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Canada-India relations strain over killing of Sikh separatist leader

EVAN VUCCI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The diplomatic breach between Canada and India over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader near Vancouver has widened as both countries expelled one of the other's diplomats and India suspended visa processing for Canadian citizens.

Ties between the two countries, which are close security and trade partners and U.S. allies, strained after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that investigators were actively probing "credible allegations" about the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

India's Ministry of External Affairs quickly rejected Trudeau's allegations, calling them "absurd" and accusing Canada of sheltering "terrorists and extremists" who "continue to threaten India's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a statement.

Nijjar, who lived in Canada for over 20 years and advocated for Sikh independence while running a plumbing business, was gunned down on June 18 in front of a temple in Surrey, near Vancouver. In 2020, the Indian government had classified him as a terrorist belonging to a banned militant group, accusations that Nijjar and his followers always denied.

Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside of India. According to Statistics Canada, the North American nation is home to 1.35 million Indians who make up around three percent of Canada's population.

In a notice posted on Thursday on BLS International, India's visa application center in Canada, the center announced it is suspending visa services for Canadians "until further" notice due to "operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023."

India's Ministry of External Affairs also issued an advisory for Indian Nationals and students in Canada, urging them to "exercise utmost caution" due to "growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada."

ABC News has reached out to India's Ministry of External Affairs for comment.

"We are not looking to provoke or cause problems, but we are unequivocal about the rule of law and unequivocal about protecting Canadians and standing up for our values," Trudeau told reporters at the United Nations on Thursday.

"That is why we call upon the government of India to work with us to establish processes, to uncover the truth of the matter and allow justice and accountability to be served," he said.

In response to the row, U.S. top national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that there are "no exceptions" for actions like this.

"Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles and we will also consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process," Sullivan said.

Canada-India relations have grown significantly in recent years, with the Canadian government announcing that bilateral trade in goods reached nearly 12 billion Canadian dollars in 2023 - an increase of 57 percent from the previous year.

Now, pressure is mounting for the Canadian government to share more of the evidence for its "credible allegations," especially as some of the evidence reportedly came from Five Eyes allies, an intelligence-sharing network that includes the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the CBC reported this week, citing Canadian government sources.

It's unclear whether the Nijjar question was already brought up at the recent G20 summit in New Delhi. A few days later, Canada announced it was cancelling a trade mission to India planned for the fall.

ABC News' Victoria Beaule contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

It's a kayak with a grenade launcher. And it could be a game-changer in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Adamant Verf

(KYIV, Ukraine) -- In a quiet bay of the Dnipro River, a one-hour drive from Kyiv, a group of Ukrainian engineers and special forces soldiers tested what they believe can be a game-changer in the Ukrainian counteroffensive: the Poloz-M16 combat kayak.

What otherwise looks like the familiar watercraft has been redesigned for special military purposes – in the Kherson region, for example, where the front line parallels the wide Dnipro, with multiple islands between its banks.

"To design something like this you have to build boats for 30 years. That's what I've been doing," says Serhiy Ostashenko, CEO of the Adamant Verf company, which produces the kayaks. He designed the Poloz-M16 overnight, he said, after special forces soldiers came to him with a need, and an idea.

"Poloz-M16 is similar to what the American and British soldiers have been using, but it's ten times cheaper, around 2,500 dollars per item," Ostaschenko explained to ABC News.

Ukraine has two seas –- the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – and around 3,000 rivers, so kayaks like the Poloz-M16 are a must-have, engineers and soldiers said.

The Poloz-M16 is designed not for assault but rather for covert operations. It's quiet, lightweight and maneuverable, with the ability to carry up to three people and 250 kilograms of cargo, around 550 pounds. It's also durable, made of a special polyethylene that can weather extreme temperatures, mechanical damage and last 50 years, or longer. The Poloz-M16 can be transported by a land vehicle or dropped onto the water from a helicopter. It can also be controlled on the water remotely.

What particularly makes the Poloz-M16 a combat kayak is a Ukrainian-produced NATO-type UAG-40 grenade launcher mounted in the bow, which can fire a projectile at a distance of up to just over a mile. A special mechanism absorbs the weapon's recoil, keeping the kayak stable on the water.

"So our Poloz is not afraid of any bulletproof speed boat. It can hide in the reeds and fire at the enemy like in a shooting range," Ostashenko said.

The combat kayaks have already proven themselves in action. In October of last year, Ukrainian soldiers used the Poloz-M16 in an operation on the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region. Sergiy, callsign Koyot, who took part in the operation, said he and the other soldiers conducted nighttime reconnaissance near Russian positions on the riverbank, transporting explosives and ultimately securing the passage of an assault group that forced Russian forces to retreat a dozen kilometers to the east.

The Poloz-M16 is just one of hundreds of things that Ukrainian specialists have created since the start of the Russian invasion, said Ostashenko. He and his engineering colleagues add that when you're short of conventional weapons, you have to be creative.

While some of the solutions might not see mass production, they're cheap and do the job. Others can be part of a powerful military tech industry that could involve billions of dollars in a few years, Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, told the Ukrainian media platform Ukrinform earlier this year. Fedorov oversees digital transformation projects, and in particular what's called the Army of Drones: small, but which inflict painful strikes on Russian military bases and even large warships.

