Russian investigators said Monday they had detained four more people suspected of violence against police at an unauthorised opposition protest in July, after jailing several demonstrators.
The powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe said it had detained four suspects and searched their homes while two other suspects had fled.
The latest detentions came after tens of thousands of people, many of them supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took to the streets of Moscow during the summer demanding fair elections.
Authorities unleashed a crackdown on the anti-government rallies and sentenced several people to jail terms of between two and five years. One protester’s jail term was later reduced to a suspended sentence.
Investigators said two of the four detained on Monday, Yegor Lesnykh and Maksim Martintsov, had knocked a National Guard officer to the ground during a July 27 protest and Lesnykh had kicked another.
Another man detained, Andrei Barshai, knocked a National Guard officer onto his back, investigators said, while a fourth man, Vladimir Yemelyanov, seized hold of a National Guard officer and prevented him carrying out his duties.
The men are set to be charged shortly, after which a court will decide whether to hold them behind bars, the Investigative Committee said.
It said two others had “concealed themselves after learning of the investigators’ activities.”
Earlier, a news website that focuses on opposition detentions, Mediazona, reported that another man, activist Denni Kulinich, had been taken by investigators for questioning.
Pro-Kremlin television channel Ren-TV had named Kulinich as a “coordinator” of the protest.
Iran has arrested an opposition figure who had been “directed by France’s intelligence service” and he is now in custody in the Islamic republic, the Revolutionary Guards said on Monday.
Ruhollah Zam, who ran a “counter-revolutionary” Telegram channel, has been detained in a “sophisticated and professional operation” by the Guards’ intelligence organisation, the Guards said in a statement.
Zam reportedly lived in exile in Paris, but the Guards’ statement did not specify when or where he was arrested.
The Guards said he was “trapped” by its intelligence organisation.
It said this was despite the fact he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service and supported by intelligence services of America and the Zionist regime (Israel).”
The Guards said they managed to “deceive” foreign services and arrest him by “using modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics”.
It said the operation showed Iran’s enemies were “lagging behind” its own intelligence services.
Last year, Iran’s telecoms minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi demanded Telegram shut Zam’s Amadnews channel, saying it was inciting an “armed uprising”.
The channel, which had around 1.4 million followers, was later removed.
Telegram was the Islamic republic’s most popular social network with some 40 million users before it was blocked by the judiciary last year.
Authorities had temporarily banned the messaging app during a wave of protests in early 2018, saying it enabled foreign-based “counter-revolutionary” groups to stir tensions.
A Cameroonian military court Saturday ordered the release of main opposition leader Maurice Kato who has been imprisoned for nine months, after a series of conciliatory gestures by veteran ruler Paul Biya.
The court said Kamto and 101 others summoned could be released “if they have not been detained for anything else”. Kamto’s lawyer Sylvain Souop added: “We note the release of our clients who should not have been in prison. Maurice Kamto is free.”
Biya on Friday announced he had ordered prosecutions to be dropped against “some” opposition leaders, including a number from the main Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) led by his jailed rival Kamto.
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.
Zimbabwean police outlawed anti-government protests that had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Gweru, the country’s third-largest city, the main opposition MDC said.
The march, organised by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is the third demonstration to be banned in less than a week.
In a statement, the MDC described the move as not just “a ban on civilian politics, but a de-facto state of emergency”.
“The prohibition orders that are being used to stifle and throttle democratic space are in themselves unconstitutional,” it said.
MDC Vice President Tendai Biti said in a tweet that “the regime’s actions are effectively banning the MDC & suspending the constitution.”
But, he promised, “we will soldier on peacefully & Constitutionally.”
Police have already banned marches in the capital Harare and Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city.
The protests aim at highlighting the worsening economic conditions in the southern African country.
Riot police patrolled the streets of Gweru on Tuesday where some shops kept their shutters down, according to witnesses.
On Friday, police using teargas and batons scattered demonstrators who defied the ban in Harare, leaving 12 people wounded.
The European Union, Australia, Canada and the United States have called on the authorities to exercise restraint and proportionality.
