At least five people including a child died in the Russian city of Perm on Monday when a broken heating pipe flooded their hotel rooms with scalding water, investigators said.
The accident happened in a small private hotel located in the basement of an apartment block in the industrial city in the Urals region, some 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) east of Moscow.
“At least five people died and a further three were taken to hospital with burns,” the Investigative Committee, which probes major incidents, said in statement.
Those who died were all staying at the Karamel hotel, which has five single and double rooms, according to its website.
The hotel did not have an emergency exit while the water pipe that burst dated back to 1962, the building’s managing company said in a statement.
Hot water is piped under streets at a high temperature to supply homes in Russia and when these pipes burst, the scalding water and steam can cause fatal accidents, with cars sometimes plunging into holes that open up in roads.
Investigators have opened a criminal probe into the provision of dangerous services to consumers.
В пермском отеле 5 человек погибли, получив ожоги в результате прорыва трубы с горячей водой.
NATO partners argued Thursday over the alliance’s worth after French President Emmanuel Macron said it was undergoing “brain death”, prompting a fierce defence of the bloc from Germany, Canada and the US while drawing praise from non-member Russia.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron told The Economist magazine in an interview published Thursday, ahead of a NATO summit next month.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the 70-year-old military alliance as “indispensable” and said Macron’s “sweeping judgements” were not “necessary”.
Addressing journalists by Merkel’s side, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a weakened transatlantic alliance could “divide Europe”, while the US Secretary of State, also in Germany, insisted NATO was “important, critical.”
In the interview, Macron decried a lack of coordination between Europe and the US and lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a key member of the 70-year-old military alliance.
“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” he said.
“You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake,” Macron added according to an English transcript released by The Economist.
After talks with Stoltenberg in Berlin, Merkel said Macron “used drastic words, that is not my view of cooperation in NATO”.
She added: “I don’t think that such sweeping judgements are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together”, while insisting that “the transatlantic partnership is indispensable for us”. We have a problem’ – Stoltenberg said any attempt to distance Europe from North America “risks not only to weaken the Alliance, the transatlantic bond, but also to divide Europe”.
In a recent setback for the alliance, a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces in northern Syria was staunchly opposed by fellow members like France, but made possible by a withdrawal of US forces ordered by President Donald Trump.
For Macron, “strategically and politically, we need to recognise that we have a problem”.
“We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States,” he warned, adding that: “In my opinion, Europe has the capacity to defend itself.”
Stoltenberg said he welcomed efforts to strengthen European defence, “but European unity cannot replace transatlantic unity. We need to stand together.”
Pompeo, on a visit to the German city of Leipzig as part of anniversary events for the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, agreed.
“I think NATO remains an important, critical, perhaps historically one of the most critical strategic partnerships in all of recorded history,” he told journalists.
In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters the alliance continues to play “an extremely important role in not just the North Atlantic but in the world.”
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was released on Friday after serving 30 days in jail for urging protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates from upcoming elections in Moscow, his spokeswoman said.
Navalny emerged from prison smiling, according to photographs released on Twitter by the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.
Foreign spies keen to get their hands on Russian research are monitoring Russian scientists around the clock, the Kremlin said Wednesday, after experts denounced a new security decree as a Soviet throwback.
The Kremlin’s comments came after scientists criticised a ministry directive calling on researchers not to meet foreign colleagues one-on-one and requesting filed reports after every encounter — even a cup of coffee.
“Of course we must be somewhat vigilant, because foreign special services are on alert,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov when questioned on the decree from the science and education ministry.
“There is such a thing as scientific and industrial espionage,” Peskov said. “It exists 24/7 and is targeting our scientists, especially young scientists.”
He noted however that some of the decree’s provisions “sound excessive” adding that Russia “should not be bound by some rules that won’t lead to anything good.”
The decree recommending new rules on contacting foreign scientists — or Russian scientists working for foreign institutions — was made public by Alexander Fradkov from a mechanical engineering institute.
