First Charge Filed in Russia Inquiry

A federal grand jury in D.C. approved the first round of charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russia's meddling over the 2016 election. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
A federal grand jury in D.C. approved the first round of charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russia's meddling over the 2016 election. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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First Charge Filed in Russia Inquiry

A federal grand jury in D.C. approved the first round of charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russia's meddling over the 2016 election. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
A federal grand jury in D.C. approved the first round of charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russia's meddling over the 2016 election. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A federal grand jury in Washington approved on Friday the first charges in the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US Presidential elections in 2016, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The source reported that the indictment was sealed under orders from a federal judge so it was not clear what the charges were or who the target was, adding that it could be unsealed as early as Monday.

Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted at least one person, however, the details of the indictment are still unclear.

CNN and other sources including the Wall Street Journal reported that a federal grand jury has approved charges filed by investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller against at least one person, and the indictment has been sealed by a federal judge, pending arrest.

Reports suggest that one or more arrests could take place, however, there are still no information about the nature of the charges, or their target.

Mueller's team is refusing to comment on the matter ever since the counsel had been assigned last May.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein assigned Mueller after US President Trump dismissed former FBI.

In January, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton through a campaign of hacking and releasing embarrassing emails, and disseminating propaganda via social media.

Mueller, a former FBI director, is investigating whether Trump campaign officials colluded with those Russian efforts, and whether they sought to obstruct justice by covering up such collusion.

Trump denied the allegations of collusion between him and the Russians. Kremlin also has rejected the allegations.

Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is a target of Mueller's investigations, precisely his lobbying activities for foreign clients and financial relations with Russia.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who is a strong supporter of Trump, responded late Friday to reports that the first charges have been filed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

“When will @HillaryClinton be indicted?” Hannity tweeted.

Sources told the network that those charged could be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

Hannity accused Mueller in other tweets of working “hand in hand” with the media and also mentioned Uranium One, a mining company at the center of two new House investigations.

Republicans reopened also a joint investigation into the 2010 sale of the company to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom in 2010, when Clinton was Secretary of State.

AFP reported that Republicans accused the former Secretary of paving the way for the purchasing in return of donations to her foundation.

Democrats believe that reopening these cases are a blatant attempt to divert attention from Mueller's investigation especially the Uranium case.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that Democrats are accused of everything they had charged the President with.

Sanders described the whole Trump-Russia collusion matter as a “witch hunt".

“I think this further proves if there was anyone that was colluding with the Russians to influence the elections look no further than the Clinton and DNC,” Sanders said.

“Hypocrisy at the highest level and a new low in politics. Everything the Clinton campaign and DNC were falsely accusing the president of doing the past year they were doing it themselves," she told Fox News Bill Hemmer on Thursday.



German Police Shut Down Pro-Palestinian Gathering

12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
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German Police Shut Down Pro-Palestinian Gathering

12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa
12 April 2024, Berlin: A police officer addresses a participant in the event room after the police broke up the first day of the Palestine Congress 2024. Photo: Sebastian Christoph Gollnow/dpa

German police cut the power and shut down a conference of pro-Palestinian activists on Friday after a banned speaker appeared by video link, organizers said.
The three-day Palestine Congress, promoted by pro-Palestinian groups including former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis's DIEM25 party, said it aimed to raise awareness of what it called Israel's "genocide" in Gaza.
The police banned the final two days of the event, citing concern about the potential for hate speech, Reuters reported.
Among the speakers was activist Salman Abu Sitta, author of a January essay that expressed understanding for the Hamas militants who on Oct. 7 raided Israel.
"A speaker was projected who was subject to a ban on political activity," Berlin police said on social media. "There is a risk of a speaker being put on screen who in the past made antisemitic and violence-glorifying remarks. The gathering was ended and banned on Saturday and Sunday."

Organizers of the conference said police intervened when Salman, who according to Stern magazine was banned from entering Germany, began speaking on video.

"The police violence, like we were some sort of criminals, was unbearable for a democratic country," said Karin de Rigo, a parliamentary candidate for the German offshoot of DIEM25. "They not only stormed the stage, they cut the power like we were transmitting violence."

In Germany as in other Western countries, the war in Gaza has stirred growing popular opposition as the Palestinian death toll has mounted.