To help facilitate innovation that can in turn assist the Ukrainian military, the government created the BRAVE1 platform, where inventors meet investors and consumers. The platform features things like different types of drones, including those for clearing mines, as well as mobile stations, yacht radars turned into anti-UAV searchers, walkie-talkies that can't be jammed, ground robotic complexes, fire stations and more.

"Ukraine has been a large exporter of IT products. A lot of people are studying in this field, that's why it's time to turn into a country making products that are capitalized, work for the whole world and are worth billions of dollars," Fedorov recently said in nationally televised comments. "We will be the strongest in military-tech – that is, everything related to innovations in the military field. Cyber security, any physical security related to innovation, and protection of critical infrastructure facilities will also evolve."

"A competency that is unique in the world is already being born in Ukraine," Fedorov said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dies at 98

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, the first in the country's history to be reelected to office, has died, according to the nation's press service ANSA. He was 98.

The former president, who served from 2006 until 2015, was the first in the country's history to be reelected to the office. He was the longest-serving and longest-lived president in the history of the modern Italian Republic.

He was also the first official from the Italian Communist Party to visit the United States. In 1978, he arrived in the U.S. to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard and other leading institutions.

The Naples-born politician came to be known as "Re Giorgio" ("King George") for providing stability amid the turbulence of Italian party politics and for ensuring a smooth transition of executive power.

Facing a deadlocked parliament in 2013, Napolitano reluctantly agreed to stay in office after his seven-year presidential term had expired. He stepped down in 2015.

Napolitano was seen by many as an "anti-Berlusconi" figure, with approval rates steadily around 80% across his long tenure. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died in June, was elected three times and was regarded as a divisive figure.

Napolitano's critics however called him an "interventionist," pointing at the extremely active role he played in politics, while the Italian presidency has traditionally been a symbolic and non-executive office.

With over six decades of his life dedicated to politics, Napolitano contributed to Italian politics and government in many different roles, from being a leading figure in the Italian Communist Party to serving in the Italian and European Parliament. In 1992, he became the president of Parliament's Chamber of Deputies and from 1996 to 1998 he was the interior minister.

In 2005, he was appointed Senator for Life by former President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

He is survived by his wife Clio and his sons, Giulio and Giorgio.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Iranian president's wife: Prison time for hijab law violations is 'out of respect for women'

ABC News

(LONDON) -- The wife of the president of Iran defended a law passed this week designed to impose harsher sentences on women who do not wear hijabs in public, comparing the rules to "dress codes everywhere" in an interview with ABC's "This Week."

You can see Martha Raddatz's full interview with Jamileh Alamolhoda on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday at 9 a.m. EDT.

Raddatz asked Alamolhoda about the subject, but the Iranian president's wife did not directly answer when asked about what the punishment for noncompliance should be.

"What do you think should happen to women who choose not to wear a hijab?" Raddatz asked.

"It is out of respect for women," Alamolhoda said. "It is natural in any country. There may be differences of opinion and viewpoints about dress codes. It comes back to their tastes, how they choose to live their lives and their social rights."

Alamolhoda drew comparisons between Iranian women facing a decade in prison for refusing to wear the religious symbol and workplace dress codes.

"You have dress codes everywhere, even here in university environments, in schools and everywhere else. And I need to tell you that hijab was a tradition, was a religiously mandated tradition, accepted widely. And now for years, it has been turned into a law. And breaking of the law, trampling upon any laws, just like in any country, comes with its own set of punishments," she said.

"What do you think the punishment should be?" Raddatz pressed further. "Because there are women who believe it is repressive. While they respect those who choose to wear the hijab, they don't want to be forced to wear the hijab. What do you think the punishment should be?"

"I do not specialize in law," the president's wife responded. "So I cannot ask you -- answer you on a professional level, but punishments are equally dispensed to any breaking of the law throughout many countries."

The public hijab requirement has faced pushback in the form of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement in which many women refuse to wear their hijabs in public.

"I feel that our mere presence on the streets is an act of resistance. Practicing everyday life as we want is a part of our revolution," Ava, a Tehran-based musician in her mid-20's, told ABC News earlier this year on condition of anonymity so she could speak freely about the movement.

At least 551 protesters, including 68 children and 49 women, have been killed since the start of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests, according to Iran Human Rights.

Raddatz sat down with Alamolhoda just a day after her husband delivered a fiery speech at the United Nations General Assembly and a year after massive protests erupted in the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in morality police custody following an alleged violation of Iran's hijab law.

ABC News' Somayeh Malekian contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Three South African Navy personnel killed in submarine incident

pawel.gaul/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Three South African Navy personnel have been pronounced dead, and one senior officer remains in critical condition, following a deadly incident at sea off the coast of Cape Town, the South African Department of Defence has announced.

Crew from the South African Navy Submarine SAS Manthatisi were executing a "vertical transfer" of supplies with use of a South African Air Force Lynx helicopter on Wednesday afternoon when "high waves" swept seven submariners out to sea from the submarine deck.

