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06 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Aleksandr Valiyev, Robert Coalson

The defendants have been on trial for 18 months.

The defendants have been on trial for 18 months.

Russian officials describe the November 2012 disturbances at prison camp No. 6 in the Urals town of Kopeisk as a violent uprising.

Prisoners and their advocates say it was a desperate and peaceful protest against alleged torture and abuse.

Now, although 17 defendants have been on trial in Kopeisk for more than 18 months, activists say there is little expectation that the truth — or justice — will emerge.

“We believe that the accusations and the criminal prosecution of the prisoners is not justified because they were protesting to defend their rights, to protect themselves from torture and extortion, and they were doing it peacefully,” Aleksei Laptev, a Russian member of the European Prison Litigation Network who is monitoring the Kopeisk trial, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

“These facts have been established and have not, in principle, been contested. There are also two verdicts by the courts against the head of the colony, Denis Mekhanov,” he said. “Moreover, these facts have been established in a report by the presidential advisory Council on Human Rights and Civil Society.”

Former prison director Mekhanov was convicted in December 2014 of extorting prisoners and their relatives and abusing his position. He was given a three-year suspended sentence and sent home — a verdict that activists saw as evidence of a conspiracy of prosecutors and the court to protect the defendant.

Moreover, two other former employees of the camp — Viktor Krayev and Sergei Davletov — were convicted on similar charges and fined 200,000 rubles ($3,100) and 300,000 rubles ($4,700), respectively.

‘They Smashed My Car’

The events of late November 2012 at prison camp No. 6 (IK-6) remain murky. A tense situation in the prison had been building up for months. In June 2012, Gazeta.ru and other Russian media published scandalous reports of the alleged extortion and abuse, specifically implicating Mekhanov and former Chelyabinsk Oblast Deputy Governor Viktor Timashev, who is serving a 10-year term for bribery at IK-6.

Relatives of prisoners learned on November 25, 2012, that something bad was going on at the prison. When they tried to reach the site, they found the road blocked by a battalion of riot police.

Those who were stopped on the road to the prison say the police suddenly began to disperse them violently.

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US politics >>

Over half of Detroit and nearly one-third of Wayne County could be affected, and the recount won’t happen if discrepancies can’t be solved by recounting by hand

Donald Trump’s slim margin over Hillary Clinton means any chance that the state might flip on a recount likely hinges on Wayne County, where she won by a landslide.

Donald Trump’s slim margin over Hillary Clinton means any chance that the state might flip on a recount likely hinges on Wayne County, where she won by a landslide. Photograph: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

in New York

Broken polling machines may have put vote counts in question in more than half of Detroit’s precincts and nearly one-third of surrounding Wayne County, possibly throwing the Michigan recount into chaos.

If the discrepancies can’t be solved by recounting every paper ballot in question by hand, a recount in those precincts simply won’t happen.

Donald Trump’s slim margin over Hillary Clinton means any chance that the state might flip on a recount likely hinges on Wayne County, where she won by a landslide. Clinton lost by 10,704 votes in Michigan; Wayne’s population of 1,759,335 makes it the likeliest candidate to contain errors bigger than that margin.

Eighty-seven of Wayne County’s decade-old voting machines broke on election day, according to Detroit’s elections director, Daniel Baxter. He told the Detroit News, which first reported the story, that ballot scanners often jammed when polling place workers were trying to operate them. Every time a jammed ballot was removed and reinserted, he suspects the machine may have re-counted it.

Preliminary investigation by election officials in Wayne County found that 610 of the area’s 1,680 precincts could not reconcile the number of votes cast according to the machines with the number of ballots issued according to the electoral rolls. Detroit contains 662 of Wayne’s precincts; in 392 of those, the number of votes didn’t match up.

Baxter told the News he was confident a recount would match the ballots issued to the paper records, which are sealed and stored under guard. “I don’t think it’s going to be 100%,” he said, “but it never is with a recount.”

