Aubameyang Bags Brace As Arsenal Crush Newcastle

Arsenal have now gone unbeaten in five games. Photo: [email protected]

 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to scoring form with a double as Arsenal’s rise up the Premier League table continued with a comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle on Monday.

The Gunners were facing an unlikely battle for survival less than a month ago, but 13 points from a possible 15 have lifted Mikel Arteta’s men into 10th and within seven points of the top four.

Despite Aubameyang doubling his tally of league goals from open play this season, it was again Arsenal’s dynamic young duo of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka who caught the eye as the later slotted home the hosts’ second goal in between the captain’s brace.

“When we are winning they put a smile on my face,” said Arteta of Smith Rowe and Saka’s impact.

“I know what they are capable of doing. They are developing really well, that’s merit to them, to their teammates and everyone who is involved to help them develop and protect them. The performances they are putting in are extraordinary.”

Newcastle do remain firmly in a relegation fight after a ninth consecutive game without a win despite Steve Bruce making eight changes.

Bruce said “the gloves were off” after a scathing analysis of his side’s display in becoming the only team to lose to Sheffield United in the Premier League this season last week.

However, there was no change from the Magpies, who showed little ambition in failing to force Bernd Leno into a single save of note.

Newcastle still enjoy a seven-point cushion above the relegation zone, but those behind them are in better form with still over half the season to play.

“We’re having a difficult moment, that little bit of confidence has ebbed away,” said Bruce, who pointed to Arsenal’s first two goals as example of why he has not played in a more expansive style this season.

“That’s why we’ve been deep in the past to avoid situations like that. Unfortunately we’re throwing bodies forward trying to score a goal and one pass and we’re caught.”

Aubameyang’s struggles in front of goal have played a major part in Arsenal’s difficult start to Arteta’s first full season in charge.

Another night to forget seemed in store for the Gabon international when he hit the post with the goal gaping after Karl Darlow had diverted Saka’s low effort into his path at the back post midway through the first-half.

But Aubameyang made no mistake with a more difficult chance early in the second-half after Newcastle were caught short from their own corner.

Thomas Partey got his first assist since arriving from Atletico Madrid in October as he set Aubameyang free in behind and, despite being forced onto his weaker left foot, he fired high beyond Darlow to open the floodgates.

The emergence of Smith Rowe has helped turned Arsenal’s fortunes around in recent weeks since Arteta began to put his faith in the 20-year-old ahead of expensive recruits Willian and Nicolas Pepe.

Smith Rowe’s inviting cut-back was swept home from just inside the area by Saka for his third goal in five league games.

Aubameyang then had an even easier task to slot home just his fifth league goal of the season into an empty net after Cedric Soares just managed to keep the ball in play with a low cross.

Another headache for Arteta is also set to be solved with Mesut Ozil on the verge of agreeing a move to Fenerbahce.

Ozil has been the highest earner at the club since signing a deal worth a reported £350,000 ($475,000) a week in January 2018, but has not featured under Arteta since March.

“He’s in Turkey now. There is some paperwork still to do and when the deal is finalised we’ll make the announcement.”

 

AFP

Fears For Sudan’s Darfur After Nearly 140 Killed In Days Of Fighting

West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.
West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.

 

The latest inter-ethnic violence to rock Sudan’s restive Darfur region had killed nearly 140 people by Monday, tribal leaders said just weeks after a peacekeeping mission ended operations.

Clashes left 55 people dead in South Darfur on Monday, after a separate round of violence in West Darfur reportedly killed 83 and displaced tens of thousands over the weekend.

It was the worst violence reported since the signing of a peace agreement in October, which observers had hoped would end years of war.

The bloodshed, which appeared not to involve any signatories to the deal, came just over two weeks after the United Nations / African Union peacekeeping force UNAMID ended years of operations.

While former rebels have committed to laying down their arms, decades of conflict have left the vast, impoverished region awash with weapons and divided by bitter rivalries over land and water.

READ ALSO: Biden Pushes For Unity Two Days Before Taking Over Crisis-Laden White House

In South Darfur, fighting broke out early Monday between the powerful Arab Rizeigat tribe and the Fallata, a cattle and camel-herding people who trace their roots to the Fulani of western Africa.

