World News

beyhanyazar/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR and JAMES BWALA, ABC News

(LAGOS, Nigeria) -- Amnesty International said it has received "credible but disturbing evidence" of security forces killing protesters who were demonstrating against police brutality in Nigeria's largest city.

"While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury," the London-based human rights organization wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

Lagos, the sprawling financial hub of Africa's most populous country, has been the center of weeks-long, nationwide protests over a now-disbanded, widely-criticized police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has been accused of human rights abuses. The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but tensions have spiraled in recent days and authorities have imposed an indefinite 24-hour curfew in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.

The Lagos state commissioner for information, Gbenga Omotoso, said Tuesday that "there have been reports of shooting" at the Lekki toll gate, one of the main roads into Lagos's business district, following the announcement of the curfew. Hundreds of protesters have been gathering at the toll gate in Lekki, a wealthy suburb of Lagos.

"The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident," Omotoso said in a statement posted on his Twitter account. "Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has advised the security agents not to arrest anyone on account of the curfew, which he urges residents to observe for the peaceful atmosphere we all cherish."

Video shown on Nigeria’s Channels Television appeared to capture the sound of live rounds being fired at the scene.

Leaders of the protest movement, which uses the social media hashtag #EndSARS, claim the Nigerian government ordered the removal of surveillance cameras at the Lekki toll gate and for the lights to be shut off before directing security forces to open fire on protesters there Tuesday.

The Nigerian Army has denied that any of its personnel were involved in the reported incident.

Lagos State Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has condemned the alleged shooting, saying in a statement Wednesday that "there are no excuses." He has also warned that the growing protests have "degenerated into a monster that is threatening the well-being of our society."

“Lives and limbs have been lost as criminals and miscreants are now hiding under the umbrella of these protests to unleash mayhem on our state,” Sanwo-Olu said in another statement posted on his official Twitter account Tuesday.

The governor said one person who was recently admitted to a Lagos hospital has died "due to blunt force trauma to the head."

"This is an isolated case. We are still investigating if he was a protester," Sanwo-Olu tweeted Wednesday.

There were more than a dozen others who remained hospitalized "with mild to moderate levels of injuries," he tweeted earlier.

The Lagos state government has ordered the indefinite closure of all public and private schools amid the unrest. Meanwhile, the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos remained shut Wednesday after closing its doors a day earlier due to the violence.

"Although most demonstrations are peaceful, some have become violent and have shut down major thoroughfares and bridges," the consulate said in a statement Tuesday. "We continue to urge all U.S. citizens to avoid areas around protests and demonstrations and to check local media for updates and traffic advisories."

Armed crowds attacked two correctional facilities in Edo state on Monday, freeing nearly 2,000 inmates, according to a statement from Mohammed Manga, spokesman for the Nigerian Ministry of Interior, which said the perpetrators were "protesters purportedly under the #EndSARS aegis." There have also been attacks on police stations in Lagos state, according to the governor.

Gunshots were heard again in Lagos on Wednesday as some protesters continued to demonstrate despite the curfew. People set fire to a television news station in Lagos and part of the Nigerian Ports Authority headquarters.

Nigeria's Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu has ordered the nationwide deployment of anti-riot police and has advised the Nigerian Police Force to "exercise the full powers of the law to prevent any further attempt on lives and property of citizens," according to a statement.

Beyonce, John Boyega, Naomi Campbell and Rihanna are among the celebrities who have spoken out in support of Nigeria's #EndSARS movement and have called for an end to the violence. Rihanna posted a photo on her Instagram account, showing a protester holding up a blood-soaked Nigerian flag.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is the Democratic presidential nominee, issued a statement late Tuesday urging Nigeria's president and military "to cease the violent crackdown on protesters."

"The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy," Biden said. "I encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a more just and inclusive Nigeria."

Last week, as protesters showed no signs of backing down, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari stepped in and dissolved SARS, which operated across the country -- often in plainclothes -- and has been accused of assault, extortion, extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, torture, unlawful detentions and robbery.

"The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people," Buhari, who is a retired general of the Nigerian Army, said in a statement on Oct. 12. "Meanwhile, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of men and women of the police force are hardworking and diligent in performing their duties. The few bad eggs should not be allowed to tarnish the image and reputation of the force."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Beeldbewerking/iStockBy JULIA JACOBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Human activity "likely contributed" to the extinction of multiple species on the islands on Madagascar and Mascarene, according to new research.

Animals native to the islands such as the dodo bird and giant tortoises had survived "repeated megadroughts" over several thousand years, but it was human activity that killed off the species for good, researchers said in a new study published in the journal Science.

The researchers studied 8,000 years of climate data from cave mineral deposits and determined that the shifting climate alone probably did not result in the species' extinction. Rather, a major increase of human-caused stressors, such as hunting and deforestation, may have contributed "significantly" to the extinctions by altering the megafauna of the region, they said.

During the past millennium, the islands underwent "catastrophic" ecological and landscape transformations, attributed to either human activity or climate change or both, according to the study.

Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, both highly threatened biodiversity "hot spots" with "exceptional levels" of endemic species, are two of the last places on Earth to be occupied by humans. Both have lost most of their native animals weighing more than 22 pounds within the past few centuries, according to the study.

The last sighting of the dodo bird, endemic to the Mascarene island of Mauritius, was in the late 17th century, according to Nature, while the giant tortoise became extinct soon after humans arrived in Madagascar, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

Mauritius lost most of its native terrestrial vertebrates within about two centuries of its colonization, and the permanent colonization around the 1790s was marked by island-wide deforestation, the researchers said. Madagascar has lost "virtually all" of its megafauna weighing more than 22 pounds -- including giant lemurs, elephant birds and pygmy hippopotami -- over the past millennium, according to the study.

Other animal species around the world are also in trouble as a result of human activity. A report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published last year found that humans are pushing 1 million species to the brink of extinction and that nature is declining "at rates unprecedented in human history."

The authors of the study, however, said it has "proven difficult" to investigate whether climatic shifts, human activities or both are to blame for the disappearances without precise records of biotic, environmental and cultural changes on the islands.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy CONOR FINNEGAN and PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. and Russia are moving closer toward an agreement to extend the last major nuclear arms control pact between them and freeze both countries' nuclear arsenals for one year.

The possible deal could avoid a new nuclear arms race, at least for the moment, and could mean that President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in the coming weeks -- a signing ceremony Trump has long pursued, with the 2020 presidential election looming.

