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Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat

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Italy recovers eight bodies from migrant boat

Italy’s coastguard recovered the bodies of eight migrants in the Mediterranean, officials said Friday, as a debate rages over Rome’s crackdown on rescue charities in the world’s deadliest crossing.

Rescuers found the bodies of five men and three women — one of whom was pregnant — in a boat late Thursday, according to Filippo Mannino, the mayor of the tiny island of Lampedusa.

The 42 survivors on board were brought ashore, he told AFP.

The deaths come ahead of a European Council summit next week at which Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will push for greater assistance from the bloc on managing boat migrants.

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Italy’s geographical position makes it a prime destination for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe, and Rome has long complained about the number of arrivals.

Mannino said he had only been mayor six months but migrant arrivals were continuous and bodies of those who died were being brought to the island almost weekly.

“The situation is becoming truly dramatic. Europe must do something, the government must do something. I’ve lost count of the number of dead,” he said.

Nearly 5,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the start of the year, according to the interior ministry, up from just over 3,000 in the same period last year and 1,000 in 2021.

Meloni was visiting Berlin and Stockholm Friday as she attempted to rally support ahead of the summit for EU mechanisms to boost repatriations and readmissions of migrants whose asylum bids fail.

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Her new right-wing government has sought to limit the actions of charity vessels that rescue migrants, sparking criticism last week from the Council of Europe that the policy would risk lives.

Baby overboard

Charity vessels only rescue a small percentage — around 10 percent — of migrants brought to safety in Italy, with most saved by Italian coastguard or navy vessels.

But the government accuses charity ships of acting as a pull factor and encouraging people traffickers.

The migrants brought to Lampedusa late Thursday were soaked through and those who perished were believed to have died of cold and hunger, according to Italian media reports, citing translators who spoke to the survivors.

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The migrants told translators they had sailed from Sfax in Tunisia in the early hours of Saturday.

The bodies of two people were still missing, ANSA news agency said Friday.

Survivors said a four-month-old baby on board had died, and his mother in her grief had put the body in the sea. A man then jumped in to recover it, but drowned, they said, according to ANSA.

The baby’s mother was believed to be one of the three women who died.

Some 1,377 people died or went missing during the crossing last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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Hinder life-saving assistance

Rescue charities say they perform an essential role in preventing deaths at sea.

The decree law brought in by Meloni’s government at the start of January tightens the rules, obliging charity ships to only perform one rescue at a time.

They have also been routinely ordered to take survivors to ports in northern rather than southern Italy.

Those journeys are much longer and more costly and the charities warn it reduces their abilities to help those in need.

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In a letter to Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi last week, the Council of Europe warned the decree law “could hinder the provision of life-saving assistance by NGOs in the Central Mediterranean”.

It might also “be at variance with Italy’s obligations under human rights and international law”, Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic wrote.

Piantedosi insisted in a reply Wednesday that the decree was not putting lives at risk. 

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Rahul Gandhi: India’s Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi ‘thieves’ remark

Rahul Gandhi: India’s Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi ‘thieves’ remark

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Rahul Gandhi: India's Congress leader sentenced to jail for Modi 'thieves' remark

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has been sentenced to two years in prison in a criminal defamation case.

Mr Gandhi was convicted by the court in Gujarat state for 2019 comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname during an election rally.

He will not go to jail immediately – he was granted bail for 30 days and will file an appeal against the conviction.

The Congress party MP was present in court for sentencing, which comes a year before general elections are due.

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Speaking at an election rally in Karnataka state in April 2019, ahead of the last general election, Mr Gandhi had said: “Why do all these thieves have Modi as their surname? Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi.”

Nirav Modi is a fugitive Indian diamond tycoon while Lalit Modi is a former chief of the Indian Premier League who has been banned for life by the country’s cricket board. Mr Gandhi argued that he had made the comment to highlight corruption and it was not directed against any community.

The case against him was filed on the basis of a complaint by Purnesh Modi, a lawmaker from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, who said that Mr Gandhi’s comments had defamed the entire Modi community.

But some have said they are puzzled by the order.

Legal scholar Gautam Bhatia tweeted that “references to a generic class of persons” – surnames in this case – are not “actionable unless an individual can show a direct reference to themselves”.

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“If a man says ‘all lawyers are thieves’, then I, as a lawyer, cannot file a case against him for defamation unless I can show its imputation aimed at me,” Mr Bhatia said.

