India reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began Monday, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are resuming the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.
The Health Ministry reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day, and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.
The biggest contributor to the surge has been the western state of Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai. The state has contributed more than 55 per cent of total cases in the country in the last two weeks.
The state will start shutting cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship from Monday evening. Authorities will also impose a complete lockdown at weekends.
Infections had receded in India for several months but started to rise again in late February. Since then, new cases have increased more than tenfold.
India has confirmed a new and potentially troublesome variant of the virus, but officials have cautioned against linking that or other variants to the surge.
Experts say the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for physical distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces, including public gatherings. Some say the government has been sending mixed messages.
As health officials continue to warn of gatherings in public places, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party leaders continue to hold mammoth rallies in several states where local elections are underway.
Modi’s government has also allowed a huge month-long Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of the Ganges River in northern Uttarakhand state. The festival draws tens of thousands of devotees daily.
Vaccinations ramp up
India has intensified its vaccination drive in recent weeks, now administering more than three million jabs a day. But the shots have been slow to reach India’s nearly 1.4 billion people.
More than 76 million Indians have received at least one shot, but only 9.5 million of them have received both. Health officials want to cover 300 million people by August, but experts say the vaccinations need to move faster to stop the spread.
The country has launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those older than 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, front-line workers and people above the age of 60 were eligible.
India has reported 12.6 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.
BioWare has announced it will not be overhauling Anthem as previously stated. The news is unlikely to sit well with the handful of people still playing the game and it indicates that the trend towards games that are “too big to fail” may be a little less entrenched than we previously thought.
Anthem is BioWare’s troubled third-person looter shooter / role-playing game that was roasted on release for repetitive play, poor design choices, and for what one reviewer called a “tediously repetitive grind.” Despite all of this, Anthem apparently sold well — back in 2019, the NPD Group reported it was the 5th best-selling game for 2019, though they don’t appear to have released the actual numbers. Estimates have ranged from 3-5 million copies moved, and that was several years ago. The game may not have met publisher expectations, but 3-5 million in sales certainly isn’t bad.
The idea that BioWare could turn Anthem around isn’t crazy. Titles like No Man’s Sky and Fallout 76 launched in rotten condition, but have received a steady stream of improvements and additional content. No Man’s Sky has gone from a title I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole to a game I’ve bought and spent some time in. My significant other plays it more than I do, but I’ve watched it evolve from over her shoulder as well as covering it for ET. The game has been built out and expanded to the point where it’s a fundamentally different title than what Hello Games launched back in 2016. Fallout 76 hasn’t made as many changes as NMS, but it also wins credit for significant improvements since launch. Anthem was expected to be the next major title to win accolades for a wholesale post-launch revamp.
The writing may have been on the wall since Casey Hudson left BioWare last December. When Hudson launched the revamp in February 2020, he promised BioWare was “specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting.” 10 months later, Hudson departed BioWare, along with Dragon Age 4’s executive producer, Mark Darrah.
Anthem won praise for its graphics, but the gameplay loop was lacking.
Jason Schreier of Bloomberg posted a story on Feb 8 declaring that Anthem’s future was under serious review by various EA executives. At the time, some 30 people were reportedly working on the game, with expectations that the staff would need to at least triple in order to finish Anthem Next in a reasonable period of time.
BioWare’s blog post is straightforward. “[W]e’ve made the difficult decision to stop our new development work on Anthem (aka Anthem NEXT). We will, however, continue to keep the Anthem live service running as it exists today.” The rest of the post mourns the situation that brought this decision about and declares BioWare will instead focus its efforts developing Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles, while also providing “quality updates” to Star Wars: The Old Republic.
BioWare’s pledge to keep Anthem running as-is may or may not be the kiss of death for the game. It’s not clear how large the active player base is, but anyone still playing n the hopes that Anthem Next would dramatically overhaul it for the better is likely to quit at this point. The phrase “as it exists today” implies there will be no future content releases or DLC for the title, since those plans had been put on hold back in 2019 to create what BioWare eventually called “Anthem Next.” BioWare’s blog post does not mention any plan to release the full DLCs that were originally planned and given that the game’s player base is thought to be low, there may not be a financial incentive to develop the content in the first place.
Washington, D.C., was locked down and U.S. law enforcement officials geared up for pro-Trump marches in all 50 state capitals this weekend, erecting barriers and deploying thousands of National Guard troops to try to prevent the kind of violent attack that rattled the nation on Jan. 6.