“It is with deep sadness that the SANDF announces the tragic loss of three SA Navy submariners off Kommetjie on 20 September on board the SAS MANTHATISI,” the South African Department of Defence said in a statement.

“A distress call was made to Cape Town Radio who then dispatched the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) from Kommetjie,” the agency said. “All seven members were recovered but sadly there were three fatalities with one senior officer in critical condition.”

The vertical operation was immediately cancelled, with rescue efforts launched to retrieve the submariners.

“A surface swimmer was dispatched from the helicopter to assist with the rescue. Unfortunately, the recovery operation was negatively affected by rough sea conditions,” the statement continued.

The South African Department of Defence has announced the remaining crew members, including the surface swimmer dispatched to assist in the rescue operation, are receiving treatment in hospital.

Among the SAS Manthatisi crew pronounced dead is Lt. Cmdr. Gillian Elizabeth Hector -- South Africa’s first ever female submarine navigator with rank of lieutenant commander.

“An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident will be convened in due course,” announced the South African Department of Defence.

Known as the "Spring Tide," South Africa’s southern and southeastern coast has been hit with powerful waves and strong winds that have caused at least one death, dozens of injuries and widespread damage.

According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), waves as high as 9.5 meters were recorded over the weekend, with social media videos showing waves battering seaside buildings and sweeping away vehicles.

“This high total water level in combination with meteorological and marine conditions resulted in the severe positive storm surge,” said the South African Weather Service in a statement. “These conditions have caused havoc to the South African coastline over the past weekend.”

The SAS Manthisi is one of three German-built Type 209/1400 Heroine-Class submarines in South Africa's Navy fleet. It was reported to be en route to Cape Town for a three-day Navy exhibition -- the SA Navy Festival -- which was to see active South African Navy vessels docked on the famous V&A Waterfront.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian missile strikes hit multiple Ukrainian cities

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russia has continued a nearly 19-month-long invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Recently, though, the Ukrainians have gone on a counteroffensive, fighting to reclaim occupied territory.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 21, 6:16 AM EDT
Ukraine claims large-scale strikes on Russian military base in Crimea

While Russia launched massive missile strikes across Ukraine overnight, Ukrainian forces have claimed to have attacked a Russian military base on the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

A source in Ukraine's security services told ABC News on Thursday that Ukrainian forces had hit the Saki airfield in Moscow-annexed Crimea, using an initial wave of drones to "overload" Russian air defense. Russian air force assets were then struck using Neptune missiles designed and produced by Ukraine, according to the source.

Multiple unverified videos of the Ukrainian attack were circulating online Thursday.

Sep 21, 5:54 AM EDT
Dozens of injuries reported after Russian strikes on multiple Ukrainian cities

Russian forces launched missile strikes on at least five Ukrainian cities from east to west late Wednesday and early Thursday, ahead of of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's planned meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.

Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo said it's the first major attack on the country's energy infrastructure in six months.

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv was among the cities hit, along with Kharkiv, Kherson, Cherkasy, Rivne and Lviv.

Ukrainian authorities were still assessing the damage and casualties on Thursday morning, but dozens of injuries have been reported so far. At least seven people were injured by falling debris in Kyiv.

Meanwhile, rescue efforts were ongoing in the central city of Cherkasy to evacuate as many as 20 people believed to be trapped beneath the rubble of a hotel that was destroyed in the strikes overnight. Thirteen others were already rescued and at least nine were injured, according to Ukrainian officials

The overnight strikes also targeted energy infrastructure in the Rivne region and an industrial zone in the Lviv area.

Sep 21, 1:08 AM EDT
Russian forces strike Kharkiv, Kyiv overnight

Russian forces initiated six strikes on Kharkiv overnight, damaging civilian infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said early Thursday.

The mayor of Kyiv also said explosions occurred in the Ukrainian capital overnight. Debris from the downed rockets fell in the Darnytskyi and Holosiivskyi districts of the city.

Five people were hurt in the Darnytskyi district of Kyiv, where the strike also destroyed non-residential buildings. Three of them, including a 9-year-old girl, were hospitalized. Two were treated by medics on scene.

In the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv, rocket debris damaged a gas pipe, an official said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'Humanity has opened the gates of hell,' UN Secretary-General says of climate urgency

Li Rui/Xinhua via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered another speech critical of the failure to make progress on climate action. In the opening remarks for his Climate Ambition Summit, he said "humanity has opened the gates of hell" warning we are heading toward a "dangerous and unstable world."

"Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent. Humanity has opened the gates of hell. Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods, sweltering temperatures spawning disease and thousands fleeing in fear as historic fires rage. Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge," Guterres said in his remarks.

"If nothing changes, we are heading towards a 2.8-degree temperature rise – towards a dangerous and unstable world."

Guterres set a high bar for world leaders set to speak at the summit, saying they must offer a significant new climate pledge. Major voices like the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China did not speak, although California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a scheduled slot at the summit.

"We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels," Guterres said.

"The proposed Climate Solidarity Pact calls on major emitters – who have benefitted most from fossil fuels – to make extra efforts to cut emissions, and on wealthy countries to support emerging economies to do so."