West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.
West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.

 

“The clashes between the Rizeigat tribe and the Fallata tribe have killed 55 people, and wounded 37 others,” local Fallata leader Mohamed Saleh told AFP.

Saleh said that several homes were torched in the attack, which appeared to be in revenge for Fallata tribe’s killing of a Rizeigat member around a week ago.

– ‘Deficient’ peace deal –
The fighting in South Darfur comes after at least 83 people were killed in clashes between rival ethnic groups on Saturday and Sunday in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.

On Monday, SUNA news agency quoted the West Darfur governor as saying the death toll was yet to be confirmed as uncounted bodies remained at the scene of the fighting.

Aid group Save the Children urged all sides to lay down their arms “before the situation gets out of control.”

The charity’s Sudan director Arshad Malik said the wounded had overwhelmed healthcare centres and that “we have seen disturbing photos of injured and dying people on the floors and corridors of hospitals”.

The group warned that “many children will have been separated from their parents, and will now be at risk of exploitation”.

Sudanese authorities said they had sent a “high-profile” delegation to calm tensions.

The vast north-east African country has been undergoing a fragile transition since the April 2019 ouster of president Omar al-Bashir following mass protests against his rule.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group which spearheaded the protests against Bashir, said Sunday that the violence showed the “deficiencies” of the peace deal, saying it failed to address the root causes of the conflict.

Bashir, who is in custody and on trial in Khartoum, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur.

– ‘Ugly face of war’ –
Darfur endured a bitter conflict that erupted in 2003, leaving roughly 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN.

The war had erupted when ethnic minority rebels rose up against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government, which responded by recruiting and arming a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.

The main conflict has subsided over the years but ethnic and tribal clashes still flare periodically, largely pitting semi-nomadic Arab pastoralists against settled farmers.

On December 31, the UNAMID force formally ended its 13 years of operations in the region. It plans a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.

Fearing deadly violence, Darfur residents held protests in late December against UNAMID’s departure.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on Sudanese authorities to “bring an end to the fighting”.

“Escalating inter-communal violence has resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, the displacement of nearly 50,000 people and the destruction of property,” he said in a statement.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that “the ugly face of war” could return to Darfur and called for more aid and protection.

“International support must not fade,” Egeland tweeted.

Sudan’s transitional government, a power-sharing arrangement between generals and civilians, signed a peace deal with rebel groups in Sudan’s main conflict zones, including Darfur, in October.

Gibril Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality rebel movement, wrote on Twitter that the violence in West Darfur was “a human tragedy”.

Another rebel leader, Mini Minawi, urged implementation of the peace deal called for “reconciliation” between Darfuri tribes.

Two groups have refused to join the peace deal, the latest in a string of agreements, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, which is believed to have considerable support in Darfur.

AFP

 

Sale Of Assets Is Not New, Lawmaker Defends Plans To Fund 2021 Budget

File photo: Hon. Oluwole Oke, member of the House of Representatives representing Oriade/Obokun Federal Constituency of Osun State.

 

Honourable Wole Oke has defended the Federal Government’s plans to sell some national assets to fund the 2021 budget, arguing that it is not a new development. 

“The issue of the sale of assets is not new. Even in the previous budgets, there have always been other sources of revenue and the sales of assets is one of such,” the member representing Oriade/Obokun in Osun State explained on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Monday. 

READ ALSO: [2021 Budget] SERAP Asks NASS To Stop Buhari From Selling Govt Properties

He argued that some of the national assets that are being planned for sale to fund the budget are already liabilities, noting that it is better for these assets to be run by private individuals instead of the government. 

“But the critical issue we need to look at, is ‘What assets are we selling?’ Some assets are already liabilities, so what are we keeping them for? That is my humble opinion,” the lawmaker added. 

“You have to tell us which assets we are looking at. It is a common saying, which I also believe in, that the government is a bad manager.”

While buttressing his point, he said a look at the various sectors of the Nigerian economy indicates that the government cannot run businesses effectively. 

“Which business has the government ran and ran it very well?” he asked, stating that national assets that are idle need to be deployed productively by the Federal Government. 

He said that apart from the government being a bad business manager, Section 16 of the Nigerian constitution backs the Federal Government to deploy national assets when they are not performing well. 

