Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as strikes continue

Rushdi Abu Alouf,David GrittenShare

Reuters A man and a young boy walk among ruins in Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly reached the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and seized a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Witnesses and local journalists said tanks were stationed at al-Awda roundabout, which is considered a key landmark.

They also said tanks were on Zoroub Hill, effectively giving Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a narrow strip of land running along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military said its troops were continuing activities against “terror targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Western areas of the city also came under intense bombardment overnight, residents said, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and a resulting fire on Sunday that killed dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the vicinity.

It also denied reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon that tank shells had hit another camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people.

Reuters news agency cited local health officials as saying the blast occurred after Israeli tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official in the Hamas-run civil defence force also told AFP there had been a deadly Israeli strike on tents.

Videos posted to social media and analysed by BBC Verify showed multiple people with serious injuries, some lying motionless on the ground, near tents and other temporary structures.

There was no clear sign of a blast zone or crater, making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the incident. The location – verified through reference to surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and lies south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone.

The IDF said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi.”

Israel has insisted that victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without taking Rafah and rejected warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The UN says around a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand more could still be sheltering there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the east of Rafah on 6 May.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually pushed into built-up eastern and central areas while also moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they reportedly reached the city centre for the first time.

The al-Awda roundabout, which is only 800m (2,600 ft) from the border, is the location of major banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

One witness said they saw soldiers position themselves at the top of a building overlooking the roundabout and then begin to shoot at anyone who was moving.

Video posted online meanwhile showed tank track marks on a road about 3km west of al-Awda roundabout and 300m from the Indonesian field hospital, which was damaged overnight.

Reuters A Palestinian girl sits on top of possessions being transported by a cart in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
The UN says around a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the Israeli ground operation in the city

Earlier, residents told the BBC that tanks seized Zoroub Hill, about 2.5km north-west of al-Awda roundabout, after gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

The hill is highest point along the Egyptian border and its seizure means the entire Gazan side of the border is now effectively under Israeli control.

Zoroub Hill also overlooks western Rafah, where residents said there had been the heaviest air and artillery strikes overnight since the start of the Israeli operation.

A local journalist said the bombardment forced hundreds of families to seek temporary shelter in the courtyard of a hospital, while ambulances struggled to reach casualties in the affected areas.

At dawn, thousands of people were seen heading north, crammed into cars and lorries and onto carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“The explosions are rattling our tent, my children are frightened, and my sick father makes it impossible for us to escape the darkness,” resident Khaled Mahmoud told the BBC.

“We are supposed to be in a safe zone according to the Israeli army, yet we have not received evacuation orders like those in the eastern [Rafah] region,” he added. “We fear for our lives if no-one steps in to protect us.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not comment on the various reports but put out a statement saying that “overnight troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area”.

“The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area,” it added.

“The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

The IDF has told civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate for their own safety to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, a coastal area just north of Rafah, to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

EPA A Palestinian woman reacts next to tents destroyed by a fire triggered by an Israeli air strike in western Rafah on Sunday, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
Israel’s prime minister said the killing of civilians in an air strike and resulting fire in Rafah on Sunday was a “tragedy”

On Sunday night, at least 45 people – more than half of them children, women and the elderly – were killed when an Israeli air strike triggered a huge fire in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF said it was targeting two senior Hamas officials in the attack, which happened hours after Hamas fighters in south-eastern Rafah launched rockets towards the Israeli city of Tel Aviv for the first time in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic incident” had occurred “despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants” and promised a thorough investigation.

IDF chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a structure used by the Hamas commanders which was away from any tents, using “two munitions with small warheads”.

“Following this strike, a large fire ignited for reasons that are still being investigated. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Rear Adm Hagari added that investigators were looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby structure, and played what he said was an intercepted telephone conversation between two Gazans suggesting that. The audio recording could not immediately be verified.

Sam Rose of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, told the BBC from western Rafah that the killing of so many civilians could not be dismissed as an accident.