Guterres also emphasized that the future is not fixed, and credited climate activists and Indigenous Peoples for their activism as well as business executives, mayors and governments who are taking major steps to phase out fossil fuels.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Guterres admitted he has no power over the UN Security Council in forcing them to make decisions on the major issues like climate change but said using his voice and bringing people together is how he can make an impact.

"The Secretary-General of the United Nations has no power and no money, what we have is a voice and that voice can be loud, and I have the obligation for it to be loud," he told CNN.

"But the power is in the member states and the problem is the exercise of that power today is blocked. We have a level of division among superpowers that has no precedent since the second World War. Even in the Cold War things were more predictable than they are today."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Zelenskyy avoids confrontation with Russian foreign minister in remarks before UN Security Council

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Volodymyr Zelenskyy avoided a potential face-off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Ukrainian president's first in-person appearance before the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

Speaking via a translator, Zelenskyy called for Russia to be stripped of its veto power -- a move rendered virtually impossible by the structure of the U.N. charter.

"Since the start of the full-scale aggression launched by this state, which for some reason is still here among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, it has already been 574 days of pain, losses and struggle," Zelenskyy said at the top of the meeting. "Russia has killed at least tens of thousand of our people and turned millions into refugees by destroying their homes."

"The terrorist state is willing, through its aggression, to undermine all the grounds of international norms meant to protect the world from the wars," he continued.

Zelenskyy went on to say that the U.N.'s inability to meaningfully intervene in the conflict had greatly diminished its standing.

"The resolutions of the General Assembly have clearly recognized the fact that the only source of this war is Russia, but this has changed nothing for Russia in the United Nations. However, these are the situations that have changed everything for the U.N. We should recognize that the U.N. finds itself in a deadlock," Zelenskyy said, arguing the organization had become centered on "compromise with killers" and rhetoric instead of action.

"Humankind no longer hangs its hopes on the U.N.," he added.

Zelenskyy then outlined his peace plan but acknowledged it could not be implemented due to Russia's veto power.

The remarks come a day after Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. General Assembly and argued that the war is "not only about Ukraine." He emphasized that if Russia is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine, then no rule-abiding nation can consider itself safe from a similar attack or aggression in the future.

During Wednesday's Security Council meeting, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, criticized Zelenskyy speaking ahead of the other members of the Security Council, calling for him to speak after per protocols.

MORE: Biden offers support for Ukraine, stresses global unity in United Nations speech
"They're trying to transform [the Security Council] into a one-man stand-up show," Nebenzya said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who chaired the meeting, pushed back, saying: "There is a solution for this, if you agree -- you stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor."

Lavrov was not in the chamber during Zelenskyy's remarks.

In a long rebuttal via a translator, the foreign minister reiterated false claims that the West implemented a "coup" to install Zelenskyy as Ukraine's president as justification for Russia's invasion and that Moscow was forced to intervene in Ukraine to stop "the criminal actions of the Kyiv regime." He also suggested that the U.S. was still in control of Kyiv and could force Zelenskyy to participate in peace talks.

On the U.N. itself, Lavrov said it was nothing more than a tool for Washington to push its own agenda on the world but generally called for upholding its charter.

Zelenskyy was not in the chamber during Lavrov's rebuttal.

Prior to Lavrov's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in support of Ukraine while blasting Russia, which he said is "committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on an almost daily basis."

"It's hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all it stands for. This, from a country with a permanent seat on this council," Blinken said.

Blinken also argued that the U.N. could focus on supporting Ukraine and holding Russia accountable for its actions while addressing other pressing issues facing the world.

"We can and we must do both. We are doing both," he said, adding that the U.S. was the leading contributor on several critical fronts.

President Joe Biden is set to meet with Zelenskyy at the White House on Thursday as both men push Congress to approve $24 billion more in funding for Kyiv over the objections of some House Republicans.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it wasn't burnout that led her to step down

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(NEW YORK) -- After over five years as the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern surprised the world in January when she announced that she would step down and not seek reelection, saying, "It's time."

Ardern said at the time that she no longer had "enough in the tank" to do the job well, leading some people to speculate it was burnout that led her to leave the high-profile job.

In a new interview with "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts, Ardern dispelled the myth that she was experiencing burnout as both a woman and a mom in the role.

"I could have kept going but, for me, having been through a period where we did experience a lot of crises in New Zealand, it was whether or not I had enough to do the job well, and the answer for me personally was, no, it was time for someone else," Ardern told Roberts in a live interview Wednesday. "So, a bit different than burnout."

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as a condition "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." In 2019, WHO called burnout an "occupational phenomenon" and included the condition in its International Classification of Diseases, a diagnostic tool for medical providers.

Ardern said that though it was not burnout that led her to step down, she recognizes the impact she had in speaking out publicly about why she chose not to seek reelection and in being honest that it was time for a new leader for her country.

"I was overwhelmed by the fact that beyond New Zealand's shore, it triggered a discussion about how we make these decisions," Ardern said. "I had particularly a few women say to me, 'Thank you for making it OK to say that I'm tired or that I don't have enough in the tank to do a job well.'"

She continued, "I think we carry a huge sense of responsibility to just keep going."

Part of both the burden and privilege Ardern carried with her as prime minister was that she was different than prime ministers of the past.

She was the youngest prime minister in New Zealand in more than 150 years and only the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while in office.

