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Sunday
Feb192017

'Poisoned' Russian opposition activist leaves hospital for treatment abroad

Kara-Murza Family(NEW YORK) --  A well-known Russian opposition activist who was left in a critical condition this month after an apparent poisoning has now left Russia for treatment abroad, his lawyer said.

The case of Vladimir Kara-Murza attracted international attention and condemnation on Capitol Hill earlier this month when he was rushed to the hospital – poisoned, his doctors said, with an unknown substance.

It was the second time in two years that Kara-Murza – a veteran critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin – has been poisoned, and his colleagues have suggested it must be linked to his activism.

This time Kara-Murza spent a week in critical condition, on life support and kept in an artificial coma as doctors sought to clean his bloodstream of whatever could be poisoning him. Last week, he regained consciousness and on Sunday, Kara-Murza’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said that the activist was now being transferred abroad for rehabilitation.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Prokhorov did not say where Kara-Murza was being transferred to, only saying it was “abroad."

As during the first time, Kara-Murza’s doctors have been unable to say what he had been poisoned with or even to find any trace of it. The diagnosis currently is simply “acute intoxication by an unknown substance”, his wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, said.

Samples of his skin, nails and hair have been sent for testing by toxicology laboratories abroad, she said. Previous tests two years ago were unable to identify the poison, though a French lab found traces of heavy metals in his bloodstream.

The motive for the poisoning is also murky. Evgenia Kara-Murza believes it must be linked to her husband’s activism, but does not know what it could be specifically.

But in Sunday’s statement, Kara-Murza’s lawyer said he had pledged that he would not stop his opposition work despite the poisoning: “He definitely will continue to do what he has done all these last years: activity directed towards the restoration of democracy in Russia.”

 The case had attracted particular attention in the U.S. because it happened to coincide with a Fox News Super Bowl interview with president Donald Trump in which he indicated he was unphased by the idea that Putin was “a killer”.

Asked by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly why he respected Putin since the Russian president was “a killer”, Trump replied: “We have a lot of killers too. What you think our country is so innocent.”

Those comments prompted angry criticisms from some Democrats and Republicans who said Trump was equating the U.S. with the authoritarian tactics used under Putin.

Sen. John McCain took to the house floor on Feb. 7 to condemn Vladimir Kara-Murza's poisoning and implicitly President Trump's comments.

"Vladimir knew there was no moral equivalence between the United States and Putin’s Russia," McCain said of Vladimir Kara-Murza. "And anyone who would make such a suggestion maligns the character of our great nation and does a disservice to all those whose blood is on Putin’s hands.”

Some have suggested that Kara-Murza’s poisoning could be linked to his involvement in a campaign to promote American sanctions legislation. He played a significant role in lobbying Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, a blacklist that targets Russian officials involved in the murder and its cover-up of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who was killed by Russian police after he uncovered a huge tax fraud scheme linked to the top levels of the Russian state.

Kara-Murza had appeared repeatedly before Congress urging it to pass the legislation that was later broadened to include all human rights abusers in Russia.

On Sunday, Kara-Murza’s lawyer said that his work around the Magnitsky Act was considered one of potential cause of the poisoning. In his statement, the lawyer said Kara-Murza would continue to work on the Magnitsky Act.

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Sunday
Feb192017

Iraq launches offensive to 'liberate' western Mosul from ISIS

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Iraq launched on Sunday an offensive to retake western Mosul from ISIS, prime minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address.

"We announce the start of a new chapter of Mosul operations to liberate the right side of Nineveh [Mosul] as we did with the other part," Al-Abadi said. "I declare to our brave forces to proceed with courage to liberate the other side of Mosul and to liberate its peoples from Daesh [ISIS] oppression forever."

Al-Abadi called on security forces to deal with civilians properly and respect human rights.



The United Nations expressed concern for civilians in the affected areas. According to UN estimates, between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians live in the western section of Mosul.

"With military operations to retake western Mosul starting, United Nations humanitarian agencies in Iraq are rushing to prepare for the humanitarian impact of the fighting amid grave concerns that tens of thousands of families are at extreme risks," the UN said. "Food and fuel supplies are dwindling, markets and shops have closed, running water is scarce and electricity in many neighborhoods is either intermittent or cut off."

Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement, "The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble. We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes."

About 178,000 civilians have been forced to flee to refugee camps because of the ongoing conflict in Mosul.

 Iraqi forces retook control of eastern Mosul from ISIS in January after a three-month battle.

The Iraqi announcement comes one day after the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syria Democratic Forces said that the predominantly-Kurdish SDF retook the northern Syrian village of Jawees from ISIS.

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Saturday
Feb182017

Pence says US 'strongly supports NATO,' will hold Russia 'accountable' for Ukraine actions

ABC News(MUNICH) --  Mike Pence affirmed the United States' support for NATO and urged Russia to deescalate violence in eastern Ukraine while speaking Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, which marked his first overseas trip as vice president.

"Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in its commitment to our trans-Atlantic alliance," Pence told attendees at the annual international security policy gathering, at which Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also attended.

He added, "This is President Trump's promise: We will stand with Europe, today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals -- freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law."


As for Russia, Pence took a defiant position, saying, "In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force rest assured, the United States, along with the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany, will continue its leadership role as a framework nation in the Enhanced Forward Presence Initiative and support other critical joint actions to support our alliance."

In specifically addressing Ukraine, Pence said "we must hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine."

He reiterated, "Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found."

Pence also spoke about quashing Iran's attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon while slamming the lifting of sanctions against the country, saying Iran "continues to destabilize the Middle East, and thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran now has additional resources to devotwe to these efforts."

He continued, "Let me be clear: Under President Trump, the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries or our allies in the region, especially Israel."

Pence also described ISIS as "perhaps the greatest evil of them all. It shows a savagery unseen in the Middle East since the Middle Ages ... the United States will fight tirelessly to crush these enemies -- especially ISIS and its so-called caliphate -- and consign them to the ash heap of history, where they belong."

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Saturday
Feb182017

Fourth arrest announced in murder of North Korean leader's half-brother

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA,ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) -- A fourth suspect has been arrested in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother.

Malaysian police said the suspect, identified as Ri Jong Chol, is a 46-year-old male and a North Korean citizen. He was arrested in the Malaysian state of Selangor on Friday, according to police.

Police allege that Kim Jong Nam was killed earlier this week by a poisoned spray at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Multiple reports from South Korean media outlets said he was sprayed by two women.

One of the three other suspects, a woman who is an Indonesian national, said she thought she was taking part in a TV prank and had sprayed other men's faces, Malaysian officials said according to police in Indonesia.


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Saturday
Feb182017

'Blind Sheikh' bombing suspect Omar Abdel Rahman dies in US federal prison

MARK D. PHILLIPS/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The alleged mastermind behind the planned 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center has died in prison.

Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind cleric, was sentenced in New York in 1996 for planning numerous attacks in the 1990s.

He was suspected of planning other violent attacks in Egypt as well as famous New York landmarks.

The judge presiding over his trial said if his plans were carried out it would have cost thousands their lives.

According to the BBC News, Rahman's family announced his death on Saturday in Cairo.

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Friday
Feb172017

McCain says Trump administration in 'disarray' at Munich Security Conference

THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP/Getty Images(MUNICH) -- In a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Friday, Sen. John McCain said President Trump's administration was in "disarray," without mentioning the president's name.

McCain specifically referred to President Trump's former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, who resigned following growing reports over his ties to Russia.

"I think that the Flynn issue obviously is something that, it shows, that in many respects this administration is in disarray, and they've got a lot of work to do," McCain said.

The Republican senator and chairman of the Armed Services Comittee also added that he was concerned by the U.S. and Europe turning away from "universal values" and that NATO's founders "would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies."

"They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent," McCain said.

He told the conference "you should not count America out," adding that the world "cannot be paralyzed by fear" becuase it is "exactly what our adversaries want."

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to address the conference on Saturday while the president is in Florida for a rally.

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Friday
Feb172017

Suspect in Kim Jong Nam assassination says she thought it was a TV prank

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR) -- According to police in Indonesia, Malaysian officials said one of the suspects in the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother thought she was taking part in a TV prank.

