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Saturday
Jun082019

Russian TV to air its own version of Chernobyl, which implies CIA may be to blame

Liam Daniel/HBO(MOSCOW) -- Russian state TV is preparing to broadcast its own drama retelling the story of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but unlike the acclaimed HBO series that has captivated audiences worldwide, the Russian version will suggest a CIA agent was there during the accident.

The Russian series, also titled "Chernobyl," is being produced by NTV, one of Russia’s main television channels, which is owned by the state-controlled Gazprom Media.

The HBO series has been a a global hit, including in Russia, praised by critics and viewers for its remarkable attention to detail and the verisimilitude of its representation of Soviet reality. It received the highest-ever rating for a television show on IMdB, as well as a 9.1 rating on Russian equivalent Kinopoisk.

The Russian show sticks less closely to reality. Its director, Aleksey Muradov told the tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda, that his version would include an alternative theory of the disaster. According to a description of the show, the plot will focus on a fictional contest between an American CIA agent who infiltrates the power station to gather intelligence and a KGB counter-intelligence officer hunting him.

“Why are you surprised?,” the director, Muradov told Komsomolskaya Pravda. “The hypothesis about American interference in the work of the Chernobyl power station exists. Many histories don’t rule out that on the day of the explosion an agent of the enemy security services was working at the station. Till this day it has not be established whether his activity was connected with the explosion.”

Shot in Belarus, the NTV series has been in production since 2014 and is supported by Russia’s Ministry of Culture, which has reportedly provided 30 million rubles or $463,000 in funds.

The NTV show is surfacing amid a disgruntled reaction among Kremlin media and Russian tabloids to the HBO series. In Russia, the series has been criticized as diminishing the heroism of Soviet emergency workers and as overly-focused on the negative aspects of what remains the world's worst nuclear disaster.

“Chernobyl didn’t show the most important thing -- our victory,” ran one headline in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most-read newspaper.

The critics, while acknowledging the show’s realism in its costumes and sets, have suggested the show is meant to blacken the Soviet Union by focusing of authorities’ failings.

An op-ed in the magazine Argumenti i Fakti, called the HBO show a "quality propaganda product".

War correspondent, Dmitry Steshin, writing in Komsomolskaya Pravda, even claimed the show was intended to undermine overseas sales for Russia’s state atomic company, Rosatom.

Russia’s normally conservative, nationalist minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, however, said that, on the whole, he liked the U.S. show, after watching it with his father, who he said took part in the clean up effort shortly after the accident. His father, he said, had found it close to the reality of what actually happened.

Other Russian commentators have said that the ignominious role played by the Soviet state in the run-up and aftermath of the disaster -- when authorities initially tried to conceal the catastrophe -- make it a subject that the current government is clearly struggling to manage.

Ilya Shepelin, a Russian journalist, wrote in The Moscow Times, "The fact that an American, not a Russian, TV channel tells us about our own heroes is a source of shame that the pro-Kremlin media apparently cannot live down."

"And this is the real reason they find fault with HBO’s “Chernobyl” series."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Jun082019

Meghan Markle celebrates Queen Elizabeth II's birthday in first public outing since baby Archie's arrival

ABC News(LONDON) -- New mom Meghan Markle took a break from maternity leave on Saturday morning to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 93rd birthday at the Trooping the Colour parade.

It was Duchess of Sussex’s first public outing since she introduced her newborn son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, to the world in May.

Thousands gathered in the streets of central London to wish the queen a happy birthday and watch the annual parade. Queen Elizabeth was joined by members of the royal family, including Charles, Prince of Wales, who is next in line to the throne, and Prince William. Both were in full military regalia.

The queen rode in the Scottish State Coach while the Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan came by carriage.

It was the first Trooping for 11-year-old Prince Louis of Cambridge, the third child of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. He was too young to take part in the 2018 parade, when he joined his family on the balcony. His cousin Archie, who is just over a month old, is too young to take part this year.

In a nod to their weddings, both Meghan and Kate wore outfits from the designers that created their wedding gowns — a butter-yellow coat dress by Alexander McQueen for Kate and a navy ensemble by Clare Waight-Keller for Meghan.

The Queen’s real date of birth is in April, but it is officially observed in early June so that it can coincide with the parade, and on a Saturday so that the public can attend.