Ardern told Roberts that she hopes her time as the country's top leader inspired other people around the world to step up and serve, saying, "I hope it was a call to anyone who is holding themselves back."

"I think it might have been perhaps a call to other reluctant leaders, to those out there who may think that they don't have the character traits or they see themselves as too sensitive, not tough enough or [see] roles in leadership, particularly politics, as being a place where that would be a hard set of character traits to bring to the table," Ardern said, adding, "I think they're necessary ones."

She continued, "If you're sensitive enough, it means you're empathetic. We need more empathy in leadership. We need more kindness in leadership."

Since finishing her final term as prime minister, Ardern said she has worked to fulfill her promise of spending more time with her family.

She gave birth to her daughter in 2018, the first child for her and partner Clarke Gayford.

"One of the things I wanted to do was be more present for my family, so I'm certainly trying to do that," Ardern said. "But also I still want to be useful."

For Ardern, being useful has meant serving as a fellow at Harvard University in Boston, continuing her work to lessen the amount of extremism and terrorism online, working with Britain's Prince William on his Earthshot Prize initiative and writing a book.

"I didn't want to write about the small, individual political things that happened in New Zealand over the past five years," Ardern said. "But then someone expressed to me in a different way, 'What if you just wrote about what it was like as a human?' And so they changed my mind, and now I'm really just writing a few stories."


Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Azerbaijan says it's halting offensive on disputed Armenian enclave Nagorno-Karabakh


(LONDON) -- Azerbaijan has announced it is suspending its military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh, after ethnic Armenian authorities in the disputed enclave agreed to lay down their arms in an apparent capitulation.

Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian-led government on Wednesday morning said they had agreed to a ceasefire after Azerbaijani forces made major advances in the day-long offensive that has sparked warnings of humanitarian disaster and risks of large-scale ethnic cleansing.

In a statement, the enclave's ethnic Armenian authorities said under the agreement all Armenian military units would withdraw from the enclave and local forces would be disbanded and fully disarmed. It said a "complete cessation of hostilities" would begin from 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Azerbaijan's defense ministry said Armenian forces had agreed to "lay down their weapons, leave their combat positions and military posts and disarm completely. Units of the Armenian armed forces [will] leave the territories of Azerbaijan, illegal Armenian armed groups [will be] dissolved."

Both sides said talks on issues around the "reintegration" of the enclave into Azerbaijan would be held on Thursday in the city of Yevlakh.

The agreement was brokered via the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was established after the last major fighting there in 2020.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but has been controlled and largely inhabited by ethnic Armenians since a war in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan launched a major new offensive overnight on Monday, demanding the enclave's ethnic Armenian government dissolve itself and asserting that it would restore control over the territory.

Azerbaijani forces attacked along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and began shelling the regional capital, called Stepanakert by Armenians. Over a hundred people were reported injured and several killed, according to local Armenian authorities. Thousands of people were reported to be sheltering in basements and video posted online by local media appeared to show hundreds of civilians seeking shelter at a Russian peacekeeper base.

The ethnic Armenian government, which calls itself the Republic of Artsakh, wrote the decision to lay down arms was made after "enemy succeeded in penetrating into defense army outposts, capturing several heights and strategic road junctions."

"In the current situation, the international community's actions in the direction of ending the war and resolving the situation are insufficient. Taking this into consideration, the authorities of the Republic of Artsakh accept the proposal of the Russian peacekeeping contingent's command regarding a ceasefire," the Nagorno-Karabakh Presidential Office said.

The Azerbaijan offensive had sparked warnings tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians might be driven from their homes, raising the specter of large-scale ethnic cleansing in the enclave.

It was unclear what agreement would mean for the enclave's administration and the ethnic Armenians living there.

The Karabakh Armenian government in its statement said the talks on Thursday would discuss "issues raised by the Azerbaijani side on reintegration" and "ensuring the rights and security of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh….within the framework of the Constitution of Azerbaijan."

Before the ceasefire agreement, the United States, Russia, as well as France and the European Union had urged an immediate end to the Azerbaijan's military operation.

The apparent success of Azerbaijan's lightening offensive appeared to mark a historic turning point in the decades-old conflict, furthering a steep reversal in Armenia's control over the enclave that began in 2020. Backed by Turkey, Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in October 2020 with a short war, that ended with Armenia's defeat and a Russian-brokered peace agreement.

Since then Azerbaijan had tightened its grip around Nagorno-Karabakh, imposing a blockade for the last nine months that has created shortages of food and medicine.

Since the 2020 war, Armenia's government under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has distanced itself from the Karabakh government and abandoned Armenia's claim to the enclave. Pashinyan declined to declare war following the new Azerbaijani offensive and on Wednesday said Armenia had no involvement in Wednesday's ceasefire agreement.

Police in Armenia's capital Yerevan on Tuesday night clashed with hundreds of protesters outside state buildings, angry with what they saw as the government's failure to defend Karabakh.

Azerbaijan's offensive also appeared to underline Russia's weakened influence in the region, long considered its southern backyard, that has been accelerated by the war in the Ukraine. Azerbaijan is allied with Turkey, which publicly backed this week's offensive and has supported Azerbaijan previously with weapons and military advisors.

