Russia launches cargo ship to space station

A Russian Soyuz rocket launches the Progress 78 cargo resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on June 29, 2021 at 7:27 p.m. EDT (2327 GMT). (File/NASA TV)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Russia launches cargo ship to space station

  • The Russian space program is renowned for having sent the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1

MOSCOW: Russia on Wednesday successfully launched an unmanned space freighter carrying supplies to the International Space Station from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz rocket carrying the Progress spacecraft launched at 02:27 am Moscow time (2327 GMT) from the Kazakh steppes and reached its target orbit, the Roscosmos space agency said in a statement.

Docking with the ISS is scheduled to take place at 0402 am Moscow time (0102 GMT) Friday and will be automatic.

The Progress MS-17 is carrying over 470 kilograms of fuel, 420 liters of water and various other supplies.

The Russian space program is renowned for having sent the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1, four years earlier, and its achievements remain a major source of national pride.

But over the past decade the country has endured a series of setbacks, notably losing expensive satellites and Progress supply ships.

Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria

Updated 01 December 2023

Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria

  • The woman is suspected of having participated as a member of two foreign terrorist organizations as a teenager
  • She allegedly traveled to Syria in September 2013, where she first joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate at the time

BERLIN: German authorities said Thursday they had arrested a French woman who allegedly committed war crimes is Syria after joining the Daesh group.
Germany’s federal prosecutor said the woman, who was only identified as Samra N. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested Tuesday in the western city of Trier.
The woman is suspected of having participated as a member of two foreign terrorist organizations as a teenager, the prosecutor’s statement said.
She allegedly traveled to Syria in September 2013, where she first joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate at the time, and married one of the group’s fighters according to Islamic rites. In November 2013, the couple joined the Daesh extremist group.
Syria was in the throes of a civil war that broke out following a brutal government crackdown on pro-democracy mass protests in 2011. Protesters took up arms and the unrest eventually devolved into a civil war that drew in Islamic extremists and fighters from around the world.
While in Syria, N. allegedly tried to persuade people living in Germany to also go to Syria to become a member of Jabhat Al-Nusra. She also temporarily took in a woman who had been persuaded to leave the country in this way.
The suspect ran the household for her husband and helped him procure military equipment for Daesh, according to the charges.
On two occasions, when her husband was away on combat missions, she stayed in women’s houses that Daesh had occupied after driving out the original residents, which Germany considers a “war crime against property.”
N. returned to Germany at the beginning of 2014, but remained a member of Daesh until at least February 2015, prosecutors said. It was not immediately clear why, as a French citizen, she went to Germany.

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

Updated 30 November 2023

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition officially boycotted upcoming general elections on Thursday, removing the only party that could have offered a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth consecutive term in power.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, warning that thousands of its members had been arrested in a sweeping crackdown, said it had not applied to contest a single seat on the last day of filing candidate nominations before the Jan. 7 polls.

“We are boycotting the election,” A.K.M Wahiduzzaman, a spokesman of the party, said.

“We remained steadfast to our stand that we will not take part in any election with Sheikh Hasina in power.”

The BNP and other parties have held mass protests calling on Hasina to quit power and let a neutral government run the polls, demands the government has said are unconstitutional.

Human Rights Watch warned Monday of a “violent autocratic crackdown,” with almost 10,000 opposition activists arrested and at least 16 people killed since protests escalated in October, including two police officers.

Wahiduzzaman, accusing Hasina of having “rigged the previous two elections,” said the number arrested was even higher.

“She has arrested more than 18,090 of our leaders and supporters in an unprecedented crackdown since late Oct. 28 to rig another election,” he said.

“We won’t join any farcical election.”

Hasina has overseen massive economic growth during her 15 years in power, but there has been international alarm over democratic backsliding and thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Other key opposition parties have also said they will boycott the elections, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, and the Islami Andolon Bangladesh.

Election Commission spokesman Shariful Alam said they would confirm who was participating later.

Apart from the ruling Awami League, several smaller allied parties have said they will take part. Some BNP officials are understood to have left the party hoping to contest a seat as independents.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters.