“Gaza was already one of the most overcrowded places on the planet. It is absolutely impossible to prosecute a military campaign involving large-scale munitions, strikes from the sky, the sea, the tanks, without exacting large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“It seems like we are plumbing new depths of horror, bloodshed and brutality with every single day. And if this isn’t a wake-up call, then it’s hard to see what will be.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Russian plot to kill Zelensky foiled, Kyiv says

Telegram/SBU Footage shows a man being arrested
Ukraine said it arrested two Ukrainian officials who worked with the Russian security services

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) says it has foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Two Ukrainian government protection unit colonels have been arrested.

The SBU said they were part of a network of agents belonging to the Russian state security service (FSB).

They had reportedly been searching for willing “executors” among Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards to kidnap and kill him.

Ever since Russian paratroopers attempted to land in Kyiv and assassinate President Zelensky in the early hours and days of the full-scale invasion, plots to assassinate him have been commonplace.

The Ukrainian leader said at the start of the invasion he was Russia’s “number one target”.

But this alleged plot stands out from the rest. It involves serving colonels, whose job it was to keep officials and institutions safe, allegedly hired as moles.

Other targets included military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov and SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk, the agency added.

The group had reportedly planned to kill Mr Budanov before Orthodox Easter, which this year fell on 5 May.

According to the SBU, the plotters had aimed to use a mole to get information about his location, which they would then have attacked with rockets, drones and anti-tank grenades.

One of the officers who was later arrested had already bought drones and anti-personnel mines, the SBU said.

Telegram/SBU An anti-tank grenade
The SBU said it found various ordnance, including an anti-tank grenade, on the plotters

SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said the attack was supposed to be “a gift to Putin before the inauguration” – referring to Russia’s Vladimir Putin who was sworn in for a fifth term as president at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

The operation turned into a failure of the Russian special services, Mr Malyuk said.

“But we must not forget – the enemy is strong and experienced, he cannot be underestimated,” he added.

The two Ukrainian officials are being held on suspicion of treason and of preparing a terrorist act.

The SBU said three FSB employees oversaw the organisation and the attack.

One of them, named as Dmytro Perlin, had been recruiting “moles” since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another FSB employee, Oleksiy Kornev, reportedly held “conspiratorial” meetings “in neighbouring European states” before the invasion with one of the Ukrainian colonels arrested.

In a released interrogation with one of the suspects, they can be heard describing how they were paid thousands of dollars directly by parcels or indirectly through their relatives. It is not clear whether he was speaking under duress or not.

Investigators insist they monitored the men throughout. We are unlikely to know how close they came to carrying out their alleged plan.

The plot may read like a thriller but it is also a reminder of the risks Ukraine’s wartime leader faces.

Last month, a Polish man was arrested and charged with planning to co-operate with Russian intelligence services to aid a possible assassination of Mr Zelensky.

At the weekend Ukraine’s president appeared on the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list on unspecified charges.

The foreign ministry in Kyiv condemned the move as showing “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda”, and pointed out that the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest.

China bubble tea chain plunges in Hong Kong debut

Getty Images Woman drinking bubble tea.Getty ImagesChabaidao means 100 varieties of tea

Shares in Chinese bubble tea chain Sichuan Baicha Baidao, which is also known as Chabaidao, have fallen by more than 26% in their first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Chabaidao’s market debut was the Asian financial hub’s largest initial public offering (IPO) so far this year.

The poor performance underscores the difficulties the city is facing in attracting investment.

Chabaidao, which means 100 varieties of tea, is China’s third-biggest fresh tea drinks chain by retail sales.

The Chengdu-based company raised about $330m (£267m) in the IPO even as the offering was met with tepid interest from investors.

The firm said it plans to use about half the money to upgrade its operations and strengthen its supply chain.

Rival bubble tea firms Mixue, Guming and Auntea Jenny have also said they are planning to sell shares in Hong Kong.

However, Chabaidao’s weak debut highlights the challenges faced by authorities as they attempt to revive confidence in the city’s stock market.

Investors are concerned about Hong Kong’s recovery from the pandemic and its national security legislation as well as slowing economic growth in China.

Last year, the amount of money raised by IPOs in Hong Kong slumped to the lowest level in two decades.

The city’s benchmark Hang Seng share index has lost over 16% of its value in the last year.

