Russian security forces raided gay clubs and bars across Moscow Friday night, less than 48 hours after the country’s top court banned what it called the “global LGBTQ+ movement” as an extremist organization.
Police searched venues across the Russian capital, including a nightclub, a male sauna, and a bar that hosted LGBTQ+ parties, under the pretext of a drug raid, local media reported.
Eyewitnesses told journalists that clubgoers’ documents were checked and photographed by the security services. They also said that managers had been able to warn patrons before police arrived.
The raids follow a decision by Russia’s Supreme Court to label the country’s LGBTQ+ “movement” as an extremist organization.
The ruling, which was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry, is the latest step in a decadelong crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights under President Vladimir Putin, who has emphasized “traditional family values” during his 24 years in power.
Activists have noted the lawsuit was lodged against a movement that is not an official entity, and that under its broad and vague definition authorities could crack down on any individuals or groups deemed to be part of it.
Several LGBTQ+ venues have already closed following the decision, including St. Petersburg’s gay club Central Station. It wrote on social media Friday that the owner would no longer allow the bar to operate with the law in effect.
Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, told The Associated Press before the ruling that it effectively bans organized activity to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“In practice, it could happen that the Russian authorities, with this court ruling in hand, will enforce (the ruling) against LGBTQ+ initiatives that work in Russia, considering them a part of this civic movement,” Olenichev said.
Before the ruling, leading Russian human rights groups had filed a document with the Supreme Court that called the Justice Ministry lawsuit discriminatory and a violation of Russia’s constitution. Some LGBTQ+ activists tried to become a party in the case but were rebuffed by the court.
In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms pushed through by Putin to extend his rule by two more terms also included a provision to outlaw same-sex marriage.
After sending troops into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin ramped up a campaign against what it called the West’s “degrading” influence. Rights advocates saw it as an attempt to legitimize the war. That same year, a law was passed banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, also, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.
Another law passed this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records.
Russian authorities reject accusations of LGBTQ+ discrimination. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. He was presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, arguing that “restraining public demonstration of nontraditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.”
The Supreme Court case is classified and it remains unclear how LGBTQ+ activists and symbols will be restricted.
Many people will consider leaving Russia before they become targeted, said Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBTQ+ Initiatives.
“It is clear for us that they’re once again making us out as a domestic enemy to shift the focus from all the other problems that are in abundance in Russia,” Baranova told the AP.
From underwater drones to electronic warfare, the U.S. is expanding its high-tech military cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom as part of a broader effort to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with defense chiefs from Australia and the United Kingdom at the U.S. military’s defense technology hub in Silicon Valley on Friday to forge a new agreement to increase technology cooperation and information sharing. The goal, according to a joint statement, is to be able to better address global security challenges, ensure each can defend against rapidly evolving threats and to “contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”
Austin met with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Grant Shapps, the British secretary of state for defense, at the Defense Innovation Unit headquarters.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Austin said the effort will, for example, rapidly accelerate the sophistication of the drone systems, and prove that “we are stronger together.”
The new technology agreement is the next step in a widening military cooperation with Australia that was first announced in 2021. The three nations have laid out plans for the so-called AUKUS partnership to help equip Australia with a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS is an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Under the deal, Australia will buy three Virginia-class submarines from the United States and build five of a new AUKUS-class submarine in cooperation with Britain. The subs, powered by U.S. nuclear technology, would not carry nuclear weapons and would be built in Adelaide, Australia with the first one finished around 2040.
Marles said there has been an enormous amount of progress in the submarine program. He added that as an island nation, Australia has a need for improved maritime drones and precision strike capabilities.
And Shapps said that with China “undermining the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, we’ve never had a greater need for more innovation.” He said that open navigation of the seas, including in the Pacific and the South China Sea is critical.
According to officials, Australian Navy officers have already started to go through nuclear power training at U.S. military schools.
Also, earlier this year the U.S. announced it would expand its military industrial base by helping Australia manufacture guided missiles and rockets for both countries within two years. Under that agreement, they would cooperate on Australia’s production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems by 2025.
The enhanced cooperation between the nations has been driven by growing concerns about China’s burgeoning defense spending and rapidly expanding military presence in the region. Last year Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands and raised the prospect of a Chinese naval base being established there.
The U.S. has increased U.S. troop presence, military exercises and other activities in the region. U.S. relations with China have been strained in recent years, over trade, U.S. support for self-governing Taiwan, Beijing’s military buildup on a series of manmade islands, and a numbers of aggressive aircraft and ship encounters.
High-tech demonstrations were set up across a large parking area at DIU and inside the headquarters, allowing Austin to take a few minutes before the start of the meeting to see a number of projects being developed, including a virtual training device that will help Ukrainian pilots learn to fly F-16 fighter jets and swarming drones being developed for warfighters. The projects aren’t tied to the Australian agreement, but reflect the ongoing effort by the three nations to improve technology — an area where China often has the lead.
As Austin walked through the exhibits, he was able to watch a swarm of five drones lift off from the pavement and hover over the onlookers — all controlled by a single worker with a small handheld module. The short range reconnaissance drones — called the Skydio X2D — are already in use in combat, but the swarming technology and ability to control them all from a single device is still in development, said Skydio CEO Adam Bry.