“The government is claiming to commit to free and fair elections with diplomatic partners while the state authorities are simultaneously filling prisons with the ruling Awami League’s political opponents,” said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger

Updated 30 November 2023

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger

  • But on social media, former US secretary of state is widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world

TOKYO: Global leaders paid tribute to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Thursday, but there was also sharp criticism of the man who remained an influential figure decades after his official service as one of the most powerful diplomats in American history.

Kissinger, who died on  Wednesday at 100, drew praise as a skilled defender of US interests. On social media, though, he was widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world.

“America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices” on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone shared by many high-level officials past and present.

“I have long admired the man who fled the Nazis as a young boy from a Jewish family, then fought them in the United States Army,” Bush said in a statement. “When he later became Secretary of State, his appointment as a former refugee said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”

Kissinger served two presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and dominated foreign policy as the United States withdrew from Vietnam and established ties with China.

Criticism of Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam in 1973, was especially strong on social media, where many posted celebratory videos in reaction to his death.

A Rolling Stone magazine headline said, “Henry Kissinger, war criminal beloved by America’s ruling class, finally dies.”

Across South America, Kissinger is remembered as a key figure that helped prop up bloody military dictatorships, claiming they would put the brakes on socialism in the region. 

Documents have shown Kissinger’s and Nixon’s support for the 1973 coup that deposed Chile’s president. Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship went on to violate human rights, murder opponents, cancel elections, restrict the media, suppress labor unions and disband political parties.

“A man has died whose historical brilliance never managed to conceal his profound moral misery,” Chile’s Ambassador to the United States, Juan Gabriel Valdes, wrote on X. Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric retweeted the message.

The head of the independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, described Kissinger’s legacy as “controversial” though not widely debated in the country. Well over half of the population was born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, and even those who lived through the civil war and the group’s brutal rule recall the US involvement and its B-52 bombers, “but not Henry Kissinger,” he said.

“Henry Kissinger’s bombing campaign likely killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians — and set (a) path for the ravages of the Khmer Rouge,” Sophal Ear, a scholar at Arizona State University who studies Cambodia’s political economy, wrote on The Conversation.

Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, said their father and Kissinger enjoyed “a partnership that produced a generation of peace for our nation.”

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says

Updated 30 November 2023

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says

  • In the afternoon, rescuers had retrieved a second body from the debris
  • Police said on Telegram that a 33-year-old woman, a 38-year-old man and an eight-year-old girl could still be under the rubble

KYIV: Two people were killed, 10 were wounded and a family of three were believed to be still trapped under rubble following overnight Russian missile attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said on Thursday.
Earlier, officials had said one person was killed after six missiles struck the three settlements of Pokrovsk, Novohrodivka and Myrnohrad. In the afternoon, rescuers had retrieved a second body from the debris, according to Ukrainian police.
Police said on Telegram that a 33-year-old woman, a 38-year-old man and an eight-year-old girl could still be under the rubble of a residential building in Novohrodivka. Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said earlier 10 people, including four children, were wounded. Nine private houses, a police station, cars, and garages were damaged, he added.
Reuters could not independently verify the details.
Invading Russian forces have occupied much of Donetsk and Russia has said it intends to take over the whole region. Moscow has denied deliberately targeting civilians although many have been killed in frequent Russian air strikes.
The Ukrainian military said earlier on Thursday its air defense shot down 14 out of 20 drones in a Russian overnight strike.

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Updated 30 November 2023

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

  • The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts hints at serious threats posed by online disinformation 
  • National elections will occur in the US, Pakistan, India, Ukraine, Taiwan and other nations next year 

WASHINGTON: Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the US ahead of next year’s elections, Meta said Thursday. 

The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues. 

Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization. 

The newly identified network shows how America’s foreign adversaries exploit US-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the US, India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations. 

“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms. “Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the Internet ahead of next year’s elections, and we need to remain alert.” 

Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the US 

To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets. 

Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform’s focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust. 

For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the US election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted. 

When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests. 

And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile. 

“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta’s approach to disinformation and hate speech. “Watch what Meta does, not what they say.” 

Meta executives discussed the network’s activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections. 

But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it’s easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters. 

“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media. 

Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories. 

Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there’s little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves. 

Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.” 

Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk’s posts. 

Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned. 

Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia’s recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the US but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation. 

Nimmo, Meta’s chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America’s political debate ahead of next year’s election. 

“This is important ahead of 2024,” Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.”