Financing Deficit

President Muhammadu Buhari late last year signed the 2021 budget of N13.5trn into law after the National Assembly had passed the bill.

The 2021 Budget deficit (inclusive of Government-Owned Enterprises and project-tied loans), is projected at N5.20 trillion. This represents 3.64 percent of estimated GDP, slightly above the 3 percent threshold set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007

The Federal Government had equally said it is planning to sell off some national assets to fund the budget deficit.

“The deficit will be financed mainly by new borrowings totalling N4.28 trillion, N205.15 billion from Privatization Proceeds and N709.69 billion in drawdowns on multilateral and bilateral loans secured for specific projects and programmes,” Buhari had said during the presentation of the 2021 budget proposal to a joint session of the National Assembly in October.

 

COVID-19: Schools In Ghana Reopen After 10-Month Closure

Students assemble on their school compound on the first day of the reopening of schools in Accra, Ghana, on January 18, 2021.  Nipah Dennis / AFP

 

For school teacher Prince Asante, going back to work on Monday was a huge relief after being out of a job for nearly a year, sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was really difficult for me to survive,” Asante admitted.

“I became an Uber driver and on weekends I helped my wife with her small business selling clothes to survive. Things were not easy.”

The West African country introduced a lockdown and closed schools in March after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed in neighbouring Nigeria and eventually spread to Ghana.

Students assemble on their school compound on the first day of the reopening of schools in Accra, Ghana, on January 18, 2021.  Nipah Dennis / AFP

 

In the coastal capital Accra, the lockdown was lifted in April but strict measures to help contain the spread of the virus remained in place.

After a 10-month closure, children wearing face masks flocked to the gates of Asante’s Christ Vision School with mini hand-sanitisers attached to their school bags.

“I’m happy to see my friends but I’m scared. We can’t do most of the things we used to do anymore. I doubt school will be fun like it used to be,” said primary school student Anita Gyampo.

READ ALSO: Navalny Urges Russians To ‘Take To The Streets’

Despite mixed feelings, many are glad the days of homeschooling and virtual classes are over — for the time being.

 

Parents seek admission of their kids on the first day of school reopening in Accra, Ghana, on January 18, 2021.  Nipah Dennis / AFP

 

“We had virtual classes through Zoom but it wasn’t effective. Sometimes I waited for over 20 minutes without hearing or seeing anything on the screen,” secondary school student Andrews Lomotey said.

“My parents didn’t always have money to buy data for online class. Thank God I can now learn while taking safety precautions,” said another secondary school student, Emefa Dzakpata.

Schools and universities closed around the world but a report by UNESCO, Unicef and the World Bank published in October found that children’s education in countries like Ghana were more severely affected.

“Schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle income countries were the least likely to access remote learning, the least likely to be monitored on their learning loss, the most likely to have delays to their schools reopening and the most likely to attend schools with inadequate resources to ensure safe operations,” the UN children’s agency said in a statement.

In Ghana, COVID-19 cases are rising and some parents were hesitant about sending their children back to school.

“It’s of great concern to us… why free them now when cases are alarming? I won’t forgive this government if anything happens to my children,” said Priscilla Koomson, a mother of three.

“I wanted to keep them at home for three more weeks to gauge how things go, but I’m giving the government the benefit of the doubt.”

The tally of currently-infected people has nearly doubled in a month, to 1,924, according to Ghana’s Health Service. The overall figure of infections since the start of the pandemic is 58,000, but this is widely believed to be conservative as testing is low.

President Nana Akufo-Addo warned Sunday that Ghana may return to a partial lockdown if the situation continues to deteriorate.

AFP

COVID-19: WHO, China Could Have Acted Faster, Says Probe Group

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The World Health Organization and Beijing could have acted faster when Covid-19 first surfaced in China, a group investigating the global response has concluded.

In its second report, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response said that an evaluation of the “chronology of the early phase of the outbreak suggests that there was potential for early signs to have been acted on more rapidly”.

Covid-19 was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, before seeping beyond China’s borders to wreak global havoc, costing more than two million lives and eviscerating economies.

In its report, the panel found it was “clear” that “public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January.”