Inside the DIU offices, Air Force Maj. Alex Horn demonstrated a new portable, pilot training module that will allow instructors in the United States to remotely coach trainees overseas using a virtual reality headset. Four of the so-called “Immersive Training Devices” will be delivered to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona next month and will be used to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.
Horn said the devices, which are cheaper than other systems, will help accelerate the training for Ukrainian pilots who are used to flying Soviet aircraft and need schooling on F-16 basics before moving to cockpit training.
A Russian court on Friday ordered American Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva to remain in custody until February 5.
The editor for the Tatar-Bashkir Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, has spent 45 days in prison on accusations that she failed to register as a foreign agent. Kurmasheva denies the charge.
RFE/RL acting president Jeffrey Gedmin said in a statement that Kurmasheva’s “unjust, politically motivated detention has been extended,” and he called for Russia to free the journalist and grant her consular access under her rights as a U.S. citizen.
Kurmasheva had traveled to Russia in May for a family emergency. When she tried to leave, authorities confiscated her passports. Then, on October 18, she was arrested and accused of failing to register as a foreign agent.
Earlier this week, Kurmasheva’s husband, Pavel Butorin, spoke with VOA about her case and why he believes Russia is detaining his wife.
Butorin is the director of Current Time TV, a Russian-language TV and digital network led by RFE/RL in partnership with VOA.
He has called on the U.S. to designate Kurmasheva wrongfully detained, saying doing so will release other resources to help free her.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
VOA: There are a lot of repressions now against Russian journalists in Russia. What makes Alsu Kurmasheva’s case unique?
Pavel Butorin, Director of Current Time TV: It is no secret that reporting [on] Russia independently has become an endangered profession. But I think it’s especially dangerous now for American journalists to work inside Russia. I’m convinced that Alsu’s being targeted because she’s an American citizen and because she is a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
She is held in a cold prison cell exactly for that reason – because she had the courage to report on what’s going on inside Russia, what’s going on with ethnic minorities inside Russia.
VOA: What do you know about the conditions in the prison?
Butorin: Communication that we receive from Alsu is censored, so we cannot be certain that she receives the attention and the treatment that she deserves. We know that her prison cell is cold. Sometimes it gets overcrowded. It isn’t a pretrial detention facility, but it is a Russian jail.
She does send us letters that are upbeat and optimistic. Make no mistake. She is held by a penitentiary system that is notorious for its mistreatment of political prisoners. She shouldn’t be in that jail.
VOA: When she was first detained in June, she was released but then detained again. Why did they need such a scenario?
Butorin: Well, I can’t get into their heads, but I can only speculate that they were building a bigger case against Alsu.
She was first detained and charged for failure to report her American citizenship, which is now a criminal offense in Russia. They dragged this case out for several months, and eventually, in early October, a judge issued a relatively small fine.
But before she was able to pay the fine, they came after [her], arrested her and charged her for now with a more serious offense, with failure to register as a so-called foreign agent, an absurd charge that she denies.
VOA: In your opinion, is Alsu’s coverage of ethnic minorities and culture and language related to her case?
Butorin: I don’t have the details of her case, but it’s quite likely that her coverage of the plight of ethnic minorities in Russia has played a role in this.
Alsu is primarily a journalist, not necessarily an activist, but she has been a very strong proponent of and enthusiast for culture and the Tatar language. Honestly, I can’t think of another person who is as passionate about a culture as Alsu. She has been involved in, and you know, spreading awareness about her Tatar culture.
VOA: What is the most important thing to do to help Alsu right now?
Butorin: Right now, letters are really the biggest lifeline for Alsu in detention. She very much appreciates the support that she’s been receiving.
She receives a lot of letters from people that she doesn’t know, from complete strangers, who share their life stories with her and even recount movie plots. So that’s a big help.
But on the diplomatic front, we would like to see more involvement from the United States government and from other parties, as well from the European Union and from human rights organizations.
There is no doubt in my mind that the reason for her detention is her American citizenship and her work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
I think Alsu must be designated as a wrongfully detained person. I think she meets most, if not all, of the criteria.
This interview originated in VOA’s Russian Service.
Finland closed its entire 1,340-kilometer-long border with Russia this week, accusing Moscow of sending asylum-seekers across the frontier in a hybrid attack in retaliation for its decision to join NATO. Russia denies the accusation. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell has more.
Finland has closed its entire 1,340 kilometer-long border with Russia after accusing Moscow of “instrumentalizing” asylum-seekers by sending them across the frontier in a hybrid attack, in retaliation for Finland’s joining of NATO. Russia denied the accusation and warned that the deployment of any military units at the border would be seen as a threat by Moscow.
The Finnish Border Guard said more than 900 asylum-seekers from countries including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen entered Finland from Russia in the month of November. Previously, the rate was less than one per day.
The Finnish government responded by closing all but one of the official border crossings in mid-November. On Thursday, Finland closed the last remaining crossing, at Raja-Jooseppi, inside the Arctic Circle, sealing off the entire frontier for at least the next two weeks.
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said his country would not accept Russian interference.