But there are still gaps between the world's two largest nuclear powers over New START, the 2010 treaty that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and includes verification measures like on-site inspections and data sharing.

The opening came Tuesday after Russia's Foreign Ministry said Moscow is willing to extend New START with a "freeze," after Putin said last week that he would only agree to an extension "without pre-conditions."

Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said in statement Friday that was a "non-starter" and blamed the Russian government for sending mixed messages: "This would have been a win for both sides, and we believed the Russians were willing to accept this proposal when I met with my counterpart in Geneva," O'Brien said.

On Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry inched closer to the U.S. proposal for a freeze, and the State Department called for immediate talks to finalize a deal.

"We appreciate the Russian Federation's willingness to make progress on the issue of nuclear arms control. The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said nothing about a "verifiable agreement," instead proposing a "political obligation for 'freezing' for that period the quantity of nuclear warheads possessed by both sides. This position can be realized strictly and exclusively within the understanding that a 'freeze' of warheads will not be accompanied by any kind of additional demands from the side of the U.S."

That throws the ball back into the U.S. court in what has become a public negotiation. The U.S. may still demand a verification regime of some kind to ensure Russia doesn't cheat on a freeze -- or continue to insist on other measures, such as a reference to including China in future nuclear arms control talks.

Trump's chief negotiator, special presidential envoy for arms control Marshall Billingslea, has repeatedly insisted that talks must involve the Chinese government, which has a much smaller, but rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.

The Russian government has not yet responded to the State Department call for meeting "immediately," although its foreign ministry attacked the Trump administration for negotiating on "social media," saying it never received an official response to Putin's comments last week.

"A deal is possible, but it's unclear whether it's close. A disagreement over whether verification is needed is pretty significant," said James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program in a tweet. "If the U.S. wants a deal before the election, then either (i) the U.S. will have to back down and accept no verification; or (ii) the U.S. will have to accept a Russian promise to negotiate verification arrangements since it's not possible to do so in 2 weeks. Both are possibilities; both are far from assured."

Trump has long played up his ability to negotiate, but his administration has walked away from several arms control pacts, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meyer & Meyer/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In a bid to speed up the race to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, the U.K. government announced Tuesday morning that it will be launching some controversial vaccine trials known as challenge trials.

In a world first for COVID-19, young healthy volunteers will be vaccinated, then intentionally exposed to the potentially deadly virus in order to test vaccines in a controlled environment. Although some medical experts view them as ethically questionable, the benefit of challenge trials is that they can be completed in a much shorter timeframe than typical late-stage studies.

The experiment will take place in a quarantine ward of a north London hospital. After inhaling a diluted dose of the virus, the trial participants will be closely monitored, thus enabling scientists and doctors to better understand the disease and how a vaccine can fight it.

“Human challenge studies can increase our understanding of COVID-19 in unique ways and accelerate development of the many potential new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines,” explained Dr. Chris Chiu, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London and lead researcher on the human challenge study.

The 1Day Sooner advocacy group, which has been petitioning the government to allow challenge trials, hailed the announcement.

"We are glad the U.K. government is embracing the altruism of the thousands of our British volunteers who want these studies," the group said.

The advocacy group says these trials "will be key to making multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines available for the whole world, including those in low-income countries bearing the brunt of this pandemic."

It says it believes these trials will not only accelerate research into vaccines but "will also answer essential questions about COVID-19 immunity that are broadly applicable to the development of treatments and public health policy."

Alastair Fraser-Urquhart, 18, a spokesperson for 1Day Sooner, explained to ABC News his motivation to volunteer for these trials. Brushing aside the fact that he's putting himself at risk, he said, "I'm convinced that challenge trials will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds, and if I didn't do something and I wasn't advocating challenge trials I would regret it."

Andrew Catchpole, the chief scientist of hVIVO, the company that will be running the trials in conjunction with the British government, Imperial College University and the Royal Free Hospital, stressed to ABC News that as much risk as possible has been removed from the process.

Only people ages 18 to 30, proven to be healthy, will be taken as volunteers, according to Catchpole, and the dose of the virus that they will be exposed to will be very carefully calibrated.

"So just like any other clinical trial, what you would expect is that any product we put into a human needs to undergo very tight regulations, and this is no exception to that," Catchpole said.

"So the virus, which we would inoculate them with, has been manufactured to the very high standards, a medical grade version of the virus that undergoes very high regulatory scrutiny to make sure that that virus is safe and suitable for use -- just like you would expect for any other licensed medicine," he added.

The dosage will be low to reduce the risk of volunteers experiencing severe symptoms, but doctors still need to get the balance just right.

"We are looking to induce infection, but not necessarily looking to induce disease," Catchpole said.

Once the volunteers have been successfully infected, they will be closely monitored in a quarantine ward of the Royal Free Hospital.

"The body, once inoculated with the virus, starts to produce various reactions within itself," Martin Johnson, Hvivo's senior medical director explained. "And that's what we need to measure. We need to understand what the exact response of the virus is right from the word 'go,' in a safe environment."

Everyone involved with the project is keen to stress that safety is paramount and that the World Health Organization's guidelines will be followed to the letter.

“Our number one priority is the safety of the volunteers. My team has been safely running human challenge studies with other respiratory viruses for over 10 years. No study is completely risk free, but the Human Challenge Programme partners will be working hard to ensure we make the risks as low as we possibly can,” Chiu said.

While there is a precedent for challenge trials, they are typically conducted for diseases for which there is a robust treatment or cure, so that volunteers can be rescued should they fall ill.

"In the U.K., we've got a very long history of safely conducting challenge studies," Johnson said. "And therefore, we have a very, very well-established regulatory framework for doing exactly that and ensuring that the ethics of doing this are really closely scrutinized."

Tuesday's announcement shows that as Britain carves out a new identity in the post-Brexit era, it is determined to keep its seat at the top table of medical and scientific advancements; in fact, according to Catchpole, it wants to consolidate its position as a world leader in the field.

"The U.K. government is very keen to establish a challenge trials platform to respond not just to this pandemic, but also future pandemics," he said.

But as the hVIVO team explained, challenge trials can be an incremental process, and it may take time for doctors and scientists to identify the appropriate dose of the virus needed to infect -- but not harm -- a volunteer patient. Regulatory and ethical approvals are also still pending, although these are expected to be received by November or December of this year, according to Catchpole. The trials will likely begin by next spring or summer.