He called the rules “absurd” and urged authorities to retract them.
Another scientist working in a physics institute confirmed to AFP that the decree — which is marked for internal use — is real.
The document imposes significant red tape on any visits by foreigners into Russian institutes, asking that they are always accompanied by a designated employee.
It requests special restrictions on their use of computers, phones and other devices, including watches and binoculars.
Fradkov told AFP that the decree reminds him of Soviet-era rules which asked that researchers always met with foreigners along with a colleague, so that one scientist could report on the other if necessary.
“All science is built on communication and exchange of information,” he told AFP. “If you go by the decree, then even having a cup of coffee with a foreign colleague requires a report afterwards.”
On Wednesday, the deputy chief of Russia’s Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov joined the criticism of the decree, writing on Facebook that it goes against the government’s goals to increase the number of foreign students and ease their subsequent employment in Russia.
The science and education ministry on Wednesday argued that the decree “reflected global practice” on international scientific conduct, according to a statement quoted by TASS agency.
“There’s no radioactive contamination,” a spokeswoman for the Arkhangelsk region where the base is located told AFP.
Severodvinsk authorities said on their website that automatic radiation detection sensors in the city “recorded a brief rise in radiation levels. Currently the levels have normalised” at 11:50 am (0850 GMT) .
The accident is the second to hit the Russian military in less than a week, after a fire broke out in an ammunition depot in Siberia on Monday, causing huge explosions.
At least one person was killed and eight injured while thousands were evacuated from their homes following the blaze at the depot in the Krasnoyarsk region.
Police detained over 800 people at an opposition gathering in Moscow on Saturday, as authorities upped the pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny by launching a criminal probe into his anti-graft group.
Crowds walked along the capital’s central boulevards in a protest “stroll” over the refusal by officials to let opposition candidates run in September polls for city parliament seats — a local issue that has turned into a political crisis.
Most of those candidates and opposition leaders, including Navalny, are being held by police following a protest rally last weekend, in which 1,400 demonstrators were detained — one of the biggest crackdowns in years.
On Saturday, riot police were deployed in large numbers in central Moscow, some shops and cafes were shut, metal barriers were erected, mobile internet was down for many hours, and a metro station was temporarily closed.
Some 828 people were detained during the rally, independent protest monitor OVD-Info said.
Police said only 1,500 people took part in the gathering.
AFP correspondents said the turnout was likely in the thousands but a precise estimate was difficult as the protest was spread over several neighbourhoods.
– Police actions questioned –
AFP observed dozens of arrests along the route of the protest, as police formed human chains and grabbed people indiscriminately.
“They came and took seven people right in front of me,” said 50-year-old Olga Yakovleva sitting on a bench on a square along the protest route. “I lost the power of speech… it was just people sitting and talking.”
Lyubov Sobol, an ally of key opposition leader Navalny and currently three weeks into a hunger strike after being barred from taking part in the election, was dragged from a taxi and detained as she set off for the rally.
Hours later she was taken to court where she was fined 300,000 rubles ($4,600) for a gathering on July 15, and held for further questioning over the protest last weekend, her team said.
Opposition candidates who attempted to run in the polls next month argue that the authorities have arbitrarily declared signatures they gathered to qualify invalid.
People in the crowd on Saturday said they just wanted the opposition to have a chance to compete.
“I believe everyone should have a right to take part” in the polls, 39-year-old Robert told AFP.
Footage surfaced of officers in riot gear beating people prostrated on the pavement with batons, and many officers began to wear masks to prevent activists from identifying them on photos and videos.
Amnesty International condemned the “unnecessary and excessive use of force” and “unfounded” attempts to paint Moscow protest actions as a violent uprising.
Authorities have launched investigations into last weekend’s “mass riots” and “violence against police”, echoing similar probes into protests against President Vladimir Putin in 2012 which saw several people jailed.
Protestors insist their actions are strictly peaceful, and there have been no reports of damaged property.