The panel also criticised WHO for dragging its feet at the start of the crisis, pointing out that the UN health agency had not convened its emergency committee until January 22, 2020.

And the committee failed to agree to declare the novel coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — its highest alert level — until a week later.

READ ALSO: Navalny Urges Russians To ‘Take To The Streets’

“It is not clear why the committee did not meet until the third week of January, nor is it clear why it was unable to agree on the (PHEIC) declaration… when it was first convened,” the report said.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the WHO has faced harsh criticism over its response, with claims it dragged its feet on declaring a pandemic and on recommending face masks.

 

WHO Urges Unity After Trump Attack
File photo: A TV grab taken from a video released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attending a virtual news briefing on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) from the WHO headquarters in Geneva on April 6, 2020. AFP

 

The WHO came under especially fierce attack from outgoing US President Donald Trump, who accused the organisation of botching its handling of the pandemic and of being a “puppet of China”.

Against that backdrop, WHO member states last May agreed a resolution calling for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation… to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response” to the pandemic.

AFP

Canada Clears Boeing 737 MAX To Fly Again

In this file photo taken on December 9, 2020, a Boeing 737 MAX of Brazilian airline Gol lands at Salgado Filho airport in Porto Alegre, Brazil. SILVIO AVILA / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 9, 2020, a Boeing 737 MAX of Brazilian airline Gol lands at Salgado Filho airport in Porto Alegre, Brazil. SILVIO AVILA / AFP

 

Canada’s transport ministry said Monday it has approved the Boeing 737 MAX to fly again in this country starting on Wednesday, ending a nearly two-year grounding following two deadly crashes.

After a review of design changes and additional pilot training for the jetliner, Transport Canada said it “will lift the existing Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) which prohibits commercial operation of the aircraft in Canadian airspace on January 20, 2021.”

“This will allow for the return to service of the aircraft in Canada,” it said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Navalny Urges Russians To ‘Take To The Streets’

Canadian airlines, it added, are expected to be ready to return the aircraft to service “in the coming days and weeks.”

Canada’s number two carrier WestJet has said it planned to return its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to the skies on Thursday after Boeing addressed technical issues and improved pilot training.

File photo: A Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane test its engines outside of the company’s factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFP

 

Air Canada and Sunwing also have 737 MAX aircrafts in their fleets.

The MAX crisis began with a 2018 crash of the jet in Indonesia, followed by another in March 2019 in Ethiopia, which killed a total of 346 people and saw the aircraft taken out of service across the globe.

Brazil was the first country to allow it to return to service, starting with a domestic flight in December by Brazilian budget carrier Gol, followed by American Airlines in the United States.

AFP

Top Four, Not Title Race, The Priority For Lampard At Chelsea

Chelsea's English head coach Frank Lampard gestures during the English FA Cup semi-final football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium in London, on July 19, 2020. Andy Rain / POOL / AFP
File photo: Chelsea’s English head coach Frank Lampard gestures during the English FA Cup semi-final football match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium in London, on July 19, 2020. Andy Rain / POOL / AFP

 

Frank Lampard believes Chelsea’s priority is to get back into the Premier League top four after a barren run rather than targeting the title.

However, the former England midfielder is hopeful the Blues fortunes can change for the better as quickly as they have deteriorated over the past month.

Chelsea eased back up to seventh thanks to just their second win in seven league games at 10-man Fulham on Saturday.

However, they briefly topped the table in early December on the back of a 17-game unbeaten run.

In a season when every side has had their struggles adapting to empty stadiums and a congested fixture list, just five points separate the top six.

And victory at third-placed Leicester on Tuesday could haul Lampard’s men back to within five points of the top.

READ ALSO: Messi Sees Red As Bilbao Stun Barca To Win Spanish Super Cup

“There is no reason to say whether we will get back into it (the title race) or not at the moment,” said Lampard at his eve of match press conference.

“We just need to consider the games in front of us and try to win them, to push ourselves steadily up the table.

“We are not in a bad position, we have had a bad short period of form and if we can put wins together this month then the picture will change very quickly — as it has done already this year in so many ways.”

Lampard — whose position has been the source of speculation due to the poor run — says a good barometer of their ability to restore momentum will be how they fare against the Foxes, who can go top with victory.