The “intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians — prior to, during and following the demonstration in Harare on 16 August — are cause for great concern,” their envoys said in a rare joint statement issued in Harare.
Zimbabwe’s government is trying to mend relations with the West after decades of isolation over human rights abuses under Robert Mugabe who was ousted in a military-led coup in 2017.
His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, won elections last year on a pledge to revive the country’s sickly economy.
But many Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse with shortages of bread, fuel, medicines. Inflation is now running at triple figures.
According to the UN, about five million Zimbabweans, or a third of the population, are in need of food aid.
The presidential candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP) for the 2019 Nigeria elections, Sani Yabagi, has criticised President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration over the handling of corruption cases.
Yabagi said the prosecution of Abdullahi Babalele, the son-in-law to the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, will now create an impression that the Presidency is intimidating the opposition.
According to him, this is because Atiku is challenging the victory of President Buhari at the recently held polls before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
“I understand that Atiku’s lawyer and brother-in-law have been put behind bars by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the court.
“That is not in tandem with what the political situation in the country is. It has a negative impact because we have not forgotten that Atiku is in court and people will think this is another way of intimidating the opposition.
“So I think no matter what the case may be, in terms of what Atiku’s lawyer and the in-law must have done, I will expect that some decorum is exhibited because this is somebody that is in court with you. People will think you are trying to intimidate the opposition,” he said.
But reacting, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Daniel Bwala, said Babalele’s prosecution by the anti-graft agency shows the commitment if the current administration to the rule of law.
Bwala who is also a member Lincoln’s inn, London and aide to the Deputy Senate President on Legal Affairs, said the stature of the law is blind, stressing that immunity does not cover relatives of people vying for public offices.
“In an ideal democratic society, the rule of law thrives. And the law does not grant immunity to somebody or his family simply because the person is running for office in government.
“And of course, the stature of the law is blind. Otherwise, people will think that if I want to get some degree of immunity, I just run for office and every member of my family will be protected. I don’t think it’s a valid argument,” he said.
Atiku’s son-in-law who is being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 2-count charge of alleged money laundering, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Nearly 50,000 opposition supporters rallied and dozens were arrested in Moscow on Saturday at one of the largest authorised protests since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.
Demonstrators crowded the central Prospekt Andreya Sakharova street, where city authorities deployed a massive police presence, including officers in riot gear, after giving permission for the rally to go ahead.
The White Counter, an NGO that tracks participants in rallies, counted 49,900 people, while Moscow police gave a much lower attendance figure of 20,000.
Police in Moscow said they detained more than 130 people. A further 80 were arrested in Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors detentions at protests.
In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections after the exclusion of several opposition figures, including allies of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, from local Moscow polls next month.
While the rally was authorised, Navalny — who is currently in jail — had urged supporters to walk peacefully through the city afterwards.
Navalny’s associate, Boris Zolotarevsky, told protesters to proceed to Putin’s administration offices. He was detained by police shortly afterwards.
‘Citizens are hostages’
At the rally, some protesters carried placards with slogans such as “Give us the right to vote!” and “You’ve lied to us enough”, while others held up pictures of activists arrested at earlier demonstrations.
“I’m outraged by this injustice at every level. They’re not letting candidates stand who have collected all the necessary signatures. They are arresting people who are protesting peacefully,” said one protester, Irina Dargolts, a 60-year-old engineer.
“It feels like the country is a prisoner and its citizens are hostages… No one represents the people,” said Dmitry Khobbotovsky, an activist for the Open Russia movement funded by Kremlin foe and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Showing the movement’s appeal to young Russians, one of the country’s most famous rappers, Oxxxymiron, attended the rally and another popular rapper Face performed on stage.
“I’m performing here today so that my people have freedom and the right to choose,” said Face, 22, known for his facial tattoos.
Riot police and the national guard had detained over 2,000 people at the previous two rallies, which were not authorised by city officials, and a dozen protesters face criminal charges and risk jail terms for “mass disorder”.
Most opposition candidates banned from participating in the Moscow election have now been jailed for violating protest laws.
One of the rally speakers was the wife of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, who is serving a 30-day sentence.