Russia is formally in a security pact with Armenia but besides deploying peacekeepers has not intervened on its behalf. Armenian politicians have expressed frustration with Moscow and suggested the country should seek closer ties with Western countries, including the United States, which this month held a small military training exercise in Armenia.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Asteroid that passes nearby could hit Earth in the future, NASA says


(NEW YORK) -- An asteroid NASA's been tracking for nearly 25 years could impact Earth in the future, a new report reveals.

First discovered in 1999, Bennu, the near-Earth asteroid, could possibly drift into the planet's orbit and could hit the planet by September 2182, according to the OSIRIS-REx science team.

Bennu passes near Earth every six years and has had three close encounters with Earth in 1999, 2005, and 2011, experts said in the ScienceDirect study.

There is a 1 in 2,700, or 0.037% chance that Bennu could hit Earth by 2182, scientists said.

In October 2020, the OSIRIS-REx -- an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer -- briefly touched the surface of Bennu, collected a sample and then propelled off the asteroid.

The first asteroid sample collected in space from OSIRIS-REx lands on Earth on Sunday -- crashing down in Utah.

Astrophysicist Hakeem Oluyesi told ABC News that OSIRIS-REx will change what people know about the origins of our solar system.

"This is pure untainted material revealing early solar system secrets. A longshot discovery would be finding biological molecules or even precursor molecules for life," Oluyesi said.

It was the first mission of its kind for NASA.

If Bennu would hit Earth, it would release 1,200 megatons of energy, which is 24 times the energy of the most manmade nuclear weapon, according to IFLScience.

The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was as powerful as 10 billion atomic bombs, scientists revealed in 2019. Experts found evidence in massive chunks of rocks that the asteroid was strong enough to trigger wildfires, tsunamis and blast so much dust into the atmosphere that it blocked out the sun.

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Canada investigating 'credible allegations' linked to Sikh leader's death, expels Indian diplomat

Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

(OTTAWA, Canada) -- Canadian national security agencies are investigating "credible allegations" that “agents of the government of India” were involved in the death of a Canadian Sikh leader in June, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.

Trudeau said that steps are being taken to hold the people accountable behind the death of prominent Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.

"Canada is a rule of law country, the protection of our citizens in [defense] of our sovereignty are fundamental," Trudeau said in a statement addressing the House of Commons. "Our top priorities have therefore been one, that our law enforcement and security agencies ensure the continued safety of all Canadians."

Melany Joly, Canada's foreign affairs minister, announced the country will oust a "key Indian diplomat" and anticipated India to "fully collaborate" with Canada to get answers, according to CTV News.

Nijjar was killed on June 18 near a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, according to The Associated Press.

He advocated for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland in India's Punjab region, according to CTV News.

Sikhs in Canada protested over Nijjar's death, accusing the Indian government of being behind the slaying, according to CTV News.

Early Tuesday morning from New Dehli, the Indian government released a statement saying they “reject” the statement from Trudeau.

“Allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” the statement read. “Similar allegations were made by the Canadian Prime Minister to our Prime Minister, and were completely rejected. We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law.”

As their statement continued, India asked Canada to take action.

“We urge the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil,” their statement concluded.

Trudeau released a statement Tuesday contending that he and his government aren't looking to escalate tensions or provoke India.

"One of the things that is so important today, is that India and the government of India take seriously this matter. It is extremely serious and it has far-reaching consequences in international law and otherwise," he said.

The U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement Tuesday that the White House was "deeply concerned" about the Canadian government's allegations against India and that "[i]t is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice."

The White House called on India to cooperate with Canada's investigation "and ensure that those responsible are held to account," Watson said.

Trudeau told the House of Commons he brought his concerns directly to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last week's G-20 summit in New Delhi.

"Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," Trudeau said.

Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said Friday she's postponing a trade mission to India that was scheduled for October, after tensions between the two countries escalated after Modi reprimanded Trudeau during the G-20 summit, according to Reuters.

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Men targeted by Iranian regime as women protest for equal rights

KeithBinns/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- When she hopped on a taxi in Tehran this past summer, Raha was not wearing a headscarf.

Her open challenge to the mandatory hijab rule in place in Iran for the last 40 years did not go unnoticed. She said her male taxi driver complimented her for the brave gesture, like many other men have done since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the police for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.

"You are going to change this regime. It's the way to go," the driver said to Raha, as she told ABC News. She wanted her real name not to be used for her safety. "You are so strong and free-spirited. We are proud of you."

Raha said she faced at that moment another aspect of the reality of the Mahsa revolution, which had been going on for over 10 months. The praise of the taxi driver should have made her feel more hopeful for the future. Instead, it made her reflect on how men in Iran support the movement.

"I want them to know I am not strong. I am tired of them expecting me to always be strong and them just being proud," she said. "I told him I wanted men to really join us in this fight, both on and off the streets."

For Raha, then, being cheered on was not enough.

"Woman, Life, Freedom" is a movement of women but without men's solid support, it would be doomed to fail, as experts and activists say.

At least 551 people have been killed and 22 have died of suspicious deaths connected to the regime since September 2022, according to a report by Iran Human Rights. Nearly 80% of the victims were men, the group said. Moreover, only men were executed by the Republic in retaliation to the uprising. Amnesty International said the men were hanged after "sham trials."