 

File photo: Chelsea’s German defender Antonio Rudiger (C) and Chelsea’s English head coach Frank Lampard (L) leave the field after the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge in London on July 26, 2020. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / POOL / AFP)

 

“Leicester are in the race for sure, the way they are playing and the results they’re getting and their position in the league,” said Lampard.

“We managed to get above Leicester at the back-end of last season, but it was a big ask for us.

“They are a very good team, with very good individuals, we know that, and a really good manager in Brendan Rodgers.”

Part of the reason for Chelsea’s recent disappointing run has been the poor form of Timo Werner.

The German international has scored just once in the last 14 games in all competitions — against fourth-tier Morecambe in the FA Cup — which is a poor return for the £52 million ($70 million) Chelsea paid for him.

“It’s something that all players experience in their careers,” said Lampard, who dropped Werner to the bench against Fulham.

“When you are a top player, as Timo has shown he is, is when all eyes are on and it becomes magnified.

“But the basics are the same and my job is to tell him that and work with him on it.”

AFP

Maguire Hails Man Utd’s Progress But Says There Is Room To Improve

File photo: Manchester United’s English defender Harry Maguire gestures at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Norwich City at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on January 11, 2020. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire hailed the huge progress the Red Devils have made in his 18 months at the club but said much more improvement was needed to deliver major trophies.

United extended their unbeaten league run to 12 matches and their away record to 16 without defeat with a 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Sunday to remain top of the Premier League.

A mammoth 33 points divided the sides last season as Liverpool romped to their first league title in 30 years.

However, a much tighter fight for the title is in store this season, with just five points separating the top six.

“You can see how much we have improved since I’ve been here,” said Maguire, who joined for a world-record fee for a defender from Leicester in August 2019.

“As a team we are on the up but there is loads of improvement we need to make, and make a lot more progress to get to where we want to be.

“We wanted to win the game but we keep the momentum going of not losing, especially away from home.”

United’s last domestic defeat away from home came at Anfield a year ago, when they were comfortably beaten 2-0.

 

Manchester United’s French midfielder Paul Pogba (2R) hugs Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah (3L) after the final whistle during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on January 17, 2021. The math ended 0-0. PHIL NOBLE / POOL / AFP

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his side were not at their best on Sunday, but they showed a maturity to keep Liverpool at bay and could have won the game late on, with Alisson Becker denying Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

“Last time we played here we didn’t have any confidence or momentum,” said Maguire. “The first half felt like we didn’t play well, we felt we could have been brave and hurt them a bit more.

“We didn’t play with belief and courage and I felt the second half was much more like ourselves.

“We are improving but we still need to do better with and without the ball.”

READ ALSO: Messi Sees Red As Bilbao Stun Barca To Win Spanish Super Cup

Solskjaer feels the next step for his side is to start taking the game to their main rivals.

Despite their position at the top United have failed to win against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, City and Tottenham this season.

“I think it showed throughout the game that the belief grew,” the manager said. “Next time we play them here, or after this experience, we need to impose ourselves on the game.

“Not take a few more risks but we can do better and that is a good feeling to have that I know we can do better — keep trying to do the right things even though you might make the odd mistake.”

AFP

Kano: School Resumption Dates Remain Intact – Commissioner

A map of Kano state in northern Nigeria.-Kanooooo
A map of Kano, a state in north-west Nigeria.

 

Kano State Commissioner of Education, Malam Muhammad Sanusi Sa’id Kiru has disputed the widely circulated rumour that schools in Kano will not resume on Sunday 17th and Monday 18th of January.

Clearing the air to that effect, the Commissioner reaffirmed the earlier directives issued by the ministry that all boarding schools students in the state should resume Today Sunday the 17th of January 2021 while day students are to resume tomorrow Monday 18th of January 2021.

He, therefore, urged parents, guardians and the general public to discard the widely circulated rumour, saying that it is not true, as Kano state government has no plan to extend the resumption dates.

The commissioner then called on the parents to comply with the directives so that their wards would resume in time for the commencement of the academic calendar which has been released by the ministry.

Many states in the country have announced the resumption of schools despite a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria. Other states have equally postponed the reopening of schools over fears about the increasing level of infections in the country.