“Instrumentalized migration from Russia has continued. I would like to stress that it is not just the number of arrivals that is at issue, but the phenomenon itself,” Orpo said at a news conference Thursday.
“In recent days, there has been a growing understanding that this is an organized activity, not a genuine emergency. … We don’t accept any attempt to undermine our national security.”
Russia is clearly trying to weaponize migration, said analyst Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“There are interviews [with migrants] saying that some of these people have been given an option: Either go to the front in Ukraine, or then jump in a bus or military truck, be driven up to the Arctic Circle or further north, and then be forced to buy a bicycle and try to get across,” he told VOA. “So, it’s very structured how the Russian authorities have done this.”
Russia’s actions are seen as retaliation for Finland’s joining of NATO in April following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Its membership of the alliance ended decades of nonalignment.
“Finland is considered by Russia to be a hostile state,” Salonius-Pasternak said. “And as we’re seeing through this weaponization of people and flows, it is actively trying to destabilize Finland and maybe cause other kinds of havoc. It hasn’t succeeded yet, but clearly there’s some intent here.”
The head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera, wrote on the social media site X on Tuesday that his country would send military advisers to Finland in response to “an official request for allied support in the face of a hybrid attack on the Finnish border.” Finland said it had no knowledge of the offer.
Poland accused Belarus of sending tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to their shared border in 2021, creating a humanitarian crisis. Belarus is a close ally of Moscow.
Russia denies accusations that it is driving the migrant flows to the Finnish border.
“There is no threat there, in reality there is no tension,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Thursday. “Tension may actually arise during the concentration of additional units on our border, because the Finns must be clearly aware that this will pose a threat to us.”
There are concerns in Finland that some migrants may try to cross the border illegally, risking their lives. Dozens of migrants died on the Belarus-Poland border in 2021, prompting accusations that Europe was turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
“It’s been down to minus-25 [degrees Celsius]. It will go there again. It’s supremely inhospitable to anyone seeking to cross the border,” said analyst Salonius-Pasternak. “So there is this fear — will we start seeing video or pictures of people just having frozen in the wilderness?”
Estonia said Thursday it was also ready to close its border with Russia if there is a big influx of migrants. The government warned its citizens against traveling to Russia in case they are unable to return.
Spanish police said Friday that they had arrested a Spaniard wanted by U.S. officials for working with an American to provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea in violation of U.S. sanctions against the rogue state.
In a statement, Spanish police said they had arrested Alejandro Cao de Benos, 48, in Madrid on Thursday as he got off a train from Barcelona. He appeared before a judge Friday and was then released, pending the formal extradition process.
The U.S. Justice Department, in April of last year, indicted Cao de Benos along with British citizen Christopher Emms, then 30, accusing them of conspiring with a third man, U.S. cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith, to provide North Korea with training in the technology — in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Griffith was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison in April 2022. Emms remains at large.
According to a Justice Department statement following the indictments, Emms allegedly told North Korean officials the cryptocurrency technology they were offering to advise them on would have “made it ‘possible to transfer money across any country in the world, regardless of what sanctions or any penalties’ ” might be in place. In effect, they could evade U.S. sanctions.
If tried and convicted, Cao de Benos could face 20 years in prison. The extradition process, which the Justice Department must initiate and Spanish courts and officials must approve, could take months to complete.
Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
Developers at the University of Maryland are using a holographic camera to capture people’s movements in three dimensions for what could be high-impact training, education and entertainment. It is technology with the power to transform how we learn and entertain ourselves. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. VOA footage by Adam Greenbaum.
Chad’s opposition and civil society groups are asking France to immediately withdraw troops who arrived in Chad after being ordered to depart neighboring Niger by that country’s military junta.
Ordjei Abderahim Chaha, president of the opposition party Rally for Justice and Equality, said Thursday that military ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby has failed to heed calls to ask French troops to leave.
Speaking at a news conference in the capital, N’Djamena, Chaha said he believes Deby wants French troops to keep Chad’s military junta in power by intimidating or cracking down on civilians who are ready to protest should Deby fail to hand power to civilian rule by November 2024 as agreed.
Opposition and civil society groups have asked Deby to ensure some 1,000 French troops already stationed in Chad — plus those who have arrived from Niger — leave the central African state no later than December 28, Chaha said.
All colonial-era agreements and newly negotiated deals between France and Chad should be canceled, he said, adding that citizens are fed up with France’s overbearing influence in many African nations.
Deby, a general in Chad’s army, was proclaimed head of an 18-month transitional council on April 21 to replace his late father, Idriss Deby Itno, who had run Chad as a dictator for 30 years.
Opposition and civil society groups say Deby cannot be trusted because he failed to hand power to a civilian government in October 2022 as agreed and instead extended the transition period by two years.
Deby insists he will hand power to civilian rule.
The Chadian government says there have been at least six protests against French military presence in Chad this year. In February, there were widespread protests against French troops after civilians accused the foreign military of brutality against civilians.
In early September, a French military medic opened fire and killed a Chadian soldier who reportedly attacked him with a scalpel as he received care in a military base. Anti-French protests then erupted in Faya-Largeau, a northern town, and Chad’s military used live ammunition and injured several people as it struggled to disperse protesters, according to civil society groups.
