“Navalny’s body returned to his mother”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 25th February 2024

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother, Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, announced on his Telegram account on Saturday and thanked “everyone” who had put pressure on the Russian authorities. Earlier on Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, accused President Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force his mother to agree to a secret funeral after his death in an Arctic penal colony. She said Navalny’s mother was being “literally tortured” by authorities who had threatened to bury Navalny in the Arctic prison. They, she said, suggested to his mother that she did not have much time to make a decision because the body is decomposing, Navalnaya said. “Give us the body of my husband,” Navalnaya said earlier Saturday. “You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead.” Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, is still in Salekhard, Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh said on X. “The funeral is still pending,” Yarmysh tweeted, questioning whether authorities will allow it to go ahead “as the family wants and as Alexei deserves”.

Navalny, 47, Russia’s most well-known opposition politician, unexpectedly died on February 16 in an Arctic penal colony and his family have been fighting for more than a week to have his body returned to them. Prominent Russians released videos calling on authorities to release the body and Western nations have hit Russia with more sanctions as punishment for Navalny’s death as well as for the second anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine.

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader’s death – the day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service. People across Russia came out to mark the occasion and honour Navalny’s memory by gathering at Orthodox churches, leaving flowers at public monuments or holding one-person protests. Moscovites lined up outside the city’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to pay their respects, according to photos and videos published by independent Russian news outlet SOTAvision. The video also shows Russian police stationed nearby and officers stopping several people for an ID check. At least 27 people had been detained in nine Russian cities for showing support for Navalny, according to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests.

Trump breezes by Haley in South Carolina primary

Former United States President Donald Trump has secured another decisive victory in the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential primaries, defeating former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state of South Carolina. The Associated Press and other US media outlets swiftly declared Trump the winner of the state’s GOP primary shortly after the polls closed on Saturday evening. The final results have not yet been released, but Trump was leading 59.7 per cent to 39.7 per cent with about half of the expected vote counted, according to Edison Research. Speaking to supporters at an election night party in the state capital of Columbia, the ex-president turned his attention to November’s general election and promised that if he is re-elected, the US would be “respected like never before”. “There’s never been a spirit like this,” Trump said. “I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.” The former president has maintained a strong grip over the Republican caucus despite facing a slew of civil and criminal cases against him, sweeping every state contest so far. Haley is facing growing pressure to leave the race but says she’s not going anywhere and has vowed to stay in the race through at least the batch of primaries on March 5, known as Super Tuesday.

Israeli war cabinet agrees to additional hostage talks

Israel’s war cabinet has voted to send a delegation to Qatar for additional talks on a potential hostage deal with Hamas, according to Israeli media outlets. Citing unnamed Israeli sources, Axios says the Israeli delegation will have “a limited mandate” and the talks will focus on the technical aspects of a potential deal. Israel’s war cabinet was conferring by telephone on Saturday evening to discuss the emerging “outline of an agreement”, described by an Israeli official as a “basis on which to build a plan and the principles for negotiations”. An Israeli delegation of top security officials returned home from talks in Paris on Saturday as reports spread of growing hope in Jerusalem that a new hostage release deal with Hamas could be within reach. At the same time, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that while there was optimism in Israeli media about the likelihood of a deal, the delegation itself was more cautious. Talks in Paris were held between Israeli, American, Egyptian and Qatari representatives who have been working for weeks to secure a deal to free hostages and pause the fighting. However, a key party not present at the Paris talks was Hamas.

“Reduction in requests? It’s Israeli propaganda” – Hamas

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s chief of staff, Taher Anonu, said reports that Hamas had renounced some of its demands in negotiations to free the hostages were “Israeli propaganda”, and accused Israel of trying to hinder the attempt to reach an agreement. Haaretz quotes Anonu saying the conditions set by Hamas for an agreement remain the cessation of the war, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the lifting of the blockade and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip.

“We will win,” Zelenskyy tells war anniversary ceremony

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reiterated that Ukraine will defeat Russia, in remarks made to mark the second anniversary of the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion. “We have been fighting for this for 730 days of our lives. We will win on the greatest day of our lives,” Zelenskyy told an open-air anniversary event at Kiev’s Hostomel airport – one of Russia’s targets in the first days of the assault. “Any normal person wants the war to end. But none of us will allow Ukraine to end,” Zelenskyy said, saying that the conflict must be resolved “on our terms”, with a “just” peace. Zelenskyy was speaking alongside the Canadian, Italian and Belgian prime ministers and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who visited Kiev to mark the anniversary. Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni stressed the success Ukraine had in driving Russian forces from the airport and the area around the capital in the first weeks of the invasion. “We are here today to say thanks to these men and women who on February 24 two years ago did not run away and instead fought,” Meloni said. “This place is a symbol of Moscow’s failures, a symbol of Ukrainian pride.”