And the big question: What does all this mean amid the race to find a vaccine?

Catchpole told ABC News that the doctors and scientists involved insist "challenge studies have a key advantage of the fact that you can determine vaccine efficacy very, very quickly (could be as minimal as two months), and you can determine whether you got vaccine efficacy or not. Compare that to traditional field trials and it takes many, many months."

"And of course, what happens with the traditional studies is you vaccinate people and they go about living their normal lives and it's just purely by random luck whether they're actually exposed to the virus or not. Hence, it can take a very long time to establish efficacy in the field," Catchpole continued. "And you're totally dependent on how much virus is going on [around] the community. Challenge studies we're able to conduct safely and all year round, irrespective of how much virus is going on [around] the community."

The UK’s deputy chief medical officer, professor Jonathan Van-Tam, detailed two main reasons that his government decided to sponsor these trials: “First, for the many vaccines still in the mid-stages of development, human challenge studies may help pick out the most promising ones to take forward into larger Phase III trials. Second, for vaccines which are in the late stages of development and already proven to be safe and effective through Phase III studies, human challenge studies could help us further understand if the vaccines prevent transmission as well as preventing illness.”

The U.K. government will not yet reveal which vaccines will be tested in these trials, and Johnson warned that they might not even be overwhelmingly successful. He noted that previous attempts at finding vaccines have proved elusive.

"If you take when the Spanish pandemic was around in 1919, almost exactly 100 years later, we still don't have a perfect vaccine for influenza," he said, adding that our expectations for a coronavirus vaccine need to be tempered. "No, we're not going to get a perfect vaccine quickly, but hopefully we can try and establish some baselines of what is good at the moment."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- The topic of kids returning back-to-school is always up for debate amid the coronavirus pandemic. But around the globe, the idea of kids heading back to the classroom may not be as controversial as it is here in the U.S.

A new report on children, schools and the coronavirus pandemic from the University of Washington, found that several countries including Cambodia, Afghanistan, Ghana and China returned to the classroom early on in the pandemic. And while some outbreaks occurred in schools, the report found “little evidence that schools were main drivers of transmission.”

According to the report, when countries began reopening schools for in-person learning in April and May, modifications were implemented in schools such as reduced class sizes or staggered schedules.

One country that modified in-person learning to smaller class sizes was Denmark. In May, they were one of the first countries in the world to reopen their schools by putting children in “protective bubbles” of 12 -- where they ate, played and learned with the same pod of children and a teacher.

“We have seen that limiting group sizes, keeping those groups linked together, these are things that we know [that] work to control transmission,” said Brandon Guthrie, assistant professor at the University of Washington, Departments of Global Health and Epidemiology.

Now this fall, school is relatively “normal” in Denmark with larger class sizes of 24.

In South Korea, schools were also able to bring students back for in-person learning in May with a few adjustments.

By having students among different grades alternate between returning to school and taking online classes, it helped reduce the risk of school-based transmission.

“We take turns going to school,” said Jiho Yun, a ninth grade student in South Korea. “In the first week, the 7th graders go to school and the 8th and 9th graders stay home taking online classes.”

When Yun does go to school, she has to check in using a COVID-19 symptom tracker and undergo five temperature checks throughout the day.

According to experts, the model of bringing students based on different age groups or grades works if it’s decided early on which group of students benefit most from in-person learning.

In Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, there was a push to get younger students back in classrooms first. While in Germany, schools had older students return to classrooms in person because they believed they could more “effectively adhere to the physical distancing measures,” according to Guthrie.

And in countries like Uruguay, schools focused on bringing students back to the classroom from rural areas, who the government determined were less likely to have access to remote learning.

While the report does point out that there is “clear evidence for the potential for widespread transmission” for COVID-19, the research provided based on how other countries were able to successfully reopen can offer some clues for how schools in the U.S. could safely reopen and what could potentially work.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump tweeted that he will remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list -- the most stringent of U.S. sanctions -- in a historic move that marks a new chapter in relations between the two countries.

In exchange, Sudan's new government has paid $335 million to the victims of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The move is part of a broader deal that could bring debt relief, international financial assistance, and humanitarian aid to the African country, a year and a half after peaceful protests ousted its longtime strongman leader Omar al Bashir. In his place, military leaders are sharing power with civilians in a transitional government that has struggled with political and economic crises and urgently sought the end of these sanctions.

The deal may also include Sudan normalizing relations with Israel -- a step that its civilian prime minister has said the transitional government could not make, but that Trump has lobbied hard for in a campaign-season push to create new ties between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

So far, however, nothing has changed. Sudan is expected to transfer the $335 million to the U.S. soon as part of a negotiated settlement with the victims of the U.S. embassy bombings. Bashir's regime provided safe haven to the al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the attacks that killed 224, including 12 Americans and injured over 4,000.

Trump has not yet formally notified Congress that he is lifting the designation, and lawmakers would have the ability to block it. That's not likely to happen, but Congress will have to resolve ongoing claims against Sudan in legislation that re-establishes its "legal peace" -- a legal term that means as a sovereign country, it cannot be sued.

Sudan's listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list waived that immunity, but before Congress returns it, some lawmakers have concerns about protecting ongoing litigation by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though Sudan has never been found liable for those. An agreement to resolve those issues fell apart last month, sources told ABC News at the time.

Edith Bartley, whose father and brother were killed in the Nairobi attack and who has served as a spokesperson for the families of slain Americans, welcomed the news Monday.

"We urge Congress to immediately pass the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement, and begin the payment process. Congress cannot let this agreement fall victim to legislative gridlock and bickering," she said in a statement.

Sudan was first designated in 1993 for Bashir's support of Hezbollah and other Islamist extremist groups. The dictator, now in detention in the capital Khartoum, also faces charges at the International Criminal Court for the Darfur genocide.

Lifting the designation will also allow international financial assistance to finally flow to Sudan -- not just from the U.S., but also global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

While that may take weeks at the earliest, the political win for the transitional government may help stave off growing discontent among a population struggling to get by. Sudan has been overwhelmed by high inflation and food and fuel shortages -- challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and recent flooding.

"Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much," tweeted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Monday. "As we're about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan's previous, defunct regime, I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism."

The White House and the State Department have not yet released other details. But according to two analysts briefed on the plans, the U.S. will also take other key steps to support the Sudanese government, including providing hundreds of millions in aid, including direct food aid; backing $3 billion in debt forgiveness and help with $65 billion of national debt; and sponsoring an investment conference with a high-level U.S. trade delegation.