The woman, an Indonesian national who had reportedly gone to Malaysia for work, was part of a paid team of pranksters who asked men to close their eyes and spray their faces with water, Indonesian police said.

Kim Jong Nam is believed to have been killed on Monday at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Reports from South Korean media outlets said he was sprayed with poison by two unidentified women who fled the scene.

Two women, including one who was caught wearing a shirt with "LOL" on it, were arrested along with one man, according to BBC.

Malaysian officials believe according to Indonesian police that the two women had sprayed  several other men for the prank to earn money and that Kimg Jong Nam was the final target, BBC reports.

North Korea has demanded that Malaysia release the body, with the country's ambassador to Malaysia telling reporters Friday it wouldreject the autopsy results because they were not permitted to witness it. The ambassador said the fact that the body had not yet been handed over to the country “strongly suggests that the Malaysian side is trying to conceal something which needs more time and deceive us, and that they are colluding with the hostile forces towards us who are desperate to harm us."

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Friday
Feb172017

High school students to launch biology research into space

Morehead State University (MOREHEAD, Ky.) -- When the next Space-X rocket is launched on Saturday, the research of two Kentucky high school students will be on its way to outer space.

The research, conducted by students Will Casto and Danielle Gibsonon with a biology professor, focuses on what effect microgravity will have on the smooth muscle cells in rat hearts. Microgravity has been a part of space research since the first International Space Station expeditions.

Their community in the Appalachian Kentucky has a high rate of hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can be associated with heart problems. They hope this research will provide some new insights into what affects the conditions.

"If we get a set of raw data, the end goal is to see what changes and what happens," Gibson said.

"When they first approached me, I was hesitant" said Dr. Michael Fultz, their research mentor and a biology professor at Morehead State University. "But, Will and Danielle hit it off right away. They are go-getters and they are a pleasure to work with."

Dr. Carol Christian, Director of The Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics, a high school on the Morehead campus where the two study, stressed how proud they are of their students and that the research has "exceeded expectations."

The two intrepid teenagers hope to see their research through until the summer -- that is, if the experiment on board the rocket survives through launch.

But, their ambitions stretch much further into the future.

"The end goal would be to end up in medical school studying oncology," Casto said, "because cancer rates are very high in the community where I am from."

Gibson hopes to pursue a career in biomedicine.

"This gives me a lot of hope," she said. "If I can do this at seventeen what else can I do?"

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Friday
Feb172017

Earth has a new continent called 'Zealandia'

NOAA(NEW YORK) -- We're taught in elementary school that there are seven continents on Earth -- Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.

But geography textbooks across the world might have to add one more to that list -- Zealandia.

Zealandia is a continent that is 94 percent submerged underwater, which is why it took so long for geologists to identify it. The 6 percent that is above water comprises what many know as New Zealand and New Caledonia, according to a study in GSA Today, the journal of the Geological Society of America.

Zealandia spans almost 2 million square miles, a bit larger than India. And while the idea of a mostly submerged continent in the Pacific has been known in the science community for a while, it was only in the last two decades that researchers accumulated enough data and observations to classify it as the world's eighth continent.

In 1995, Bruce Luyendyk, a geologist teaching at the University of California Santa Barbara, coined the term “Zealandia” to describe New Zealand, New Caledonia and sections underwater that broke off from an ancient supercontinent, Gondwana.

“I wanted to just lump all of these masses together,” Luyendyk told ABC News Friday. “It was really just a convenient way to refer to this area.”

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Friday
Feb172017

Italy makes move towards criminalizing fake news

iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- The Senate in Italy has proposed a bill to slap fines and prison sentences on those behind fake news and hate campaigns.

If passed, those found guilty of creating -- or spreading -- fake news would face fines of up to $5,000. If the news item is deemed a hate campaign, the fine would rise to as much as $10,000 with a two-year prison term.

Opponents of the bill say it would put limits on freedom of speech, that monitoring fake news is virtually impossible, and what is and isn't harmful to the public is a slippery concept.

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