German Chancellor warns of 'serious' consequences if Russia threatens Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez following their meeting at Moncloa Palace in Madrid. Michael Kappeler/dpa

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Russia to de-escalate the crisis along the border with Ukraine, where there has been a massive build-up of Russian troops.

The situation on the Ukrainian-Russian border worries the governments in Berlin and Madrid and is "very, very serious," said Scholz on Monday in the Spanish capital during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

"Military aggression against Ukraine would have serious political and economic consequences. That's why it's our job to do everything we can to avoid such a development, which in the end everyone would be worse off for," he said.

Microsoft: Destructive malware found on Ukraine government computers

The Microsoft logo hangs on the facade of an office building in Munich. Security experts at Microsoft have discovered malware on dozens of government computers in Ukraine that could render them unusable, the US tech giant said. Peter Kneffel/dpa

Security experts at Microsoft have discovered malware on dozens of government computers in Ukraine that could render them unusable, the US tech giant said.

Although the malware disguised itself as a blackmail programme, its true purpose was to be able to destroy data on the command of hackers, Microsoft said on Saturday.

In light of the Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine, the discovery of software that could disable government computers is a worrying development for Kiev.

Microsoft's experts did not comment on the possible origin of the threat, however.

"At this time, we have not identified notable overlap between the unique characteristics of the group behind these attacks and groups we’ve traditionally tracked, but we continue to analyze the activity," Microsoft Vice President Tom Burt said on a company blog.

The software was found on the computers of government agencies and IT specialists. Microsoft said it assumed the malware could also be lying dormant undetected on other computers.

Another tech expert also confirmed that it was clear from the way the attack was carried out that the hackers were not seeking money. The approach taken showed the aim was to paralyse the targets, according to Calvon Gan of IT security firm F-Secure on Sunday.

Western cybersecurity experts and the authorities in Kiev have tied previous cyberattacks in Ukraine to Russian hackers, some with links to the country's secret services.

On Friday, the Ukrainian government was the target of an attack that forced many of its websites offline, included those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Civil Protection.

Friday's cyberattack was not the country's first. Ukraine's power grid was hacked in December 2015, resulting in mass outages in one region.

Australian Minister: Djokovic has left Australia

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (L) departs from the Park Hotel government detention facility before attending a court hearing at his lawyers office in Melbourne. Novak Djokovic still faces uncertainty as to whether he can compete in the Australian Open, despite being announced in the tournament draw. James Ross/AAP/dpa

World tennis number one Novak Djokovic has left Australia after his visa was cancelled earlier Sunday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has said.

"I can confirm that Mr Djokovic has now departed Australia," Hawke tweeted.

Reports said that Djokovic had departed aboard an Emirates flight to Dubai.

He also arrived that way 10 days ago, only to have his visa cancelled by border control in connection with coronavirus rules. A judge nullified the cancellation on Monday but Hawke used his power to cancel the visa again, which was confirmed Sunday by Australia's Federal Court.

A convoy of Victorian Police vehicles awaits the transfer of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic near the exit of the car park at the offices of Novak Djokovic's lawyers in Melbourne. Novak Djokovic still faces uncertainty as to whether he can compete in the Australian Open, despite being announced in the tournament draw. James Ross/AAP/dpa

North Korea conducts third missile test in 10 days

North Korea test-fired what are believed to have been two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, the general staff of the South Korean armed forces says.

The launches came after North Korea's Foreign Ministry accused the US of "provocation" for imposing further sanctions on Pyongyang for its weapons programme and threatened Washington with a clear response.

The test was the third carried out by North Korea within 10 days. South Korea's National Security Council expressed its "deep regret" about North Korea's continued missile launches.

The United States Indo-Pacific Command accused North Korea of destabilizing the region through its "illegal weapons programme" and said that it also believed the latest test to have involved ballistic missiles.

South Korean authorities believe the missiles were launched in the north-west of North Korea, close to the Chinese border, and travelled about 430 kilometres over the Sea of Japan.

Citing military officials, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the missiles were believed to be fired at a predetermined target on an uninhabited North Korean island.

North Korea last conducted missile tests, with what it claimed to be hypersonic missiles, on January 5, and again on Tuesday. Hypersonic weapons are difficult to intercept because of their high speed and manoeuvrability.

Blessed are they: Pope Francis lays hands on record shop in Rome

Pope Francis caused a brief stir in the centre of Rome as he visited and blessed a record shop near the Pantheon late on Tuesday, the Holy See press office told the ANSA news agency.