"Most of these things would have already been in train if the Administration was truly committed to nurturing Sudan's democratic transition, staving off financial collapse, and deterring the return of military rule," wrote Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. "Instead, the Trump Administration has kept the transitional government guessing, the Sudanese people's frustration mounting, and the military poised to step in to secure a final deal if the civilian authorities did not.”

At the heart of that has been Trump's push for Arab countries to recognize Israel. Those historic agreements, between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have formalized increasing cooperation behind closed doors -- and been brandished by Trump and his reelection campaign as evidence of his statesmanship.

But Hamdok has said his transitional government doesn't have the authority to establish formal ties with Israel, and there's deep concern of a backlash in Khartoum to doing so. Instead, Sudan may begin to normalize relations with Israel in the coming weeks, without fully establishing ties.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Myriam Borzee/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Governments across Europe have introduced more restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, with a combination of nationwide and specific regional measures and curfews imposed as the continent faces its "second wave."

The number of globally recorded coronavirus cases passed 40 million on Monday, according to John Hopkins University, and while more than half of those cases come from the U.S., India and Brazil, an increasing proportion of new daily recorded cases are emerging from Europe.

In total, over seven million cases have been recorded in Europe since the start of the pandemic, according to the European Center for Disease Control, with 241,291 deaths.

After new restrictions were imposed in several countries earlier this month, Switzerland has followed Italy in imposing a nationwide mask mandate in all public spaces from Monday.

While not as restrictive as previous measures imposed when Italy faced a severe COVID surge earlier in the pandemic as it became the first country to surpass China’s death toll, local mayors have been given the power to close piazzas and streets from 9 p.m. and bars and restaurants must shut by midnight.

The Republic of Ireland will move into "Level Five" restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, the country's highest COVID alert level, for the next six weeks, according to local media. The new rules will be slightly modified, allowing certain sporting events to take place, schools to remain open, and people will be told to stay within just over three miles from their own homes for exercise, RTE reported. Some stores may have to close under the new rules, with take-out the only option in pubs and restaurants.

Over the past 24 hours from midnight on Sunday, 1,031 cases of coronavirus were recorded and zero deaths, bringing the national totals up to 50,993 and 1,852 respectively, according to the Department of Health.

In the U.K., the four nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland retain the power to set their own "lockdown" measures. In England a three-tier system remains in place, with varying restrictions imposed depending on whether an area is on "medium," "high" or "very high" alert.

London moved into the category of “high” alert, meaning household mixing has been banned in indoor spaces, and the authorities have not ruled out more stringent measures for the coming winter. A 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars and a ban of more than six people from gathering has been in place for several weeks.

Wales moved to impose a "fire break” lockdown for over two weeks from this Friday. All non-essential stores as well as hospitality businesses will have to close from 6 p.m. In Scotland, all bars and restaurants have been shuttered to combat the spread of COVID-19. Schools in Northern Ireland shuttered for two weeks on Monday, and restaurants are now limited to take-out services only for a four-week period.

Nine cities, including Paris, have been placed under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in France. Over the weekend, the country reported over 57,000 new coronavirus cases. And in Belgium, all bars and restaurants have been ordered to shutter for the next four weeks.

On Monday, Russia set a record of daily confirmed new infections with 15,982 cases, but the mayor of Moscow, which is recording the most cases, has rejected the idea of imposing a curfew or lockdown in the city. Russia has the most coronavirus cases on the continent, with over 1.4 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In a recent interview with ABC News, the World Health Organization’s Dr. Margaret Harris said that “people did believe” that they would get a “break” in the summer during the pandemic, which may in part explain why cases have risen since Europe opened up.

“And, unfortunately, people sort of did behave as if it had gone away and it hadn't, and that's why numbers have been steadily increasing since the middle of June,” she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


robertcicchetti/iStocBy ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department Monday announced an indictment against six Russia GRU officers charged with engaging in a series of hacking and malware deployment operations to attack other countries' infrastructure, elections and other actions designed to further Russia's interests.

The indictment specifically accuses the six alleged hackers of engaging in computer intrusions "intended to support Russian government efforts to undermine, retaliate against or otherwise destabilize" Ukraine, Georgia, elections in France, the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games and international efforts to hold Russia accountable for its use of the nerve agent Novichok on foreign soil.

According to the Justice Department, several members of the same military group were previously charged for their role in Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, though the allegations in Monday's indictment do not relate to U.S. election interference.

U.S. officials at virtual press conference at DOJ described the hacking campaign as among "the most destructive and costly cyber-attacks in history," dealing with "some of the world's most destructive malware to date."

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers argued the allegations prove why the U.S. should ignore a recent offer extended by Russia calling for a cyber "reset" between the two countries.

"This indictment lays bare Russia’s use of its cyber capabilities to destabilize and interfere with the domestic political and economic systems of other countries, thus providing a cold reminder of why its proposal is nothing more than dishonest rhetoric and cynical and cheap propaganda," Demers said.

Some of the malware deployed by the officers, according to prosecutors, included Killdisk, Industroyer and NotPetya, believed to be the most costly and destructive cyber attack in history which led to nearly $1 billion in losses for three victims named in the indictment -- including the Heritage Valley health system in Pennsylvania.

"The attack caused the unavailability of patient lists, patient history, physical examination files, and laboratory records," the DOJ said in a press release. "Heritage Valley lost access to its mission-critical computer systems (such as those relating to cardiology, nuclear medicine, radiology, and surgery) for approximately one week and administrative computer systems for almost one month, thereby causing a threat to public health and safety."

The group also is alleged to have engaged in a spearphishing campaign targeting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, launching what officials described as the "Olympic Destroyer" malware attack during the opening ceremony that deleted data from thousands of computers supporting the games.

"The conspirators, feeling the embarrassment of international penalties related to Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, i.e., cheating, took it upon themselves to undermine the games," Demers said. "Their cyber attack combined the emotional maturity of a petulant child with the resources of a nation state."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Karwai Tang/WireImageBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Prince William's relationship takes center stage in a new book out this week.

In Battle of Brothers, royal historian Robert Lacey reveals fresh details from Prince Harry's departure from the royal family and paints a picture of the two young men struggling with the demons of their past, the public breakdown of their parents' marriage, the death of their mother, the demands of duty and the diverging roles they must fulfill.