Germany's backing for Israel is rooted in a desire to atone for the genocide of Europe's Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. The presence of a large, growing Muslim and Arab population in Germany has made the tension particularly acute.

Many protesters have complained that expressions of solidarity with Palestinians are effectively criminalized by authorities on alert for antisemitism.

"It is right and necessary that the Berlin police intervened firmly at the so-called Palestine Congress," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser posted on social media. She earlier had urged police to be on guard for signs of hate speech at the congress.


Germany: Police Arrest Teens on Suspicion of Terror Plot

Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
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Germany: Police Arrest Teens on Suspicion of Terror Plot

Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo
Police in the German state of Thuringia. Reuters file photo

Police in western Germany have detained two teenage boys and two teenage girls on suspicion of planning an ISIS-style attack on churches.

Three of the four suspects, all teenagers aged 15 to 16, were arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia and are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and having committed to carrying it out,” according to prosecutors in Dusseldorf.

The fourth suspect, aged 16, was arrested in Stuttgart on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state,” prosecutors there said.

The Bild newspaper said the group had been planning to attack Christians in churches as well as police officers, adding that they were supporters of ISIS.

They are alleged to have discussed an attack that would have involved knives, Molotov cocktails and potentially guns. The assault was in an early stage of planning, according to German media reports, which suggested the potential targets were in Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Cologne.


Biden Expects Iran to Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
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Biden Expects Iran to Attack Israel Soon, Warns: 'Don't'

US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash
US President Joe Biden delivers virtual remarks during the National Action Network Convention from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, US, April 12, 2024. REUTERS/Bonnie Cash

US President Joe Biden on Friday said he expected Iran to attack Israel "sooner, rather than later" and warned Tehran not to proceed.
Asked by reporters about his message to Iran, Biden said simply, "Don't," and he underscored Washington's commitment to defend Israel.
"We are devoted to the defense of Israel. We will support Israel. We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed," he said.
Israel braced on Friday for an attack by Iran or its proxies as warnings grew of retaliation for an attack on Iran's embassy compound last week in Damascus that killed a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' overseas Quds Force and six other officers.
Israel did not claim responsibility for the airstrike on April 1. But Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said Israel "must be punished and shall be" for an operation he said was equivalent to an attack on Iranian soil.
Biden said he would not divulge secure information, but said his expectation was that an attack by Iran could come "sooner, rather than later." He spoke to reporters at the White House after a virtual speech to a civil rights conference, Reuters said.
The US rushed warships into position to protect Israel and American forces in the region, hoping to head off a direct attack from Iran on Israel that could come as soon as Friday or Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The moves by the US that are part of an effort to avoid a wider conflict in the Middle East came after a warning from a person familiar with the matter about the timing and location of the potential Iranian attack, the newspaper said.
However, a person briefed by the Iranian leadership said that while plans to attack are being discussed, no final decision has been made, the Journal said.
Countries including India, France, Poland and Russia have warned their citizens against travel to the region, already on edge over the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month. Germany on Friday called on its citizens to leave Iran.
Earlier, White House spokesperson John Kirby said the reportedly imminent attack by Iran on Israel was a real and viable threat, but gave no details about any possible timing.
Kirby said the United States was looking at its own force posture in the region in light of Tehran's threat and was watching the situation very closely.


Russian City Calls for Mass Evacuations Due to Rapidly Rising Flood Waters

 A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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Russian City Calls for Mass Evacuations Due to Rapidly Rising Flood Waters

 A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
A view of the flooded residential area in Orenburg, Russia, April 11, 2024. (Reuters)

Authorities in the Russian city of Orenburg called on thousands of residents to evacuate immediately on Friday due to rapidly rising flood waters after major rivers burst their banks due to a historic deluge of melting snow.

Water was also rising sharply in another Russian region - Kurgan - and in neighboring Kazakhstan the authorities said 100,000 people had been evacuated so far, as rapidly warming temperatures melted heavy snow and ice.

The deluge of melt water has forced over 120,000 people from their homes in Russia's Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan as major rivers such as the Ural, which flows through Kazakhstan into the Caspian, overwhelmed embankments.

Regional authorities called for the mass evacuation of parts of Orenburg, a city of over half a million people about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow.

