Hundreds mourn Navalny, denounce Putin, across Europe

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 17th February 2024

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities across Europe and beyond on Friday to express their outrage over the death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Protesters have surrounded Russian embassies across the world, calling for the Kremlin to be held accountable over the death of jailed Russian opposition leader Navalny, who crusaded against Russian government corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests. He was the greatest political threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian authorities said he died in prison on Thursday. Russia Today television, which cited a source, speculated that it was a “blood clot”, thrombosis or embolism. But the authorities have asked to wait for the results of the forensic tests.  

Photo: AFP

In Moscow and other Russian cities, while people paid their respects, there was no indication Navalny’s death would spark large protests. But in the evening in several Russian cities, including Moscow, opposition Telegram channels reported initiatives by several dozen citizens who laid flowers on improvised memorials dedicated to Navalny. Protesters gathered with posters saying ‘bloodymyr’ and mourners shed tears at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg. However images show police officers detaining a number of people who were laying flowers in St Petersburg.

Moscow’s prosecutor’s office warned against taking part in a demonstration for which several appeals had spread via the internet. According to Ovd-Info, an organisation that provides legal assistance to arrested activists, the officers stopped at least three people in front of the Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the Soviet KGB and currently of the FSB security services.

Many across Europe mourned the death of the Russian opposition leader, as informal memorials, vigils and demonstrations sprang up in various cities. Chanting “Freedom to Russia” and “Navalny will live on”, a few hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin.

In central London, a couple hundred people gathered across the street from the Russian Embassy.  Many had tears in their eyes, holding signs in Russian and English saying “Putin is a murderer” and chanting “Russia will be free!” , “Putin is a killer”, “Putin will never stop killing”, “We are Navalny”, and “Don’t give up”. Images of the 47-year-old were left near the embassy, alongside a number of floral tributes.

In Berlin, a crowd of between 500 amd 600 people, according to police estimates, gathered on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard, chanting in a mixture of Russian, German and English. Some chanted “Putin to the Hague”, referring to the international criminal court investigating possible war crimes committed in Ukraine. Police used barriers to close off the road between the Russian embassy and the crowd. Protests also took place in Serbia, Turkey and Argentina.

Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning which he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he was convicted three times, and rejected each case as “politically motivated”. Navalny had not previously shown any signs of serious health problems. Of course, the harsh prison conditions weighed on him, said Russian Nobel Prize winner Dmitry Muratov.

The Russian dissident had once again been locked up in a punishment cell, for the 27th time since August 2022, as reported by the online newspaper ‘Meduza’, specifying that at the end of the 15 days of isolation inflicted on him, Navalny would have spent 308 days in 18 months in a cramped penalty cell. And the official reason for the punishment is unclear. But Navary continued to make his voice heard through social media. Like on Valentine’s Day itself, when he had posted a dedication to his wife, Yuliya,  on X: “I feel like you are close to me every second and I love you more and more,” he wrote. Yuliya Navalnaya has generally sought to avoid the spotlight, to shield her two children from the fallout of her husband’s political work and to deny his tormentors in the Kremlin, including President Putin, the satisfaction of ever seeing her cry. But as she took to the stageat the Munich conference and delivered a dramatic, surprise statement, grief and worry were etched across her swollen face, and her eyes were tearful and blotchy.

News of his death fell like a bomb on a Russia that next month is called to the polls for the presidential elections in which Vladimir Putin is presenting himself for a fifth term. Several Western leaders, first and foremost Joe Biden, have directly accused Moscow – statements which were rejected by the Kremlin as “absolutely unacceptable”.

(For the international reaction to Navarny’s demise, see separate article here.

Trump fined $355m, banned from running businesses for 3 years

A US judge has ordered former US President Donald Trump to pay nearly $355 million after finding him liable for fraud and banned him from running businesses in New York state for three years. Judge Arthur Engoron also ordered two of his sons – Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump – to pay a fine of $4 million each and blocked them from acting as directors for two years. Trump and his family deny any wrongdoing, with the former president calling the case a “fraud” and a “political witch hunt”. The stiff penalty is being seen as a victory for Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, who sued Trump over what she said was not just harmless bragging but years of deceptive practices as he built the multinational collection of skyscrapers, golf courses, and other properties.

ICJ declines South Africa’s request for further action against Israel

The International Court of Justice has declined South Africa’s application for additional provisional measures to be taken by Israel to prevent additional harm to civilians during Israel’s assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. But in a decision announced on Friday, the court agreed that the most recent developments and the incoming Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, and in Rafah in particular, “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences”, as stated by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “The Court emphasises that the State of Israel remains bound to fully comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention and with the said Order, including by ensuring the safety and security of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” The South African government had requested the court for additional provisional measures in a letter sent to the ICJ on 12 February.

