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Putin wins Russia election in landslide with record turnout, early results show

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President Vladimir Putin won a record post-Soviet landslide in Russia’s election on Sunday, cementing his grip on power though thousands of opponents staged a noon protest at polling stations and the United States said the vote was neither free nor fair.

For Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel who first rose to power in 1999, the result is intended to underscore to the West that its leaders will have to reckon with an emboldened Russia, whether in war or in peace, for many more years to come.

The early result means Putin, 71, will easily secure a new six-year term that would enable him to overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader for more than 200 years.

Putin won 87.8 percent of the vote, the highest ever result in Russia’s post-Soviet history, according to an exit poll by pollster the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). The Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VCIOM) put Putin on 87 percent. First official results indicated the polls were accurate.

Communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov came second with just under 4 percent, newcomer Vladislav Davankov was third, and ultra-nationalist Leonid Slutsky fourth, results suggested.

“The elections are obviously not free nor fair given how Mr Putin has imprisoned political opponents and prevented others from running against him,” the White House’s National Security Council spokesperson said.

The election comes just over two years since Putin triggered the deadliest European conflict since World War II by ordering the invasion of Ukraine. He casts it as a “special military operation”.

War has hung over the three-day election: Ukraine has repeatedly attacked oil refineries in Russia, shelled Russian regions and sought to pierce Russian borders with proxy forces – a move Putin said would not be left unpunished.

While Putin’s re-election was not in doubt given his control over Russia and the absence of any real challengers, the former KGB spy wanted to show that he has the overwhelming support of Russians. Nationwide turnout was 74.22 percent at 1800 GMT when polls closed, election officials said, surpassing 2018 levels of 67.5 percent.

Supporters of Putin’s most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last month, had called on Russians to come out at a “Noon against Putin” protest to show their dissent against a leader they describe as a corrupt autocrat.

There was no independent tally of how many of Russia’s 114 million voters took part in the opposition demonstrations, amid tight security involving tens of thousands of police and security officials.

Reuters journalists saw an increase in the flow of voters, especially younger people, at noon at polling stations in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, with queues of several hundred people and even thousands.

Some said they were protesting, though there were few outward signs to distinguish them from ordinary voters.

As noon arrived across Asia and Europe, crowds hundreds strong gathered at polling stations at Russian diplomatic missions. Navalny’s widow, Yulia, appeared at the Russian embassy in Berlin to cheers and chants of “Yulia, Yulia”.

Exiled Navalny supporters broadcast footage on YouTube of protests inside Russia and abroad.

‘People saw they were not alone’

“We showed ourselves, all of Russia and the whole world that Putin is not Russia (and) that Putin has seized power in Russia,” said Ruslan Shaveddinov of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Our victory is that we, the people, defeated fear, we defeated solitude – many people saw they were not alone.”

At least 74 people were arrested on Sunday across Russia, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors crackdowns on dissent.

Over the previous two days, there were scattered incidents of protest as some Russians set fire to voting booths or poured green dye into ballot boxes. Opponents posted some pictures of ballots spoiled with slogans insulting Putin.

But Navalny’s death has left the opposition deprived of its most formidable leader, and other major opposition figures are abroad, in jail or dead.

The West casts Putin as an autocrat and a killer. US President Joe Biden last month dubbed him a “crazy SOB”. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has indicted him for the alleged war crime of abducting Ukrainian children, which the Kremlin denies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Putin wanted to rule forever. “There is no legitimacy in this imitation of elections and there cannot be. This person should be on trial in The Hague. That’s what we have to ensure.”

Putin portrays the war as part of a centuries-old battle with a declining and decadent West that he says humiliated Russia after the Cold War by encroaching on Moscow’s sphere of influence.

“Putin’s task is now to imprint his worldview indelibly into the minds of the Russian political establishment” to ensure a like-minded successor, Nikolas Gvosdev, director of the National Security Programme at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Russia Matters project.

“For a US administration that hoped Putin’s Ukraine adventure would be wrapped up by now with a decisive setback to Moscow’s interests, the election is a reminder that Putin expects that there will be many more rounds in the geopolitical boxing ring.”

Russia’s election comes at what Western spy chiefs say is a crossroads for the Ukraine war and the wider West.

Support for Ukraine is tangled in US domestic politics ahead of the November presidential election pitting Biden against his predecessor Donald Trump, whose Republican party in Congress has blocked military aid for Kyiv.

Though Kyiv recaptured territory after the invasion in 2022, Russian forces have made gains after a failed Ukrainian counter-offensive last year.

The Biden administration fears Putin could grab a bigger slice of Ukraine unless Kyiv gets more support soon. CIA Director William Burns has said that could embolden China.

Voting also took place in Crimea, which Moscow took from Ukraine in 2014, and four other Ukrainian regions it partly controls and has claimed since 2022. Kyiv regards the election on occupied territory as illegal and void.