Koursami Albert, an international affairs lecturer in Chad’s University of N’Djamena, told VOA via a messaging app that civilians are unhappy because French troops restrict or arrest people who come close to their bases — an indication, he said, that the French do not want anyone to know their activities.
He said even Chadian troops are restricted from going near French military bases.
France has always claimed that its troops are in Africa to ensure peace and stability in friendly countries, especially where it was the former colonial power, but people struggle to see what services their troops render, Koursami said.
French troops have not intervened in the communal violence and armed conflicts Chad faces, observers say.
On October 19, Colonel Pierre Gaudillière, spokesperson for the French military, announced that the first convoy of French troops that left Niger by land had arrived in N’Djamena.
France did not disclose the final destination of their forces leaving Niger. Chad said the troops were to leave for Paris via N’Djamena International airport, while their equipment was to transit through the Douala Seaport in neighboring Cameroon.
French President Emmanuel Macron in September promised to pull all 1,500 French troops from Niger and end military cooperation with the landlocked western African country.
Nigerien military leader General Abdourahamane Omar Tchiani and junta supporters accused France of failing to resolve the security crisis that has killed thousands and displaced millions across Niger.
A BBC Channel 4 documentary, “Secrets and Power: China in the UK,” claims the Chinese government is interfering with academic freedom and spying on Hong Kong activists in the United Kingdom.
The 49-minute film released Wednesday alleges that the University of Nottingham used a Beijing-approved curriculum in classes taught on a satellite campus in Ningbo and closed its School of Contemporary Chinese Studies under pressure from Beijing.
The program also claims a professor at the Imperial College London collaborated with researchers at a Chinese university on the use of artificial intelligence weaponry that could be used to benefit the Chinese military. Both institutions deny the allegations.
The film also alleges that Chinese government agents pretending to be journalists used fake profiles and avatars to target Hong Kong activists now living in the U.K.
VOA Mandarin sent an email to the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom seeking comments on the claims in the documentary but has not received a response.
Nations track China’s influence
The documentary comes as other nations, including the U.S., are monitoring China’s influence on campuses (( https://www.voanews.com/a/us-officials-warn-of-chinese-influence-in-american-higher-education/4600204.html )) and its so-called “overseas police centers,” purportedly intended to help Chinese diaspora and tourists with everyday problems.
VOA has previously quoted human rights groups saying the outposts are in fact part of a complex global surveillance and control web that gives Beijing reach far beyond China’s borders.
The University of Nottingham was approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education to open a campus in Ningbo, China, in 2004. On the China campus, all courses are taught in English and students are awarded the same degrees as on the U.K. campus.
Professor Stephen Morgan, the former vice provost for planning at the Ningbo campus, said in the documentary that books and articles on campus are censored by local Communist Party officials.
According to Morgan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also encouraged students to spy on their teachers. He said he was forced to resign from his management position after writing a blog criticizing constitutional changes that enabled President Xi Jinping to serve a third term. The CCP secretary at the Ningbo campus deemed the blog “totally unacceptable,” he said.
Steve Tsang is director of the China Institute at SOAS London and a former director of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, which closed in 2016.
Tsang, an outspoken critic of the CCP, said in the documentary that University of Nottingham administrators told him not to speak with media when Xi visited the U.K. in 2015. Tsang also said the university did not allow him to host a senior Taiwanese politician who planned to deliver a speech in 2014.
School denies taking political action
The University of Nottingham has denied that the closure of its Institute of Contemporary China was for political reasons and denied Channel 4’s allegations about Nottingham’s Ningbo campus.
“We do not recognize the description of the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. Any U.K. organization operating overseas … must comply with the laws and customs of the host country.”
The documentary alleges that Imperial College London’s collaboration with researchers from Shanghai University included the publication of several papers on the military applications of artificial intelligence. The work was overseen by Guo Yike, director of Imperial College’s Institute of Data Science.
According to a report in the English newspaper The Telegraph, Imperial College said staff have a “clear code of research” and insisted that due diligence and regular reviews of partners have been done.
The Chinese Embassy in London also denied to The Telegraph in the same article that it had interfered in the running of British universities, saying the allegation was “aimed at discrediting and smearing China.”
Film alleges China targets activists
A study prepared by the British think tank Civitas and released this month in parliament found that a number of British universities have received significant funding from organizations linked to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the past five years.
The documentary alleges Hong Kong activists who have taken refuge in Britain appear to be the targets of sophisticated Chinese government espionage.
It follows the case of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Finn Lau, who said he had been repeatedly approached by fake journalists and feared being followed. In July, Hong Kong offered a bounty equal to $128,000 for Lau’s arrest. Seven others were also targeted.
According to the documentary, an American man who taught English in Shanghai pretended to be a journalist working for a Canadian media outlet and used a false avatar and profile to ask Lau for information about pro-democracy activities. When the American was asked by a Channel 4 reporter for his real name and those of his superiors, he hung up the video call.
Hungary will not support any European Union proposal to begin talks on making Ukraine a member of the bloc, a government minister said Thursday.
Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said at a news conference in Budapest that it was premature to begin formal talks with Kyiv on the war-ravaged country joining the EU, and that Hungary would not consent to opening the discussions when EU leaders meet in mid-December.
“We are dealing with a completely premature proposal,” Gulyas said, adding that Hungary “cannot contribute to a common decision” on inviting Ukraine to begin the process of joining the bloc.
Earlier this month, the EU’s executive arm recommended allowing Ukraine to open membership talks once it addresses governance issues that include corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent national minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.
But unanimity among all EU member nations is required on matters involving admission of a new country, giving the nationalist Orban a powerful veto.
His government has long taken an antagonistic approach to Ukraine, arguing vehemently against EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion and holding up financial aid packages to Kyiv.
Orban, widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe, has argued that accession negotiations should not begin with a country that is at war, and that Ukraine’s membership would reorient the system the 27-nation European Union uses to distribute funds to member countries.
Earlier this month, Orban said that Ukraine is “light years” from joining the bloc, further signaling that his government would be a major obstacle to Kyiv’s ambitions at next month’s meeting of EU heads of state and government in Brussels.
On Thursday, Gulyas also said Hungary would not support proposed amendments to the EU’s budget, part of which would provide 50 billion euros ($54.5 billion) in long-term aid to Kyiv.
He said the EU was “illegally” withholding funds from Hungary, and that the government would consequently decline to support any budget amendment.
The EU froze billions in funding to Budapest over the alleged failures of Orban’s government to adhere to EU rule-of-law and corruption standards.
Hungary insists it doesn’t link the frozen EU funds to other issues, but many in Brussels see its veto threats regarding aid and Ukraine’s membership as an attempt to blackmail the bloc into releasing the withheld funds.
More than 2,000 of Britain’s churches of several denominations have closed in the last decade. Many have been demolished, but as Umberto Aguiar reports from London, some are finding new life and are being used for purposes other than religion. Marcus Harton narrates. Camera: Umberto Aguiar.
Shane MacGowan, the boozy, rabble-rousing singer and chief songwriter of The Pogues, who infused traditional Irish music with the energy and spirit of punk, died Thursday, his family said. He was 65.
MacGowan’s songwriting and persona made him an iconic figure in contemporary Irish culture, and some of his compositions have become classics — most notably the bittersweet Christmas ballad “Fairytale of New York,” which Irish President Michael D. Higgins said “will be listened to every Christmas for the next century or more.”
“It is with the deepest sorrow and heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our most beautiful, darling and dearly beloved Shane MacGowan,” his wife Victoria Clarke, his sister Siobhan and father Maurice said in a statement.
The singer died peacefully with his family by his side, the statement added.
The musician had been hospitalized in Dublin for several months after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis in late 2022. He was discharged last week, ahead of his upcoming birthday on Christmas Day.
The Pogues melded Irish folk and rock ‘n’ roll into a unique, intoxicating blend, though MacGowan became as famous for his sozzled, slurred performances as for his powerful songwriting.
His songs blended the scabrous and the sentimental, ranging from carousing anthems to snapshots of life in the gutter to unexpectedly tender love songs. The Pogues’ most famous song, “Fairytale of New York” is a tale of down-on-their-luck immigrant lovers that opens with the decidedly unfestive words: “It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank.” The duet between the raspy-voiced MacGowan and the velvet tones of the late Kirsty MacColl is by far the most beloved Pogues song in both Ireland and the U.K.
Singer-songwriter Nick Cave called Shane MacGowan “a true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation.”
Higgins, the Irish president, said “his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams.”
“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways,” Higgins said.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said MacGowan’s songs “beautifully captured the Irish experience, especially the experience of being Irish abroad.”
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said: “Nobody told the Irish story like Shane — stories of emigration, heartache, dislocation, redemption, love and joy.”
Born on Christmas Day 1957 in England to Irish parents, MacGowan spent his early years in rural Ireland before the family moved back to London. Ireland remained the lifelong center of his imagination and his yearning. He grew up steeped in Irish music absorbed from family and neighbors, along with the sounds of rock, Motown, reggae and jazz.
He attended the elite Westminster School in London, from which he was expelled, and spent time in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown in his teens.
MacGowan embraced the punk scene that exploded in Britain in the mid-1970s. He joined a band called the Nipple Erectors, performing under the name Shane O’Hooligan, before forming The Pogues alongside musicians including Jem Finer and Spider Stacey.
The Pogues — shortened from the original name Pogue Mahone, a rude Irish phrase — fused punk’s furious energy with traditional Irish melodies and instruments including banjo, tin whistle and accordion.
“It never occurred to me that you could play Irish music to a rock audience,” MacGowan recalled in “A Drink with Shane MacGowan,” a 2001 memoir co-authored with Clarke. “Then it finally clicked. Start a London Irish band playing Irish music with a rock and roll beat. The original idea was just to rock up old ones but then I started writing.”
The band’s first album, “Red Roses for Me,” was released in 1984 and featured raucous versions of Irish folk songs alongside originals including “Boys from the County Hell,” “Dark Streets of London” and “Streams of Whisky.”
Playing pubs and clubs in London and beyond, the band earned a loyal following and praise from music critics and fellow musicians from Bono to Bob Dylan.