The Federal Government had earlier given a go-ahead for schools to be reopened in Nigeria but called for strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

“These measures which are to ensure safe reopening of schools for academic activities will be subject to constant review as we urge teachers, school administrators and other stakeholders to ensure strict compliance,” the ministry added.

 

Wearing face-masks, final year students of Government Secondary School, Zone 3, Abuja, sit in a classroom as they write their West African Examinations Council exams, following the ease of COVID-19 lockdown order on Monday August 17, 2020. Photo: Sodiq Adelakun/Channels Television.
A file photo of students writing an examination on August 17, 2020.

 

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 had earlier hinted that it would review the resumption date (January 18, 2020) for learning institutions in the country, citing the rising COVID-19 infections in Africa’s most populous nation.

READ ALSO: [Fact-Check] Has FG Indefinitely Postponed School Resumption?

This had sparked fears among many Nigerians that school resumption might be put on hold indefinitely even though many states in the country had set dates for the reopening of the learning centres.

 

Navalny Flies Back To Russia Despite Risk Of Arrest

In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
In this file photo taken on January 16, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles during an interview with AFP at the office of his Anti-corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP

 

Chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was flying back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since a near-fatal poisoning attack last summer, facing the threat of imminent arrest after his plane lands in Moscow.

A flight carrying Navalny from Germany, where the 44-year-old spent months recovering from the August poisoning, took off from Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport just after 3:15 pm (1415 GMT), according to AFP journalists on the plane.

Wearing a blue face mask, green jacket and scarf, Navalny boarded with his wife Yulia and took his seat in row 13.

Speaking to reporters on the plane, he said he did not fear being arrested on arrival in Moscow.

“They will arrest me? They will arrest me? That’s impossible, I’m an innocent person,” Navalny said.

“I feel I am a citizen of Russia who has the full right to return to his home.”

Supporters were already gathering to meet Navalny outside Vnukovo airport in Moscow, where his plane was due to land around 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).

There was a heavy police presence at Vnukovo, AFP journalists at the airport said, after authorities warned that mass events would not be allowed because of Covid restrictions.

Barricades were put up inside to block the view of the arrivals area.

“How cowardly, pathetic and funny they are,” Navalny wrote on Instagram before leaving Berlin.

– Facing criminal probe –
Several Navalny supporters had arrived at the airport before his flight took off, including key aide Lyubov Sobol.

Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia in August and was flown out to Berlin in an induced coma.

Western experts concluded he was poisoned with Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok and Navalny alleges the attack was carried out on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies any involvement and Russian investigators said there were no grounds to launch a probe into the attack.

In this file photo taken on May 05, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses supporters during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 05, 2018 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses supporters during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Berlin said Saturday it had responded to requests for legal assistance from Moscow and handed over transcripts of an interview conducted by German police with Navalny.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Sunday confirmed that Russia received the documents sent by Germany but they “essentially didn’t contain anything” on the questions that Moscow had.

READ ALSO: Man With Gun, Over 500 Rounds Of Ammunition Arrested Near US Capitol

Russia’s prison service FSIN says Navalny may face jail time on arrival in Moscow for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence he was handed on fraud charges.

The FSIN said it would be “obliged” to detain Navalny once he returned to Russia.

The anti-graft campaigner may also face criminal charges under a probe launched late last year by Russian investigators who say he misappropriated over $4 million worth of donations.

Navalny and his allies said authorities were trying to intimidate him into not returning to Russia and encouraged supporters to gather at the airport.

In response to a Facebook event, more than 2,000 people said they were planning to go, despite temperatures in Moscow hovering around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Several activists in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, who were travelling to Moscow to greet Navalny, said police stopped them at the city’s train station and airport.

Groups opposed to Navalny were also planning to show up, with a nationalist movement promising to welcome him with “zelyonka”, a bright green antiseptic solution that is commonly found in Russia. Navalny had previously been attacked with the green dye that can take days to wash off.

– Anti-corruption investigations –
The airport told journalists that it will not allow media to work inside, citing coronavirus concerns.

Navalny has been the symbol of Russia’s protest movement for a decade, after rising to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and leading anti-government street rallies.