The FBI warned police agencies of possible armed protests outside all 50 state capitol buildings starting Saturday through president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, fuelled by supporters of President Donald Trump who believe his false claims of electoral fraud.
Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Washington were among states that activated their National Guards to strengthen security. Texas closed its Capitol building through Inauguration Day.
Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement late Friday that intelligence indicated “violent extremists” may seek to exploit planned armed protests in Austin to “conduct criminal acts.”
The scramble followed the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington by a mix of extremists and Trump supporters, some of whom planned to kidnap members of Congress and called for the death of Vice-President Mike Pence as he presided over the certification of Biden’s victory in November’s election.
WATCH | U.S. National Guard activated in Michigan:
Mayor Andy Schor of Lansing, Mich., says security preparations ahead of inauguration day are in place to prevent violent protests against the presidential election results. 7:15
Law enforcement officials have trained much of their focus on Sunday, when the anti-government “boogaloo” movement flagged plans to hold rallies in all 50 states.
In Michigan, a fence was erected around the Capitol in Lansing, and troopers were mobilized from across the state to bolster security. The legislature cancelled meetings next week, citing concern over credible threats.
“We are prepared for the worst, but we remain hopeful that those who choose to demonstrate at our Capitol do so peacefully,” Michigan State Police Director Joe Gasper told a news conference on Friday.
Experts say battleground states most at risk
The perception that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a success could embolden domestic extremists motivated by anti-government, racial and partisan grievances, spurring them to further violence, according to a government intelligence bulletin dated Wednesday that was first reported by Yahoo News.
The Joint Intelligence Bulletin, produced by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, further warned that “false narratives” about electoral fraud would serve as an ongoing catalyst for extremist groups.
Thousands of armed National Guard troops were in the streets in Washington in an unprecedented show of force after the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Bridges into the city were to be closed, along with dozens of roadways. The National Mall and other iconic U.S. landmarks were blocked off into next week.
Experts say that the capitals of battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona are among those most at risk of violence. But even states not seen as likely flashpoints are taking precautions.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on Friday that while his state had not received any specific threats, he was beefing up security around the Capitol in Springfield, including adding about 250 state National Guard troops.
The alarm extended beyond legislatures. The United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination of more than 4,900 churches, warned its 800,000 members there were reports that “liberal” churches could be attacked in the coming week.
WATCH | U.S. overcompensating with inauguration security, expert says:
The huge security rollout in Washington, D.C., ahead of the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 is because there is not a good grasp of intelligence, says security expert Christian Leuprecht, and officials don’t want a repeat of the Capitol security breach on Jan. 6. 5:33
Suzanne Spaulding, a former undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said disclosing enhanced security measures can be an effective deterrent.
“One of the ways you can potentially de-escalate a problem is with a strong security posture,” said Spaulding, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You try to deter people from trying anything.”
Following the Jan. 6 violence in Washington, some militia members said they would not attend a long-planned pro-gun demonstration in Virginia on Monday, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. Authorities in Virginia were worried about the risk of violence as multiple groups converged on the state capital, Richmond.
WATCH | More details emerge about mobs that attacked the U.S. Capitol:
Washington increases security to prepare for potential violence leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, while more ugly details emerge about the white nationalist mobs that rampaged Capitol Hill last week. 2:43
Others told the Washington Post that they wanted the protest organized in response to new state gun rules to be peaceful. Some militias in other parts of the country have told followers to stay home this weekend, citing the increased security or the risk that the planned events were law enforcement traps.
Even so, Michael Hayden of the Southern Poverty Law Center said he has not been this worried about the potential for violence in a long time. Among other factors, he said the perceived censorship of conservative voices by technology companies such as Twitter has served to meld right-wing extremists and run-of-the-mill Republicans into a common cause.
“It has provided a kind of unifying grievance between groups that had no connection with one another before,” Hayden said.
Some jaw-dropping snippets of audio of U.S. President Donald Trump begging, badgering, and possibly even threatening a Georgia election official on the weekend to overturn his defeat there in the recent presidential election had some people calling for charges.
A pair of federal Democratic lawmakers sent a criminal referral to the FBI. They alleged Trump broke two federal laws and one Georgia state law on election fraud.
A Democrat on the state elections board demanded a probe. And the district attorney for Atlanta’s Fulton County called the recording disturbing and promised to consider the case if state election officials sent her a complaint.
So could Trump actually face charges over this?