The Trooping is heavily infused with military symbolism and significance. Different royals are in command of different regiments. The Prince of Wales is the royal colonel of the Welsh Guards; Anne, Princess Royal, is colonel of the Blues and Royals; William is colonel of the Irish Guards and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is colonel of the Grenadier Guards. All colonels rode on horseback as part of the military procession.

The queen watched the ceremony from a dais in Horse Guards Parade, and inspected the troops before a 41-gun salute in Green Park and returning to Buckingham Palace.

The pinnacle of the event is the spectacular fly past from the Royal Air Force. More than 20 aircraft — both modern jets and older, historically significant planes took part, before the iconic Red Arrows made their finale, with streams of red, blue and white across the sky in the colors of the Union Jack.

The parade involved some 1,400 troops, with 200 on horseback, and several hundred musicians.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun072019

Russian police accused of setting up prominent investigative journalist

iStock/republica(MOSCOW) -- A prominent investigative reporter has been arrested in Russia on charges of drug dealing, prompting an outcry from the country's community of embattled independent journalists who say he is being set up as punishment for exposing corruption.

Ivan Golunov, who writes for the independent news site, Meduza, and whose work has exposed corruption and suspicious dealings by officials and organised criminals, was arrested in Moscow on Thursday. Police have said they stopped him on the street and found he was carrying five bags of mephedrone, a recreational drug popular at nightclubs.

Police said they found more of the drug when they searched Golunov's apartment, and charged him with "intent to distribute," an offense that carries a possible prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

Golunov's editors at Meduza swiftly denounced his arrest, saying they were certain he was being framed.

“We are convinced that Ivan Golunov is innocent," the site's editors, Galina Timchenko and Kolpakov wrote in a statement. "Moreover, we have grounds to suggests that Golunov is being persecuted over his journalistic activity. We know that in recent months Vanya has been getting threats; we know in connection with which text he was preparing; we have a suspicion from who. We will find out by whose will Vanya is being persecuted and we will make this information public."

Meduza is a popular site that frequently publishes articles critical of Russian authorities. It is based in Latvia in order to shield itself from attacks in Russia.

Through his lawyer, Dmitry Djulai, Golunov accused police of planting the drugs during the arrest. He also said that officers punched and kicked him while questioning him in the police station, and initially prevented him from contacting a lawyer. When his lawyer arrived, police refused to take swabs of Golunov's hands or his rucksack, which could show whether he had handled the drugs, Djulai said.

Police also released photographs purporting to show equipment from a drugs laboratory that they suggested had been taken at Golunov's home, but friends said the apartment in the photos was not his and had been taken somewhere else. Russia's Interior Ministry later was forced to admit the photos had been taken in a different building and said it was investigating why they had been published.

Golunov's arrest has prompted shock and outrage from across a broad spectrum of journalists and commentators in Russia, as well as expressions of concern abroad. Journalists and other protesters Friday began holding one-man pickets outside Interior ministry offices in a number of Russian cities demanding Golunov's release. Police then detained at least a dozen people at the protests, among them some of Russia's most well-known independent journalists.

Reporters Without Borders, an international advocacy group for journalists, said the police's "extremely strange behavior" suggested that Golunov has been arrested "on a trumped-up charge." Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said that if this was the case "it would mark a significant escalation in the harassment of the country’s independent media.”

The Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said he had "only just heard" of Golunov's arrest during his daily briefing call Friday. Asked whether the case could be fabricated, Peskov pointed to the photos released by police, which have since been shown to be misleading.

Planting drugs has long been a tactic of Russia's security services for jailing or discrediting opponents, but it more frequently used to target political activists rather than journalists. Earlier this year, Oyub Titiev, the director of the Chechnya branch of human rights NGO, Memorial, was convicted on drugs possession charges in another case that was widely condemned by international rights groups as fabricated.

Golunov is considered one of Russia's most respected investigative reporters.

Recently he has investigated family members of Moscow's deputy mayor, who had acquired property worth tens of millions of dollars and he has also detailed Moscow's plans to send its waste to surrounding regions, a controversial issue that has sparked protests. Golunov also recently wrote a long article exposing how figures connected to senior officials had tried to take control of Russia's funeral industry.

The independent Russian site, Mediazona, which frequently focuses on rights abuses, on Friday said the case against Golunov was intended to intimidate Russia's non-state media.