The shop owners are friends of Francis since before he became the leader of the Catholic Church, according to the report. Francis had previously promised he would pay a visit to the shop.

According to ANSA, the 85-year-old pope spent about 15 minutes in the newly renovated music shop and received a CD of classical music as a gift.

A Vatican journalist for Rome Reports television news agency recorded a video showing Francis leaving the shop and getting into his car.

After riots, Parliament votes in new prime minister in Kazakhstan

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (R) takes part in a parliamentary session via videoconference during which lawmakers have installed a new prime minister after days of riots. -/Kazakh Presidency /dpa

Kazakhstan lawmakers have installed a new prime minister, as the country's rulers seek to reassert order after days of riots.

The parliament of the Central Asian country on Tuesday voted in Alikhan Smailov, state television reported. Smailov had already taken the post temporarily, after the dismissal of the old government a week ago, according to the report.

Smailov was previously deputy prime minister and also long had the post of finance minister.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had earlier suggested Smailov for the job.

On Monday, Tokayev told a meeting of a Russian-led regional security alliance order has been restored after days of violent unrest in which more than 150 people were killed and thousands detained.

"Complete order has been restored in Kazakhstan. Threats to the country's security have been averted," Tokayev told a video meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which he had called in to quell riots.

The first foreign troops who showed up to restore order in Kazakhstan after widespread rioting last week are already set to return home this week, according to Tokayev.

Departures should begin in two days, he said during an address to Parliament. "The main mission of the CSTO is done."

Meanwhile, the number of detentions was approaching 10,000. According to the Tengrinews agency, the Interior Ministry said that around 9,900 people had been detained during the riots.

Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and China, was gripped by unrest for a week, after anti-government protests grew out of resentment over increased fuel prices at petrol stations in the oil and gas-rich country.

Alongside peaceful demonstrations, there were also violent riots, especially in the metropolis of Almaty.

Tokayev declared a state of emergency, dismissed the government and ordered the military to shoot at demonstrators without warning.

Evidence appeared to be emerging that the widespread destruction was not only caused by protesters angry at higher fuel costs, corruption and authoritarian leadership.

The balance of power in Kazakhstan has shifted, according to regional political scientists, in the course of a deadly week.

Alongside many peaceful demonstrators, there were also organized rioters who caused violence, particularly in Almaty, according to Diana Kudaibergenova, who teaches at Cambridge University.

In Almaty, peaceful protests were hijacked by organized criminal groups, she said in a tweet, adding that it is important to distinguish between the two groups.

Residents reported the sound of gunfire and rioting mobs roaming the streets, while several shops selling guns were looted.

A video of men grabbing guns from the boot of a car has been widely shared online.

As of January 4, "pre-prepared storm troopers played the leading role, intent on violent confrontation without any slogans," according to Kazakh political scientist Daniyar Ashimbayev, in a Telegram post.

Kazakh experts see evidence of coordinated action in the targeting of police stations and administrative buildings, strategic points that appear to have been deliberately attacked.

This rapid radicalization cannot only be attributed to the escalation of popular anger, of young men on the streets, according to an analysis by the Moscow Carnegie Center.

While much remains unclear about the week of unrest, "the most important thing is obvious: the Nazarbayev era is over in Kazakhstan," according to the Carnegie Center's analysis, a reference to former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had continued to wield much influence despite stepping down in 2019.

Nargis Kassenova, a Central Asia researcher at Harvard University, called on the government to provide information about what happened.

"The Kazakhstan government owes us the truth, full and unabridged, not manipulated narratives and fakes. People are not stupid, and they are angry," she said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, looking ahead, some were optimistic.

"In today's meeting, as the Turkic States, we have emphasized our support to Kazakhstan. We believe that Kazakhstan and the Turkic World will emerge stronger from this challenge. Our strength comes from unity!" Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a tweet on Tuesday.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev takes part in a parliamentary session via videoconference during which lawmakers have installed a new prime minister after days of riots. -/Kazakh Presidency /dpa

Amnesty urges Biden to close Guantanamo Bay detention camp

The logo of the human rights organization Amnesty International is pictured in Berlin. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged US President Joe Biden to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which has been operational for 20 years this month. Sebastian Kahnert/dpa

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged US President Joe Biden to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, which has been operational for 20 years this month.