"There's a siren going off in the city. This is not a drill. There's a mass evacuation in progress!" Sergei Salmin, the city's mayor, said on the Telegram messenger app.

Emergency workers said water levels in the Ural river were more than 2 meters (6.5 ft) above what they regarded as a dangerous level. Water lapped at the windows of brick and timber houses in the city, and pet dogs perched on rooftops.

Salmin called on residents to gather their documents, medicine and essential items and to abandon their homes.

People living in flooded homes lamented the loss of their belongings.

"Judging by the water levels, all the furniture, some household appliances and interior decorating materials are ruined," local resident Vyacheslav told Reuters as he sat in an idling motorboat and gazed over his shoulder at his two-storey brick home, partially submerged in muddy water.

"It's a colossal amount of money."

Alexei Kudinov, Orenburg's deputy mayor, had said earlier that over 360 houses and nearly 1,000 plots of land had been flooded overnight. He said the deluge was expected to reach its peak on Friday and start subsiding in two days' time.

Orenburg Governor Denis Pasler told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that 11,972 homes had been flooded and if waters rose further 19,412 more people would be in danger.

The village of Kaminskoye in the Kurgan region was also being evacuated on Friday morning after the water level there rose 1.4 metres overnight, Kurgan's regional governor Vadim Shumkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Kaminskoye is a settlement along the Tobol river which also flows through the regional center Kurgan, a city of 300,000 people. Shumkov said a deluge could reach Kurgan in the coming days.

"We can only hope the floodplain stretches wide and the ground absorbs as much water as possible in its way," he said, adding that a dam was being reinforced in Kurgan.

Kurgan is home to a key part of Russia's military-industrial complex - a giant factory that produces infantry fighting vehicles for the army which are in high demand in Ukraine where the Russian military is on the offensive in some areas.

There were no reports that the factory, Kurganmashzavod, had so far been affected.

Rising water levels are also threatening southern parts of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world, and in areas near the Volga, Europe's biggest river.

Water levels in some other Russian regions are expected to peak within the next two weeks.


France, Poland Urge No Travel to Lebanon, Israel and Palestinian Territories

An aerial view shows the Eiffel tower, the Seine River and the Paris skyline, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
An aerial view shows the Eiffel tower, the Seine River and the Paris skyline, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
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France, Poland Urge No Travel to Lebanon, Israel and Palestinian Territories

An aerial view shows the Eiffel tower, the Seine River and the Paris skyline, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
An aerial view shows the Eiffel tower, the Seine River and the Paris skyline, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

France on Friday warned its citizens to "imperatively refrain from travel in the coming days to Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories", the foreign minister's entourage told AFP.  

Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne issued the recommendation after Iran threatened reprisals over an Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, sparking fears of an escalation of violence in the Middle East.

Later, Poland's foreign ministry advised against travel to Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, it said in updated travel guidance published on Friday. 

"It cannot be ruled out that there will be a sudden escalation of military operations, which would cause significant difficulties in leaving these three countries," the ministry said in a statement.  

"Any escalation may lead to significant restrictions in air traffic and the inability to cross land border crossings."

The Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories consist of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. 


Argentina Court Blames Iran for Deadly 1994 Bombing of Jewish Center

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
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Argentina Court Blames Iran for Deadly 1994 Bombing of Jewish Center

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)

Over three decades after deadly attacks in Buenos Aires targeted Israel's embassy and a Jewish center, an Argentine court placed the blame Thursday on Iran and declared it a "terrorist state," according to local media.

The ruling, cited by press reports, said Iran had ordered the attack in 1992 on Israel's embassy and the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish center.

The court also implicated the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA -- the deadliest in Argentina's history -- a "crime against humanity," according to court documents cited by media reports.

"Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State," Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who issued the decision, told Radio Con Vos, referencing Iran.

In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish center and detonated, leaving 85 dead and 300 injured.

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request.

Prosecutors charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack. Tehran has denied any involvement.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members.

It also is home to immigrant communities from the Middle East -- from Syria and Lebanon in particular.

The judges ruled Thursday that the AMIA attack was a crime against humanity, and put blame on then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.

He told Radio Mitre the ruling "is very important, because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court."