"This is a blow not only on Ivan himself and his colleagues at Meduza, it is a blow against everyone who continues to work honestly, to collect and convey disclosures of important information about life in Russia," the site's editors wrote in an op-ed.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun072019

Dominican Republic resort where 3 Americans died says employees received 'insults and threats'

iStock/ufuka(NEW YORK) -- The company behind a resort in the Dominican Republic where three Americans died within a few days of one another is firing back against "serious insults and threats."

In a statement, Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts began by noting that they are "collaborating completely" with investigators and will continue to do so.

Because of the ongoing investigation, they address those cases directly in the statement, but they did slam the "inaccurate and false information" that they say has circulated in the wake of the incidents.

The resort company's said the alleged misinformation that has been circulating related to the case has impacted the hotel chain, which they said has "suffered great damage to its image and reputation."

"Serious insults and threats have been levied on some of our more than 15,000 employees and their families, who are the backbone of our company and before whom we cannot stand idle on the sidelines," the statement reads.

"We reiterate that we completely disagree with the dissemination of false information issued publicly which threatens the image and reputation of the company and the integrity and rights of our employees and their families, reserving, where necessary, the right to take the appropriate legal action," the statement reads.

Just days before an American couple was found dead in their hotel room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort in the Dominican Republic, another American in another hotel at the same resort died.

The two hotels are adjacent to one another on the same resort on the island's southern coast.

Jay McDonald, a spokesperson for the family of the first woman who died, Miranda Schaupp-Werner, 41, said the family became alarmed when they discovered the proximity between the two incidents.

Schaupp-Werner died "suddenly and inexplicably" in her hotel room at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville after having a drink from the in-room mini bar, McDonald said.

The other two Americans, Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were found dead in their hotel room after missing their scheduled check-out time.

The preliminary results of the autopsies were released by the Dominican Republic’s attorney general’s office on Thursday. The report did not reveal the conclusive cause of death as that will come once the full toxicology and histopathological report are completed, which could take up to a month. The preliminary autopsy results revealed that Miranda Schaupp-Werner had a narrowing of one of her coronary arteries. Holmes had cirrhosis of the liver, and a large liver as well as lung swelling. Day also had an enlarged liver as well as a large heart, as well as brain and lung swelling.

The U.S. Department of State has told ABC News it is monitoring the local investigations into the three deaths, but said in a statement on Tuesday that "at this point, we are not aware of any connection between these incidents."

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Friday
Jun072019

Pentagon warns Turkey it won't receive F-35 if it buys Russian missiles

Ministry of Defence via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon has warned Turkey that it has until July 31 to not purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system or the NATO ally will no longer be allowed to buy the sophisticated F-35 fighter or participate in any aspects of the program.

The move is the latest escalation in a high-stakes war of wills between the two NATO allies over whether Turkey should purchase a Russian weapons system that U.S. officials say is "incompatible" with America's most sophisticated stealth fighter.

"While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400, "Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wrote in a letter Thursday to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. "You still have the option to change course on the S-400,"

Shanahan warned Akar that the United States has developed a plan to discontinue Turkey's participation in the F-35 program by July 31 if it does not reverse its decision to purchase the S-400 missile system. The Russian system is believed to have a longer range and improved detection capabilities than American missile defense air systems.

The United States wants Turkey to purchase American-made Patriot anti-missile systems instead of the Russian-made S-400's. But Turkish leaders have been adamant that they prefer the Russian missile system that they say is markedly better than the American system.

But U.S. officials are most concerned that Russia could use the anti-missile system to pinpoint the stealth fighter's capabilities and potential vulnerabilities, particularly a radar profile that could make the stealth fighter detectable. Those concerns are why U.S. officials have said that the two systems are "incompatible".

"We do not want to have the F-35 in close proximity to the S-400 over a period of time because of the ability to understand the profile of the F-35 on that particular piece of equipment," Ellen Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment told reporters on Friday.

In addition to not delivering the four F-35 aircraft that Turkey has already purchased Shanahan said no additional Turkish pilots would be trained in the United States past July 31. By that date, many Turkish pilots who have been training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona will have completed their courses prior to departing the United States.

The U.S. decision could also have an economic impact inside Turkey where more than 900 parts found inside the F-35 are built, as part of the original international consortium agreement for American allies to develop the F-35.