"This story goes right back to when they were children," Lacey told ABC News' Good Morning America in an exclusive interview. "And at the age of 6, 7, William suddenly starts becoming more serious. He's aware of his destiny as a king. Harry goes in the opposite direction."

According to Lacey, Harry realizes at the age of 4 how different his path will be to that of his brother.

"There's a story of how he was misbehaving in the back of a car at the age of 4 and his nanny tells him off. And he says, 'I don't have to behave. I'm not going to be king,'" said Lacey.

But while he was not in line to be king, he nonetheless had a role to play.

"Harry came to realize in his teens that he was typecast as the court jester, the number two," said Lacey. "There's William, standing for duty going ahead down the conventional path. And it's Harry who strikes out for love, for self-determination."

Battle of Brothers goes back to the root of the current well-known rift between the two princes, and shows that, as Lacey explains in his interview, "The British royal system can be very cruel, and it's particularly cruel to the spare."

"This is not the first time we've had spare problems, the heir and the spare, Princess Margaret, Prince Andrew. Now, Harry is in the same dilemma," said Lacey. "They start off in the public eye as playmates, as co-stars with the heir. And what's their destiny? To be pushed down the line of succession as babies come along, marriages come along. There was trouble with Margaret. There was trouble with Andrew. And now we have the same thing with Harry."

Lacey contends in the book that Harry was growing increasingly unhappy in his role as second to William, and when he met Meghan Markle -- now the Duchess of Sussex -- he saw his opportunity to break free.

"He falls in love with this megawatt woman. He's inspired. He's transformed by her, not really changed, but the ideas and tensions that have been inside him get resolved. And he wants more than that. And the palace couldn't handle it," said Lacey.

According to Lacey, Harry and Meghan became the "rock stars" of the royal family and the institution did not know how to harness this star power.

"I think Meghan's a force of nature that maybe Buckingham Palace hasn't worked out how to cope with. She is a woman of great conviction," said Lacey.

The royal historian wonders in the book whether the British royal family was ready for such a strong personality and was perhaps incapable of adapting to the modern views that Meghan brought with her, like women's liberation and social change.

In fact, Lacey said, "There's a clique down there in Buckingham Palace, I think, frankly, who've got it in for Meghan."

But Meghan's forthrightness wasn't the only problem, according to the Battle of Brothers author. Courtiers were concerned that the couple were in danger of eclipsing the more senior royals.

"They were these mega rock stars who, frankly, for the first couple of years, overshadowed William and Kate," said Lacey who explained that palace aides had decided that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had to somehow "be edged out."

One way this message came across was at the queen's Christmas address, said Lacey.

"The previous year, there'd been a lovely photograph of Meghan and Harry. This year, no photograph," said Lacey. "The queen doesn't mention their name. And although she says she's welcomed this year her eighth great grandchild, she doesn't mention the name of Archie. The message here is very clear. These people are in the second rank. And the people who matter are, look, myself, the queen, Charles, William, and little Prince George."

The other message came shortly after, with the commissioning of a series of official portraits of Queen Elizabeth with Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George.

"A picture is issued of the four monarchs of the present and the future. And I think the underlying message of that is, 'Just remember your place, Harry and Meghan. These are the people that really matter in the royal family. And you are the backup. And you're trying to play too prominent a role,'" said Lacey.

The royal historian pointed out that when it came time to hold a meeting with the rest of his family about his and Meghan's future within the royal family, Harry was already feeling embattled.

"William and Charles, in particular -- they were offhand -- 'Put it down in writing, old chap' -- You know?" said Lacey. "I don't think they took them seriously. And they kept saying, 'Give us something in writing.'"

Lacey explained that Harry was reluctant to do so, as he didn't trust palace aides not to leak his thoughts to the press -- which then happened when The Sun newspaper published an outline of the couple's plans to leave the U.K. and possibly settle in Canada.

This prompted Harry and Meghan to launch the Sussex Royal website, which Lacey says was created out of frustration. The couple gave very little warning to the family before publicly publishing their plans.

“Harry lost his cool,” said Lacey. “William in particular loses his cool.”

By now, according to Lacey, the battle lines between the brothers had been firmly drawn. He explains that Queen Elizabeth proposed a family lunch before the royal family and their aides held calls a meeting to discuss Harry and Meghan’s future -- the so-called Sandringham Summit.

"And William said, 'No.' This was extraordinary. Harry said, 'Yes.' Charles said, 'Yes.' William actually said, 'No.' Friends apparently said that he felt he couldn't keep his temper, or he didn't want to sit with Harry. He said, 'I'll sit down for negotiations. I'm not going to sit at the same table,'" Lacey said.

"And that, I think, is the real moment when you can say the breach became definitive. From then, it was really downhill with negotiations going on, and with a very punitive palace attitude towards Harry. The royal family feeling was that, 'Harry's broken the rules. He should've kept these things confidential till we'd all discussed them.' Harry's view was, 'I did my best, for goodness sake. And you're the people who actually let it slip out. And, so, if that's going to be your way of behaving, I'm going do the same,'" Lacey continued.

Lacey argues in the book that not only was the Sussexes' departure from royal life badly handled, but so was Meghan's introduction.

"They should've recognized that they had a person in her own right, a celebrity in her own right. They should've sat down with her and said, 'Well, now, what would you like to achieve here? What are the values you particularly want to push?'" he told GMA.

But Lacey said the palace is "still pretty conventional in its thinking."

"It's still male-dominated," said Lacey. "A young, independent woman coming in with her own ideas, they're not used to that."

Meghan's departure from the royal ranks, Lacey said, could well have a long-lasting effect on the monarchy.

"This mixed-race recruit and her mixed-race son are out of the family. It was such a missed opportunity. It's not surprising that a country like Barbados recently said, 'Well, we'll sign off. We don't need a white head of state anymore,'" Lacey said.

"We are proud that our monarchy heads a mixed-race Commonwealth. To have first welcomed in, and then in some way lost control of, lost fellowship with your star mixed race recruit, that's a big mistake," Lacey said.

So, will we see a rapprochement between the princes any time soon?

"I think we're looking at the future to, sadly, to some sort of bipolar monarchy, unless William -- and I think the onus does lie on William -- to reach out and try and affect some either genuine reconciliation or genuine acknowledgment that their paths must part," Lacey said.

The two brothers were due to have met at the queen's official birthday in June, but the pandemic did not allow it. However, Lacey said there is major meeting for the brothers set to next year.