The camp stands for arbitrariness, injustice and torture, Amnesty's US expert Sumit Bhattacharyya told dpa in Washington.

Bhattacharyya urged Biden to close the camp and bring people who were involved in torture or other illegal activities there to justice.

The camp now has 39 detainees left. It was established under the government of Republican President George W Bush to hold suspected Islamist terrorists without trial after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington DC.

Bush's successor, Democrat Barack Obama, wanted to close it, but failed due to opposition in the US Congress, while Republican Donald Trump wanted to keep the camp open.

Biden, who was Obama's vice president, is trying to push through with plans to close the facility.

To mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the opening of the camp, Amnesty International held protests in several countries on Saturday.

In Germany, people turned out to mark the day in Berlin, Bremen, Leipzig, Dresden, Chemnitz and Halle, according to Amnesty.

The first prisoners were brought to the Guantanamo Bay camp - located on a US military base in Cuba - on January 11, 2002.

Ambassador: Russia will respond after German RT channel taken off air

Sergei Nethayev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Germany, reacts during an interview at the Russian Embassy. Nechaev, vowed that Moscow will respond to the announcement of restrictions on state broadcaster RT. Christophe Gateau/dpa

Russia's ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechaev, vowed that Moscow will respond to the announcement of restrictions on state broadcaster RT.

"There will certainly be a reaction from the Russian side," Nechaev told dpa in an interview. "I'm no Oracle of Delphi, but there are different possibilities there. There are so many German journalists in Russia."

All of these journalists feel comfortable in the Russian media landscape, Nechaev said. "And we don't really want any conflict. We just want our station in Germany to have the same rights and opportunities and to be able to work in peace."

In mid-December, RT launched its channel RT DE, live and in German, via various distributors. YouTube blocked the channel on its platform after a few hours, citing community guidelines.

Media regulators in Berlin initiated proceedings against RT the following day. As a result, the satellite operator Eutelsat stopped broadcasting RT DE shortly before Christmas.

The reason for the decision was that German regulators had not granted a broadcasting licence. RT, however, argues that it had obtained a valid Serbian broadcasting licence for the channel. A previous attempt to obtain a licence via Luxembourg had failed.

RT is repeatedly referred to in the West as a Kremlin propaganda tool. The channel has been criticized for spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation. RT rejects these accusations.

Sergei Nethayev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Germany, speaks during an interview at the Russian Embassy. Nechaev, vowed that Moscow will respond to the announcement of restrictions on state broadcaster RT. Christophe Gateau/dpa
Sergei Nethayev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Germany, reacts during an interview at the Russian Embassy. Nechaev, vowed that Moscow will respond to the announcement of restrictions on state broadcaster RT. Christophe Gateau/dpa

Satellite launch 'legitimate' scientific research, asserts Iran

the Iranian home-made Simorgh rocket carrying satellites lifts off at an undisclosed location in Iran. the rocket transported satellite research instruments to a height of 470 kilometres, a spokesperson for the Iranian Defence Ministry said. -/Iranian Defence Ministry via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

US and French criticism of Iran's resumption of satellite launches is unwarranted, said Iran on Saturday, blasting back at its detractors.

"Iran very much has the legitimate right to conduct scientific research, especially in the fields of aeronautics and space," Foreign Office spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Saturday.

According to Khatibzadeh, the launch was also not a violation of UN resolutions, as claimed by the two countries. Therefore, the criticism is baseless and ineffective, the spokesperson said, according to the ISNA news agency.

The Defence Ministry reported on Thursday that Iran had launched a Simorgh (Phoenix) missile with three research satellites into orbit at an altitude of 470 kilometres. According to the ministry, this was only a test, in order to bring the rockets into the desired orbit later on.

For Washington and Paris, however, the satellite launch was a violation of UN resolutions and not conducive to talks, set to resume in Vienna next week, designed to set controls on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

According to Tehran, the Iranian satellites are supposed to provide data on weather, natural disasters and agriculture and are not in pursuit of military objectives. Therefore, their use is in line with international regulations, Iran says.

The US and Israel, however, are critical of the Iranian satellite programme. They fear that Iran could use space technology to build long-range military missiles.

Nations ring in 2022 with muted celebrations due to the pandemic

The midnight fireworks go off over the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge during the New Year’s celebrations. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa

Successive countries are marking the coming of the year 2022, with many holding muted celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Celebrations were under way in Europe, where despite unseasonably mild weather, many large parties and fireworks displays were cancelled, for example in London and Paris, or scaled down, like in Madrid.