Last week, China’s securities regulator said it will support share offerings in Hong Kong.

The watchdog also plans to relax regulations rules on stock trading links between the city and the mainland as it tries to boost Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub.

First openly gay top-flight male soccer star proposes to partner on home pitch

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 17: Joshua Cavallo of Adelaide United looks on during the A-League Mens match between Western United and Adelaide United at AAMI Park, on December 17, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo looks on during the Australian A-League match between Western United and Adelaide United at AAMI Park, on December 17, 2021, in Melbourne, Australia. Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Josh Cavallo, the first top-flight male professional soccer star to come out as gay, has blazed a new trail by proposing to his partner on the pitch of his club.

The Australian player made history in 2021 when he posted an emotional online video of him coming out and vowing to change the sport’s culture “to show that everyone is welcome in the game of football.”

His announcement was hailed as a watershed moment in a sport with a long and troubled history of entrenched homophobia, particularly in the men’s game.

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Since then, Cavallo, 24, has become one of the most recognizable faces in the sport and an outspoken advocate for greater equality for the LGBTQ community.

On Thursday, he announced that he had proposed to his fiancée at Coopers Stadium, home pitch of his Australian A-League team Adelaide United.

Alongside a picture of him down on one knee, holding out a ring, Cavallo declared in a post on X: “Starting this year with my fiancée.”

Other photos showed the player beaming while his partner covered his eyes and a close-up of the two holding hands.

Cavallo thanked his team “for helping set up this surprise.”

You have provided a safe space in football, one that I never in my dreams thought could ever be possible,” he wrote on X, adding that he wanted to “share this special moment on the pitch, where it all started.”

Since coming out, Cavallo has played in A-League Pride matches with the name and number on his jersey printed in rainbow colors to raise awareness, and has constantly posted encouraging messages on social media.

He was named “Man of the Year” in 2022 at an awards ceremony hosted by Attitude Magazine, Europe’s largest LGBTQ magazine publication.

Cavallo spoke out against FIFA’s decision two years ago to ban players from wearing “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup held in Qatar during an interview with CNN, saying that move made him feel “excluded.”

He didn’t make the Socceroo’s final squad, but at the time said he wished to see the Australian captain wear the armband in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

“If I had been there and I had been the captain, yes, I would have worn the armband. I’m not ashamed to be who I am,” Cavallo told CNN in 2022.

“And it’s exactly the reason why I’ve come out and to be the person I am today,” he added.

Professional soccer has made strong gains in tackling homophobia and racism in recent years and launched multiple campaigns but prejudice remains entrenched among some fans, clubs and players.

According to a report of the 2022-23 season released by Kick It Out, the English football anti-discrimination group said it received 1,007 reports of discriminatory behaviour, a 65.1% rise on the previous season.

While racism was the most prevalent form of discrimination, Kick It Out said research undertaken by Signify, which investigates online threat and disinformation, had identified “peaks of homophobic and misogynistic abuse targeting several high-profile WSL [Women’s Super League] players,” even as the game’s authorities continue to promote a number of campaigns tackling homophobia and promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion.

To this day there are still very few professional male footballers who have come out as gay.

Earlier this week Austria’s national squad announced it had not selected three Rapid Vienna soccer players for duty after video emerged of the players taking part in post-match celebrations shouting homophobic chants with a selection of the crowd.

However there have been high profile comments and interventions by prominent footballers calling for more tolerance and diversity.

Last year Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale said that he could no longer remain silent over homophobic abuse in football out of love and respect for his brother, who is gay. 
“I want my brother… – or anyone of any sexuality, race or religion – to come to games without having to fear abuse.”

The questions eating disorder experts have about weight loss medications

There is little research on the connection between eating disorders and weight loss medications such as semaglutide, experts say.
There is little research on the connection between eating disorders and weight loss medications such as semaglutide, experts say. Johner Images/Getty ImagesCNN — 

There is still much researchers don’t know about popular weight loss medications — and those lack of studies could have consequences for eating disorders, according to experts.

The medication semaglutide, sold under brand names such as Ozempic and Wegovy, is a kind of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist or GLP-1 agonist. While originally prescribed for diabetes, semaglutide is becoming more and more popular for weight loss.