"We've got a very big date coming up next year, the 1st of July, the 60th anniversary of Diana's birth," Lacey said. "And both boys have already committed to be in London at the same time, presumably with their wives, for the unveiling of a statue to Diana."

All eyes will be on this pair of princes, Lacey said.

"I'm sure the whole world will be looking at these two boys who are there together, and will want to know, 'Well, is this genuine? Are they putting on an act?'" Lacey said. "As a sentimental Brit, and, like I think most Brits, we'd all love the brothers to come back and embrace each other."

On the last page of the book, Lacey writes, "What would happen if Diana came back to life, and had some advice to give these boys?"

In his mind, he writes, she would say, "Time for the social distancing to end, boys... talk to each other."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(PRAGUE) -- At a "Farewell COVID" party in June, thousands of Prague residents dined outdoors at a 500-meter long table across the Charles Bridge to celebrate the end of the lockdown measures.

The Czech Republic was being hailed by the rest of Europe for successfully stopping the virus after closing its borders and putting in place the harshest lockdown on the continent. Now the country is in the midst of a strong outbreak, with case numbers rising above anything recorded in the spring -- and already there are signs renewed restrictions won't be greeted favorably.

The Czech Republic isn't alone. Little affected in the spring, many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are now experiencing a strong outbreak of the novel coronavirus and officials are scrambling to reverse course on restrictions.

Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia all recorded their highest daily increases in cases on Friday.

"What we see here is what the other countries were facing over springtime and over the summer," Dr. Martin Balik, the head of the intensive care unit at the General University Hospital of Prague, told ABC News.

In the spring, Prague became the first European city to require face masks on public transportation and then all indoor public spaces, according to Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib. The country of 10 million had managed to avoid the full brunt of the first wave with fewer than 12,000 infections and 350 deaths.

"Within a few weeks we were able to really decrease the number of cases to almost ground zero," Health Minister Roman Prymula told ABC News, reflecting on the first wave. "And all the people were respecting ... were wearing masks in their homes, it was great. But recently it's completely different."

Now the Czech Republic is registering new records for daily cases, including more than 11,000 cases in a 24-hour span reported on Oct. 16.

The government announced the reintroduction of restrictions on Oct. 13 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, closing all schools except for kindergartens until Nov. 1, and restaurants, bars and clubs until the end of the state of emergency scheduled for Nov. 3. It has limited indoor and outdoor gatherings to six people at a time and curbed sales of alcohol in public.

Although the initial lockdown measures were successful in Central and Eastern Europe, acceptance of renewed restrictions will likely be hard.

"In the spring, everybody was supportive of the countermeasures -- everybody. But recently, it's a political fight," Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula told ABC News.

German authorities have also tried to institute new restrictions after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, with little success and lots of backlash. An order for bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m. in Berlin was quickly overturned by local courts and regular protests against recently reintroduced COVID-19 measures have taken place since late August in the German capital.

Bulgaria's Health Ministry eased restrictive rules on nightclubs and certain gatherings, such as weddings, after meeting with representatives of the industries, according to local reports. The rollback was announced just three days after the health minister ordered the closure of indoor sections of nightclubs, bars and discos.

By comparison, in France, which suffered acutely under the first wave with over 28,000 deaths by the end of May, two-thirds of people approve of new curfew restrictions, according to a recent poll. The support comes despite a possible 1 billion euro hit to the economy, according to France's economy minister.

With economies on the brink, populations in Eastern Europe are less willing to cope with new measures. During the lockdown, the Czech economy lost 4 billion Czech koruna per day (about $171 million U.S.).

Restaurants that have been asked to close in Prague are looking to takeout to stay afloat. Olinka Budnik, a chef at the Black Madonna restaurant in Prague, said they have lost 30% of their income from last year. A hotel owner in the center of Prague told ABC News that they were expecting to close soon after the new restrictions. "We have no choice," she said.

In the Czech Republic, even health care professionals doubt the necessity of the measures.

Balik, the doctor at General University Hospital of Prague, said reintroducing measures, such as closing schools, is not sound.

"The authorities' response is irrational," he told ABC News. "We had the hardest lockdown ever in Europe, which completely destroyed private enterprises. This country lost its financial reserve ... which led to the almost complete relief of the measures during springtime. ... This country swings between extremes."

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš recently took the blame for lifting the restrictions over the summer. "Even I got carried away by the upcoming summer and the atmosphere in society. That was a mistake I do not want to repeat," the PM told a national audience on TV.

Prague residents "are not afraid of coronavirus, they are afraid of all those restrictions," local journalist Lenka Zlamalova told ABC News.

"We have recently a little bit more of mild course of the disease, so not so many people require treatment in ICU, ventilators, etc. ... [But] the rise is so steep that we may expect some trouble with the capacity, beds, ICUs and hospitals," Prymula said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


LazingBee/iStockBy BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News

(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) -- While the United States and much of Europe remain gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand has managed to eliminate transmission of the deadly virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s early, decisive action on business and travel lockdowns has been lauded by scientists globally, and now the successful approach may give her a second term in office.

On Saturday, the small country of 5 million will vote in a historic election profoundly shaped by the pandemic.

Polls indicate that Ardern’s center-left Labour Party is comfortably ahead of the conservative National Party and its leader, Judith Collins.

The more pertinent question seems to be whether Ardern, 40, can win an outright majority government.

Recent polls suggest that she may need the support of the Green Party -- a scenario that would lead to New Zealand’s most left-leaning administration in 21 years.

Grant Duncan, associate professor of politics at Massey University in Auckland, told ABC News that Ardern’s popularity comes down to more than just her likable veneer.

“It’s not just the obvious superficial appeal, but the fact that she is highly competent, intelligent and humane,” he said.

Ardern has demonstrated an ability to mobilize and unite the New Zealand public in the face of adversity, including in the wake of last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks and the White Island volcanic eruption, and most recently by steering her country through the health crisis.

Claire Timperley, a New Zealand politics lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington, told ABC News that it's Ardern's "authenticity" and "empathy" that set her apart.

"Political science literature on leadership shows that authenticity is critical to successful leadership, and her style of leadership that focuses on kindness is clearly authentic to her, as well as responsive to a particular moment in time when I think people are looking for that kind of leadership," Timperley said.

Duncan said her science-led approach in tackling New Zealand’s coronavirus outbreaks has won over left-wing voters. Indeed, her personal popularity was below 40% late last year and has surged during the lockdowns to 55%.

New Zealand has recorded fewer than 2,000 coronavirus infections and just 25 deaths.

