Designer Thierry Mugler Dies Aged 73

French designer Thierry Mugler, who reigned over fashion in the 1980s and died on Sunday, was as famous for his fantastical couture as for his blockbuster fashion shows. He was 73.

Mugler’s daring collections came to define the decade’s power dressing, with his clothes noted for their structured and sophisticated silhouettes, showcased by his extravagant shows.

“I always thought that fashion was not enough on its own and that it had to be shown in its musical and theatrical environment,” he once said.

In later years, he dressed Beyonce and Lady Gaga — and in 2019 came out of retirement to create Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala look.

“We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23rd 2022,” said a post on the designer’s official Facebook account.

His agent Jean-Baptiste Rougeot, who said the designer had died of “natural causes,” added he had been due to announce new collaborations early this week.

Born in Strasbourg in December 1948, as a young teen Mugler joined the Opera du Rhin’s ballet company before studying at the School of Decorative Arts.

From a young age he created his own clothes, adapting items bought at nearby flea markets. He moved to Paris aged 20, initially to work with another ballet company — but was more successful with his own wardrobe.

Mugler soon became a freelance stylist and worked for various fashion houses in Paris, London and Milan.

In 1973, he took the plunge and created his own label “Café de Paris”, before founding “Thierry Mugler” a year later.

His designs exacerbated and celebrated women’s forms: shoulders accentuated by padding, plunging necklines, constricted waists and rounded hips.

“Dancing taught me a lot about posture, the organization of clothing, the importance of the shoulders, the head carriage, the play and rhythm of the legs,” said Mugler.

A showman at heart, he organized spectacular presentations of his creations pioneering the modern spectacle of the 21st century fashion show.

“Today’s fashion shows are a continuation of what Mugler invented. The collections were pretexts for fashion shows,” recalled Didier Grumbach, former CEO of Thierry Mugler.

He had showmanship in his blood: for the 10th anniversary of his label in 1984, he organized the first public fashion show in Europe with 6,000 attending the rock concert-like show.

But nothing compared to the 20th anniversary celebration in 1995, staged at the Cirque d’Hiver.

Models including Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova and Kate Moss paraded alongside stars such as Tippi Hedren and Julie Newmar with the spectacle culminating in a performance from James Brown.

The 1992 launch of his company’s first perfume “Angel” — in collaboration with Clarins, which acquired a stake in the company before taking control in 1997 — was a runaway success.

Clarins shuttered Thierry Mugler ready-to-wear in 2003, a year after the designer reportedly left the brand, but continued the scent business with “Angel” rivalling Chanel’s No.5 for the top spot in sales.

Renowned for his work with celebrities, he counted Grace Jones and Hall among his muses, and had a long-running creative collaboration with David Bowie — even dressing him for his wedding to Iman.

Despite seemingly retiring from fashion’s frontlines in the early 2000s, Mugler continued to impact culture and worked with Beyonce on her “I am…” world tour. 

In later years the designer suffered a series of accidents requiring facial surgery and rebuilt his body with intensive bodybuilding while engaging in meditation and yoga.

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US Orders Departure of Family Members of Ukraine Embassy Staff

The State Department on Sunday ordered the departure of eligible family members from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees due to the continued threat of Russian military action against Ukraine.

The State Department also is asking U.S. citizens in Ukraine to consider departing the country now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.

The State Department reissued its Level 4 Travel Warning for Ukraine, saying “Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19.”  Previously, the travel warning had also been at Level 4, due to COVID-19.

The State Department also reissued a travel advisory Sunday night regarding travel to Russia: “Do not travel to Russia due to ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.”

Asked about the timing of these actions on Sunday evening in Washington, a senior State Department official told reporters they come against the backdrop of reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine. 

The State Department official said security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice. 

The official said President Joe Biden has said a Russian military invasion of Ukraine could happen at any time, and if there is an invasion, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv would have limited ability to assist Americans who might want to leave the country.