 

Alexei Navalny
This handout picture posted on September 23, 2020 on the Instagram account of @navalny shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a bench in Berlin. Handout / Instagram account @navalny / AFP

 

Navalny publishes YouTube investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elites, some of which garner millions of views, making the activist’s team a target of lawsuits, police raids and jail stints.

Navalny is ignored or given negative coverage by state-controlled TV, the primary source of news for many Russians, which makes it unclear how much support he enjoys among ordinary citizens.

According to a poll published by the independent Levada Centre last year, only 20 percent of respondents said they approved of Navalny’s actions, while 50 percent disapproved.

Navalny has never held elected office. He came second in a 2013 vote for mayor of Moscow but was barred from standing against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.

His allies are also frequently prevented from running for election.

In 2019, several Navalny allies were barred from running for the Moscow city council, sparking mass rallies in the capital that lasted several weeks.

AFP

Inauguration: Biden To Sign Executive Orders On Day One Amid High Alert

US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP
File photo: US President-elect Joe Biden delivers a Thanksgiving address at the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 25, 2020. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

Joe Biden’s top aide said Saturday the incoming president would sign about a dozen executive orders on his first day in office, as police fearing violence from Trump supporters staged a nationwide security operation ahead of the inauguration.

Authorities in Washington, where Wednesday’s inauguration will take place, said they arrested a man with a loaded handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition at a security checkpoint, underscoring the tension in the US capital which is resembling a war zone.

However, the man said it was “an honest mistake,” and that he was a private security guard who got lost on his way to work near the Capitol.

READ ALSO: Man With Gun, Over 500 Rounds Of Ammunition Arrested Near US Capitol

Incoming Biden chief of staff Ron Klain said in a memo to new White House senior staff that the executive orders would address the pandemic, the ailing US economy, climate change and racial injustice in America.

“All of these crises demand urgent action,” Klain said in the memo.

“In his first ten days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America’s place in the world,” Klain added.

As he inherits the White House from Donald Trump, Biden’s plate is overflowing with acute challenges.

 

This combination of file pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and former Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. JIM WATSON, Morry GASH / AFP
This combination of file pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and former Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. JIM WATSON, Morry GASH / AFP

 

The US is fast approaching 400,000 dead from the Covid-19 crisis and logging well over a million new cases a week as the coronavirus spreads out of control.

The economy is ailing, with 10 million fewer jobs available compared to the start of the pandemic. And millions of Americans who back Trump refuse to recognize Biden as the legitimate president.

Biden this week unveiled plans to seek $1.9 trillion to revive the economy through new stimulus payments and other aid, and plans a blitz to accelerate America’s stumbling Covid vaccine rollout effort.

On Inauguration Day Biden, as previously promised, will sign orders including ones for the US to rejoin the Paris climate accord and reverse Trump’s ban on entry of people from certain Muslim majority countries, Klain said.

“President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward,” Klain said.

– 500 rounds of ammunition –
Meanwhile, Washington was under a state of high alert after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6. The assault left five people dead, including a police officer.

Security officials have warned that armed pro-Trump extremists, possibly carrying explosives, pose a threat to Washington as well as state capitals over the coming week.

Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed in Washington and streets have been blocked off downtown with concrete barriers.

On Friday night, police arrested a Virginia man at a security checkpoint where he tried to use an “unauthorized” credential to access the restricted area where Biden will be inaugurated.

As officers checked the credential, one noticed decals on the back of Wesley Beeler’s pick-up truck that said “Assault Life,” with an image of a rifle, and another with the message: “If they come for your guns, give ’em your bullets first,” according to a document filed in Washington, DC Superior Court.

Under questioning, Beeler told officers he had a Glock handgun in the vehicle. A search uncovered a loaded handgun, more than 500 rounds of ammunition, shotgun shells and a magazine for the gun, the court document said.

Beeler was arrested on charges including possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition.

“It was an honest mistake,” Beeler told The Washington Post after being released from jail.

“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in DC because I’m a country boy,” he said. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”

Beeler told the newspaper he works as a private security guard near the Capitol, and presented a credential provided by his employer.

 

Flags and a podium are in place as preparations are made ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 16, 2021.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP

 

He said he was licensed to carry his gun in Virginia, but forgot to take it out of his car before leaving home for his overnight shift in Washington.