The country has now lifted all coronavirus restrictions following a second round of lockdowns. Earlier this week Ardern joined a crowd of more than 30,000 at a rugby stadium in Wellington for one of the first international sporting events to allow spectators.

But tough economic challenges lie ahead, particularly for a country that relies on tourism and has shut its borders to outsiders.

New Zealand’s economy shrank by 12.2% in the second quarter.

“Many on the right argue that the economic costs of her government’s disease-control policies outweigh the public health benefits,” said Duncan.

The Ardern government has also been criticized for failing to deliver on several social welfare targets, in areas such as affordable housing and child poverty, which disproportionately impact New Zealand’s indigenous Maori community.

Ardern’s “stardust” quality abroad has also made her the target of skeptics, who say she should be more focused domestically. Arden has been on the cover of Vogue and Time magazine and appeared with comedian Stephen Colbert.

She has built up a strong following internationally as an advocate for women’s rights and social justice. Some have even called her the “anti-Trump.”

“New Zealand politics has not sunk to the level of incivility and polarization that we witness in the U.S.,” said Duncan.

A record 1.7 million New Zealanders, about half of the electorate, had their say in advance voting ahead of Election Day. According to Timperley, early voting is also easier than in the United States.

"New Zealand's independent electoral commission has done an admirable job of trying to increase turnout by ensuring plentiful voting places and making voting as easy as possible ... and there is no scent of partisan politics associated with the voting process," she said.

Voters also decide on Saturday whether New Zealand should legalize marijuana and if euthanasia should be permitted for the terminally sick.

Ardern has voiced her support for euthanasia, but hasn’t shared where she stands on recreational cannabis.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


frantic00/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(PARIS) -- Police in a Paris suburb shot to death a man seen carrying a knife that authorities believe may have been used to kill another man found nearby.

The shooting of the suspect, 18, occurred around 5 p.m. local time on Friday in the town of Eragny in the Val d'Oise. France's Anti-Terror Prosecutor's Office confirmed to ABC News that it has opened an investigation into whether the killing is linked to terrorism.

The victim was beheaded, authorities said. He was a male teacher at a local middle school who had received threats after mentioning the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson, according to police. The lesson prompted a complaint from one of the parents.

Police officers stand guard a street in Eragny on Oct. 16, 2020, where an attacker was shot dead by policemen after he decapitated a man in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France. French anti-terror prosecutors said they were investigating an assault in which a man was decapitated on the outskirts of Paris and the attacker shot by police. The man who was decapitated was a history teacher who had recently shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in class. French prosecutors are treating the attack as a terror incident.

Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer reacted to the incident on Twitter.

"Tonight, it is the Republic that is under attack with the vile assassination of one of its servants, a professor," he said. "I think tonight of him, of his family. Our unity and firmness are the only answers to the monstrosity of Islamist terrorism. We will stand up."

Eragny Mayor Thibault Humbert also responded, in an interview on local TV BFMTV.

"It is a very important emotion for us, for the inhabitants of our town," he said. "I want to have a thought for the family of this professor who was brutally murdered."

The offices of Charlie Hebdo underwent a terror attack in January 2015 that killed 12 people, including eight journalists from the satirical magazine. The trial for the attack is currently underway.

France's counterterror police opened an investigation after a stabbing attack in front of the former offices of Charlie Hebdo last month left two wounded.

Charlie Hebdo expressed "horror and revolt" over the death of the teacher in a statement released on Twitter: "We express our deepest support to his family, loved ones and all of the teachers. This foul act grieves our democracy but must make us more combative than ever to defend our Freedom."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Oleksii Liskonih/iStockBy BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- While the United States and much of Europe remain gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand has managed to eliminate transmission of the deadly virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s early, decisive action on business and travel lockdowns has been lauded by scientists globally, and now the successful approach may give her a second term in office.

On Saturday, the small country of 5 million will vote in a historic election profoundly shaped by the pandemic.

Polls indicate that Ardern’s center-left Labour Party is comfortably ahead of the conservative National Party and its leader, Judith Collins.

The more pertinent question seems to be whether Ardern, 40, can win an outright majority government.

Recent polls suggest that she may need the support of the Green Party -- a scenario that would lead to New Zealand’s most left-leaning administration in 21 years.

Grant Duncan, associate professor of politics at Massey University in Auckland, told ABC News that Ardern’s popularity comes down to more than just her likable veneer.

“It’s not just the obvious superficial appeal, but the fact that she is highly competent, intelligent and humane,” he said.

Ardern has demonstrated an ability to mobilize and unite the New Zealand public in the face of adversity, including in the wake of last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks and the White Island volcanic eruption, and most recently by steering her country through the health crisis.

Duncan said her science-led approach in tackling New Zealand’s coronavirus outbreaks has won over left-wing voters. Indeed, her personal popularity was below 40% late last year and has surged during the lockdowns to 55%.

New Zealand has recorded fewer than 2,000 coronavirus infections and just 25 deaths.

The country has now lifted all coronavirus restrictions following a second round of lockdowns. Earlier this week Ardern joined a crowd of more than 30,000 at a rugby stadium in Wellington for one of the first international sporting events to allow spectators.

But tough economic challenges lie ahead, particularly for a country that relies on tourism and has shut its borders to outsiders.

New Zealand’s economy shrank by 12.2% in the second quarter.

“Many on the right argue that the economic costs of her government’s disease-control policies outweigh the public health benefits,” said Duncan.

The Ardern government has also been criticized for failing to deliver on several social welfare targets, in areas such as affordable housing and child poverty, which disproportionately impact New Zealand’s indigenous Maori community.

Ardern’s “stardust” quality abroad has also made her the target of skeptics, who say she should be more focused domestically. Arden has been on the cover of Vogue and Time magazine and appeared with comedian Stephen Colbert.

She has built up a strong following internationally as an advocate for women’s rights and social justice. Some have even called her the “anti-Trump.”

“New Zealand politics has not sunk to the level of incivility and polarization that we witness in the U.S.,” said Duncan.

Voters also decide on Saturday whether New Zealand should legalize marijuana and if euthanasia should be permitted for the terminally sick.

Ardern has voiced her support for euthanasia but hasn’t shared where she stands on recreational cannabis.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Adam Smigielski/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The European Union has sanctioned six senior Russian officials for the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny with a nerve agent, laying the responsibility for the alleged assassination attempt directly on the office of President Vladimir Putin.