Iranian women believe the regime is trying to scare men from joining their mothers, sisters and wives in their fight for equal rights by making them the main target of their systematic bloody suppression.

"Although the focus of the movement is on women rights, the people who got executed for the revolution are primarily men," Nasrin Rahimieh, an expert in Iranian and women studies at University of California Irvine, told ABC News. "The reason why it's cross-gender is simple: it is about the rights of the individual."

Men's support for the cause of Iranian women can come in many forms and levels, from active participation in protests, to online campaigning, and more importantly, "accepting women's choices about their lives," Raha said.

As she explained, the pressure to follow the lawful dress code also comes from conservative male relatives. Something she's seen changing.

"Mahsa's revolution was actually a renaissance in Iranian society. I am witnessing this renaissance in my own family which is from one of the most traditional classes of Iranian society," Raha said. "Now the very same family, the very same society, which was restricting me, is encouraging me."

Hamoun, 21, kept up his support both on and off the streets. He was arrested and tortured by the security guards on Saturday as he participated in a peaceful gathering for the one-year anniversary of Amini's death in Tehran. He said he was handcuffed, beaten up, insulted and verbally threatened.

"I think that all of us should participate hand in hand in this revolution and defend the right against oppression, be free and save our country from poverty and ignorance", Hamoun told ABC News.

"To me, the slogan of a woman's life of freedom is more than a slogan," he said. "It's a belief that we should all believe in and apply, especially as men."

Experts suggest that the aggressive rate at which the regime has been imprisoning or executing men involved in the protests it's a clear sign of its awareness that if men and women unite, it will struggle to contain the movement.

"The message is: 'Don't get involved,'" Rahimieh explained.

Iranian women who spoke with ABC News agreed it's an attempt to intimidate.

"Since last year, many young men have been arrested and some of them have been executed without committing any crime," Mahsa Piraei told ABC News.

She is a U.K.-based Iranian woman, whose mother, Minoo Majidi, was killed by the police during the protests last September. She recalls fearing her father would endure the same destiny if he supported the movement.

"When I was in Iran for my mother's funeral, I could see the morality police everywhere in the street and I was shaking. I kept thinking, one of them is the murder of my mother," Piraei said. "And I can remember I covered my hair because I was next to my dad, and I was very afraid that one of them would shoot my father as well, right there."

She added, "I think the regime wants to scare men to stop them from supporting the women of Iran. I don't think it's succeeding."


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Moscow court declines to hear "WSJ" reporter Evan Gershkovich's appeal on Russian detention

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The Wall Street Journal reporter detained in Russia appeared on Tuesday in Moscow City Court to appeal an August decision to extend his pre-trial detention, but was turned away without a ruling.

Evan Gershkovich, a Moscow correspondent with the paper, has been detained on spying charges since March, when Russian officials accused him of collecting state secrets about the military. A judge in Lefortovo Court in Moscow had extended the journalist’s pre-trial detention until Nov. 30.

There were few details available as to why the court declined to hear Gershkovich's appeal. The case is expected to be returned to a lower court. An appeal will have to be resubmitted.

"The Moscow City Court considered the lawyers' complaint in a closed court session and decided to remove the material regarding E. Gershkovich from appeal consideration, and send the material to the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow to eliminate the circumstances impeding the consideration of the criminal case in the appellate court," the court said in a statement on Tuesday.

The hearing on Tuesday was held behind closed doors, as the case contains classified materials, the court's press service said. Russian officials have not detailed their case against Gershkovich.

The correspondent was arrested by Russia's Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, on March 29 in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Gershkovich's parents and sister appeared earlier this month at the United Nations, joining U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield in asking member states to declare the reporter's detention illegal.

WSJ lawyers filed a petition asking U.N. members to condemn his imprisonment.

“No family should have to watch their loved one being used as a political pawn,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And that’s exactly what President Putin is doing."

She said Russia’s actions were "beyond cruel" and a "violation of international law.”

President Joe Biden, who spoke with Gershkovich's family in April, has said the detention was "totally illegal."

State department officials said the U.S. determined the journalist had been "wrongfully detained."

The House of Representatives in June unanimously passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American being held in Russia.

"Both of these gentlemen are wrongfully detained," John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said on ABC News' Good Morning America on Tuesday. "Both are being charged with espionage, which is a ridiculous charge."

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Plane carrying five Americans freed from Iran lands in US


(TEHRAN, Iran) -- The plane carrying five American citizens freed as part of a deal between the U.S. and Iran has now landed back home in the United States.

"They just landed on U.S. Soil early this morning, said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Tuesday morning. "So they're going to be at a military facility in Virginia for a little while. We want to make sure they have access to mental and medical health care, whatever they need. Obviously, they'll be reunited with their families very very soon."

"Initial reports we have are relatively good health but we want to make sure they get all the care they need," Kirby continued. "They'll have access to that care for as long as they need it."

The repatriated Americans include Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, as well as two others who asked that their identity not be made public. All five have been designated as wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.