Prosecutors did not object to Beeler’s release from jail, the Washington Post said, though he was ordered to stay out of Washington except for court-related matters.

In addition to the heavy security presence in the US capital, law enforcement was out in force at statehouses around the country to ward off potential political violence.

Mass protests that had been planned for the weekend did not materialize on Saturday, with security far outnumbering Trump supporters at several fortified capitols, US media reported.

In St Paul, Minnesota, for example, hundreds of law enforcement officers, some armed with long guns, ringed the Capitol with National Guard troops providing backup.

The number of protesters totaled about 50.

AFP

Man Utd Face Acid Test of Premier League Title Credentials At Liverpool

A photo combination of Mo Salah and Bruno Fernandes.

 

Liverpool and Manchester United face off on Sunday as the Premier League’s top two teams for the first time since 1997 — with the rivalry between England’s most successful clubs rekindled by a fascinating title race.

United top the table after the New Year for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 thanks to an 11-match unbeaten run to take them past Jurgen Klopp’s men.

Liverpool have surrendered top spot after three league games without a win and could drop to fifth place on Sunday if results go against them.

READ ALSO: Rooney Loses First Game In Charge Of Derby

The last time United and Liverpool locked horns in a title race was 12 years ago.

Back then United were hardened winners under Ferguson, who saw off Rafael Benitez’s challengers to win a third consecutive league title.

Now it is United who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits are the “hunters” chasing the champions.

Ferguson, who arrived at Old Trafford in 1986 with United firmly in Liverpool’s shadow, once famously said his goal was to knock them “off their perch” and he went on to win 13 league titles.

But United have been displaced as top dogs even in their own city by Manchester City.

And fans have been forced to watch Klopp spearhead another era of glory at Anfield, winning the Champions League in 2019 before ending the club’s 30-year wait for a league title last season — putting them just one behind United’s record tally of 20.

But, in a strange and at times soulless season in empty stadiums, the relentless consistency shown by Liverpool in recent years has dropped off.

Hampered by a series of injuries, most notably to talismanic centre-back Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have already dropped more points in 17 games than they have in either of the past two seasons.

That has allowed United to overtake them despite a slow start to their own campaign.

Solskjaer’s men won just two of their opening six games, suffering a humiliating 6-1 reverse at the hands of Tottenham at Old Trafford.

– ‘We’re in it’ –
But, on the road, United’s form has been remarkably consistent. Come Sunday, it will be almost a year to the day since they last lost an away game in domestic competition — on their last visit to Anfield.

File photo: Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp attends a press conference at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, north-west England on October 1, 2019, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group E football match against FC Salzburg. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP

 

Since then Bruno Fernandes’ arrival has helped transform United’s fortunes. On Friday, the Portugal playmaker won his fourth Premier League player-of-the-month award in 2020 by picking up the prize for December.

“Unfortunately a good signing for United,” said Klopp. “He is a very influential player for United obviously, involved in a lot of things.

“I know people talk mostly about the goal involvements, which is very important stuff, but he is a link-up in a lot of other situations as well.”

Without the silverware on his CV to rival Klopp or City boss Pep Guardiola, Solskjaer’s credentials for one of the biggest jobs in football are questioned every time he has a couple of bad results.

File photo: Manchester United’s Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reacts at the final whistle during the English League Cup semi-final first leg football match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Ol d Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on January 6, 2021. PETER POWELL / POOL / AFP

 

 

But the Norwegian has guided United into a position his more storied predecessors, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, could not manage.

“The last few years, there have been two teams running away with it already by the end of October,” said Solskjaer.

“Now, at least, we’re in it at half-way. We’re a much better side now than a year ago.”

Questions remain over whether United’s revival is for real or another false dawn, of which there have been several in the post-Ferguson era.

Liverpool’s three-decade drought without a league title stands as a warning of how far even giants can fall.

One of Klopp’s first iconic phrases when taking charge in 2015 was his ambition to change the fatalism around the club’s mentality from “doubter to believer”.

Should United become the first visiting side to win at Anfield in the league for nearly four years, it is they who will have the new-found confidence that a 21st league title in 2021 is possible.

AFP