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U.S. lawyers tell UK court Assange can safely be extradited

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October 27, 2021

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) -Lawyers for the United States launched a fresh attempt on Wednesday to have Julian Assange extradited from Britain, arguing that concerns about the WikiLeaks founder’s mental health should not prevent him from facing U.S. justice.

The 50-year-old Australian is wanted in the United States on 18 criminal charges, including breaking a spying law, after WikiLeaks published thousands of secret U.S. files and diplomatic cables in 2010.

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The United States is appealing against a Jan. 4 ruling by a London District Judge that Assange should not be extradited because he would likely commit suicide in a U.S. prison.

Lawyer James Lewis told the court the United States had addressed the District Judge’s concerns by making assurances to Britain regarding how Assange would be treated if extradited.

These included that he would not be subject to a set of strict detention conditions known as Special Administrative Measures and would not be detained at a maximum security penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, known as ADX.

The U.S. authorities had also assured Britain that they would consent to Assange serving in Australia any custodial sentence imposed by a U.S. court, Lewis said.

Assange, who denies any wrongdoing, is being held at Belmarsh Prison. In the morning, the court was told he felt too unwell to appear via video link, but later in the day he did appear on the screen. Wearing a shirt, tie and mask, he was sitting at a table, holding his head in his hand.

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In a court document circulated to media, Assange’s lawyers rejected the U.S. assurances, saying he could be held in another maximum security facility under oppressive conditions that would drive him to suicide.

They said Australia had given no indication it would consent to Assange being transferred there to serve a U.S. sentence, and he would be at high risk while awaiting a transfer.

“On the evidence, Mr Assange will most likely be dead before it (the proposed transfer) can have any purchase,” they wrote.

The appeal hearing is scheduled to last two days, with the judges expected to give their ruling at a later date.

‘FREE JULIAN ASSANGE’

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Supporters of Assange gathered outside the court building from early on Wednesday, chanting “free Julian Assange”, before his father and Stella Moris, his partner and mother of his two children, arrived.

Another subject of dispute in the appeal is whether the evidence of a psychiatric expert called by Assange’s defence team in the original extradition hearing was reliable.

The U.S. lawyers argue the evidence should be dismissed because the expert initially failed to disclose that Moris was Assange’s partner and that the pair had children — information they said was highly relevant to the issue of his suicide risk.

Assange’s lawyers said the District Judge had been right to take into account the expert’s evidence.

WikiLeaks came to prominence when it published vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables which the United States says put lives in danger.

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Soon afterwards Sweden sought Assange’s extradition from Britain over allegations of sex crimes. He was ordered to be sent to Sweden in 2012, but instead fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London and lived there for seven years.

He was dragged out in April 2019 and jailed for breaching his British bail conditions, although the Swedish case against him had been dropped. The U.S. authorities then sought his extradition.

Supporters see Assange as an anti-establishment hero victimised for exposing U.S. wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. prosecutors regard him as a reckless enemy of the state whose actions threatened the lives of agents named in the leaked material.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Christina Fincher and Jonathan Oatis)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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