The State Department officials who briefed reporters declined to give any estimates of the number of Americans working at the embassy in Kyiv or of the number of Americans living in Ukraine.

The State Department officials said these orders are being taken as a “prudent precaution” that in no way undermines U.S. support for the government of Ukraine, and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv will continue to operate.

The State Department also asked all U.S. citizens in Ukraine to complete an online form so that the State Department may better communicate with them, saying this is especially important for citizens who plan to remain in Ukraine.

Earlier Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia that Washington knows “all of the tactics and techniques” that Moscow can deploy to undermine the Ukrainian government but will continue to engage in diplomatic talks in hopes of easing tensions in eastern Europe.

Watch related video by Arash Arabasadi:

“It is certainly possible that the diplomacy the Russians are engaged in is simply going through the motions and it won’t affect their ultimate decision about whether to invade or in some other way intervene, or not in Ukraine,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show. “But we have a responsibility to see the diplomacy through for … as far and as long as we can go because it’s the more responsible way to bring this to a closure.” 

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, Blinken ruled out the United States immediately imposing severe economic sanctions on Moscow, which it has vowed to do if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. Russia has massed 127,000 troops just across its border with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. 

“If they’re triggered now,” Blinken said of the possible sanctions, “you lose the deterrent factor.” 

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, following Blinken on CNN, accused the administration of President Joe Biden of a “doctrine of appeasement” in dealing with Russia over threats to Ukraine. 

“The sanctions need to be imposed now,” Ernst said. “President Putin only understands strength and power. We need to have firm resolve.” 

Blinken declined to comment on a British intelligence report that Russia was seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration. Moscow rejected the claim.

“The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app. “We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.” 

Blinken, on NBC, said that aside from the world’s awareness of Russia’s massive troop deployment near Ukraine, “It’s also important that people around the world, whether it’s in Europe, the United States or beyond, understand the kinds of things that could be in the offing: a false flag operation to try and create a false pretext for going in. It’s important that people know that that’s something that’s in the playbook too,” as well as cyberattacks and other disruption targeting Ukraine. 

The top U.S. diplomat said that aside from diplomatic engagement with Russia, “We are building up defense, we’re building up deterrence; we’ve now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year.”  

 

Some material in this report came from the Associated Press. 

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Taliban Talks in Norway Raise New Debate About Recognition

A Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Sunday started three days of talks in Oslo with Western officials and Afghan civil society representatives amid a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

The closed-door meetings were taking place at a hotel in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital and are the first time since the Taliban took over in August that their representatives have held official meetings in Europe.

The talks were not without controversy, however, reigniting the debate over whether they legitimize the Taliban government, especially since they were being held in Norway, a NATO country involved in Afghanistan from 2001 until the Taliban take over last summer. 

Speaking at the end of the first day of talks, Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam told The Associated Press that the meetings with Western officials were “a step to legitimize (the) Afghan government,” adding that “this type of invitation and communication will help (the) European community, (the) U.S. or many other countries to erase the wrong picture of the Afghan government.”

That statement may irk the Taliban’s Norwegian hosts. Earlier, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the talks were “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban.”

On Sunday, 200 protesters gathered on an icy square in front of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry in Oslo to condemn the meetings with the Taliban, which has not received diplomatic recognition from any foreign government.

“The Taliban has not changed as some in the international community like to say,” said Ahman Yasir, a Norwegian Afghan living in Norway for around two decades. “They are as brutal as they were in 2001 and before.”

Taliban leaders met with some women’s rights and human rights activists on Sunday, but there was no official word about those talks.

Starting Monday, Taliban representatives will meet with delegations from Western nations and will be certain to press their demand that nearly $10 billion frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released as Afghanistan faces a precarious humanitarian situation.

“We are requesting them to unfreeze Afghan assets and not punish ordinary Afghans because of the political discourse,” said Shafiullah Azam. “Because of the starvation, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support Afghans, not punish them because of their political disputes.”