If hand-tallied ballots can’t resolve all the mismatches, the votes will stand in the counties where the errors remain.

State law rejects a recount in places where the two figures don’t match up: a precinct is ineligible to be recounted if the “number of ballots to be recounted and the number of ballots issued on election day as shown on the poll list or the computer printout do not match and the difference is not explained to the satisfaction of the board of canvassers,” the law says.

The recount was triggered by Green party candidate Jill Stein in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. On Monday, Stein asked a federal court to intervene in Pennsylvania after state courts demanded a million-dollar bond before it would proceed.

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Ben Carson: five dangerous views held by the housing secretary nominee – video

Retired neurosurgeon and one-time Republican candidate Ben Carson may soon be the US housing secretary, after being nominated by President-elect Donald Trump. However, a look at Carson’s array of controversial and, at times, head-scratching comments over the years may cause alarm that such a man could soon run a federal agency

Ben Carson Former Republican candidate nominated for housing secretary>>

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Jill Stein demands ‘accurate and just’ recount outside Trump Tower>>

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Standing Rock protesters asked to ‘go home’ by Sioux leader

Some determined to stay despite Dave Archambault arguing ‘water protectors’ should stand down after Army Corps rejected Dakota Access drilling plan

The Army Corps of Engineers turned down a key permit for a the Dakota Access pipeline.

The Army Corps of Engineers turned down a key permit for a the Dakota Access pipeline. Photograph: DDP USA/Rex/Shutterstock

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has asked the thousands of “water protectors” gathered in encampments along the Missouri river to “go home” after the US Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to drill under the river.

In a video statement Dave Archambault thanked the thousands of Native American and environmental activists who travelled to North Dakota to help the tribe fight back against the pipeline, which they feared would contaminate their water source and destroy sacred sites.

But after the “huge victory” of the Army Corps decision, Archambault said: “There’s no need for the water protectors or for anyone to be putting ourselves in unsafe environments.

“It’s time now,” he said. “It’s time to go home.”

Dave Archambault: ‘It’s time now … it’s time to go home.’

Archambault’s directive was rejected by many long-term water protectors, however, as the camps hunkered down amid a fierce blizzard.

“The chairman does not tell us what to do. The chairman is not in charge of the camp,” said Ladonna Bravebull Allard. “We stand. We don’t move. We don’t go nowhere.”

Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, founded the first of several “spiritual camps”, known as Sacred Stone, in April.

“We came to fight a black snake,” she said, referring to the pipeline. “Until it’s dead, we stand. That doesn’t mean put it five miles up the river. That means kill it dead.”

Many at the camps were suspicious that the permit denial was a “trick” intended to convince activists to leave so that the pipeline construction could continue unchallenged. Others feared that the Trump administration would reverse the Army Corps’ decision, or that the company would sue.

Though an administrative reversal would be subject to court

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Voters celebrate after Norbert Hofer is defeated in the country’s presidential elections, but warn that populist forces may yet gain ground

Demonstrators protest against Norbert Hofer

Norbert Hofer of the Freedom party ran a campaign that included attacks on Islam, Muslim immigrants and refugees. Photograph: Alex Domanski/Getty Images

and Guardian reader

Despite a year of often bitter campaigning, Austrians turned out in significant numbers to reject the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in a rerun of the country’s presidential elections. For those worried about Europe’s turn towards populist rightwing forces, Austria’s election outcome was heartening.

Alexander van der Bellen, the left-leaning, pro-Europe moderate, won by about 3% more of the vote than he did in May’s annulled election. But according to Austrian voters who responded to a Guardian callout, despite Van der Bellen sweeping to victory, the outcome does not signal an end to the threat from far-right forces.

“It’s just like the Trump phenomenon in the US. Non-urban, less educated, male voters go for Hofer’s Freedom party (FPÖ). Hofer is in fact even worse than his image. His ideas are racist, sexist and fascist,” says 46-year-old Florian, who owns an advertising agency and lives in Vienna.