G7 leaders convinced “we can ensure Ukraine prevails

G7 leaders participating in a virtual summit hosted in Rome, have promised to do what they can “to ensure Ukraine prevails in fighting for its future”. Those gathered also pledged to wear down Russia’s ability to continue its war of aggression, saying, “We will continue to raise the cost of Russia’s war, degrade Russia’s sources of revenue and impede its efforts to build its war machine.” G7 leaders promised to help Kiev meet its financial obligations and assured Zelenskyy that he could count on G7 assistance, saying, “As Ukraine enters the third year of this relentless war, its government and its people can count on the G7’s support for as long as it takes.” Among the ideas discussed on Saturday were efforts to “limit Russia’s future energy revenues” as well as plans to keep Russian sovereign assets frozen “until Moscow pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine”. Leaders also called on China and Iran to refrain from assisting Russia’s war effort and called on the Kremlin to “fully clarify” opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s death in a Siberian penal colony last week. A statement added: “We also pay tribute to the extraordinary courage of Alexei Navalny and stand with his wife, children, and loved ones. He sacrificed his life fighting against the Kremlin’s corruption and for free and fair elections in Russia.”

Ukraine solidarity rallies held in Berlin, London, and Edinburgh

Several thousand people,  waving Ukrainian flags, gathered in Germany’s capital Berlin for a solidarity rally for Ukraine. Many shared their anger over Russia’s aggression with written statements on banners and posters such as “Russia always lies” or “The devil is in the Kremlin”. Earlier, Greenpeace activists projected slogans to the outside of the Russian embassy, including: “Stop the killing” and “Hands off Ukraine”. Rallies were also held in Cologne, Frankfurt and other German cities as well as in London and Edinburgh.

Pentagon chief warns Yemen’s Houthis

Yemen’s Houthi rebels will continue to face retaliatory action for their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and surrounding waters, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said following joint US-UK strikes on 18 targets. “The United States will not hesitate to take action, as needed, to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” Austin said in a statement. “We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage, and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries.”

UK junior doctors start five-day strike

Hospital doctors in England have kicked off another five-day strike, as their protracted pay battle with the government rumbles on with few signs of a break in the deadlock. Junior doctors – those below specialist, consultant level – started joining picket lines early Saturday morning, as part of a walkout that will last until the midnight on Wednesday. It follows nearly a dozen strikes over the last year, which included the longest walkout, totalling six days, in the seven-decade history of Britain’s National Health Service. The country has been hit by walkouts across various sectors over the last two years, as decades-high inflation in 2023 and a cost-of-living crisis led staff to demand pay rises to keep up with spiralling prices.

Belarus goes to the polls as opponents claim elections “not free

Belarusians goes to the polls today to elect lawmakers in parliament and local councils across the country in the first elections in Belarus since the political crisis of 2020 with opponents claiming the elections are not free. The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, the Viasna Human Rights Centre, based in the capital, Minsk, and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee claim the regime has thoroughly “cleansed” the political landscape and have pointed out that the conditions for free elections are “currently practically absent in Belarus”. For the third election in a row, observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, will not be allowed to participate. Voters will elect 110 lawmakers in the lower house of the parliament and 12,000 local council representatives. Regardless of how many people take part in these elections, they will be considered valid. In contrast to previous elections, there is no minimum participation rate. An estimated 33.61 per cent of voters cast their ballot during the four days of early voting according to the country’s Election Commission.

Biden refers to Jinping as “head of Russia

Even as Donald Trump romped home in the 2024 South Carolina GOP Primary, Joe Biden served up one of his traditional gaffes as he appeared to refer to Xi Jinping as ‘head of Russia’ before correcting himself, when speaking at the Annual National Governors’ Association. In recent times, questions have been asked about the supposed declining mental health faculties of both candidates for the upcoming US presidential election. Biden recently confused Egypt with Mexico while making a reference to the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East. He confused French president Emmanuel Macron with Francois Mitterand, and German chancellor Helmut Kohl with Angela Merkel. He has muddled up the Ukraine war with the Iraq War (that ended in 2011) claiming Putin was “clearly losing the war in Iraq”. He also said God Save the Queen after a speech on gun control, with some wondering if he was referring to the deceased Queen Elizabeth II. He also accidentally referred to Rishi Sunak as Mr President (instead of Prime Minister). Biden’s numerous gaffes have led to questions about his mental competency. Donald Trump, who has his fair share of mendacious claims to back his gaffes, recently ribbed Biden by posting an ad claiming the White House was a ‘senior living facility’. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley has targeted both asking: “Is the best America can do? Two candidates in their 80s?”

Photo: Anatoly Maltsev / EPA / TASS

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