WATCH | The National’s report on the call:
U.S. President Donald Trump called on Georgia’s secretary of state to ‘find’ more votes so he could win that state. The recording of the phone call emerges as the new Congress is sworn in, and with some Republican senators days away from mounting their own challenge to the election results. 2:02
A well-known expert on American election law wrote that Trump deserves to be charged, and in an email to CBC News, he said it could happen, in theory.
“Potentially, yes,” said Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine.
But he said he doubts it will get that far. The criminal laws cited in the lawmakers’ letter to the FBI all refer to wilful intent. Hasen and several peers view prosecution as a long shot because of the challenge in proving Trump thought he was committing a crime.
“His prosecution would be unlikely given the difficulties of proving intent and going after a former president,” Hasen said.
That points to one striking takeaway from the full hour-long recording of Trump’s call last weekend with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, which also included White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawyers for both sides.
It’s that Trump sounds like he may actually believe he won.
‘Fellas, I need 11,000 votes’
Trump keeps insisting throughout the call, sometimes with a dejected sigh, sometimes with a defiant interjection, that he won the state of Georgia in a landslide in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Trump starts the call by mentioning his crowd sizes at rallies and keeps saying things like, “There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way.”
He proceeds to cycle through a series of conspiracy theories, clinging to disparate scraps of testimonials posted on random corners of the internet to piece together a claim that he was defrauded in Georgia by hundreds of thousands of votes.
And that’s the context of Trump’s most stunning demand — that Raffensperger find the votes he needs to win.
WATCH | Trump asks Raffensperger to overturn his defeat:
The U.S. president is heard pleading with Georgia’s election chief to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state, according to audio clips obtained by The Washington Post. 1:30
In effect, Trump is telling this official that he is the aggrieved party, wronged by hundreds of thousands of votes, and all he’s seeking is a smidgen of justice, that a few thousand be corrected.
At different points in the call, Trump says:
“I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
“I have to find 12,000 votes, and I have them — times a lot.”
“I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes.”
The Georgia officials keep insisting his claims are wrong — that they stem from deceptively edited video, from bad data, from events already investigated and dismissed by state and federal police.
Those Georgia officials, Raffensperger and state lawyer Ryan Germany, say claims about thousands of dead and out-of-state people voting are completely off.
“The data you have is wrong,” Raffensperger says.
WATCH | Georgia election official debunks Trump’s fraud allegations:
Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, accuses the legal team of U.S. President Donald Trump of intentionally misleading the public. 2:51
He tells Trump police have also examined claims about double-counting and found nothing.
“Then they’re incompetent,” Trump replies.
So, if a hypothetical case did require a demonstration of criminal intent, Trump’s state of mind would become a key factor for investigators to consider.
The case of the wounded ego
Some observers who have opined on the president’s personality say his narcissistic tendencies will make it difficult for him to ever accept defeat.
“We know that narcissism is associated with aggression following [an] ego threat and what bigger threat than a presidential [election] loss?” said Joshua Miller, a clinical psychologist and director of clinical training at the University of Georgia who has been using Trump as a case study in his work for more than a decade.
Donald Lynam, a distinguished professor of clinical psychology at Purdue University in Indiana, agreed.
“This is what psychoanalysts call a grave narcissistic wound. … He is cut to his core. Now he reacts with absolute rage,” he said.
“I think the next two weeks will be awful.”
How can you certify an election when the numbers being certified are verifiably WRONG. You will see the real numbers tonight during my speech, but especially on JANUARY 6th. <a href=”https://twitter.com/SenTomCotton?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SenTomCotton</a> Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!
We’re now approaching high noon in Trump’s confrontation with the reality of defeat.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Congress votes to certify president-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Trump is encouraging supporters to flock to Washington, D.C., where thousands are expected at protests around the U.S. Capitol. Fearing the potential for violence, Washington’s mayor has activated the National Guard, and also issued a warning that anyone thinking of carrying firearms must respect the city’s strict gun laws.
Trump wants Republicans in Congress to block the election certification. Dozens will indeed contest the vote on his behalf, which will prolong by several hours what’s already been the most protracted battle over an American election result in nearly 150 years.
And then Trump will lose.
Less than a quarter of Republican senators have said they’ll back Trump’s bid, while a far larger share of Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to do the same.
There’s no sign the momentum is moving in Trump’s favour. In fact, it may have slowed since the Washington Post published the recording of Trump’s phone call with Raffensperger.
Hours later, a staunchly pro-Trump senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and several others said they’d vote to certify the election.
The current numbers are likely trending toward approximately 85 per cent of the U.S. Senate and 70 per cent of the House of Representatives voting to cement Biden’s election win.