Source: Reuters and RNZ

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World

Three men rescued off island due to beach ‘HELP’ sign

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Three men were rescued by the US Coast Guard off an island in Micronesia after they sent out a plea for “HELP” using palm tree leaves.

They spelled out “HELP” with the leaves, which led to the rescue nine days after they left on a sailing trip.

They had been reported missing after failing to return from a journey to Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited coral island about 415 miles (667km) from Guam.

It is the second time in four years people were rescued from the island.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the three experienced mariners, all unnamed men in their 40s, had embarked on their sailing trip from Polowat Atoll – an island that is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

They departed on Easter Sunday for Pikelot Atoll, about 115 miles (185km) away, in a traditional 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard added.

After failing to return, a relative of the men alerted the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles were missing, sparking a search and rescue mission.

First responders were initially searching an area that was more than 78,000 square nautical miles in poor weather conditions. But then they spotted the men from the air – thanks to the makeshift “HELP” sign.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, who led the search and rescue mission the day they were located.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.

Coast Guard personnel then airdropped survival packages and a radio to the men while a US Coast Guard vessel made its way to the island.

The mariners later radioed back and said they were in good health and had access to food and water, the US Coast Guard said.

They also had recovered their skiff, which sustained damage that rendered it non-functional, and said they needed help getting back to Polowat.

After departing on their voyage on 31 March, the sailors were officially rescued off the island on 9 April.

The US Coast Guard said the rescue is an example of the strong coordination between the US and the Federal States of Micronesia, as well as US Navy personnel who are stationed in the area.

Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consists of some 600 tiny islands scattered over a vast ocean expanse.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commodore Christine Igisomar, who was also part of the search and rescue mission.

Though uninhabited, Pikelot Atoll is often temporarily visited by hunters and fishermen. It has also been the site of another rescue in recent years.

In 2020, three Micronesian mariners were saved – by the Australian Defence Force – after spelling out “SOS” on the beach.

Source: BBC and RNZ

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OJ Simpson, NFL star acquitted in ‘trial of the century’, dies aged 76

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OJ Simpson, the former American footballer who was controversially cleared of double murder, has died aged 76.

Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame as a college footballer before playing in the NFL.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown and a friend in a trial that gripped America.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment on charges of armed robbery. He was released in 2017.

Simpson died of cancer on Wednesday “surrounded by his children and grandchildren”, a family statement read.

In 1994, Simpson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

The pair were found stabbed to death outside Brown’s home in Los Angeles, and Simpson was an immediate person of interest in the case.

On the day he was due to turn himself in, Simpson fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, and led the police on a slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area.

That chase engrossed audiences in both the United States and abroad as it was broadcast live on “rolling” 24-hour news channels that were still in their relative infancy.

In the ensuing court case, dubbed the “trial of the century” by US media, prosecutors argued Simpson had killed Brown in a jealous fury. Evidence included blood, hair and fibre tests linking Simpson to the murders.

The defence argued Simpson was framed by police who were motivated by racism.

In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, prosecutors asked Simpson to wear a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the murder, but Simpson struggled to put them on. It led to one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochrane, telling the jury in his closing arguments: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

The jury ultimately sided with Simpson, who declared he was “absolutely 100 percent not guilty”. The acquittal proved hugely controversial.

The families of Smith and Goldman did not give up – they pursued a civil case against Simpson in 1997 where a jury found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay US$33.5m (NZ$57m) in damages to their families.

In 2006, Simpson sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It”, and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of the murders he had always strenuously denied.

Public objections ended both projects, but Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Simpson and had it published.

Simpson’s final disgrace came in 2008, when he was convicted of armed robbery for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with four accomplices, holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint and stealing items related to his NFL career.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail, but was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years.

Before his legal problems, Simpson was well-liked, known as an athlete, actor and the face of several major companies.

He was a college football star at University of Southern California before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he played until 1977.

He became one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history. In 1973, he was the first NFL player to “rush” – running to advance the ball for his team – more than 2000 yards in a season.

He retired in 1979 to concentrate on a career in film and television. His credits include roles in the Towering Inferno, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun series.

Initial public reaction to his death ranged from muted to hostile.

In a statement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame outlined Simpson’s achievements as an NFL player, and said records of those contributions would be preserved in its archive.

Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, described Simpson’s death as “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he told the NBC News network. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Source: BBC and RNZ

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World

Former Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama, suspended police chief avoid jail in corruption case

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Frank Bainimarama was given an absolute discharge in a packed Suva’s Magistrates Court on Thursday after last week being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level sentence that an offender can get. It means no conviction is registered against Bainimarama.

State broadcaster FBC reports, Magistrate Seini Puamau considered Bainimarama’s health.

The 69-year-old was sentenced alongside suspended police chief Sitiveni Qiliho, who was given a FJ$1500 fine without conviction as well.

The absolute discharge and a fine without conviction was given despite the prosecutors last week urging Magistrate Puamau to order immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both men – which would be no less than five years in jail for Bainimarama and 10 years for Qiliho.

Source : RNZ

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