Former Argentine president Carlos Menem, who died in 2021 and was the president at the time of both attacks, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing, but ultimately acquitted.

His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe.

He was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case, including the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan Jose Galeano, who in 2019 was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.


Massive Attack Destroys One of Ukraine’s Largest Power Plants

 A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
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Massive Attack Destroys One of Ukraine’s Largest Power Plants

 A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)

A massive missile and drone attack destroyed one of Ukraine's largest power plants and damaged others, officials said Thursday, part of a renewed Russian campaign targeting energy infrastructure.

The Trypilska plant, which was the biggest energy supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions, was struck numerous times, destroying the transformer, turbines and generators and leaving the plant ablaze. As the first drone approached, workers hid in a shelter, saving their lives, said Andrii Gota, chairman of the supervisory board of the state company that runs the plant, Centrenergo.

They watched the plant burn, surrounded by dense smoke and engulfed in flames. “It’s terrifying,” said Gota. Hours later, rescuers were still dismantling the rubble.

Speaking in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin cast the attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities as a response to Ukrainian strikes that targeted Russian oil refineries.

The Trypilska plant supplied electricity to 3 million customers — but none lost power because the grid was able to compensate since demands are low at this time of year. Still, the consequences of the strikes could be felt in the coming months, as air conditioning use ramps up with summer.

At least 10 other strikes overnight damaged energy infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said more than 200,000 people in the region, which has been struck repeatedly, were without power.

Ukraine's largest private energy operator, DTEK, described the slew of strikes as one of the most powerful attacks this year, while Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told reporters it was a “large scale, enormous, missile attack that affected our energy sector very badly.”

Russia has recently renewed strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities, and attacks last month blacked out large parts of the country — a level of darkness not seen since the first days of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

The volume and accuracy of the attacks have alarmed the country’s defenders and left officials scrambling for better ways to protect energy assets. The strikes have also tested Ukraine’s ability to make quick repairs.

Ukraine’s leaders have pleaded for more air defense systems to ward off such attacks, but those supplies have been slow in coming.

“Today’s situation demonstrates that there’s nothing left to shoot down” the missiles, Gota said.


US, Japan and South Korea Hold Drills in Disputed Sea as Biden Hosts Leaders of Japan, Philippines

This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
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US, Japan and South Korea Hold Drills in Disputed Sea as Biden Hosts Leaders of Japan, Philippines

This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)

A US carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has held a three-day joint exercise with its allies Japan and South Korea as US President Joe Biden met for talks with leaders from Japan and the Philippines at the White House. The dueling military and diplomatic maneuvers are meant to strengthen the partners' solidarity in the face of China’s aggressive military actions in the region.

A number of US and South Korean guided missile destroyers and a Japanese warship joined the April 10-12 drill in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China territorial claims are rising. The Associated Press was one of several news organizations allowed a front-row look at the drills.

Rear Adm. Christopher Alexander, commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine, said the three nations conducted undersea warfare exercises, maritime interdiction operations, search and rescue drills and work focused on communication and data sharing. He told journalists Thursday on the Roosevelt that these drills would help improve communication among the United States and its allies and "better prepare us for a crisis in the region."

F/A-18E Super Hornet combat jets took off from the carrier’s flight deck, which also had anti-submarine MH-60R Seahawk helicopters. Journalists were flown more than an hour from Kadena Air Base, the hub of US Pacific air power. Kadena is on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, which is home to about half of the 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan.

"It is a busy time; there is a lot going on in the world," Alexander said. "The significance of this exercise is we have three like-minded countries, three like-minded navies that believe in peace, security and stability in the western Pacific."

The participation of Japan and South Korea was another sign of improving ties between the sometimes wary neighbors. The two US allies' relationship has often been strained by the memory of Japan's half-century colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Washington has been pressing them to cooperate so the three partners can better deal with threats from China and North Korea.

This week's huge parliamentary election defeat of the governing party of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has sought better relations with Japan, could constrain his Japan-friendly efforts, but experts believe ties will remain stable.

The latest naval exercise is part of Biden's work to deepen security and diplomatic engagement with Indo-Pacific nations. Biden invited Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to the White House for their first trilateral talks Thursday, and has declared that the US defense commitment to the Pacific allies is "ironclad."

