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Belarus opposition leader placed on Russia’s wanted list

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who took refuge in Lithuania, is ‘wanted on a criminal charge’, Russian interior ministry says.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has been placed on Russia’s wanted list, the country’s interior ministry has said.

The 38-year-old, who took refuge in European Union member Lithuania following her claim to have beaten long-running leader Alexander Lukashenko in August elections, is “wanted on a criminal charge,” the Russian interior ministry told AFP on Wednesday.

The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Tikhanovskaya faces a charge in Belarus of making public calls to harm the country’s security, including calls to seize power.

Russian news agencies cited law enforcement sources as saying that her listing appeared automatically due to Moscow’s commitments as part of a “union state” with neighbouring Belarus.

Belarus has not announced Tikhanovskaya as wanted, however.

Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told the country’s Tut.by independent news site, “So far, I don’t have information that I could tell you.”

Tikhanovskaya’s campaign office told the Russian Interfax news agency: “We don’t know about this. Svetlana did not receive any messages. But this is actually of little interest [to us].”

Numerous key allies of Tikhanovskaya have been detained on the charge of making public calls to harm the country’s security or driven out of the country by threats from the authorities.

Huge crowds have gathered for protests every weekend in Belarus since the elections, despite harsh police tactics including the use of tear gas and water cannon, supporting Tikhanovskaya’s call for new elections to be held according to international standards.

Putin as ‘mediator’

A political novice until her campaign to end Lukashenko’s 26-year rule brought thousands out onto the streets of Belarus, Tikhanovskaya has recently met European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Speaking in Berlin on Wednesday, she said it was not up to Putin to decide the fate of her country but added that she would welcome his involvement in mediating the political crisis.

“We don’t want to say that Putin has to decide how to solve our problems. This is our internal problem,” she told reporters in the German parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag.

“We want to invite him to be a mediator,” she said in English.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday the Russian leader, who has strongly backed Lukashenko, had no plans to meet her.

“No contacts are being planned,” Peskov told reporters.

“Tikhanovskaya is not in Belarus. One can hardly say that she is somehow involved in Belarus’s life.

“She is meeting with various heads of state and government who consider Belarus’s sitting president illegitimate.”

The EU and the United States have refused to recognise Lukashenko’s inauguration as president last month, citing rigged polls.

EU leaders have approved sanctions against Belarus officials but not against Lukashenko himself, prompting Belarus to announce counter-sanctions against unnamed officials.

Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher by training, is campaigning against Lukashenko despite the Belarusian authorities holding her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular opposition blogger, in prison in pre-trial detention.

She sent the couple’s two young children abroad before her own departure.

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Made homeless: S Korean finance minister falls foul of own rules

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Hong Nam-ki helped enact rules to protect tenants from rising costs, but landlords have instead been replacing renters – including Hong – to raise deposits. The irony lights up social media.

South Korea’s Finance Minister, the architect of rules aimed at protecting tenants and slowing deposit increases, has himself been forced to look for a new home as landlords react to the rules by quickly replacing tenants so they can bump up deposits.

Hong Nam-ki is also faced with broadening his search as the average deposit where he lives 20 minutes from parliament has soared by a third since his housing rules took effect in July, with the irony of his predicament setting the internet alight.

“Worse comes to worst, he can camp by the Presidential Blue House, right?,” one netizen asked on a real estate forum.

Seoul apartment prices have risen more than 50 percent since the left-leaning President Moon Jae-in inherited loosened mortgage rules from the previous administration three years ago.

To slow buy-to-rent demand, the Housing Lease Protection Act, led by Hong, capped increases of “jeonse” deposits at 5 percent and allowed tenants to extend standard two-year contracts for another two, unless landlords themselves move into the property.

Jeonse is a lump-sum, returnable deposit paid instead of monthly rent. Landlords invest the deposit and pocket returns.

The Act led to an unprecedented shortage of jeonse housing nationwide as landlords sought to empty properties ahead of its implementation in July so they could increase deposits for new tenants, expecting not to be able to raise them again for four years.

In Hong’s case, his lease ends in January at which time his landlord is set to move into the property, a realtor citing an industry database told the Reuters news agency, echoing local media reports.

‘Let him suffer’

“My fellow landlords, lets not rent out to Hong, let him suffer!” wrote another netizen on the popular real estate forum. “Lets make him feel what the government has done!”

Reuters could not immediately reach Hong’s landlord for comment. A spokesman for Hong declined to comment.

South Korea’s Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki was kicked out of his own home [File: Third party via Reuters]

For a comparable three-bedroom apartment in Hong’s complex in upmarket Mapo, western Seoul, the finance minister would now face deposits that have surged 32 percent in three months to 830 million South Korean won ($731,310), showed data from Naver Real Estate.

Hong, who has served the government for more than 30 years, had a net worth of 1.06 billion won ($935,044) at the end of December, government data showed.