About 400 of those parts, found in the aircraft's landing gear and central fuselage, are exclusively made by Turkish manufacturers.

Lord said the Pentagon is already looking to make arrangements to find alternate production facilities in other countries by early 2020.

The Pentagon position seems to have been hardened by the recent acknowledgment by Turkey that it had already sent military personnel to Russia to train on the S-400 systems.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun072019

Feds to turn apartments once used by oil workers into new shelter for migrant kids

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CARRIZO SPRINGS, TX.) -- The federal government will turn an apartment complex once used by oil field workers in south Texas into an emergency shelter for 1,600 migrant kids who arrive at the border without their parents. It is also looking at several military bases to house another 1,400 kids in coming weeks, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The new emergency shelters come amid record-high levels of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, including thousands of kids arriving each month in the hopes of meeting up with parents and other relatives already inside the U.S. The kids often spend several weeks or even months in temporary shelter before they can be placed with a sponsor.

Mark Weber, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said Friday the new emergency facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, called "The Studios" will open soon. Weber said other several other military bases remain under consideration, including Fort Sill in Oklahoma, as a way of expanding capacity by 3,000 among all the sites. There are currently some 13,000 migrant minors in HHS custody.

Democrats have criticized the facilities, which are often not subject to state child welfare licensing requirements because they are temporary emergency shelters. One such shelter, tent-like facilities in Tornillo, Texas, shuttered amid political pressure and protests and many of those kids were shuttled to Homestead in Florida.

Weber said all children sent to Carrizo Springs will reside in “hard-sided” facilities, and tent-like structures will only be used for support operations.

“Based on the anticipated growth pattern in referrals of UAC” from the Homeland Security Department to HHS, the agency “is preparing for the need for high bed capacity to continue,” Weber said.

The agency's program has come under severe financial strain in recent weeks, as Congress has yet to fulfill the Trump administration's request for $2.9 billion in emergency money to care for what the government calls "unaccompanied alien children." As a result of the influx and lack of money, HHS is canceling education and recreational services for the kids.

 Some 144,000 migrants were stopped at the border in the month of May alone, including 11,000 unaccompanied minors. The numbers are stunning, considering that only 20,000 migrants were stopped in May 2017. Migration experts say the cause is a mix of poverty and gangs, as well as weather-related disasters that have wiped out farms. Officials also say people are aware that court-mandated rules have prevented the U.S. government from detaining children past 20 days.

Critics of the Trump administration say the president hasn’t helped the situation either by threatening to close the border, presenting an urgency to any would-be migrants. Trump has recently announced a plan to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it stops the migration.

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Friday
Jun072019

4 teens arrested in connection to attack on gay couple who says they were told to kiss

iStock/400tmax(LONDON) -- London police have arrested four teenage men following an alleged homophobic assault and robbery of two women on a London bus last week.

Melania Geymonat revealed in a Facebook post that she and her girlfriend, Chris, were punched in the face while traveling on the top deck of a London bus to Camden Town.

“I had a date with Chris,” Geymonat posted on Facebook. “We got on the Night Bus, climbed upstairs and took the front seats. We must have kissed or something because these guys came after us.”

She added that the group of four men were “behaving like hooligans” and demanding that her and Chris kiss “so they could enjoy watching.”

“In an attempt to calm things down, I started making jokes. I thought this might make them go away. Chris even pretended she was sick, but they kept on harassing us, throwing us coins and becoming more enthusiastic about it,” Geymonat said on Facebook. “The next thing I know is that Chris is in the middle of the bus fighting with them. On an impulse, I went over there only to find her face bleeding and three of them beating her up. The next thing I know is I'm being punched.”

The two women had been robbed of a phone and a bag during the attack, Metropolitcan Police Service said in a statement Friday.

The Met Police later on announced that “four teenage males aged between 15 and 18 have been arrested on suspicion of robbery and aggravated grievous bodily harm after two women were subject to a homophobic attack on a London night bus,” according to a tweet by Sky News

Both women were taken to the hospital for their injuries.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the incident a “disgusting, misogynistic attack” on Twitter on Thursday.

Pride month is in full swing across London, and it will culminate in the Pride in London parade on July 6 .