Florian hopes Austria can remain openminded, cosmopolitan and tolerant, but says far-right sentiments exist just below the surface. “There is a latent sympathy for fascist ideas in the population, especially among older people. The FPÖ has a very powerful and efficient network of various rightwing online media supporting them, in combination with their own extremely successful social media work,” he says.

Markus, 30, an engineer who lives in Vienna, is a strong supporter of Van der Bellen, but fears that this is just the first of many political battles within the country. “I hope that after a year of political shifts to the right, there are still more people who are not driven by fear and hate, fear of the future and hate against minorities.

“But according to opinion polls, the FPÖ would lead if there were parliamentary elections soon, which is very likely the case. I would vote for SPÖ [the Social Democratic party of Austria], mainly because of the new chancellor … It seems possible that there is still a chance of modern leftwing politics despite all the hate and xenophobia in our country. Even though he too has his populist moments, I see him as way less dangerous than rightwing populism,” he says.

In May, Van der Bellen defeated Hofer by 50.3% to 49.7%, only narrowly preventing Austria from becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right head of state. This time, although the results swung in greater numbers for the left-leaning candidate, the election reveals a great rift running through Austrian society.

Kate, 27, an occupational therapist from Vienna, is concerned that a similar show of unity against the far right may not play out in parliamentary elections. “It is a great relief; the first good election results this year I know of. It is especially nice to live in a city were Van der Bellen won in all districts. However, this election is different as it only had two candidates, none of them from the established formerly big parties, and people from all different political parties had to choose. Next time it will be the choice

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Passage of bill to evacuate one settler site while retroactively recognising others meets with condemnation from UN and US

Israeli settlers at Amona, near Ramallah in the West Bank.

Israeli settlers at Amona, near Ramallah in the West Bank. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Israel’s parliament has voted to retroactively legalise thousands of illegitimate settler homes in outposts built on private Palestinian land, in a highly controversial move described by critics as a “land grab”. The measure, which passed in a stormy Knesset session late on Monday, has been met with international condemnation, and has already strained relations within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing rightwing coalition.

It comes in sharp defiance of a call on Sunday by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who urged Israel again to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land.

The bill passed its first reading by 60 votes to 49, and still has to pass a further three votes before becoming law. During the debate, the opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, fiercely denounced the law by equating its adoption to “national suicide”. While the bill seems likely to have support to pass its further readings, it appears inevitable that it will be challenged in court.

Israeli critics and Palestinians have described the legislation as a land grab that would further distance prospects for a two-state solution to end the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some high-profile political supporters, echoing that view, celebrated the vote by saying it opened the way to annexation of the West Bank and the end of any prospect of a Palestinian state.

According to estimates by opponents – including the prominent anti-occupation group Peace Now – the new law, if finally approved, would effectively annex 55 illegal outposts and approximately 4,000 housing units in settlements and illegal outposts.

The vote follows weeks of fierce debate. Netanyahu warned at one point that the legislation could put Israel’s political leaders in the dock of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The law was promoted originally by Naftali Bennett, the far right leader of the Jewish Home party, and his allies, despite warnings from senior Israeli legal figures that it would be illegal. It was initially designed to prevent the planned destruction of the illegal Amona outpost, which is home to some 40 hardline settlers living in caravans, and which Israel’s high court had ordered cleared by December 25.

Under the deal, the 330 Amona settlers will be moved to a nearby site on land that Israel considers abandoned by its Palestinian owners, but land-ownership claims by Palestinians have already been filed with Israeli authorities. Amona, founded in 1995 near Ramallah in the West Bank, is one of around 100 outposts built illegally but tolerated by the Israeli government.

Faced with the threat of his coalition imploding over the issue, Netanyahu and other parties have been pushed to a compromise that would see Amona evacuated in exchange for parties agreeing to vote to legalise the other illegal outposts.

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