India’s criminal defamation law is British-era legislation under which there can be a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine or both.

Free speech advocates have often argued that the law goes against the principles of freedom and that it is is used by politicians to silence their critics.

In 2016, some top Indian politicians including Mr Gandhi filed legal pleas arguing for defamation to be decriminalised. But India’s Supreme Court upheld the validity of the law, saying that the “right to free speech cannot mean that a citizen can defame the other”.

The Congress party tweeted that Mr Gandhi would appeal and said “we will fight and win”.

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Mr Gandhi has not commented publicly yet but has tweeted a quote in Hindi from India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi: “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God, and non-violence the means to get it.”

His lawyer, Kirit Panwala, told BBC Gujarati that Mr Gandhi had told the judge after the order that he had made the speech “in favour of democracy”.

He also said that their defence of Mr Gandhi was based on four points: “Firstly, Mr Gandhi is not a resident of Gujarat and so, before the complaint, an inquiry should be conducted. Secondly, there is no community named Modi. Thirdly, there is no association of people with Modi as their surname and lastly, there was no ill intention behind Mr Gandhi’s speech.”

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Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at crowds protesting pound devaluation

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at crowds protesting pound devaluation

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Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at crowds protesting pound devaluation

Lebanese security forces on Wednesday fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters, mostly retired members of the security forces, who had gathered near government buildings in Beirut in anger at deteriorating economic conditions.

Crowds gathered in the streets of downtown Beirut between parliament and the government serail, carrying Lebanon’s tricolour or flags bearing the logos of security forces.

They were outraged at the deteriorating value of state pensions paid in the local currency. The pound has lost more than 98% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019.

“Our kids are hungry. We’re hungry,” said Mohamad el-Khateeb, a 59-year-old who had served in the army for 32 years.

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“We left the army with nothing. No healthcare, no welfare, our kids are out of school and prices are rising obscenely. What do you expect?” Khateeb told Reuters.

Some of the men tried to cross one of the checkpoints leading to a government building, prompting security forces to fire tear gas to keep them back, according to a Reuters witness.

Protesters dashed away from white clouds emanating from locations around the serail. One soldier was seen treating a young boy who was affected by the tear gas.

“If he fires on us, he’s firing on our rights and on his rights at the same time,” said army veteran Ahmad Mustafa, 60.

“He’s suffering just like me,” he told Reuters, clutching two of the tear gas canisters fired just moments earlier.

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There was no immediate statement from the Lebanese army.
Lebanon’s economic meltdown began in 2019 after decades of profligate spending and alleged corruption. Its onset prompted the most wide-ranging protests the country had seen in years, but they fizzled out and rallies have been sporadic since.

The country’s top financial and political leaders have allowed the crisis to fester, with the Lebanese pound hitting an all-time low of 140,000 to the U.S. dollar on Tuesday before an intervention by the country’s central bank.

Lebanon’s army troops and members of the security forces are receiving salary support in U.S. dollars from the United States and Qatar for the first time.

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Four killed in Russian drone strike on Kyiv region, officials say

Four killed in Russian drone strike on Kyiv region, officials say

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Four killed in Russian drone strike on Kyiv region, officials say

 At least four people were killed early on Wednesday in a Russian drone strike near Kyiv which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said showed Moscow was not interested in peace.

The State Emergency Service said on the Telegram messaging app that two dormitories and an educational facility in Rzhyshchiv, 40 miles (64 km) south of the capital, had been partially destroyed in the overnight attack.

Regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said 20 people had been taken to hospital and several were still missing following a series of explosions after 3 a.m. (0100 GMT) that killed four people.

A large part of the top floor of a five-storey dormitory building had been knocked out by the attack. Workers in white helmets and reflective jackets clambered through the rubble of another badly damaged building.

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“We see that the enemy has once again attacked civilian infrastructure (and) innocent people have died,” Nebytov wrote on Telegram, adding that one of the victims was an ambulance driver who had arrived to help.

State emergency officials said the search for survivors was continuing after attacks that the Ukrainian military said involved Iranian-made Shahed drones.

“Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling incidents, and that’s just in one last night of Russian terror against Ukraine,” Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter.

“Every time someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes.”

The Ukrainian military said it had shot down 16 of the 21 drones launched at Ukraine overnight from the north.

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Russia, which invaded Ukraine 13 months ago, did not immediately comment on the latest attacks.

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