– New ‘laundering’ probe –
The opposition had hoped the September polls would bring an end to the monopoly of Kremlin loyalists in Moscow’s parliament.
The body decides the city’s multi-billion-dollar budget but lacks political independence from mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of Putin.
Sobyanin has warned the opposition against “new provocations”.
Navalny and other protest leaders say corruption is rife in the capital. His anti-corruption foundation FBK this week published a new investigation into Sobyanin’s deputy, accusing her of selling prime Moscow property to family members at rock-bottom prices.
On Saturday, FBK, which previously made other high-profile investigations into the questionable wealth of top officials, itself became a target of a new probe into “laundering” a billion rubles ($15.3 million).
The popular FBK collects money through donations. Navalny’s ally Leonid Volkov dismissed the allegations as an attempt to stamp out Navalny’s national network of volunteers.
Navalny, currently in jail, was rushed from his cell to hospital last weekend in an incident his personal doctor said could be poisoning with an unknown chemical substance.
A state toxicology lab said no traces were found.
President Vladimir Putin has yet to comment on the situation in Moscow.
Russian police arrested almost 1,400 people as they gathered in Moscow at the weekend to demand free and fair elections, a monitor said, the biggest crackdown on a rally in the country in years.
Some 3,500 people took part in the unauthorised protest on Saturday, according to official figures, after authorities blocked prominent opposition candidates from taking part in city elections.
Police used batons on protesters as they tried to gather outside city hall, and AFP reporters at the scene saw demonstrators with injuries.
The rally comes amid wider public frustration over declining living standards that has hit President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings.
A week before, 22,000 took to the streets in a sanctioned protest, calling on authorities to reverse their decision ahead of the September city council vote.
After that demonstration, investigators raided the homes and headquarters of a number of disqualified candidates. Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days for calling the fresh protest.
Several would-be candidates were detained before or during the protest on Saturday. Navalny’s team has called for another rally next weekend.
OVD-Info, an organisation that monitors protests, reported Sunday that 1,373 people were arrested.
It said this was the highest number since mass demonstrations in 2012, when tens of thousands protested Putin’s return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
“The authorities have lost all sense of reason. They are behaving in a way that is almost sadistic,” Ilya Yashin, a barred opposition candidate, wrote on Twitter late Saturday.
‘Disproportionate Police Force’
The US embassy in Moscow denounced the use of what it said was “disproportionate police force”.
The violence and arrests “undermine rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process,” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote in a tweet.
The EU said police actions undermined “the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” while Amnesty International also criticised the crackdown.
Elections to Moscow’s 45-seat legislative body, currently controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, are due to be held in six weeks.
While pro-Kremlin candidates enjoy the support of the state, independent candidates say they have been made to jump through countless hoops in order to get on the ballot for the city polls.
Following pickets last week, including outside the local election commission building, investigators said they were launching a criminal probe into obstructing the work of election officials.
If found guilty, organisers risk up to five years in prison.
Local polls are a rare opportunity for dissenting voices to participate in political life as anti-Kremlin parties have been squeezed out of parliament over Putin’s two decades in power.
Russian police arrested dozens of people as they gathered at Moscow city hall Saturday to demand free and fair elections, an AFP journalist said, following a crackdown on the opposition.
Thousands of Russians had vowed to take to the streets of the capital after authorities refused to allow opposition and independent candidates to stand for Moscow’s city council in September.
Investigators raided the homes and headquarters of several disqualified candidates in the run-up to the protest, while top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days for calling for the demonstration.
Other leading opposition figures and would-be candidates were arrested in the hours leading up to the event.
The Saturday protest is the latest in a series of rallies over the local election, which comes amid declining living standards and a fall in President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings.
Local polls are a rare opportunity for dissenting voices to participate in political life as anti-Kremlin parties have been squeezed out of parliament over Putin’s 20 years in power.
Security was tight in central Moscow on Saturday and an AFP journalist said at least 50 people had been arrested before the planned start of the demonstration at two pm local time (1100 GMT).
