A Moscow court on Tuesday extended the detention of former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, a Canadian-American citizen, until March 29 on espionage charges, Interfax news agency reported.
Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in December 2018 and accused of spying.
Agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Whelan in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 last year and accused him of spying.
Moscow says he was caught with a computer flash drive containing classified information.
Whelan says he was set up in a sting and had thought the drive, given to him by a Russian acquaintance, contained holiday photos.
He has been held in pretrial detention while investigators look into his case.
Whelan was born in Ottawa to British parents and moved to the U.S. as a child.
When he was arrested, he was director of global security and investigations for Michigan-based auto-parts maker BorgWarner. Prior to that, worked in security and investigations for the global staffing firm Kelly Services, which is headquartered in Michigan and has operations in Russia.
Whelan also holds Irish citizenship.
Bart Gorman, U.S. deputy chief of mission, made a pre-Christmas appeal to Russia to free Whelan on Monday outside a Moscow prison after he and diplomats from Britain, Canada and Ireland also had visited the Michigan native.
“In a case where there is no evidence and no crime, it’s time to have him released,” Gorman said.
Gorman said Whelan was in “reasonably good spirits,” but Whelan’s repeated requests to telephone his parents had not been granted.
Horse race marks Sydney’s emergence from long COVID-19 lockdown
Thousands of Sydney residents flocked to a prominent horse race on Saturday, as Australia’s biggest city emerges from a strict COVID-19 lockdown and the nation begins to live with the coronavirus through extensive vaccination.
Up to 10,000 fully vaccinated spectators can now attend races such as The Everest https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/horse-racing-third-time-lucky-nature-strip-everest-2021-10-16 in Sydney, Australia’s richest turf horse race, and the country’s most famous, Melbourne Cup Day, on Nov. 2.
New South Wales State, of which Sydney is the capital, reached its target of 80% of people fully vaccinated on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia.
“80% in NSW! Been a long wait but we’ve done it,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Twitter.
The state reported 319 new coronavirus cases, all of the Delta variant, and two deaths on Saturday. Many restrictions were eased in New South Wales on Monday, when it reached 70% double vaccinations.
Neighbouring Victoria, where the capital Melbourne has been in lockdown for weeks, reported 1,993 new cases and seven deaths, including the state’s youngest victim, a 15-year-old girl.
Victoria is expected to reach 70% double vaccination before Oct. 26 and ease its restrictions more slowly than New South Wales has, drawing criticism from the federal government on Saturday.
“It is really sad that Victorians are being held back,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Australia is set to gradually lift its 18-month ban on international travel https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/covid-19-infections-linger-near-record-levels-australias-victoria-2021-10-14 from next month for some states when 80% of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated. As of Friday, 67.2% of Australians were fully inoculated, and 84.4% had received at least one shot.
The country closed its international borders in March 2020, since then allowing only a limited number of people to leave or citizens and permanent residents abroad to return, requiring them to quarantine for two weeks.
Australia’s overall coronavirus numbers are low compared to many other developed countries, with just over 140,000 cases and 1,513 deaths.
(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)
Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed
The Head Of The Christian Lebanese Forces Party (LF) denied late on Friday his group had planned street violence in Beirut that killed seven people, and said a meeting held the day before was purely political.
Thursday’s violence, which began as people were gathering for a protest called by Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah against the judge investigating last year’s Beirut port blast, was the worst in over a decade and stirred memories of the country’s ruinous sectarian civil war from 1975-90.
Samir Geagea told Voice of Lebanon International radio that a meeting held on Wednesday by a political grouping the LF belongs to had discussed action options should Iran-backed Hezbollah succeed in efforts to remove the judge.
Geagea said the option agreed upon in that event was to call for a public strike, and nothing else.
The powerful Hezbollah group stepped up accusations against the LF on Friday, saying it killed the seven Shi’ites to try to drag the country into a civil war.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shi’ite neighbourhoods, has added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world’s worst ever economic meltdowns.
Asked whether the presence of LF members in the areas of Ain al-Remmaneh and Teyouneh, where the shooting erupted, meant the incident was planned, Geagea said they were always present in these areas.
The security coordinator in the party contacted the authorities when they heard a protest was planned and asked for a heavy military presence in the area “as our priority was for the demonstration to pass by simply as a demonstration and not affect civil peace,” Geagea said.
Geagea said his party was assured that would be the case.
“The army has arrested snipers so they need to tell us who they are and where they came from.”
Nineteen people have been detained so far in relation to the incident.
Geagea, whose party has close ties to Saudi Arabia, also criticised President Michel Aoun over a phone call between the two during the incident.
Aoun’s party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Lebanon’s largest Christian bloc, is an ally of Hezbollah.
“I didn’t like this call at all,” Geagea said, saying Aoun implicitly made the same accusations of involvement that Hezbollah has by asking him to calm down the situation.
“This is totally unacceptable.”
(Reporting by Maha El DahanEditing by Shri Navaratnam and Mark Potter)
New Zealand vaccinates 2.5% of its people in a day in drive to live with COVID-19
New Zealand vaccinated at least 2.5% of its people on Saturday as the government tries to accelerate inoculations and live with COVID-19, preliminary health ministry data showed.
Through an array of strategies, gimmicks and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s encouragement through the day, 124,669 shots were administered by late in the day in a country of 4.9 million.
“We set a target for ourselves, Aotearoa, you’ve done it, but let’s keep going,” Ardern said, using a Maori name for New Zealand at a vaccination site, according to the Newshub news service. “Let’s go for 150 [thousand]. Let’s go big or go home.”
New Zealand had stayed largely virus-free for most of the pandemic until an outbreak of the Delta Variant in mid-August. The government now aims to have the country live with COVID-19 through higher inoculations.
Forty-one new cases were reported on Saturday, 40 of them in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. It has been in lockdown since mid-August to stamp out the Delta outbreak. Officials plan to end the strict restrictions when full vaccination rates reach 90%.
As of Friday, 62% of New Zealand’s eligible population had been fully vaccinated and 83% had received one shot.
Vaccination spots were set up on Saturday throughout the country, including at fast-food restaurants and parks, with some spots offering sweets afterwards, local media reported.
“I cannot wait to come and play a concert, I want to be sweaty and dancing and maybe not even wearing masks. Hopefully we can get there,” said pop singer Lorde, according to local media.
“Protect your community, get yourself a little tart, perhaps a little cream bun,” she said. “But please, please get that jab.”
Final results of the mass vaccination drive are expected to be released on Sunday.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Rditing by William Mallard)
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