Zelensky signs 10-year security deals with France, Germany

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement with France hours after he officialised a similar one with Germany. Zelensky was greeted in Paris at the Elysee presidential palace by President Emmanuel Macron. The agreements send a strong signal of long-term backing as Kiev works to shore up Western support nearly two years after Russia launched its full-scale war. The agreement provides an additional package worth €3 billion euros  in military aid this year, the largest annual amount France has given to Ukraine since the war began. Zelensky’s stop in France came after he met earlier in the day in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said Berlin was providing another 1.1 billion-euro package of military aid, including 36 howitzers, 120,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and two more air-defence systems. Ukraine signed last month its first such bilateral agreement with the UK.

Crushing defeats for UK Tories in two parliamentary elections

Britain’s governing Conservative Party suffered crushing defeats in two parliamentary elections in a new blow to its embattled leader, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Election results announced on Friday showed the Tories had lost seats they had held in Kingswood, near Bristol, and in Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire – a district that had been regarded as one of the party’s more impregnable strongholds. Votes had been cast on Thursday to replace two Conservative lawmakers who had quit Parliament. The first result came from Kingswood, where Labour defeated the Tories by 11,176 votes to 8,675. In Wellingborough, Labour performed even better by securing a seat that, in the last election, the Tories won by more than 18,000 votes. This time, Labour won by 13,844 votes to 7,408. With a general election expected later this year, the defeats are likely to compound Sunak’s difficulties at a time when the British economy is shrinking, interest rates are high and Britain’s health service seems to be in a state of almost permanent crisis. Opinion polls show his party trailing Labour by double-digit margins.

Prince Harry breaks silence on King Charles’ cancer diagnosis

Prince Harry and King Charles appear to have put some of their differences aside in the wake of the British monarch’s cancer diagnosis. The Duke of Sussex, 39, broke his silence on the matter for an interview with “Good Morning America” while he and wife Meghan Markle were attending a training camp for the 2025 Invictus Winter Games in Whistler, Canada. “I spoke to him. I jumped on a plane and went to go see him as soon as I could,” Harry said when asked how he got the news of Charles’ diagnosis. “Look, I love my family. The fact that I was able to get on a plane and go and see him and spend any time with him, I’m grateful for that.” Earlier this month, one day after King Charles’ cancer was announced, Harry rushed to the UK for a 24-hour visit. During that time, he and his dad reportedly met for 30 minutes at London’s Clarence House, where Charles was resting after undergoing treatment. Harry went on to say he believes his father’s illness could “absolutely” have a “reunifying effect” amid the years of tension that have plagued the royal family, particularly in regard to Harry and Meghan’s 2020 departure from senior royal duties. Harry’s 2023 memoir, Spare, also notably caused a great deal of strain among the family for airing much of the royals’ dirty laundry.

Three killed, two missing in Florence construction site incident

Three workers were killed, three others were injured and are in a serious condition, while two were considered missing as of Friday afternoon, in a tragedy at a supermarket construction site near Florence. The accident happened when a reinforced concrete beam toppled over a slab of a pre-fabricated building, which then collapsed. Local authorities said about 50 firefighters were still searching for the missing workers but feared the death toll of the incident could climb.  There were about 50 workers on the site at the time.

EU deal on platform workers falls apart, pushing law into limbo

A group of EU member states on Friday blocked a law designed to improve the conditions of platform workers across the European Union, pushing the legislation to the brink of limbo. The coalition was large enough to act as a blocking minority and derail the political agreement reached last week between the Council and the European Parliament. Germany, the bloc’s most powerful state and host of ‘Delivery Hero’ and ‘Free Now’, chose to abstain, complicating the arithmetic to obtain the required level of support. Greece and Estonia also abstained, while France, a vigorous opponent of the law, said it could not support the text on the table, Euronews learned through diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity. The deal was considered the last chance for the law to get across the finish line during this legislative session due to the cut-off date imposed by the upcoming EU elections.

Hungary rocked by protests over child sex abuse pardon case

Tens of thousands of people in Hungary protested in the capital, Budapest on Friday amid a continuing fallout from a scandal that has rocked Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government. President Katalin Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga both resigned last weekend for supporting a decision to grant a pardon to a man implicated in a child sex abuse scandal in April 2023. The deputy director of a state-run orphanage who had been imprisoned for covering up a string of child sexual abuses was pardoned last year, but it only became known early this month. Both ministers were close allies of Orban, whose party has governed the country with a constitutional majority for nearly 14 years. Demonstrators, led by some of the most popular online personalities, called for genuine reforms to Hungary’s child protection system.

Jury awards $10 million to man who was wrongly convicted of murder

A jury awarded $10 million to a Detroit-area man who spent nearly six years in prison for the killing of a 15-year-old girl before his conviction was thrown out at the request of prosecutors. The jury said Alexandre Ansari’s constitutional rights were violated by a Detroit police detective who concealed evidence in the fatal shooting. The information would have revealed that the fatal shooting of Ileana Cuevas and the wounding of two more people in 2012 was likely arranged by a heroin dealer upset over drug thefts, he said. The detective had denied wrongdoing. But the prosecutor’s office found that he feared for his family in Texas and Mexico if the drug dealer knew he was investigating him for murder, according to evidence in the case.

Main photo: Reuters

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