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Russia counts on sanctions help from China as US warns Beijing | Russia-Ukraine war News

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A Russian minister says sanctions have prevented access to $300bn of Moscow’s $640bn gold, foreign exchange reserves.

Russia has said it is banking on China’s help to withstand the crippling economic sanctions placed by Western nations over the war in Ukraine as the United States warned Beijing not to provide that lifeline.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said sanctions had deprived Moscow of access to $300bn of its $640bn in gold and foreign exchange reserves, and added that there was pressure on Beijing to shut off more.

“We have part of our gold and foreign exchange reserves in the Chinese currency, in yuan. And we see what pressure is being exerted by Western countries on China in order to limit mutual trade with China. Of course, there is pressure to limit access to those reserves,” he said on Sunday.

“But I think that our partnership with China will still allow us to maintain the cooperation that we have achieved, and not only maintain, but also increase it in an environment where Western markets are closing.”

People stand in line to withdraw U.S. dollars and Euros from an ATM in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Ordinary Russians faced the prospect of higher prices and crimped foreign travel as Western
People stand in line to withdraw US dollars and euros from an ATM in St Petersburg, Russia [File: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]

Western countries have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s corporate and financial system since it invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it calls a special military operation.

Siluanov’s comments in a TV interview marked the clearest statement yet from Moscow that it will seek help from China to cushion the effect.

But US NSA Jake Sullivan said Washington has warned China not to provide it.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions, evasion efforts or support to Russia to backfill them,” Sullivan told CNN.

“We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country, anywhere in the world,” added Sullivan, who is due to meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday.

China-Russia ties

China has been one of the few countries to avoid criticising the Russians for their invasion of Ukraine. China’s Xi Jinping hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing just weeks before Russia launched the February 24 invasion.

During Putin’s visit to China last month, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring “no limits” in the friendship between the two countries.

Chinese officials have also said Washington should not be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the US invaded Iraq under false pretences. The US claimed to have evidence Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction though none was ever found.

China is Russia’s top export market after the European Union. Russian exports to China were worth $79.3bn in 2021, with oil and gas accounting for 56 percent of that, according to China’s customs agency.



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Bolsonaro gov’t threatening Brazilian democracy, jurists tell UN | Elections News

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Legal experts urge UN special rapporteur to visit Brazil to report on president’s attacks on Brazilian judicial bodies.

Brazil’s democracy and the independence of its judiciary are under threat from the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, a group of lawyers and legal experts have said in a petition to the United Nations, as the country prepares for elections in October.

The group of 80 jurists and legal researchers on Wednesday appealed to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to visit Brazil and report on attacks on the Supreme Court and the Superior Electoral Court that oversees elections.

The courts face an unprecedented campaign of distrust and public threats to judges who decide against the government’s agenda, they said in their petition.

“Moreover, without any evidence, Bolsonaro publicly claims that the Brazilian electoral system can be and has been rigged, and has even claimed that the TSE judges are behind such alleged frauds,” the petition to the UN rapporteur read.

Facing a drop in popularity, Bolsonaro over the past several months has repeatedly claimed – without providing any evidence – that Brazil’s electronic voting system is vulnerable to fraud.

Critics and judicial experts have rejected his claims as baseless, accusing Bolsonaro of planning to use his fraud claims to contest the election results, similar to former United States President Donald Trump, whom Bolsonaro has emulated.

Earlier this month, the president said his party would seek an audit of the voting system before the election. He has also suggested that the armed forces, whose current and former members are employed throughout his government, should conduct their own parallel vote count.

On Wednesday, the president’s son, Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, said Brazil could face political instability if the electoral court did not provide more transparency about its voting system.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s petition said that Bolsonaro uttered a series of direct threats to the Supreme Court in a speech to a crowd of thousands of supporters in September of last year.

“The Brazilian Judiciary is under siege. Judicial independence in Brazil is facing challenges that are unprecedented since democratization in the 1980s,” the letter said.

Bolsonaro is facing a stiff challenge in his re-election bid from former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who recently launched his presidential campaign and holds a clear lead over Bolsonaro, according to recent polls.



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HRW documents ‘apparent war crimes’ by Russian forces in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

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Leading US-based rights group says Russian forces had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions.