Tahbaz's wife, Vida, and Namazi's mother, Effie, were also allowed to leave Iran in the arrangement, according to a U.S. official. Unlike the other five, they had not been jailed by the Iranian regime but had previously been barred from leaving the country.

In a statement on Monday, President Joe Biden said, "Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home."

"Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two citizens who wish to remain private will soon be reunited with their loved ones -- after enduring years of agony, uncertainty, and suffering," he said. "I am grateful to our partners at home and abroad for their tireless efforts to help us achieve this outcome, including the Governments of Qatar, Oman, Switzerland, and South Korea.

"I give special thanks to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, and to the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, both of whom helped facilitate this agreement over many months of difficult and principled American diplomacy," he said.

Secretary of State Blinken, speaking in New York, said that he had the "great pleasure" of having an "emotional conversation" with the Americans after they landed in Doha, saying it was a good reminder of the "human element that's at the heart of everything we do."

He also noted that American Bob Levinson still remains unaccounted for more than 16 years after what Blinken said was his abduction in Iran.

"We are also thinking of Bob Levinson who ... is presumed to be deceased. Bob's legacy lives on powerfully in the Levinson Act which is giving us new and powerful tools to crack down and deter the practice of taking Americans unlawfully to try to turn them into political pawns, and to abuse the international system in that way," he said.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry first announced the U.S. nationals would be imminently released early Monday morning, fulfilling a deal struck between Washington and Tehran last month, where the U.S. promised to grant clemency to five Iranians and to facilitate Iran's access to roughly $6 billion in frozen oil revenue on the condition the money be put toward humanitarian purposes.

The seven will be transported via a Qatari aircraft to Doha. From there, U.S. officials say they plan to depart "as quickly as possible" for the Washington, D.C., area, where they will be reunited with their families and the Department of Defense will be on hand to assist families "that might request help for their recovery and integration to normal life."

The five Iranians involved in the trade have either been charged with or convicted of nonviolent offenses. Two do not have legal standing to stay in the U.S. and will be transported by U.S. Marshals Service to Doha and then travel on to Iran.

Two more are lawful permanent residents of the U.S., and one is a dual Iranian American citizen. Administration officials did not say whether they would remain the U.S.

The five detained Americans all served time in Iran's notorious Evin prison but were placed on house arrest when Tehran and Washington reached a deal-in-principle.

Namazi, 51, is an oil executive and an Iranian-American dual nationalist. He was first detained in 2015 and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison after a conviction on "collaboration with a hostile government" for his ties to the United States.

Shargi, a 58-year-old businessman, was detained without explanation in 2018 and released in 2019 before he was re-arrested in 2020 and handed down a 10-year sentence on an espionage charge.

Tahbaz, 67, is an Iranian-American conservationist who also holds British citizenship. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Blinken signed off on a broad sanctions waiver last week, clearing the way for international banks to transfer the roughly $6 billion in Iran oil revenue in exchange for Iran's release of the five detained American citizens.

The $6 billion is coming from a restricted account in South Korea, where it was effectively frozen when the U.S. reinstated sanctions against Tehran after former President Donald Trump left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program and will be transferred to Qatar with restrictions on how Iran can spend the funds.

Iran expected to begin receiving its frozen assets on Monday, Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry, said, adding that "active foreign policy" had led to the funds being unblocked.

"Today this asset will be delivered," Kanaani said. "It will be invested where needed."

Republicans blasted the planned swap in the days after the initial announcement.

"The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally. However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration's decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world's top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America's adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said in a statement.

But National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby insisted during a press briefing Wednesday that "Iran will be getting no sanctions relief."

"It's Iranian money that had been established in these accounts to allow some trade from foreign countries on things like Iranian oil. ... It's not a blank check. They don't get to spend it anyway they want. It's not $6 billion all at once. They will have to make a request for withdrawals for humanitarian purposes only," he said, adding that there will be "sufficient oversight to make sure that the request is valid."

The Iranian people will be the beneficiaries of the funds, not the regime, according to Kirby.

Pressed on why the $6 billion needed to be released in addition to the five Iranian prisoners, Kirby said, "This is the deal we were able to strike to secure the release of five Americans."

"We're comfortable in the parameters of this deal. I've heard the critics that somehow they're getting the better end of it. Ask the families of those five Americans who's getting the better end of it and I think you'd get a different answer," he said.

When asked about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's claim that the money is "fungible," Kirby said, "He's wrong. He's just flat-out wrong."

Kirby said the funds in this agreement are "not a payment of any kind" and "not ransom" to secure the release of the Americans, responding to Republican complaints.

"Expect this money to free up revenues internally for more foreign aggression and domestic suppression. And certainly, at over one billion dollars per hostage and a jailed Iranian national" said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Expect Tehran to continue if not step up its hostage taking."

"As Chairman of the [Republican Study Committee], we will use all legislative options to reverse this agreement and prevent further ransom payments and sanctions relief to Iran," Rep. Kevin Hern tweeted Tuesday.

Kanaani, the Iranian spokesperson, said only two of the Iranians who were expected to be released from American prisons were willing to return to Iran.

"Two of [Iranian] citizens will willingly return to Iran based, one person joins his family in a third country, and the other two citizens want to stay in America," Kanaani said.

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