Schadenfreude

Hong is one of a group of senior officials popularly blamed for failing to curb runaway home prices in Asia’s fourth-largest economy even after more than 20 rounds of mortgage curbs and other steps during Moon’s tenure. In that time, median Seoul apartment prices have risen more than 50 percent, KB Bank data showed.

His forced move opened a torrent of schadenfreude, with South Koreans struggling to find affordable housing mocking Hong for being a victim of his own making.

“Dear Hong, come and live in my place. I’ll give you a good deal,” said one netizen.

“Hong’s so smart. Way to go bro. Keep playing the victim and demand a bigger job from Moon,” said another.

Hong, who doubles as deputy prime minister for economic affairs, is himself a landlord but cannot move into either of his two properties. The tenant in his apartment in Uiwang, south of Seoul, has extended the lease by two years due to the new rules. The other property, in Sejong, is under construction.

At a regular parliament audit session in early October, Hong was asked by an opposition legislator if he had found a new home.

“I haven’t found one yet,” Hong said.

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Dozens of legislators urge US to boycott Saudi Arabia-hosted G20

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Embarrassment for the kingdom, the current G20 president, as it gears up to host world leaders next month.

Forty-five legislators in the United States have urged the Trump administration to boycott next month’s G20 summit in Riyadh unless Saudi authorities address key human rights concerns, according to a correspondence released on Wednesday.

The letter from US Congress members to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes after European legislators passed a resolution this month, calling for the European Union to downgrade its attendance at the summit, also over human rights.

The developments are a source of embarrassment for the kingdom, the current G20 president, as it gears up to host world leaders next month at what is widely seen as a crucial event for Saudi international diplomacy.

Among a suite of demands, Congress members called on Riyadh to release jailed activists, end its military campaign in neighbouring Yemen, and provide accountability for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

“As the world’s leading democracy and purveyor of human rights, our government should demand dramatic changes to Saudi Arabia’s dismal record of human rights violations,” said the letter, seen by AFP news agency.

“Should the Saudi government fail to take immediate steps to address this record, we should withdraw from the Saudi-led G20 summit and commit to making human rights reforms a condition of all future dealings with Saudi Arabia’s government.”

Jan Schakowsky and Ilhan Omar, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives, were among the 45 lawmakers who signed the letter, which was supported by advocacy group Freedom Forward.

Sixty-five members of the European Parliament have also signed a letter calling for the EU to downgrade its attendance at the virtual G20 meeting.

A downgrade would imply European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the European Council President Charles Michel will not take part in the summit if they heed the call of the legislators.

There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi government or Pompeo.

‘Whitewashing’

The administration of US President Donald Trump is a key ally and supporter of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

The legislators’ letter came as Riyadh on Wednesday began a two-day Women 20 (W20) conference before the G20 summit to be held on November 21-22.

The virtual conference sought to promote women’s rights and gender equality, but came under fire from human rights campaigners angered at the ongoing detention of several female Saudi activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul.

“While courageous women are subjected to torture for peaceful activities, the Saudi government seeks to assert itself on the international stage as a ‘reforming’ power,” said the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“W20 attendees should refuse to play a role in Saudi Arabia’s whitewashing efforts, use their platform to speak up for Saudi women’s rights champions, and advocate for the end of all discrimination against women,” it said on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, the first Arab nation to host the G20 summit, had planned for a grand meeting that would showcase the ambitious modernisation drive of MBS.

But the novel coronavirus pandemic has dampened those hopes, making a physical summit impossible, as the kingdom faces international backlash over human rights.

Earlier this month marked two years since Khashoggi, the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after he entered the premises to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage.

His body, which Turkish officials say was dismembered by Saudi officers, could not be found.

Activists and human rights groups have said the murder was premeditated and carried out under the directive of MBS, a charge Riyadh denies.

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Two women stabbed at Eiffel Tower in apparent racist attack

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No information about the incident was initially released by authorities, leading to criticism from online users.

French police have launched an investigation after two women were stabbed near the Eiffel Tower in an apparent racist incident.

The victims were injured with a knife near the famous Paris monument on Sunday, after an altercation involving “an unleashed dog”.

Police confirmed in a statement that they had intervened “following a police call for help for two women with stab wounds at the Champ-de-Mars” at approximately 8pm (18:00 GMT).

Two other women were in police custody on Tuesday, according to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, and an investigation for attempted intentional homicide has been opened.

Paris firefighters confirmed on Tuesday to AFP that they intervened about 8:50pm in Paris on Sunday to rescue two women.

No information about the incident was initially released by authorities, which led to criticism from online users.

People on social media have identified the two victims as Muslim women who were wearing the hijab. Al Jazeera is attempting to verify the information.

The incident follows rising tensions in France over the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty in the Paris suburbs last Friday.

Members of the country’s Muslim community have complained of increased Islamophobia caused by a government clampdown on mosques and Muslim organisations.

More than 50 Muslim organisations are being scrutinised.

The “Cheikh Yassine Collective” has already been banned in the wake of the killing; its founder had published a video on YouTube insulting Paty.

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