In Berlin, there were no big fireworks display at the Brandenburg Gate and no party with hundreds of thousands of people, and just before midnight Berlin police called on people not to head to the landmark.

Crowds that flocked to the area before midnight started dissolving in the early hours of Saturday, police said.

Meanwhile, public broadcaster ZDF offered a live show with singers like Bonnie Tyler and Marianne Rosenberg but no spectators.

In Rome, Italian police closed off some areas in the centre of the city after fireworks were thrown at passer-bys near the Colosseum metro station, ANSA news agency reported, adding that no injuries were initially reported.

France welcomed the year with strict Covid-19 measures. The traditional New Year's Eve fireworks on the Parisian Arc de Triomphe were cancelled, while toasting with sparkling wine on the Champs-Élysées was not allowed.

In Paris and in many parts of the country, alcohol was banned on the streets around the turn of the year. Even so, a large crowd gathered on the Champs-Élysées. Only a few fireworks went off in the Parisian sky as their sale was banned almost everywhere in France before New Year's Eve.

In a number of areas, including Paris, bars and restaurants had to close at 2 am (0100 GMT) on Saturday. In many French cities mask mandates were in place even outdoors. In Strasbourg and the surrounding area, authorities imposed a curfew on unaccompanied people under the age of 16 due to serious disorders in the past.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that more than 95,000 police officers and gendarmes were mobilized on New Year's Eve to ensure compliance with the rules.

Despite the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus infections, the most traditional New Year's Eve mass party in Spain took place again in Madrid after being called off last year.

Around 7,000 people welcomed the new year at Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, the number of participants allowed reduced by around 60 per cent.

Otherwise there were no significant restrictions in the Spanish capital.

People around the country ate the traditional 12 grapes at each stroke of the clock at Puerta del Sol plaza at midnight for good luck.

Millions of people in Moscow celebrated the New Year in freezing temperatures with fireworks in several places and no major coronavirus restrictions.

Thousands gathered at Moscow's famous Red Square, where the clock at the Kremlin struck 12 times to welcome the year 2022.

The Russian capital traditionally organizes fireworks in several places, best seen from the skyscraper district of Moskva City or from the Sparrow Hills.

The new year began first for the inhabitants of the South Pacific islands of Samoa and Kiribati, who saw in the new year at 1000 GMT, and New Zealand following one hour later.

Fireworks were allowed in Samoa this year, unlike last year when bans applied.

Sydney kicked off 2022 with 6 tons of colourful fireworks against the imposing backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, at a display ticket holders were able to attend.

Taiwan's New Year's Eve fireworks display in Taipei, at one of the tallest buildings in the world, drew more than 1 million revellers, according to local media, as case numbers are relatively manageable.

Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation statistics showed that on Friday it served at least 1.57 million passengers. About 16,000 fireworks were used during a six-minute show, themed on well-being and a shared future, at the 509-metre tall Taipei 101 high-rise building.

Meanwhile several cities in China cancelled firework displays and other large-scale festivities due to the pandemic, including Beijing and Wuhan.

New Year's Eve is not a particularly important holiday for the Chinese, as the lunar new year begins later, triggering mass travel, although restrictions are also likely to apply this year.

But in Bangkok, tens of thousands of locals and tourists welcomed the New Year in Khaosan Road, famed for its hostels and clubs. Silent until recently, it resembled a street party as visitors flocked to celebrate.

Attendees were able to drink, dance and party as in pre-pandemic times, after showing proof of vaccination, as Thailand's infection rate is relatively low, despite the Omicron variant, with some 3,000 new cases recorded daily.

In Dubai, the world's tallest building, the 828-metre-high Burj Khalifa, hosted a fireworks display complete with a light and laser show. It will take 26 hours, up to 1200 GMT on Saturday, for the entire globe to ring in the new year.

Next up the public will ring in the New Year in South America, including in Rio de Janeiro where celebrations have been scaled down, the US East Coast, California, Hawaii and finally the uninhabited islets of Baker Island and Howland Island back in the Pacific.

In New York, the traditional New Year's Eve party in Times Square is to take place again with spectators - but all visitors must be vaccinated against Covid-19.