Protest monitoring organisations reported dozens more arrests.
Politician and disqualified candidate Dmitry Gudkov was arrested shortly before the march. Earlier he had said the future of the country was at stake.
“If we lose now, elections will cease to exist as a political instrument,” he said.
“What we’re talking about is whether it’s legal to participate in politics today in Russia, we’re talking about the country we’re going to live in.”
Elena Rastovka, a 68-year-old pensioner at the demonstration, told AFP: “I’ve been afraid all my life, but enough is enough. If we stay at home nothing will change.
“Authorities arrest people who want to challenge them. Look at what they’re doing — the authorities do not like the people.”
Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said he had been arrested shortly ahead of the demonstration, while barred candidate Ilya Yashin announced he was detained in the early hours of Saturday morning following a raid on his home.
– ‘Security threat’ – Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobaynin called the unauthorised protest a “security threat”, adding that “order will be ensured according to the relevant laws”.
Last weekend 22,000 people turned up for a protest in Moscow, the largest such demonstration in years, after election authorities refused to register dozens of candidates.
While pro-Kremlin candidates enjoy the support of the state, independent candidates say they have been made to jump through countless hoops in order to get on the ballot.
Rejected candidate Lyubov Sobol this week launched a hunger strike in protest.
On Thursday, the 31-year-old demanded officials review her documents and came to the offices of the Moscow election commission to continue her strike.
But security agents took her out of the building on the sofa she was sitting on.
After activists and ordinary Muscovites staged pickets, including outside the local election commission building, investigators said they were launching a criminal probe into obstructing the work of election officials.
If found guilty, organisers risk up to five years in prison.
– ‘ Impossible not to protest’ – Nearly 11,000 people indicated interest in the rally on Facebook.
Police asked media to notify the authorities if they planned to cover the protest and urged Russians to skip the rally altogether.
Viktoria Popova, a 30-year-old illustrator, said she could not miss it.
“It is impossible not to come, it’s impossible to feel powerless, unable to change anything,” she told AFP.
“Who would have thought it would become important to take part in such a bizarre and boring affair as the Moscow parliament election?”
The Kremlin on Monday said the arrest of a major US investor on fraud charges should “not affect the investment climate” in Russia.
A Moscow court at the weekend placed Michael Calvey, founder of the multi-billion-dollar investment fund Baring Vostok Capital Partners (BVCP), in custody until at least April 13.
Calvey and five others are awaiting trial on charges they embezzled 2.5 billion rubles ($37.7 million). He says the charges have been fabricated for use in a shareholder battle.
“We are very closely following developments in the situation and we hope that this will not at all affect — and should not affect — the investment climate,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Of course, we have been well aware of Michael’s investment activities in the Russian market over many years,” Peskov told journalists, declining to comment on the specifics of the case.
Authorities detained four Baring Vostok employees on Friday, including French national Phillipe Delpal.
Two other suspects include a former fund employee and someone at another firm mentioned in the probe. All six are now under pre-trial arrest.
In a statement Saturday, Baring Vostok said the claims made against its employees “have no merit”.
The case has drawn comparisons to other high-profile probes against foreign investors in Russia, notably one against Bill Browder and the Hermitage Capital fund.
Calvey argued in court that the probe is a bid to exert pressure on him amid a shareholder conflict within Vostochniy Bank, which he is trying to resolve in a London arbitration court.
The charges against him are intended to “pressure Baring Vostok to drop its arbitration claims in London or to obstruct the new share emission of Vostochniy Bank,” the Baring Vostok statement said.
Investigators say that in 2017 a firm controlled by Calvey owed 2.5 billion rubles to Vostochniy Bank and paid the debt with a 59.9 percent stake in the Luxembourg company International Financial Technology Group (IFTG), which was valued at three billion rubles.
The investigators allege that IFTG’s real value was only 600,000 rubles.
The Taliban on Wednesday hailed two days of unprecedented talks with Afghan politicians as “very successful”, despite disagreements over women’s rights and its demands for an Islamic constitution in the war-torn country.