Divisions in the Republican Party
Trump will keep fighting.
His efforts to discredit the election process have a receptive audience. In a late-December poll for the Economist magazine, only eight per cent of self-identified Republicans said they had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence the election was fair.
Fealty to Trump, and to the discredited narrative of his unfair defeat, could potentially tear at his party for years, remaining a dividing issue in Republican politics.
A growing number of Republican lawmakers are joining U.S. President Donald Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the election, pledging to reject the results when Congress meets next week to count the electoral college votes and certify president-elect Joe Biden’s win.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Saturday announced a coalition of 11 senators who have been enlisted for Trump’s effort to subvert the will of American voters.
This follows the declaration from Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was the first to buck Senate leadership by saying he would join with House Republicans in objecting to the state tallies during Wednesday’s joint session of Congress.
Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat is tearing the party apart as Republicans are forced to make consequential choices that will set the contours of the post-Trump era. Hawley and Cruz are both among potential 2024 presidential contenders.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged his party not to try to overturn what nonpartisan election officials have concluded was a free and fair vote.
I believe we need an election commission to review the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election process to restore trust for the American people. My full statement in advance of the Electoral College certification process on January 6, 2021: <a href=”https://t.co/AMFXysdf95″>pic.twitter.com/AMFXysdf95</a>
The 11 senators largely acknowledged Saturday they will not succeed in preventing Biden from being inaugurated on Jan. 20 after he won the electoral college 306-232. But their challenges, and those from House Republicans, represent the most sweeping effort to undo a presidential election outcome since the Civil War.
“We do not take this action lightly,” Cruz and the other senators said in a joint statement.
They vowed to vote against certain state electors on Wednesday unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They are zeroing in on the states where Trump has raised unfounded claims of voter fraud. Congress is unlikely to agree to their demand.
The group, which presented no new evidence of election problems, includes Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Braun of Indiana, and Sens.-elect Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Democrats decry ‘publicity stunt’
Trump, the first president to lose a reelection bid in almost 30 years, has attributed his defeat to widespread voter fraud, despite the consensus of nonpartisan election officials and even former Attorney General William Barr that there was none. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits the president and his allies have filed challenging election results, nearly all have been dismissed or dropped. He’s also lost twice at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome.
“Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th, and no publicity stunt will change that,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the panel overseeing the electoral college count.
WATCH | Looking ahead to Biden’s presidency:
December 31, 2020 – Power & Politics speaks to Canadian Ambassador to the United States Kirsten Hillman about how a Biden Administration could impact the Canada-U.S. relationship. Plus, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci returns to discuss what happens to Trump-style politics once President Trump leaves the Oval Office. 45:34
Klobuchar said the Republican effort to create a federal commission “to supersede state certifications” is wrong.
“It is undemocratic. It is un-American. And fortunately it will be unsuccessful. In the end, democracy will prevail,” she said in a statement.
The convening of the joint session to count the electoral college votes is usually routine. While objections have surfaced before — in 2017, several House Democrats challenged Trump’s win — few have approached this level of intensity.
On the other side of the Republican divide, several senators spoke out Saturday against Cruz and Hawley’s effort.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement that she will vote to affirm the election and urged colleagues in both parties to join her in “maintaining confidence” in elections “so that we ensure we have the continued trust of the American people.”
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said a “fundamental, defining feature of a democratic republic is the right of the people to elect their own leaders.” He said the effort by Hawley, Cruz and others “to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in swing states like Pennsylvania directly undermines this right.”
I acknowledge that this past election, like all elections, had irregularities. But the evidence is overwhelming that Joe Biden won this election.
Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, another possible 2024 contender, urged his colleagues to “reject this dangerous ploy,” which he said threatens the nation’s civic norms.
Caught in the middle is Vice-President Mike Pence, who faces growing pressure and a lawsuit from Trump’s allies over his ceremonial role in presiding over the session Wednesday.
Several Republicans have indicated they are under pressure from constituents back home to show they are fighting for Trump in his baseless campaign to stay in office.
Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters at the Capitol that leadership was allowing senators to “vote their conscience.”
I cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye to the countless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. On January 6, I will vote in favor of objecting to the certification of the electoral college results.<a href=”https://t.co/khIRQw6YLJ”>https://t.co/khIRQw6YLJ</a>
Thune’s remarks as the GOP whip in charge of rounding up votes show that Republican leadership is not putting its muscle behind Trump’s demands, but allowing senators to choose their course. He noted the gravity of questioning the election outcome.
