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Who is poisoning Russian dissidents and why? | Russia



On Thursday morning, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny walked out of a hotel in the Siberian city of Tomsk and headed for the airport to catch a flight back to Moscow. His trip to the Tomsk region was part of his campaign to “nullify United Russia” by voting the party of Russian President Vladimir Putin out of power in the upcoming local elections.

At the airport, Navalny and a few members of his team had tea and boarded the plane. Shortly after takeoff, the 44-year-old politician started feeling unwell. He went to the lavatory and could not come out. The aeroplane was forced to do an emergency landing in Omsk. Fellow passengers heard Navalny screaming in excruciating pain before he was taken out of the plane by medical personnel. Shortly after he was hospitalised, he fell into a coma.

The intensive care ward where he was kept soon filled up with plain-clothes and uniformed security officers, who at some point seemed to outnumber the medical staff.

Doctors and policemen gave contradictory information; first, they claimed a dangerous chemical was discovered in Navalny’s blood, then that no such substance was detected. When Navalny’s wife Yulia and press secretary Kira Yarmysh demanded that he be flown abroad for treatment, citing the substandard conditions of the hospital where he was kept and its lack of equipment to provide proper care, medical staff refused, claiming that any such move would worsen his condition.

On Friday evening, after a number of Western leaders concerned about Navalny’s wellbeing phoned Putin, the hospital finally released him and he was flown to Germany for treatment.

Russian activist and founder of the media outlet Mediazona, Petr Verzilov said that all of this reminded him of what he went through when he was allegedly poisoned two years ago.

“Everything begins with a place which can be easily controlled, in the case of Navalny, this was the airport; in my case – the court,” he told me. On September 11, 2018, Verzilov spent the whole day in court, where his girlfriend Nika Nikulshina was being tried for running onto the pitch wearing a police uniform during the World Cup. At 6pm, they headed home, where Verzilov had a nap. A couple of hours later, when he tried to go out, he felt sick; his eyesight, speech and movement started deteriorating and he eventually slipped into delirium, unable to recognise his own girlfriend.

In the hospital, the same scene played out – a great number of security personnel preventing relatives and associates from seeing him. The Russian doctors also did not find any toxin in his blood and delayed his transfer abroad. He arrived in Germany for treatment on September 15. By then, his body is thought to have gotten rid of the poison, which made identifying it very difficult. German doctors hypothesised that hyoscine may have been used to poison Verzilov, as it is known to cause symptoms similar to those he displayed.

Another opposition politician, Vladimir Kara-Murza has also said the circumstances of Navalny’s illness reminded him of what he believes were two attempts to poison him.

The first time was in May 2015, shortly after opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed just a few hundred metres from the walls of the Kremlin. Before his death, he and Kara-Murza had supported the application of the Magnitsky Act, a bill aimed to impose sanctions on members of Putin’s inner circle over human rights violations.

Kara-Murza survived, but doctors did not find a toxin in his blood and claimed he must have overdosed on anti-depressants – an idea rejected by independent medical professionals. Samples of his blood, hair and nails were sent to France, where experts found a high concentration of heavy metals.

The second attempt took place in 2017. Kara-Murza suffered similar symptoms as the first time – sudden deterioration of his health and multiple organ failure. It was a miracle he survived and again no toxin was found in his blood.

All of these cases seem similar to the suspected poisoning of famous journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In September 2004, while on her way to Beslan in North Ossetia, where terrorists had just taken hostage students and teachers at a local school, Politkovskaya fell suddenly sick after having tea and fell into a coma. She also survived but again, no poisonous substance was found. Two years later, she was shot dead.

Of course, there is also the poisoning of former double agent Sergey Skripal in the British city of Salisbury, with the nerve agent Novichok. Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in the town centre. The British authorities later found traces of the chemical in his home and accused Russian military intelligence (GRU) agents of being responsible for the poisoning. Both Skripal and his daughter survived.

All of these cases have a lot in common – they seem to all involve a certain neurotoxin which gives the victim a chance to survive. They differ from other cases – such as ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko’s poisoning with polonium in London in 2006 or that of journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin, who was also possibly killed with a radioactive substance in 2003 – where the chemical of choice ensures certain death.

Thus, it is possible that in Navalny’s case, like others similar to his, poisoning is meant to scare, not to kill. For Verzilov, that was a way to suggest to him that he needs to stop his investigation into the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic. For Kara-Murza – this was to tell him to stop lobbying for sanctions on people close to the Kremlin. For Skripal – not to cooperate with the British intelligence. For Politkovskaya – not to go to Beslan.

Navalny, like everyone else above, is a prominent critic of the Kremlin and the structures and people close to it. But he has been openly critical for a while and for a few years now has been mobilising political protests and conducting major investigations into high-level corruption, which have angered many in the Russian ruling elite.

So the question is, why send him a warning that he is no longer safe and should consider going abroad now? The answer is simple: Putin’s rating has fallen to an all-time low and his decision to change the constitution to potentially extend his term beyond 2024 stirred so much anger that only the coronavirus pandemic managed to stop it from spilling into the streets.

Still, even in the current epidemic conditions, protests have broken out in some places. In Khabarovsk region, demonstrations against the removal of a popular governor have been going on for more than a month now.

More importantly, in neighbouring Belarus, ordinary people have mounted a major campaign of civil disobedience against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko. They have protested the rigging of the presidential elections en masse, engaged in labour strikes, defected from state institutions, persevered in the face of police brutality and torture, etc.

The scenes of mass demonstrations in Belarus have evoked much sympathy among various layers of society in Russia: from the urban intelligentsia to factory workers and even football fans. Navalny’s trips across the country would have surely inflamed further anti-government sentiments.

Incapacitating Navalny could undermine the ability of dissenting Russians to organise, by depriving them of a charismatic leader. This could deescalate the situation and preclude mass protests, but it could also have the opposite effect. If the poisoning is proven, this could fuel further public anger and result in spontaneous mobilisation.

Nemtsov’s murder followed the first scenario. The outpouring of anger following his death was contained in mourning rallies. In the case of Navalny, however, the second scenario is quite likely.

In the past few years, a new generation has come of age which is more tech-savvy and more politicised than previous ones, and have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not fear the Kremlin’s repressive tactics.

Meanwhile, the Belarus example has shown that political mobilisation by far does not depend on one leader and can persist and grow even when opposition figures are imprisoned and forced into exile.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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