“Each of us has the right to run for office and they are very afraid of that,” said Valeriya Gudkova.
“We have real support from the public and they just have criminals in their electoral commissions.”
‘Attempt to gag us’
As he enters his third decade in power, Putin’s approval ratings have dropped significantly and critics say the authorities fear any outlet calling for wider political change.
The latest demonstration came this week as authorities mounted their harshest attack yet on Navalny’s team, focusing on his anti-corruption foundation which publishes investigations of officials close to Putin.
One of the foundation’s lawyers, Lyubov Sobol, was detained Saturday at her campaign office by police in riot gear, she wrote on social media.
Riot police also raided the studio where Navalny’s supporters were set to run a live broadcast of the protest, activists said.
On Thursday, investigators raided the foundation’s office as part of a probe into alleged acceptance of donations of laundered money and a court froze the foundation’s accounts.
“This is the most aggressive attempt yet to gag us,” Navalny wrote in a blog entry he issued through lawyers while serving a 30-day sentence.
A Moscow district court froze 75 million rubles ($1.1 million) held in accounts of the FBK and those of several staff members, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
“This is the amount that they considered to be ‘laundered’,” she wrote on Facebook.
Investigators said that the FBK knowingly used a large amount of money that was gained by third parties through crime. A spokeswoman said it was around one billion rubles ($15.3 million).
The foundation solicits donations on its website.
The recent opposition protests have been among the largest since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012.
Demonstrators are protesting Moscow’s refusal to allow prominent opposition candidates who support Navalny to stand in the Russian capital’s September local elections.
Investigators on Thursday also raided the FBK’s offices and the homes of lawyers who work for it.
“Right now there are raids and detentions taking place over the ‘money-laundering case’,” Navalny’s aide Leonid Volkov wrote on the foundation’s website.
The site posted security camera footage of investigators at the FBK offices accompanied by masked guards on Thursday morning.
Navalny himself is currently serving a 30-day sentence in Moscow for calling for a mass protest. He was taken to hospital from prison with symptoms that officials attributed to an allergic reaction but that his doctor said could be caused by a “toxic agent”.
The opposition is planning a large protest in Moscow on Saturday.
Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday defended her decision to turn to Britain’s main opposition to get her EU divorce deal approved, warning without cross-party consensus Brexit could “slip through our fingers”.
The beleaguered leader opened talks this week with the Labour Party in a bid to break months of stubborn opposition in parliament to the withdrawal agreement she struck with European leaders last year.
MPs have rejected three times her deal finalised with the bloc last November to end 46 years of membership.
May’s overtures to Labour came ahead of an EU summit on Wednesday where she must secure another Brexit extension, until June 30, to prevent Britain crashing out the bloc at the end of next week with no accord.
The elder statesman, however, enlisted the support of men and women of goodwill across party lines in making the country greater.
He said he was willing to support genuine efforts from those who were passionate about the interest of the country.
A Better Nigeria
Obasanjo asked the leadership of the PDP to purge itself of “bad eggs and hypocrites” who he said lacked commitment to returning the opposition party to its lost glory.
He decried that many leaders of the PDP were after “their pockets and stomach” and wondered why some top echelon left the party while others had lost hope shortly after the result of the 2019 presidential election was announced.
“I knew PDP would lose the election in 2015 because it was clear, and I knew PDP will need to be rebuilt after losing the election,” the former president told his guests.
“You need what I call a critical mass of committed people, and come rain, come shine they are committed. With that, you can make Nigeria better.”
He added, “You see peoples’ faces beautiful but you don’t know what each person harbours inside of him. If you discover a bad egg, remove such a person and if such person has learnt his or her lessons, there can still be room to accommodate the person.
“Politically speaking, you can’t be my friend if you don’t buy into Nigeria’s project. For me, till death, I will continue to push for a better Nigeria.”
Among those at the meeting include Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujimi, former Osun State Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and former Minister for State for Defence, Olusola Obada.
Others are former Ekiti State Deputy Governor, Professor Olusola Eleka, as well as some elected members of the National Assembly, Kola Balogun, Ayo Akinyelure, Ajibola Muraina.