“This is an issue that’s incredibly consequential, incredibly rare historically and very precedent-setting,” he said. “This is a big vote.”
Pence will be carefully watched as he presides over what is typically a routine vote count in Congress but is now heading toward a prolonged showdown that could extend into Wednesday night, depending on how many challenges are mounted.
A judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit from Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and a group of Arizona electors trying to force Pence to step outside mere ceremony and shape the outcome of the vote. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, dismissed the suit late Friday.
To ward off a dramatic unraveling, McConnell convened a conference call with Republican senators Thursday specifically to address the coming joint session and logistics of tallying the vote, according to several Republicans granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
The Republican leader pointedly called on Hawley to answer questions about his challenge to Biden’s victory, according to two of the Republicans.
But there was no response because Hawley was a no-show, the Republicans said. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Toomey, who has acknowledged Biden’s victory and defended his state’s elections systems as valid and accurate, spoke up on the call, objecting to those challenging Pennsylvania’s results and making clear he disagrees with Hawley’s plan to contest the result, his office said in a statement.
McConnell had previously warned GOP senators not to participate in raising objections, saying it would be a terrible vote for colleagues. In essence, lawmakers would be forced to choose between the will of the outgoing president and that of the voters.
After several days of silence, perhaps the only surprising thing about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials Thursday that his secret police played a role in poisoning a political opponent was that he punctuated his comments with an uncomfortable-sounding chuckle.
“Who needs him?” Putin said of political foe Alexei Navalny during a news conference, laughing as he dismissed news reports that members of Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, specializing in nerve agents, followed Navalny during a trip to Siberia in August, where he was poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok and nearly died.
“If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off,” said Putin, returning to the well-worn Kremlin talking point that Russia’s secret services are too good to make such clumsy mistakes.
Putin denigrated Navalny as a nobody striving for political legitimacy, even providing a mocking imitation of his rival.
“Pay attention — it means I am a person of the same calibre [as Putin],” he said.
While the revelations about the FSB’s activities, published earlier this week by several Western news outlets, have enthralled many in the West, the Navalny case has long been largely ignored by the Russian media — and so, perhaps not surprisingly, by many Russians as well.
Navalny was airlifted to a hospital in Berlin shortly after he was poisoned on Aug. 20, and has remained in that country even as his crusade against Putin has continued.
A lawyer by training, Navalny is one of the very few political figures in Russia who has directly challenged Putin’s authority and risked his own life and security by organizing mass protests. Yet, while his investigations into corruption involving senior members of Putin’s inner circle have been viewed tens of millions times on YouTube, he remains a polarizing figure.
Many Russians appear to believe Putin’s claim that Navalny works for foreign intelligence agencies, and even some Western-leaning liberals see him as a divisive figure who has failed to create a strong anti-Putin coalition.
The new revelations in the Navalny case come via a detailed investigation led by the international journalism collective Bellingcat.
Its investigative team says the findings were procured from data that can easily be purchased on the black market, including cellphone records and passenger flight logs.
The findings include evidence suggesting Russia’s secret police have used a special unit to trail Navalny since 2017, following him to 37 different locations around Russia. Bellingcat alleges it tracked the cellphone usage of several members of the team and those records put them with Navalny at the time he was poisoned in Siberia.
The journalists even released photos of the men, as well as their aliases and work and home addresses. A CNN reporter knocked on the apartment door of one of the men, but he quickly shut it after she introduced herself.
Bellingcat also alleges the men reported to a senior officer who was once associated with the Novichok nerve agent program, and that the chain of command led straight to Putin himself.
At Thursday’s news conference, Putin didn’t deny that Russian agents could be tracked by their cellphones, or that they may have had reason to keep an eye on Navalny.
“Don’t we know that [foreign intelligence agencies] track geo-location? Our intelligence services fully understand that and know it,” said Putin, as he repeated his claim that Navalny himself must be an agent of the U.S.
“It’s not an investigation — it is the legalization of data from the U.S special services,” Putin said.
Putin’s constant refusal to discuss Navalny has seen him resort to using different descriptors rather than simply saying Navalny’s name.
On Thursday, Navalny was the “Berlin clinic patient.”
While the allegations about the FSB’s activities have been widely reported outside of Russia, within the country itself, it’s an entirely different story.
Until Putin’s comments Thursday, state TV programs ignored the story. Even the social media feeds of many of the Kremlin’s usual critics have been quiet on the topic.
At the news conference in Moscow, the CBC approached several prominent Russian journalists to ask why.