MacGowan wrote many of the songs on the next two albums, “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” (1985) and “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” (1988), ranging from rollicking rousers like the latter album’s title track to ballads like “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “The Broad Majestic Shannon.”
The band also released a 1986 EP, “Poguetry in Motion,” which contained two of MacGowan’s finest songs, “A Rainy Night in Soho” and “The Body of an American.” The latter featured prominently in early-2000s TV series “The Wire,” sung at the wakes of Baltimore police officers.
“I wanted to make pure music that could be from any time, to make time irrelevant, to make generations and decades irrelevant,” he recalled in his memoir.
The Pogues were briefly on top of the world, with sold-out tours and appearances on U.S. television, but the band’s output and appearances grew more erratic, due in part to MacGowan’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. He was fired by the other band members in 1991 after they became fed up with a string of no-shows, including when The Pogues were opening for Dylan. The band briefly replaced MacGowan with Clash frontman Joe Strummer before breaking up.
MacGowan performed with a new band, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, with whom he put out two albums: “The Snake” in 1995 and “The Crock Of Gold” in 1997. He reunited with The Pogues in 2001 for a series of concerts and tours, despite his well-documented problems with drinking and performances that regularly included slurred lyrics and at least one fall on stage.
MacGowan had years of health problems and used a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis a decade ago. He was long famous for his broken, rotten teeth until receiving a full set of implants in 2015 from a dental surgeon who described the procedure as “the Everest of dentistry.”
MacGowan received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish president on his 60th birthday. The occasion was marked with a celebratory concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin with performers including Bono, Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor and Johnny Depp.
Clarke wrote on Instagram that “there’s no way to describe the loss that I am feeling and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world.”
“I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” she wrote.
Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday effectively outlawed LGBTQ+ activism, in the most drastic step against advocates of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the increasingly conservative country.
In a statement announcing a lawsuit filed to the court earlier this month, the Justice Ministry argued that authorities had identified “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” by an LGBTQ+ “movement” operating in Russia, including “incitement of social and religious discord,” although it offered no details or evidence. In its ruling, the court declared the “movement” to be extremist and banned it in Russia.
The hearing took place behind closed doors and with no defendant. Multiple rights activists have pointed out that the lawsuit targeted the “international civic LGBT movement,” which is not an entity but rather a broad and vague definition that would allow Russian authorities to crack down on any individuals or groups deemed to be part of the “movement.”
“Despite the fact that the Justice Ministry demands to label a nonexistent organization — ‘the international civic LGBT movement’ — extremist, in practice it could happen that the Russian authorities, with this court ruling at hand, will enforce it against LGBTQ+ initiatives that work in Russia, considering them a part of this civic movement,” Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, told The Associated Press ahead of the hearing.
Some LGBTQ+ activists have said they sought to become a party to the lawsuit, arguing that it concerns their rights, but were rejected by the court. The Justice Ministry has not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court ruling is the latest step in a decadelong crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia begun under President Vladimir Putin, who has put “traditional family values” at the cornerstone of his rule.
In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms pushed through by Putin to extend his rule by two more terms also included a provision to outlaw same-sex marriage.
After sending troops into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin ramped up its comments about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the war. That same year, the authorities adopted a law banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, also, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.
Another law passed earlier this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records. It also amended Russia’s Family Code by listing gender change as a reason to annul a marriage and adding those “who had changed gender” to a list of people who can’t become foster or adoptive parents.
“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad?'” Putin said in September 2022. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from the primary grades?”
Authorities have rejected accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Andrei Loginov, a deputy justice minister, as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. Loginov spoke in Geneva, while presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council, and argued that “restraining public demonstration of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.”
A German court on Thursday sentenced a Gambian man to life in prison over his participation in a death squad that assassinated opponents of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, including an AFP journalist.
Bai Lowe was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder for his role as a driver for the hit squad known as the Junglers.
Prosecutors had asked judges at the court in the northern town of Celle to hand a life sentence to Lowe, who denies the charges against him.
The Junglers unit was “used by the then-president of The Gambia to carry out illegal killing orders, among other things” with the aim of “intimidating the Gambian population and suppressing the opposition”, according to federal prosecutors.
The list of alleged crimes includes the 2004 killing of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, who was gunned down in his car on the outskirts of the Gambian capital Banjul on December 16, 2004.
Lowe was found to have helped to stop Hydara’s car and drove one of the killers in his own vehicle.
The trial, which began last year, is “the first to tackle human rights violations committed in The Gambia during the Jammeh era on the basis of universal jurisdiction,” according to Human Rights Watch.
The legal principle allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.
Hydara was an editor and co-founder of the independent daily The Point and a correspondent for AFP for more than 30 years.
The father-of-four also worked as a Gambia correspondent for the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and was considered a doyen among journalists in the tiny West African state.
In The Point, he wrote a widely read column, “Good morning, Mr President,” in which he expressed his views on Gambian politics.
According to investigations by RSF, Hydara was being spied on by Gambian intelligence services just before his death.
As well as having a role in Hydara’s killing, prosecutors accuse Lowe of involvement in the attempted assassination of lawyer Ousman Sillah, and the murder of Dawda Nyassi, a suspected opponent of the president.
