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Russia hits anti-Putin blogger with embezzlement charges

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Russian investigators on Tuesday charged popular protest leader Alexei Navalny with embezzlement in an old case that may put one of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics in jail for 10 years.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that Navalny would also be barred from leaving Moscow during a probe into the opposition leader’s time as an unofficial adviser to a small deal struck by a regional government in 2009.

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The charismatic 36-year-old corporate lawyer by profession looked pale as he came out of closed hearings during which the charges against him were expanded substantially to include some of Russia’s gravest business crimes.

“Something absolutely absurd and very strange has happened because they have completely changed the story behind the charge,” the prominent anti-corruption blogger told reporters.

“I cannot imagine how the investigators can prove this. But probably they will prove it.”

Navalny was already a cult figure with Russia’s growing Internet community for his campaign against state corruption when he helped spearhead the wave of protests that rocked the Kremlin in winter months.

He has since emerged as one of the most prominent leaders of a splintered protest movement that has faced new challenges from authorities since Putin’s disputed third presidential term began in May.

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Several top protest organizers are being investigated on various charges. The newest ones against Navalny concerned a small business deal that was struck by a regional government he advised three years ago.

The case had been probed and dropped in the past. But Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin personally demanded a review of the case earlier this month in comments broadcast on state TV news.

Investigators had originally accused Navalny of causing the regional budget a loss of 1.3 rubles ($40,000) by advising a local state-owned timber firm to conclude a deal another small company in 2009-2010.

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Navalny was not accused of profiting personally in the case but misleading the local governor whom he advised on an informal basis.

The charges released on Tuesday showed that the budget’s loss had soared to 16 million rubles ($500,000).

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Central Kirov region Governor Nikita Belykh has dismissed the case as a form of political pressure and stressed that local investigators had long concluded that Navalny had committed no crime.

The investigators on Tuesday pressed two counts against Navalny that include “misappropriation or embezzlement … committed by an organized group or on an especially large scale.”

The offense carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years.

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He was also charged with being an accomplice to a crime and ordered not to leave Moscow until the trial begin.

Navalny told reporters he could no longer rule out being arrested in the coming days or weeks.

“It is possible,” he said. “If it is possible for them to say that I stole those 16 million (rubles), then anything is possible.

But he also vowed to continue his political activities despite the renewed pressure from the state.

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“I will continue doing what I did before. Nothing has changed for me,” said Navalny.

[Alexei Navalny image via Agence France-Presse]


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‘I’m getting shot’: Shocking video shows police in Louisville hitting journalists with pepper bullets

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Police fired pepper bullets at a camera crew doing a live broadcast of the police violence protests in Louisville on Friday evening.

"WAVE 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust appeared to have been hit by rubber bullets reportedly fired by an LMPD officer during a protest in downtown Louisville," the station reported.

Rust was wearing a fluorescent safety vest at the time of the incident.

"I'm getting shot," she shouted.

The news anchor asked, "who are they aiming that at?"

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Missouri loses bid to shut down last abortion clinic in state

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A state judge Friday ruled against an attempt by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration to shut down the lone abortion clinic in Missouri.In a 97-page decision, Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi said Planned Parenthood demonstrated that it meets the requirements for renewal of its abortion facility license in St. Louis.“Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care. In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” Dandamudi wrote.“Ultimately, we have n... (more…)

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Michigan Gov. Whitmer, to testify to Congress about pandemic response

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LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will testify before a congressional subcommittee Tuesday about Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said Friday.By then, Whitmer said, she may have news about further loosening of restrictions on Michigan’s economy, she said at a news conference in Lansing.“If it continues this way, I’m optimistic that in the coming days we’ll be in a position to take another step forward,” said Whitmer, adding she has a meeting planned for Saturday with health and other experts about the next step in re-engaging the economy.Whitmer said she will testify befo... (more…)

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