“I think Western media just pays too much attention to this person,” said host Mikhail Akinchenko of Channel One, borrowing Putin’s technique of not referring to Navalny by name.
“He’s not so interesting for our news agenda as for you, maybe because he’s not [such a] significant person for us.”
WATCH | State TV journalist explains lack of coverage of Navalny case:
Russia Channel 1 political host Mikhail Akincheko explains why Russian state TV is ignoring the poisoning of Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny. 0:51
And what of the evidence that suggests the FSB may have tried to kill Navalny?
“Only that person who does not know the real situation in Russia,” would take the poison allegations seriously, Akinchenko said.
“It can’t happen in real life.”
Navalny and his supporters have been arrested repeatedly by Russian police for organizing anti-Putin protests. He’s also been physically attacked and had corrosive green paint thrown in his face.
A video Navalny posted this week, in which he directly accused Putin of being complicit in his attempted murder, had already been viewed more than 10 million times by the time the Russian president addressed the news conference.
Nonetheless, there’s also persuasive evidence that the Kremlin’s efforts to marginalize Navalny and minimize his political impact have been effective.
A survey conducted in late October by respected independent pollster the Levada Center suggests 55 per cent of Russian respondents said they don’t believe Navalny was poisoned.
Of the one third who said they believe he had been poisoned, only a third of those said they believe the Russian state was behind it.
In the days after Bellingcat’s revelations were released but before Putin spoke about them, the CBC visited the community of Zvenigorod, a town of about 15,000 people located 70 kilometres west of Moscow.
Former railway worker Alexy Provorovsky, 39, stopped to talk on his way out of church but, like many people, was reluctant to discuss the Navalny story directly.
“I don’t really want to say anything about this,” he said. “[People] are only thinking about their families and their close ones now. They only think about themselves, just to survive.”
Elena Pomina, 30, said she was only vaguely aware of the Navalny case and what might have happened to him.
“I’m not for or against him. It’s not really my business,” she said.
Younger Russians who spoke with the CBC were generally more aware of the details and more sympathetic toward Navalny.
WATCH | Putin laughs off accusations of Kremlin-controlled hit against Navalny:
Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed off damning new allegations that a Kremlin-controlled hit squad uses nerve agents to eliminate opponents, including Alexei Navalny. 1:59
Daria Generalova, an 18-year-old artist who works in a gift shop in the town, said the government’s comments that Navalny might not have been poisoned aren’t credible.
“It can’t be that a person who is healthy like this, and quite young still, that he just suddenly falls so ill,” she said.
“It’s awful. It’s even frightening, actually.”
Levada pollster Denis Volkov told a forum earlier this week that support for Putin is strongest among the older generation that still gets their news from state TV sources, while younger people who rely on the internet are far more likely to favour Kremlin outsiders, such as Navalny.
After Putin’s news conference, Navalny was sounding pleased with how his week had gone.
“Of course they can’t open a criminal case now, because this would be a criminal case against Putin,” he told host Lyubov Sobol, one of his supporters, who was broadcasting on Navalny’s YouTube channel.
“And Putin, who is the king of lies, who can lie about anything no problem, even he in this situation can’t deny that there were FSB agents that followed me.”
An Iranian scientist who Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was killed in a targeted attack that saw gunmen use explosives and machine gun fire Friday, state television said.
Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel declined to immediately comment, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out Fakhrizadeh in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
The killing risked further raising tensions across the Mideast, as just a year ago Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war. It comes just as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden stands poised to be inaugurated in January and likely complicates his efforts to return America to the Iran nuclear deal aimed at ensuring the country does not have enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.
That deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, has entirely unraveled after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.
A U.S. official confirmed earlier this month to Reuters that Trump had asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran. Trump decided against it at the time because of the risk that it could provoke a wider Middle East conflict.
On Friday, Trump retweeted a posting from Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, an expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, about the killing. Melman’s tweet called the killing a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
State TV said Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” He died at a local hospital after doctors and paramedics tried and failed to revive him.
The semi-official Fars News Agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine-gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.
Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.
“Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,” Salami tweeted.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.
“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”
There was silence from foreign capitals; Israel declined to comment, as did the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department and CIA. Biden’s transition team also declined to comment.
Not the first targeted killing this year
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency earlier this month confirmed reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed underground at its Natanz facility. Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium since Trump’s decision to pull America out of the multilateral deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges
It is also not the first targeted killing connected to Iran this year. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing intelligence officials.
