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Australia toughens rules on foreign interference at universities

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November 17, 2021

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia says it has toughened foreign interference rules for universities to stop self-censorship on campuses and the covert transfer of sensitive technology, before hundreds of thousands of international students are expected to return as borders closed by the COVID-19 pandemic re-open.

International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, with China the biggest source of fee-paying students.

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Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews said on Wednesday the foreign interference guidelines will protect universities and students from “hostile foreign actors and intelligence services; who have been known to target sensitive research, muzzle debate, and intimidate foreign students”.

Australia is concerned its commercial advantage could be lost by unwanted technology transfer, and by researchers not declaring affiliations with militaries or governments in countries that don’t rank highly on transparency or democracy indices, the guidelines said.

Universities will determine which staff will be required to undergo checks on their links to foreign governments or companies.

High numbers of Chinese students at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students staying silent in fear of harassment, Human Rights Watch said in June.

The new guidelines don’t name China, but feature case studies that parallel incidents involving China and the harassment of Hong Kong protesters on Australian campuses since 2019, as well as pressure on a university from a country’s consulate to retract an academic paper on COVID-19 because it embarrassed the foreign government.

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Australia, which passed its first foreign interference law in 2018, sparking a dispute with China, defines the term as activity that is coercive, clandestine or corrupting, and distinct from the normal lobbying activity of a foreign government.

The tougher rules come after ties worsened last year when Australia called for an independent probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus, sparking trade reprisals hitting Australian goods ranging from barley and coal to wine.

The European Commission has said it is also developing foreign interference rules for European universities.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra wrote to Australia’s parliament to complain that Senator James Paterson, chair of its intelligence committee, last week gave a speech to the European Parliament outlining how Australia’s foreign interference rules were a response to the threat from China.

The “so-called security threat of China’s influence in Australia” was false information, a copy of the Chinese complaint reviewed by Reuters said.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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