The European Council published the list of sanctioned officials on Thursday that included two of the most senior officials inside Putin’s presidential office, as well as the head of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service or the FSB.

Navalny spent almost three weeks in a coma after he fell sick during a flight from Siberia in mid-August. After he was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, Germany said it found Navalny had been poisoned with a "Novichok" nerve agent, a type of chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union and used in the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergey Skripal in Britain in 2018.

Germany and other Western countries, including the United States, had demanded an explanation from Russia, warning there must be consequences for the use of a chemical weapon against a Russian opposition figure.

The EU sanctions announced on Wednesday are remarkable because they lay the blame for Navalny's poisoning directly with top officials within Putin’s presidential office and accuse it of overseeing a campaign to discredit the opposition leader. Among those listed are Andrey Yarin, the head of the "Presidential Domestic Policy Directorate" and Sergey Kiriyenko, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, both figures known to be tasked with managing the Kremlin’s control of Russia’s domestic political scene.

The sanctions document published by the European Council alleged that a "task force" had been set up within Putin’s presidential office, led by Yarin, "whose role was to counter Alexei Navalny’s influence in Russian society including through operations meant to discredit him."

"Alexei Navalny has been the target of systematic harassment and repression by State and judicial actors in the Russian Federation due to his prominent role in the political opposition,” the document reads. It added that a Novichok nerve agent is accessible only to Russian state authorities.

"In these circumstances, it is reasonable to conclude that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny was only possible with the consent of the Presidential Executive Office," the entries designating Yarin and Kiriyenko read.

Navalny is Russia’s best-known opposition leader, who has built a grassroots following primarily through investigations exposing alleged corruption among powerful Russians, including top officials. He and his colleagues have faced harassment and detention for years, and his team has blamed his poisoning directly on Putin.

Russia has denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning and Russian officials have sought to cast doubt on the idea that he was poisoned or have suggested he could have been poisoned in Germany. The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday called the EU sanctions an "unfriendly step," telling reporters it harms relations with Russia. Peskov also denied that a task force to discredit Navalny existed within the presidential office.

"On the whole, the decision to make relations between the European Union and Moscow dependent on this person, whom Europe sees as the leader of some sort of opposition, can evoke only regret," Peskov said.

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday pledged the country would respond and said EU's explanations for the sanctions "bordered on the absurd"." Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov earlier this week said if sanctions were imposed Russia would reply with "reciprocal" measures.

A third top official, Sergey Menyailo, Putin’s special to the Siberian Federal District that includes Tomsk the city where Navalny was poisoned, is also included on the blacklist, described as "responsible for inducing and providing support to the persons” involved in the poisoning.

The EU sanctions also said Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB intelligence service, is responsible for "providing support" to those who poisoned Navalny. The documents said that given the use of a Novichok nerve agent and that Navalny "had been under surveillance at the time," it was concluded "that the poisoning was only possible with the involvement" of the FSB.

Two deputy defense ministers, Pavel Popov and Aleksey Krivoruchko, were also sanctioned, described as being responsible for Russia’s military armaments and overseeing the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile that ought to have been decommissioned after Russia joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"The use of such chemical weapons in the territory of the Russian Federation could only be as a result of intent or negligence by the Ministry of Defence and its political leadership,” the sanctions document reads.

The EU also sanctioned the State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT), a chemical weapons lab in Moscow that it says helped develop Novichok nerve agents before 1994 and which it said must have failed in its responsibility to destroy the weapons.

The EU said it was imposing the sanctions in view of "the continued threat posed by the proliferation and use of chemical weapons."

Navalny is currently still in Germany, where he is still receiving rehabilitation treatment, having been released from the hospital last month.

Labs in France and Sweden have also confirmed his poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent. Navalny’s team has said that traces of the nerve agent were found on a hotel water bottle found in his room in Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned before leaving there for the airport. But they do not believe the bottle itself contained the poison since the amounts on it were tiny. So how exactly Navalny was exposed to the poison remains a mystery.

Russian authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into Navalny’s poisoning, while accusing Germany of failing to cooperate with them. In a phone call with France’s president Emmanuel Macron last month, Putin suggested that Navalny could have poisoned himself, according to the French newspaper Le Monde.

Separately, the EU also sanctioned Yevgeny Prigozhin, a catering magnate nicknamed "Putin's Chef" because of his ties to the Russian president, for allegedly violating an arms embargo to Libya. Prigozhin, who was accused by U.S. intelligence of running a social media campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has previously also been linked to a Russian private military contractor that has been found to operate in Libya.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(LONDON) -- Queen Elizabeth on Thursday attended her first public engagement since March, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.K.

The 94-year-old monarch traveled to the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, near Salisbury, in a rare joint appearance with her grandson, Prince William.

The visit marked the first time only Queen Elizabeth and Prince William have made a joint appearance since 2017, when they visited London's Grenfell Tower after a fire there killed more than 70 people.

At their appearance Thursday, the queen and William, who were not wearing face masks, saw examples of weapons and tactics used in counter intelligence, and met experts who helped after an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent in 2018, according to Kensington Palace.

They also met with scientists who have provided what Kensington Palace describes as "vital support" to the U.K. response of the COVID-19 pandemic, "working in analytic research areas and deploying microbiologists to NHS hospitals to increase testing capacities," according to the palace.

Queen Elizabeth left Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle in mid-March, one week earlier than she had planned to leave for her Easter holiday, due to the pandemic.

After spending time with Prince Philip this summer in Scotland, the queen returned to Windsor Castle, a residential palace located outside of London, rather than to Buckingham Palace, which is a working palace with offices and staff.

The queen, who had been working remotely like many people in the U.K. and around the world, is commuting to Buckingham Palace for engagements. Prince Philip is at Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate.

Prince William and his family, wife Kate and their children George, Charlotte and Louis, spent several months at Anmer Hall, their country home in Norfolk, before returning to Kensington Palace in London last month.

William described recently how he's seen the pandemic change people's priorities.

"I can't talk about coronavirus without mentioning about how many people sadly lost their lives and how terrible and sad that all is. But I think the tiny little ray of light, if, if there's any ray of light from this, is that it allows us to take stock and to refocus our priorities," William said in the documentary, Prince William: A Planet for Us All. "I've been really heartened by what I've been hearing from other people and how they've started to appreciate nature and experience it, and see all the things that they never thought they would."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


image of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)




Hurricane Preparedness

On Facebook