Tensions between China and the Philippines have risen over repeated clashes by the two nations’ coast guard vessels in the disputed South China Sea. Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands near Taiwan.

Beijing has defended its operations in the South China Sea and blamed the United States for creating tensions. China's President Xi Jinping had a series of talks this week with senior officials from Vietnam, Russia and Taiwan.

The US-Japan-South Korea naval exercises follow four-way drills held in the South China Sea, where Japan joined the United States, Australia and the Philippines. Participants carefully avoided mentioning China and said they were holding the exercises to safeguard a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific.

An area of long-simmering disputes, the South China Sea serves a key sea lane for global trade. Concerned governments include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan.


Israeli Man Pleads Not Guilty to Firearms Offences in Malaysia

Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Man Pleads Not Guilty to Firearms Offences in Malaysia

Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

An Israeli man, who was arrested in Malaysia last month carrying six guns and dozens of bullets, pleaded not guilty in a Kuala Lumpur court on Friday to charges of unauthorized trafficking and possession of firearms, his lawyer said.

Shalom Avitan, 38, faces two charges of illegally trafficking six guns and unauthorized possession of 158 bullets, the lawyer, Jeffrey Ooi, told Reuters.

Avitan arrived in Malaysia from the United Arab Emirates on March 12 on a French passport, police said. He was detained by police at a Kuala Lumpur hotel with a bag containing the weapons on March 27 and produced an Israeli passport upon questioning, officials have said.

Security was tight around the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on Friday. Avitan was escorted into court by more than a dozen police officials.

Malaysia has harsh penalties for gun offences. If convicted, Avitan could face up to 40 years in prison, and no less than six strokes of the cane.

Police are investigating Avitan's motives and have not ruled out the possibility that he could be part of an Israeli crime ring, or a spy. Officials have said Avitan claimed he was in Malaysia to hunt down another Israeli citizen over a family dispute.

A married Malaysian couple was charged earlier this week with supplying the firearms to Avitan. Police have detained eight other people, including two Turkish nationals and a Georgian man, in connection with the case, state media reported.

Authorities beefed up border security following Avitan's arrest, given the country's criticism of Israel's actions in the Gaza war. Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.


IAEA Chief Says Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Attacks Risk Dangerous Shift in Ukraine War

The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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IAEA Chief Says Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Attacks Risk Dangerous Shift in Ukraine War

The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)

Drone attacks on the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine must stop as they could pose "a new and gravely dangerous" stage in the war, the UN nuclear watchdog chief told his agency's 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday.

Drones attacked Zaporizhzhia, Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, on Sunday, hitting a reactor building in the worst such incident since November 2022, though nuclear safety was not compromised, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused one another of targeting the plant since Russia seized it weeks after it invaded Ukraine. Both countries requested an emergency meeting of the IAEA's Board soon after Sunday's attack.

"The most recent attacks ... have shifted us into an acutely consequential juncture in this war," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the Board gathering.

He called on the Board to "unanimously to support the role of the IAEA in monitoring" principles aimed at preventing an accident at the plant, including that it not be attacked.

Since no draft resolutions have been submitted to the Board meeting, it is likely to boil down to an exchange of statements by the countries convening behind closed doors in Vienna.

"We are meeting today, and I will meet with the UN Security Council next week, because it is of paramount importance to ensure these reckless attacks do not mark the beginning of a new and gravely dangerous front of the war," Grossi said, adding: "Strikes must cease."

Russia's representative to international organisations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, described as a "very serious flaw" Grossi's failure to single out Ukraine as the guilty party.

"I get the feeling that they are afraid," Russian news agencies quoted Ulyanov as telling Russian journalists.

"It is simply not done to speak badly of Ukrainians because they are supposed to be the victims. An atmosphere is being created which essentially encourages the Ukrainian side to commit reckless actions, like these attacks," he said.

But he said he believed there would be no more incidents.

The Ukrainian statement to the meeting said the incident was part of a longstanding Russian disinformation campaign.

"But this time it is many times more dangerous, since these are not just words, but a real encroachment on the physical integrity of a nuclear facility," the statement said.

"Russia's attempt to pin the blame on Ukraine is a desperate effort to hide its guilt."