The extraordinary gathering in Moscow was the Taliban’s most significant with Afghan politicians in years and concluded with both sides agreeing to future talks and ensuring a “durable and dignified peace” for the people of Afghanistan.
No government official was invited to the roundtable, which saw heavyweight leaders — including former president Hamid Karzai — and other sworn enemies of the Taliban praying with the militants.
It was the second time President Ashraf Ghani was frozen out of Taliban peace talks in recent weeks after the United States held entirely separate discussions with the militants in Doha without Kabul.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Taliban delegation, made a rare appearance in front of international media alongside Karzai after the talks.
“This meeting was very successful,” the black-turbaned Taliban official told reporters.
“We agreed on many points and I am hopeful that in future, we can succeed more further, and finally we can reach a solution. We can find complete peace in Afghanistan.”
A statement issued on behalf of all parties agreed to support peace talks in Doha with American negotiators, which President Donald Trump described on Tuesday as “constructive”.
Participants also agreed on the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
A timetable for that exit was “not fixed so far… but we are negotiating this”, Stanikzai said.
Earlier Wednesday, a senior Taliban official told reporters the US had agreed to withdraw half its ground troops by the end of April — a claim refuted by NATO and the US State Department.
Kabul’s Involvement Crucial
Delegates at the Moscow meet also opened the door for the government to attend future dialogue — despite the Taliban’s steadfast refusal to talk with Kabul.
“The process should be all-inclusive, which means the government can also be invited and would be part of this,” said Mohammad Hanif Atmar, one of Ghani’s chief rivals, who was present at Moscow.
The Taliban consider the Kabul administration a US puppet but Ghani’s allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process.
Ostensibly, the months-long push by the US to engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul.
“Ultimately, we need to get to a Taliban-Afghanistan discussion,” General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, told US lawmakers.
“Only they will be able to resolve the key issues involved in the dispute.”
Ghani said he had spoken late on Tuesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had stressed the importance of “ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process”.
The Afghan president has vented frustration at being sidelined as his political enemies shared prayers and meals with the Taliban while discussing the future of his country.
‘Nothing More Than Fantasy’
“The Moscow meeting is nothing more than a fantasy. No one can decide without the consent of the Afghan people,” Ghani told Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews.
Karzai, the US-appointed president who ruled Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, declared agreements reached by the Moscow delegates as “very substantive”.
“We are happy with the outcome of the meeting,” he said.
He said the statement was “almost” issued in consensus — but disagreements prevailed over the Taliban’s demand for an Islamic constitution in Afghanistan, and the group’s views on women.
Fawzia Koofi, one of two female delegates at the conference, disagreed with the militants’ promise to uphold women’s rights “in accordance with Islamic values”.
“I… (lived) in Afghanistan during (the) Taliban time, and I know their interpretation of Islamic rights of (a) woman is different,” Koofi, head of Afghanistan’s parliamentary Committee on Women and Human Rights, told reporters.
She voted against the joint statement — but said delegates had promised her concerns would be taken up at future negotiations.
Under their rule, the Taliban severely curtailed women’s liberties, barring them from work and school, and confined women to their homes — only allowing them outside with a male escort and hidden beneath a burqa.
In the Russian capital, the Taliban sat and listened as women defended their freedoms in a modern Afghanistan — scenes unthinkable under their regime.
The Moscow conference was the Taliban’s most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in recent memory.
The conference was also unique because the Taliban — who banned television, cinemas and photography when they ruled Afghanistan — are rarely so visible.
Their leadership is seldom seen in public and scenes of Taliban officials, some wearing black turbans with long beards, outlining their manifesto for live television is virtually unheard of.
Speaking to the Afghan envoys — some of whom are female — the Taliban promised to loosen some restrictions on women and not seek a monopoly on power.
They have proposed an “inclusive Islamic system” of governance but are demanding a new Islam-based constitution for Afghanistan.