The United Nations has managed to provide some liquidity and allowed the Taliban administration to pay for imports, including electricity. But the U.N. has warned that as many as 1 million Afghan children are in danger of starving and most of the country’s 38 million people are living below the poverty line.

Faced with the Taliban’s request for funds, Western powers are likely to put the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan high on their agenda, along with the West’s recurring demand for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan’s minority ethnic and religious groups. 

Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them directed at women. Women have been banned from many jobs outside the health and education fields, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, detaining and sometimes beating television crews covering demonstrations.

A U.S. delegation, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, plans to discuss “the formation of a representative political system; responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises; security and counterterrorism concerns; and human rights, especially education for girls and women,” according to a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

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US Weighs Options on Ukraine

The United States began shipments of lethal aid to Ukraine after U.S. President Joe Biden recently said that any Russian troop movement into Ukraine would be considered an invasion. President Biden’s comments come as Russian President Vladimir Putin stations more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. Russian and U.S. diplomats so far have agreed to keep working to lower tensions. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

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US Warns It Knows Russia’s Tactics to Undermine Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia on Sunday that Washington knows “all of the tactics and techniques” that Moscow can deploy to undermine the Ukrainian government but will continue to engage in diplomatic talks in hopes of easing tensions in eastern Europe. 

“It is certainly possible that the diplomacy the Russians are engaged in is simply going through the motions and it won’t affect their ultimate decision about whether to invade or in some other way intervene, or not in Ukraine,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show. “But we have a responsibility to see the diplomacy through for … as far and as long as we can go because it’s the more responsible way to bring this to a closure.” 

In a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, Blinken ruled out the United States immediately imposing severe economic sanctions on Moscow, which it has vowed to do if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. Russia has massed 127,000 troops just across its border with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. 

“If they’re triggered now,” Blinken said of the possible sanctions, “you lose the deterrent factor.” 

Watch related video by Arash Arabasadi:

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, following Blinken on CNN, accused the administration of President Joe Biden of a “doctrine of appeasement” in dealing with Russia over threats to Ukraine. 

“The sanctions need to be imposed now,” Ernst said. “President Putin only understands strength and power. We need to have firm resolve.” 

Blinken declined to comment on a British intelligence report that Russia was seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration. Moscow rejected the claim. 

“The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app. “We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.” 

Blinken, on NBC, said that aside from the world’s awareness of Russia’s massive troop deployment near Ukraine, “It’s also important that people around the world, whether it’s in Europe, the United States, or beyond, understand the kinds of things that could be in the offing: a false flag operation to try and create a false pretext for going in. It’s important that people know that that’s something that’s in the playbook too,” as well as cyberattacks and other disruption targeting Ukraine. 

The top U.S. diplomat said that aside from diplomatic engagement with Russia, “We are building up defense, we’re building up deterrence; we’ve now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year.” 

On Saturday, Blinken said he had authorized the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. 

“I expedited and authorized, and we fully endorse transfers of defensive equipment @NATO Allies Estonia Latvia Lithuania are providing to Ukraine to strengthen its ability to defend itself against Russia’s unprovoked and irresponsible aggression,” Blinken said in a post on Twitter. 

“We are preparing massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again,” Blinken told NBC. “So, you have to do both at the same time. You build up your defense, you build up your deterrence on the one hand; you engage in diplomacy and dialogue on the other. That’s the way that I think it makes the most sense to carry this forward. Ultimately, we’ve given Russia two paths; it has to choose.” 

“The Russians have put concerns on the table that they say they have about their security,” Blinken said. “We’ve exchanged some ideas. We’ll be sharing with the Russians in writing not only our concerns, but some ideas for a way forward that could enhance mutual security on a reciprocal basis.” 

“So, look, that is clearly the preferable path forward for everyone,” he said. “It’s the responsible thing to do. And we’ll pursue it as long as we can. At the same time, we’ll continue to build up other defenses and deterrents that are necessary.” 

Some material in this report came from the Associated Press. 