It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. U.S. authorities had been tracking Abdullah and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, the newspaper said.
In January, prominent Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were among seven killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.
The UN’s human rights expert issued a report calling the drone strike a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed that report, stating the operation was in “response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”
Texas on Wednesday became the first state with more than one million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and California closed in on that mark as a surge of coronavirus infections engulfs the U.S.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said all restaurants, bars and gyms statewide will have to close at 10 p.m. starting Friday, a major retreat in a corner of the U.S. that had seemingly brought the virus largely under control months ago. He also barred private gatherings of more than 10 people.
Texas, the country’s second-most populous state, has recorded 1.02 million coronavirus cases and more than 19,000 deaths since the outbreak began in early March, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. California, the most populous state, has logged more than 995,000 cases.
The U.S. has recorded more than 240,000 deaths and more than 10.3 million confirmed infections, with new cases soaring to all-time highs of well over 120,000 per day over the past week. Health experts have blamed the increase in part on the onset of cold weather and growing frustration with mask-wearing and other precautions.
Cases per day are on the rise in 49 states, and deaths per day are climbing in 39. A month ago, the U.S. was seeing about 730 COVID-19 deaths per day on average. It has now surpassed 970.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.4M new tests and 144k cases, another all-time high. 65.4k people are hospitalized, 15k more than on election day. The death toll was 1,421, pushing the 7-day average over 1,000. <a href=”https://t.co/IQYu9w5wr4″>pic.twitter.com/IQYu9w5wr4</a>
According to the COVID Tracking Project by The Atlantic, there have been about 15,000 new hospitalizations since the Nov. 3 election.
Among the many health officials sounding the alarm is Dr. Julie Watson of Integris Health in Oklahoma.
“We are in trouble,” she said. “If nothing is done soon to slow the rise in cases, our hospitals will be more overwhelmed than they already are and we won’t be able to be there for all of those who need it.”
Subdued Veterans Day ceremonies
Oklahoma’s health department said Wednesday that 1,248 people were hospitalized for confirmed or probable coronavirus, shattering the previous one-day record of 1,055.
Texas reported 10,865 new cases on Tuesday, breaking a record set in mid-July. One of the hardest-hit places is the border city of El Paso; its county has nearly 28,000 active cases and has suffered more than 680 COVID-19 deaths.
The American Medical Association renewed its plea for mask-wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing.
“With the holidays quickly approaching, each of us must do everything possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” AMA president Susan Bailey said. “Failing to do our part will prolong the suffering and disruption to our lives and inevitably lead to more deaths of our friends, neighbours and loved ones.”
Meanwhile, many traditional Veterans Day celebrations gave way to sombre virtual gatherings on Wednesday. Many veterans homes have barred visitors to protect their residents from the virus.
In New York City, a quiet parade of military vehicles, with no spectators, rolled through Manhattan to maintain the 101-year tradition of veterans marching on Fifth Avenue.
More than 4,200 veterans have died from COVID-19 at hospitals and homes run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and nearly 85,000 have been infected, according to the department.
Here are some other steps being taken around the country:
Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine issued new orders on mask enforcement at businesses, while threatening to close bars, restaurants and fitness centres if infections keep surging. The Republican governor shifted the authority over mask enforcement from the counties to the state. But DeWine’s orders Wednesday were not as far-reaching as in March, when Ohio became one of the first states to go into lockdown.
Nebraska: New restrictions took effect Wednesday, including a requirement to wear masks at businesses where employees have close contact with customers for more than 15 minutes, such as barbershops, and a limit on large indoor gatherings to 25 per cent of a building’s capacity. Gov. Pete Ricketts and his wife have gone into quarantine after being exposed to someone with the virus.
Kentucky: The governor implored people to wear masks as the state posted a record daily high for new confirmed cases, at 2,700.
Minnesota: The NFL’s Vikings will close their remaining home games to fans, as the state blew past its record for new deaths in a day. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced new restrictions on bars and restaurants and said he wishes the neighbouring Dakotas would take more aggressive steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He said this summer’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota was “absolutely unnecessary” and helped spread the virus beyond that state.
South Dakota: Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken cast a tie-breaking vote that defeated a proposed mask mandate.
North Dakota: The state continues to have the most new COVID-19 cases per capita in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins data, with one in every 83 residents testing positive in the past week.
Even as world leaders continue to call and offer U.S. president-elect Joe Biden their congratulations on his victory, the U.S. secretary of state said Tuesday that there will be a “smooth transition” to a second term in office for Donald Trump.