Estonia’s opposition liberal Reform party won Sunday’s general election, outpacing center-left Prime Minister Juri Ratas’s party and a surging far-right buoyed by a backlash from mostly rural voters in the Baltic eurozone state.
Led by former MEP Kaja Kallas, Reform garnered 28.8 percent of the vote, well ahead of Ratas’s Centre party on 23 percent, with the far-right EKRE more than doubling its previous election score at 17.8 percent, according to full results on Estonia’s official state elections website.
Two other parties in the race which currently govern in coalition with Ratas, the Social Democrats and conservative Isamaa, respectively took 9.8 percent and 11.4 percent of the vote.
Both could team up with Reform for a 56-seat majority in the 101-member parliament, or holding a combined 60 seats, arch-rivals Reform and Centre could govern together as they have done in the past.
“Now the real work begins to put together the government and start running the country with common sense,” Kallas told public broadcaster ETV/ERR.
Insisting that the “EKRE is not a choice for us,” Kallas said Reform would “keep all coalition options on the table”, adding that her party has “strong differences with Centre in three areas: taxation, citizenship, and education.”
As for Ratas, when asked if Centre would consider becoming a junior coalition partner, he said “of course” but declined to elaborate.
EKRE leader Mart Helme raised the idea of a Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coalition commanding a 57-seat majority, according to ETV/ERR.
Bread-and-butter issues like taxation and public spending had dominated the lackluster campaign, along with tensions over Russian-language education for Estonia’s sizeable Russian minority and the rural-urban divide.
The far-right EKRE captured support promising to slash income and excise taxes and pushing anti-immigration rhetoric.
Turnout clocked in at 63.1 percent of eligible voters, the state election commission said.
Tax breaks, wage hikes
Traditional rivals, Centre and Reform have alternated in government and even governed together over the nearly three decades since Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union.
Both strongly support Estonia’s EU and NATO membership and have favoured austerity to keep spending in check, giving the country the eurozone’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratio.
Centre has vowed to hike pensions by 8.4 percent and to replace Estonia’s 20 percent flat income tax and 21 percent corporate tax with a progressive system to boost state revenue.
Nixing a progressive tax, business-friendly Reform instead wants to raise the tax-free monthly minimum exemption and lower unemployment insurance premiums to aid job creation.
Joblessness hovers at just under five percent while economic growth is expected to slow to 2.7 percent this year, from 3.9 percent in 2018.
For Lauri, an advertising specialist who declined to reveal his family name, the isolationist and conservative foreign and social policy proposed by parties like the EKRE is cause for concern.
“There’s a trend in Western Europe right now, if we look at the Netherlands, at England, maybe even France. I don’t support such populism myself,” he told AFP.
While it won just seven seats in the 2015 election, the EKRE is now a close third behind the mainstream parties.
Staunchly eurosceptic, it called for an “Estxit” referendum on Estonia’s EU membership, although the move would fail in the overwhelmingly pro-EU country.
The party’s suspicion of Moscow translates into strong support for NATO membership and the multinational battalion the alliance installed in Estonia in 2017 as a tripwire against possible Russian adventurism.
Tonis Saarts, a Tallinn University political scientist, describes the EKRE’s position on liberal democracy, including civic and human rights, rule of law and the separation of powers, as “very ambiguous” and compares it to similar parties that have recently gained support across Europe.
The party’s appeal is largely rooted in the misgivings of rural Estonians who feel left behind after years of austerity under Centre and Reform.
“These people see few economic prospects and feel the mainstream parties don’t care much about their problems,” Saarts told AFP.
The Centre party has long been favoured by the Russian minority, comprising around a quarter of the Baltic state’s population of 1.3 million.
To avoid losing voters suspicious of Russia, Ratas insists that a 2004 cooperation deal with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party is “frozen”. But out of fear of losing the Russian vote, he has refused to rip it up.
The minority counts on Centre to save the existing education system comprising Estonian and Russian-language schools rooted in Soviet times, while Reform and EKRE want to scrap Russian-language teaching.