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Friday
Jun072019

A look at the US military's close calls with Russia in the air and at sea

iStock(MANILA) -- When a Russian destroyer sailed 50 to 100 feet from a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser on Friday -- a distance so close the American ship had to make last-second maneuvers to avoid a collision -- it was just the latest in a series of close calls between the U.S. and Russian militaries.

The USS Chancellorsville was operating in the Philippine Sea at approximately 11:45 a.m. on Friday when the Russian ship "maneuvered from behind and to the right of the Chancellorsville, accelerated, and closed to an unsafe distance" of between 50 and 100 feet, the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

"This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision," the statement continued.

The U.S. Navy characterized the Russian ship's actions as "unsafe" -- the term typically used by the U.S. military to describe risky close calls experienced by its ships and aircrafts, in international waters and airspace.

With American military ships and planes conducting regular operations worldwide, there is always a chance for close encounters with the Russian military, which also operates globally.

How often do those types of unsafe interactions occur?

Not often, but when they do, they gain a lot of attention. If the incidents are deemed dangerous enough, the U.S. will file a formal diplomatic complaint with Moscow, called a démarche, but in the end, all that usually happens is that the U.S. military issues statements reaffirming its right to sail or fly through international waters and airspace.

On Friday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan reacted to Friday's incident between the Russian destroyer and the Chancellorsville, telling reporters the U.S. would have military-to-military conversations with the Russians and "démarche them."

"To me, safety at the end of the day is most important. It will not deter us from conducting our operations," he said.

U.S. officials believe Russia's close encounters with the U.S. military are prompted by Russia's effort to reassert itself militarily around its borders.

In recent years, the closest encounters have been in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, involving Russian military aircraft buzzing American ships and flying too close to American planes.

Earlier this week, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft experienced an "unsafe" and "irresponsible" intercept by a Russian fighter over international waters above the Mediterranean Sea.

In late May, U.S. Air Force F-22 fighters intercepted Russian aircraft that had entered the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for the second day in a row.

Russia isn't the only nation with which the U.S. military has had these close encounters.

In October, there was a particularly notable incident between the USS Decatur and a Chinese warship in the South China Sea. The Chinese ship sailed within 135 feet of the Decatur's bow, similarly prompting the American ship to take evasive maneuvers to avoid collision.

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Friday
Jun072019

Russian destroyer, US Navy ship 'avoid collision' after close encounter

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser was forced to execute emergency maneuvers on Friday after a Russian destroyer came between 50 and 100 feet of the American ship, the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet said.

The USS Chancellorsville was operating in the Philippine Sea at approximately 11:45 a.m. on Friday when the Russian ship DD572 "maneuvered from behind and to the right of the Chancellorsville, accelerated, and closed to an unsafe distance" of between 50 and 100 feet, Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

"This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision," the statement continued.

Russia's Pacific Fleet argued it was the American ship that changed course without warning, forcing the Russian ship to execute an emergency maneuver to avoid collision.

The Russian statement also said that the ship, the Admiral Vinogradov, also broadcast a protest on an international frequency to the U.S. ship, telling it that its actions were unacceptable.

Video taken of Friday's incident shows Russian sailors in bathing suits sunning on the ship's back deck.

The incident follows another interaction -- this time between U.S. and Russian aircraft -- that the U.S. Navy deemed "unsafe." Earlier this week, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft experienced an "unsafe" and "irresponsible" intercept by a Russian fighter over international waters above the Mediterranean Sea.

In late May, U.S. Air Force F-22 fighters intercepted Russian aircraft that had entered the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for the second day in a row.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jun072019

Residents warned after 14 lions escape from South Africa's Kruger Park

bennymarty/iStock(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- South African authorities are trying to recapture a pride of 14 lions that escaped from world-famous Kruger National Park this week.

The group of lions has been spotted roaming near a mine in the Limpopo Province, prompting warnings from local officials.

"Employees at Foskor Mine and members of the public are hereby advised to be alert at all times," the government warned.

Rangers are monitoring the animals, and will release them back into the park after they’ve been captured

Kruger National Park is one of the biggest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of 7,523 square miles.

The area is largely fenced off, and it is unclear how the lions managed to slip out of the park unnoticed.

News of the lions' escape comes just one day after a leopard killed a 2-year-old boy at Kruger National Park.

The leopard managed to gain entry into the fenced-off staff quarters and attacked the child before it was shot and killed by rangers.

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