Lowe arrived in Europe via Senegal in December 2012, saying he was seeking asylum as a political refugee who feared for his life under Jammeh.
He was detained on the charges in Germany in March 2021.
‘Long arm of the law’
The evidence against Lowe includes a telephone interview he gave in 2013 to a US-based Gambian radio station, in which he described his participation in the attacks, according to police.
In a statement read out to the court, however, Lowe said he had merely repeated what other people had told him about the facts of the case to illustrate the cruelty of Jammeh’s government.
Jammeh ruled Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years but fled the country in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow.
He refused to acknowledge the results but was forced out by a popular uprising and fled to Equatorial Guinea.
“The long arm of the law has caught up to Bai Lowe in Germany… as it will hopefully soon catch up to Jammeh himself,” said Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh’s victims.
Lowe is one of three alleged accomplices of Jammeh to be detained abroad, alongside former interior minister Ousman Sonko, under investigation in Switzerland since 2017, and another alleged former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, indicted in June 2020 in the United States.
The Gambian government itself said earlier this year it was working with the regional ECOWAS bloc to set up a tribunal to try crimes committed under Jammeh.
Member countries are divided over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s annual foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday, with Baltic nations and Ukraine refusing to attend over the presence of Russia’s Sergey Lavrov.
The 57-member OSCE is the successor to a Cold War-era organization for Soviet and Western powers to engage but is now largely paralyzed by Russia’s ongoing use of the effective veto each country has.
The U.S. and its allies are seeking simultaneously to keep the OSCE alive and hold Russia to account for its invasion of Ukraine. They are attending while making a point of denouncing Moscow’s actions, a stance that some of Ukraine’s closest allies have little truck with.
“How can you talk with an aggressor who is committing genocide, full aggression against another member state, Ukraine?” Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels, where he attended a NATO meeting.
Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are siding with Ukraine on the issue. Russia’s Tass news agency reported Lavrov arrived in Skopje on Wednesday after a circuitous five-hour flight that avoided the airspace of countries that have barred Russian aircraft.
Borrell addresses friction
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he understood unease about Lavrov attending the meeting in Skopje, North Macedonia. But he said it was a chance for Lavrov to hear broad condemnation of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Your decision to allow Lavrov to participate is in line with our common objective to keep multilateralism alive,” Borrell told North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski at a joint press conference in Skopje.
“Lavrov needs to hear again, from everyone, why Russia is being condemned and isolated,” Borrell said. “Then he will be able to come back to the Kremlin and report to the Kremlin master.”
Estonia had been due to take over the annually rotating OSCE chairmanship, but Russia blocked it for months. A last-minute deal for neutral Malta to take over the chairmanship must be formally approved at the meeting on Thursday and Friday.
Concern on support for Ukraine
The OSCE issue reflects broader diplomatic questions about Ukraine. While only Belarus regularly sides with Russia at OSCE meetings, this week’s absentees worry that Western powers’ commitment to Ukraine is wavering.
The United States has been trying to reassure them while arguing that the OSCE, which upholds standards that Russia has agreed to, is the right place to hold Moscow to account.
“First of all … we have no planned interactions with Russia. We will also not accept any return to business as usual in the midst of this aggression, which has resulted in the largest land war on the European continent since World War II,” U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter told reporters.
“A lot has been done to expose Russian atrocities, and I expect that that will be the theme, of condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in all its forms,” he said.
It later became clear, however, that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would attend only meetings with his counterpart from North Macedonia and other like-minded countries on Wednesday. He then left for Israel before the Ministerial Council formally began on Thursday.
The OSCE is not the only international body where the West and Russia meet. Lavrov still attends Group of 20 events around the world and the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
In terms of substance, the stakes in Skopje are low. With the chairmanship settled, the main open issue is whether four top OSCE officials, including Secretary-General Helga Schmid, will have their terms extended.
The absentee countries, however, fear that Lavrov will use the meeting as a platform.
“It just so happens that the aggressor country is having a veto, and in a sense trying to hijack the agenda of the OSCE,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins. “I think that is simply wrong.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads back to Israel on Thursday, where he says he will work to help prolong a cease-fire so more hostages can be released and more humanitarian aid can be delivered to Gaza. At the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Blinken tried to reassure allies of continued U.S. support for Ukraine as Kyiv prepares for another winter of fighting. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has accused his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis of public “grandstanding” over the ownership of Parthenon sculptures.
The two leaders have been at odds with one another after Sunak canceled a scheduled meeting between the two just hours before it was set to take place.
In a weekly question period with the house of commons, Sunak told parliament that Mitsotakis had broken a promise that he would not publicly bring up the sculptures.
“Specific assurances on that topic were made to this country and then were broken,” Sunak said. “When people make commitments, they should keep them.”
Greek officials denied that any such promise had been made.
In an interview with British television on Sunday, Mitsotakis called for the return of the sculptures so they could be displayed beside the rest of the sculptures still in Athens. He also said that removing them was like cutting the “Mona Lisa” in half.
Athens has long urged the British Museum to return 2,500-year-old sculptures, known in Britain as the Elgin Marbles. The Marbles were taken from the Parthenon temple by British diplomat Lord Elgin in 1806, when Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule.