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French Soldier Killed After Attack on Mali Military Base 

A French soldier has died after a rocket attack on the French army base in Gao, Mali.  

The French Armed Forces Ministry released a statement Sunday morning saying the attack occurred on the Gao, Mali, Operation Barkhane military base on Saturday.

The statement claimed the attack was carried out by “terrorists.” 

Operation Barkhane, France’s counterinsugency military operation in the Sahel, has operated in Mali since 2014. It replaced Operation Serval, the French army’s operation to regain control of northern Mali, which had been taken over by Islamists in 2012.

This year, after what French President Emmanuel Macron called a drawdown of the French military presence in Mali, Barkhane forces were withdrawn from northern Mali’s Tessalit, Kidal and Timbuktu military bases. The Gao base continues to serve as the center of Operation Barkhane.

Popular opposition to the French military presence in Mali has increased dramatically in recent years. France has backed recent sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States that were imposed following a 2026 presidential election plan proposed by Mali’s current military government.

Thousands of Malians took to the streets in cities across the country this month to denounce the sanctions, with most also denouncing France’s presence in Mali.

 

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UNESCO Lists Viking-Era Wooden Sailboats on Heritage List 

For thousands of years, wooden sailboats allowed the peoples of Northern Europe to spread trade, influence and sometimes war across seas and continents.

In December, the U.N.’s culture agency added Nordic “clinker boats” to its list of traditions that represent the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden jointly sought the UNESCO designation.

The term “clinker” is thought to refer to the way the boat’s wooden boards were fastened together.

Supporters of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the boat-building techniques that drove the Viking era for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen fades and fishermen and others opt for vessels with cheaper glass fiber hulls.

“We can see that the skills of building them, the skills of sailing the boats, the knowledge of people who are sailing … it goes down and it disappears,” said Søren Nielsen, head of boatyard at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

The museum not only exhibits the remains of wooden vessels built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and reconstruct other Viking boats. The process involves using experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper, more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how quickly the vessels sailed and how many people they carried.

Nielsen, who oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there are only about 20 practicing clinker boat craftsmen in Denmark, perhaps 200 across all of northern Europe.

“We think it’s a tradition we have to show off, and we have to tell people this was a part of our background,” he told The Associated Press.

Wooden clinker boats are characterized by the use of overlapping longitudinal wooden hull planks that are sewn or riveted together.

Builders strengthen the boats internally by additional wooden components, mainly tall oak trees, which constitute the ribs of the vessel. They stuff the gaps in between with tar or tallow mixed with animal hair, wool and moss.

“When you build it with these overlaps within it, you get a hull that’s quite flexible but at the same time, incredibly strong,” explained Triona Sørensen, curator at Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum, which is home to the remains of five 11th-century Viking boats built with clinker methods.

Nielsen said there is evidence the clinker technique first appeared thousands of years ago, during the Bronze Age.

But it was during the Viking Age that clinker boats had their zenith, according to Sørensen. The era, from 793 to 1066, is when Norsemen, or Vikings, undertook large-scale raiding, colonizing, conquest and trading voyages throughout Europe. They also reached North America.

Their light, strong and swift ships were unsurpassed in their time and provided the foundations for kingdoms in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

If “you hadn’t had any ships, you wouldn’t have had any Viking Age,” said Sørensen. “It just literally made it possible for them to expand that kind of horizon to become a more global people.”

While the clinker boat tradition in Northern Europe remains to this day, the ships are used by hobbyists, for festivities, regattas and sporting events, rather than raiding and conquest seen 1,000 years ago.

The UNESCO nomination was signed by around 200 communities and cultural bearers in the field of construction and traditional clinker boat craftsmanship, including Sami communities.

The inscription on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list obliges the Nordic countries to try to preserve what remains of the fading tradition.

“You cannot read how to build a boat in a book, so if you want to be a good boat builder, you have to build a lot of boats,” the Viking Ship Museum’s Nielsen said. “If you want to keep these skills alive, you have to keep them going.”

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