As is the case every year, the celebration is to be broadcast live on television and online - including the traditional ball drop - the lowering of a glowing crystal ball. Stars such as rapper and actor LL Cool J are expected at the party.

The midnight fireworks go off over the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge during the New Year’s celebrations. Dean Lewins/AAP/dpa

Sydney's NYE fireworks show to go ahead despite record Covid numbers

Workers put the final touches to barges of fireworks during a press conference for previewing preparations for the New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney. Sydney's famous fireworks show to go ahead despite record Covid-19 numbers. Mick Tsikas/AAP/dpa

Thousands of people were expected to descend to ticketed vantage points to watch Sydney's famous New Year's Eve fireworks despite record-shattering numbers of infections in New South Wales.

Sydney on Wednesday released details about its fireworks display, for which some 17,000 tickets for vantage points managed by the city were already sold, according to news agency AAP.

The agency quoted a city spokesperson as saying they could not predict the turnout for the pyrotechnic show, but five of the six locations managed by the city were sold out and tickets for another 25 locations, with capacity for nearly 87,000 people, were still on sale.

Vaccination and the use of masks will not be mandatory to attend the ticketed venues, though encouraged, organizers said.

Six tons of fireworks were expected to be launched across two displays at 9 pm and midnight were expected to be launched, according to a Wednesday press release. More than 25,000 "shooting effects" will be fired from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a further 6,000 from the tops of the Sydney Opera House, among others.

The state of New South Wales on Wednesday reported a staggering 11,201 new coronavirus infections, almost doubling its previous record, as the local government struggled to control soaring numbers believed to be driven by the Omicron variant of the virus.

Before the pandemic, up to a million people would normally descend on the harbour to watch the fireworks.

Last year the show was confined to the Harbour Bridge and only those whose home, roof or hotel room had views over the harbour were able to see the fireworks live, with all outside viewpoints closed.

Fireworks Director Fortunato Foti holds a firework during a press conference for previewing preparations for the New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney. Sydney's famous fireworks show to go ahead despite record Covid-19 numbers. Mick Tsikas/AAP/dpa
Events at City of Sydney Program Manager Stephen Gilby speaks during a press conference for previewing preparations for the New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney. Sydney's famous fireworks show to go ahead despite record Covid-19 numbers. Mick Tsikas/AAP/dpa

Polish president vetoes media bill that angered US

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks to the press upon arrival for The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit. Duda said on Monday he had vetoed a media reform bill that drew international criticism, especially from the United States. -/NATO/dpa

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Monday he had vetoed a media reform bill that drew international criticism, especially from the United States.

The bill was aimed at restricting foreign influence on the media, but critics said it would limit press freedom and pluralism in the country.

Duda said he could not sign the bill into law in its present form, the PAP news agency reported.

Parliament had passed the measure earlier this month. It would have amended the Broadcasting Act to stipulate that future broadcasting licences in Poland may only be granted to foreigners if they have their headquarters or residence in the European Economic Area.

In addition, the licensee must not be reliant on anyone with a headquarters or residence outside the area.

Opponents said it targeted the private broadcaster TVN, which is part of the US group Discovery via a holding company registered in the Netherlands. The news channel TVN24 in particular takes a line critical of the government.

The United States had urged Duda to use his veto power to halt the legislation.

Duda on Monday appealed to the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, to find more suitable solutions to limit the participation of foreign companies in the media market.

He also referred to a 1990 treaty between the US and Poland on trade and economic relations.

Duda underlined that he has extensive experience with the issues of media pluralism and freedom of expression. He also said he was concerned at how polarized Polish society has become.

"Most of my compatriots, most of my fellow citizens, do not want any more disputes," he said, according to PAP.

The Sejm, meanwhile, can reject the veto with a three-fifths majority.

Alongside the US, the European Commission also warned that the law could potentially restrict media freedom.

Tens of thousands of people also demonstrated against the planned law in Warsaw and other cities, carrying posters demanding "Free media, free people, free Poland" and "We have a right to the truth."

Those street protests and pressure from abroad were useful, Polish opposition leader and former EU Council president Donald Tusk said in a tweet.

For its part, TVN called the planned law an "unprecedented attack on the free media" in a statement.

Meanwhile, Krzysztof Gawkowski, leader of the Lewica parliamentary group, said he feared the issue was not yet closed.

A spokesperson for the ruling national conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) expresed disappointment with the president's decision, adding that Poland had to protect its media market from "excessive foreign capital."