Greek officials have said Mitsotakis only promoted a longstanding position, and he called Sunak’s cancelation of the meeting disrespectful.
Mitsotakis said the cancelation was “an unfortunate event,” but he added that “the move will not hurt relations between Greece and Britain in the longer term.”
The Greek leader also went on to say the cancelation of the meeting had a positive side to it and that his calls for reunification of the sculptures have gained more attention.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, drone production in the country has surged. Ukrainian businesses have shifted from manufacturing products for peacetime to producing equipment for wartime. From Kyiv, Myroslava Gongadze explains how Ukrainian ingenuity is altering the course of the war. Camera: Eugene Shynkar.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there is “strong bipartisan support” for Ukraine in the United States and sees “no sense of fatigue” among NATO allies continuing their support as the country enters its second winter of war against Russia.
“Some are questioning whether the United States and other NATO allies should continue to stand with Ukraine as we enter the second winter of Putin’s brutality. But the answer here today at NATO is clear, and it is unwavering. We must and we will continue to support Ukraine,” Blinken said during a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
Since the war began, the United States has provided about $77 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial and military aid, according to Blinken. He noted that Washington’s European allies have provided more than $110 billion in support of Kyiv.
Ukraine’s path to NATO membership was discussed during Wednesday’s first foreign minister-level meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. Blinken also held separate talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
The top U.S. diplomat said the allies reaffirmed their policy that “Ukraine will become a member of NATO when all allies agree and when conditions are met.”
In a separate press conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the member state laid out recommendations to Ukraine’s reforms.
“Ukraine is closer to NATO than ever before. We will continue to support them on the path to membership and will continue to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters.
The United States is hosting the next NATO summit in Washington from July 9 to 11, 2024. Blinken discussed priorities for the meeting with his counterparts as the alliance celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.
A senior U.S. official told reporters that a significant portion of the discussions leading up to the Washington summit would aim to ensure that Ukraine is making the necessary progress toward “ultimate membership” in NATO “when conditions are right.”
The bloc’s member states have suggested to Ukraine “a set of governance reforms,” including strengthening anti-corruption agencies and authorities.
The NATO-Ukraine Council was inaugurated at the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other heads of member governments also in attendance.
It convened for the second time in late July to discuss Black Sea security following Russia’s withdrawal from a deal overseeing grain exports from Ukrainian ports.
The third meeting was held in October to discuss substantial assistance to Ukraine and to ensure Ukraine’s forces are fully interoperable with NATO.
The NATO-Ukraine Council is the joint body where allies and Ukraine sit as equal participants to advance political dialogue.
Wednesday afternoon, Blinken leads the U.S. delegation to NATO member North Macedonia, which is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, in its capital, Skopje.
Blinken said he is supporting OSCE’s “determination” to “advance European security,” despite “Russia’s flagrant violations.”
Blinken is slated to hold talks with North Macedonia Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani before heading to the Middle East later in the evening.
Bulgaria has given permission for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s plane to cross its airspace enroute to Skopje following North Macedonia’s request, allowing him to attend the OSCE ministerial meetings.
This has sparked an immediate outcry from Ukraine and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who will boycott the gathering due to Lavrov’s expected attendance.
“We obviously respect every country’s ability to make its decision about whether they should attend or not. We think it’s a useful forum to engage with OSCE members and are going to attend for that reason,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday.
When asked if Blinken would have any encounter with Lavrov during the OSCE meetings, the official said, “We do not expect one.”
After Skopje, Blinken will make his third trip to the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The U.S. is seeking an extension of the Israel-Hamas truce to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and getting more hostages released.
A special tribunal on Wednesday ruled that French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti did not abuse his current position to settle scores with opponents from his career as a top lawyer.
A pugnacious orator, Dupond-Moretti was alleged to have failed to step back sufficiently from a case against a magistrate with whom he had sparred while a lawyer.
The Cour de Justice de la Republique, a special tribunal for government officials, said Dupond-Moretti was in a position of conflict of interest but criminal intent was not established, and it cleared him of the charges.
Dupond-Moretti had remained in office during the investigation and trial but a guilty verdict would have put pressure on President Emmanuel Macron, who swept to power in 2017 promising to clean up politics, to fire his minister.
Dupond-Moretti, who denied any wrongdoing during the trial, left the court without making any comment. His lawyers said the ruling “ends years of [the minister] being falsely accused.”
Other allegations centered on a lawsuit he filed against the office of the financial prosecutor, or PNF, shortly before taking up his ministerial post, accusing the PNF of invading his privacy by obtaining his phone records during a probe into alleged corruption by former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The hard-left political party France Insoumise, France Unbowed, criticized the acquittal, saying it showed that the special tribunal, presided over by judges and lawmakers, should be scrapped.
Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for the anti-corruption association Anticor, said the special court was too lenient with those in power.
Since its creation in 1993, the Cour de Justice de la Republique has held nine formal trials, including Dupond-Moretti’s.
Past defendants have included former finance minister and current head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde. In 2016, she was found guilty of negligence over a government payout. She escaped punishment and kept her job at the IMF.