A leading human rights watchdog has accused Russian troops of carrying out summary executions, torture and other grave abuses in two regions of Ukraine, as it published a report documenting further cases of “apparent war crimes” by the invading forces.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report published on Wednesday documented 22 apparent summary executions, nine other unlawful killings, six possible enforced disappearances and seven cases of torture from late February through March.

Twenty-one civilians told HRW about unlawful confinement in inhuman and degrading conditions during the period the Russian forces controlled much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, it said.

HRW called for the alleged abuses to be “impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to the Reuters news agency requests for comment on the HRW report. Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and has accused Ukraine of staging atrocities to smear its forces.

Asked more broadly about war crimes allegations against Russian forces in Ukraine, Peskov told Reuters, “We consider it impossible and unacceptable to throw such terms around.”

“Many of the cases that Ukraine is talking about are obvious fakes, and the most egregious ones are staged, as has been convincingly proved by our experts,” he said.

Global outrage

There was a global outrage dozens of bodies, some with their hands bound, were found in towns, including Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital after invading Russian troops retreated from the area.

HRW said it had visited a total of 17 villages and small towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions and interviewed 65 people between April 10 and May 10, including former detainees, people who said they had survived torture, families of victims and other witnesses.

The report went further than a statement issued in April in which HRW said it had documented “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations” in Russian-controlled regions such as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv.

“The numerous atrocities by Russian forces occupying parts of northeastern Ukraine early in the war are abhorrent, unlawful, and cruel,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These abuses against civilians are evident war crimes that should be promptly and impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted.”

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” aimed at weakening its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capturing what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

A Kyiv district court on Wednesday began hearing its first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier who took part in Moscow’s February 24 invasion. The soldier, who is accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian, told the court he pleaded guilty.

Ukraine has said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes in total.





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Ex-Minneapolis police officer pleads guilty in George Floyd case | Black Lives Matter News

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By entering the plea, Thomas Lane avoided the more serious charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

A former United States police officer has pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in 2020 when a fellow police officer knelt on his neck.

As part of the plea deal announced on Wednesday, Thomas Lane a former Minneapolis police officer will have a count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder dismissed. Lane, along with J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, has already been convicted on federal counts of willfully violating Floyd’s rights during the events that led to Floyd’s death.

The state is recommending a sentence for Lane of three years — which is below state sentencing guidelines — and has agreed to allow him to serve the time in a federal prison. He has not yet been sentenced in the federal case.

Floyd died May 25, 2020, after another officer, Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. Lane and Kueng helped to restrain Floyd, who was handcuffed. Lane held down Floyd’s legs and Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back. Thao kept bystanders from intervening during the 9.5-minute restraint.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, said he was pleased that Lane accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death.

“My thoughts are once again with the victims, George Floyd and his family,” Ellison said in a tweet. “Floyd should still be with us. But I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death.”

In an earlier statement, he said the move was necessary towards achieving justice.

“His acknowledgement he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation,” Ellison said. “While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.”

The plea by Lane, who is white, comes during a week when the country is focused on the deaths of 10 Black people in Buffalo, New York, at the hands of an 18-year-old white man, who carried out the racist, livestreamed shooting Saturday in a supermarket.

Lane’s lawyer, Earl Gray, said he and Lane would have no comment. Lane was not taken into custody and a pre-sentence investigation was ordered. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 21 on the state charge.

Police officers during George Floyd arrest
Thomas Lane was convicted in February along with two other former colleagues of federal charges, after a monthlong trial that focused on the officers’ training and the culture of the police department [File: Pool/Court TV via AP]

Lane was convicted along with Kueng and Thao of federal charges in February, after a month-long trial that focused on the officers’ training and the culture of the police department. All three were convicted of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and Thao and Kueng were also convicted of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin during the killing, which was caught on video and sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the globe as part of a reckoning over racial injustice.

Chauvin, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of violating Floyd’s civil rights and faces a federal sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years. Earlier, he was convicted of state charges of murder and manslaughter and sentenced to 22.5 years in the state case.

After their federal conviction, there was a question as to whether the state trial would proceed. At an April hearing in state court, prosecutors revealed that they had offered plea deals to all three men, but they were rejected. At the time, Gray said it was hard for the defence to negotiate when the three still did not know what their federal sentences would be.

Thao’s lawyer, Robert Paule, was in the courtroom for Lane’s plea hearing. When asked if his client would also take a plea deal, he replied “No comment.”

Kueng, who is Black, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are scheduled to go to trial in June on the state charges.





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