Mike Pompeo told reporters the world should have every confidence that a post-election transition in the United States would be smooth.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo told a State Department news conference.
Pompeo ignored results showing that Biden had won the election, and dismissed as “ridiculous” questions about whether the U.S. had lost credibility as a judge of other countries’ election because of Trump’s unproven claims of fraud at the polls.
He then appeared to offer a more nuanced response, saying, “We’re ready. The world is watching what’s taking place here…. We’re going to count all the votes…. The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is … successful today and successful when the president who’s in office on January 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.”
.<a href=”https://twitter.com/SecPompeo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@SecPompeo</a>: “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”<br><br>Full video here: <a href=”https://t.co/6Rou91HQxv”>https://t.co/6Rou91HQxv</a> <a href=”https://t.co/MU9Gp2QWnq”>pic.twitter.com/MU9Gp2QWnq</a>
Pompeo’s comments came as Trump continued to refuse to concede the election and threaten legal action.
Raising unsupported claims of voter fraud, Trump has blocked Biden from receiving the intelligence briefings traditionally shared with incoming presidents, according to someone with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to disclose private conversations.
Asked about Trump’s refusal to concede, Biden told reporters Monday afternoon that “it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” and he said he didn’t think it would help Trump’s legacy.
But Biden said he does not see a need for any legal action right now, and that while it “would be useful” to get the briefings, it was “not necessary.”
WATCH | Biden unconcerned by Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge his victory:
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said Monday his transition is ‘well underway’ despite some Republicans’ denial of his victory. 0:50
Trump’s resistance, backed by senior Republicans in Washington and across the country, could also prevent background investigations and security clearances for Biden’s prospective national security team and access to federal agencies to discuss budget and policy issues.
Biden appeared unconcerned, saying, “The fact that [Republicans are] not willing to acknowledge we won at this point is not of much consequence in our planning and what we’re able to do between now and January 20.”
Trump and his allies seemed determined to make Biden’s transition as difficult as possible.
From his Twitter account Tuesday, Trump again raised unsupported claims of “massive ballot counting abuse” and predicted he would ultimately win the race he has already lost. His allies on Capitol Hill, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have encouraged the president’s baseless accusations.
World leaders congratulate Biden
America’s allies began to acknowledge what Trump would not.
Biden met via video conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he spoke with Biden “to congratulate him on his election.”
“I look forward to strengthening the partnership between our countries and to working with him on our shared priorities — from tackling climate change, to promoting democracy and building back better from the pandemic,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “Build back better” is a slogan that Biden and the British government have in common.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Biden Monday. The official readout on the call from the PMO said Trudeau was the first international leader to speak with the president-elect.
“The prime minister and the president-elect agreed on the importance of the unique Canada-U.S. partnership and committed to work together to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic and to support a sustainable economic recovery in both countries and the hemisphere,” said the readout.
WATCH | Trudeau talks about Canada-U.S. relations and a Biden presidency:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters during a media briefing in Ottawa on Monday. 2:02
Biden focuses on health care
Meanwhile, Biden tried to stay focused on health care as he prepares to take office Jan. 20, during the worst health crisis in more than a century. The U.S. surpassed 10 million cases of COVID-19 on Monday and cases are skyrocketing as the nation moves into the cold winter months.
One of Biden’s chief coronavirus advisers, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, planned to brief Senate Democrats on Tuesday by phone at their weekly virtual lunch, according to a senior Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private session.
The closed-door meeting marks the first time a Biden transition official has addressed the full Senate caucus since last week’s election.
Before and after Biden’s afternoon speech, he was working alongside vice-president-elect Kamala Harris at a theatre near his home in downtown Wilmington, Del. He is expected to quickly name a chief of staff and start considering cabinet appointments, though those likely won’t be finalized for weeks.
Complicating Biden’s challenge is the Republican Party’s widespread refusal to acknowledge his victory. With scant evidence, Trump and his allies are insisting that the election was stolen.
Attorney General William Barr has authorized the Justice Department to probe unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. And the General Services Administration, led by a Trump-appointed administrator, Emily Murphy, has declined to formally recognize Biden as president-elect.
That designation eases co-operation between the outgoing and incoming administrations, although Murphy has not started the process and has given no guidance on when she will. The GSA inaction could continue to deny Biden security briefings, which he received periodically before the election, as well as delay security clearances and staffing decisions.
Senior officials in the George W. Bush administration warned that a similar delay after the closely contested 2000 presidential election caused many difficulties.