As the medication become more available, experts said they worry about the impact of these weight loss products on eating disorders.

“We noticed clinically that we were getting more and more people into our clinical services that had been started on GLP-1 agonists and had experienced new onset or worsening eating disorder symptoms,” said Dr. Aaron Keshen, codirector of the Nova Scotia Provincial Eating Disorder Service and assistant professor in the Dalhousie University’s department of psychiatry in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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Eating disorders affect nearly 1 in 10 people in the United States, according to the nonprofit National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, which provides support services for people with these conditions. Next to opioid addiction, it has the second-highest crude mortality rate of any mental illness, the association said.

The possibility that GLP-1 agonists could make eating disorders worse or more prevalent “makes us have to go really slowly and be very thoughtful about when we might prescribe them,” said Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, an eating disorder physician and founder and medical director of the Gaudiani Clinic in Denver.

The scope of research on the connection between eating disorders and weight loss medications is quite slim, leaving experts with many unanswered questions, said Dr. Susan McElroy, chief research officer at the Lindner Center of HOPE and the Linda and Harry Fath endowed professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

“I view eating disorders as the last frontier in psychiatry,” she added. “The eating disorder field is hard because we’re just ignored.”

Can these drugs treat binge eating disorder?

Are there cases in which these medications actually help eating disorder patients? Perhaps, experts said.

Generally, if a medication causes weight loss, there is a good chance it will also reduce binge eating, McElroy said.

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. But as with anorexia and bulimia nervosa, there isn’t enough research into how to treat it with medication, she added.

“We desperately need more compounds to treat people with eating disorders,” McElroy said.

These medications could help in theory, but they have not been approved for treating binge eating disorder, she added.

“There is a little bit of preliminary evidence that maybe GLP-1 agonists could reduce binge symptoms in some individuals,” Keshen said, “but the evidence is fairly weak at this point, and it’s certainly not enough to recommend that people take GLP-1 agonists for binge eating.”

Keshen and McElroy worked on a 2023 paper published in the International Journal of Eating disorders that reviewed the existing literature on GLP-1 agonists and eating disorders. The studies they found on binge eating disorder were small, and many didn’t test against a placebo, Keshen said.

“More research needs to be done,” he added. “And that may happen in the future.”

Can they bring an eating disorder back?

Eating disorders happen in people of all shapes, sizes and health conditions — so doctors may prescribe these medications unknowingly to those with a history of or even an active eating disorder, Gaudiani said.

“Their ability to perhaps pay for a medication that causes weight loss, while potentially causing medical complications, is concerning,” she said.

Gaudiani said she has heard anecdotal evidence of people in remission for an eating disorder have it reignited after taking a GLP-1 agonist.

Eating disorders are complicated biopsychosocial illnesses, Gaudiani said, and the process of losing weight might trigger increased restrictive dieting, which can bring up “old gremlins.”

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Additionally, these medications suppress appetite. Feeling full too quickly or feeling sick after only eating a little can disconnect a person from their innate hunger and fullness cues, she added.

“If somebody has had a history of an eating disorder, or indeed just has temperamental traits, and is surrounded by a society that is extremely focused on weight loss and fatphobia, and they begin to lose weight,” Gaudiani said, “it’s not unimaginable but that could devolve into something that becomes quite obsessive and quite mentally and physically unhealthy for them.”

Can they unleash a new monster?

With little research on the topic, experts can’t say if GLP-1 agonists would make it more likely for someone to develop an eating disorder, but there are reasons to be concerned, Gaudiani said.

“A lot of eating disorders do begin with restricted food intake and weight loss,” she said. “The act of reducing caloric intake and the act of losing weight physiologically have been proven to trigger eating disorder behaviors, even in those who wouldn’t otherwise be considered temperamentally or socially prone to them.”

Gaudiani pointed to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of 1944 in which individuals volunteered to undergo starvation so researchers could experiment with the best refeeding methods.

There was an effect that researchers didn’t expect when the volunteers were starved, she said. They became obsessed with food, reading cookbooks, chewing gum constantly, cutting the food they ate into little pieces to spend longer eating, and judging people in restaurants they deemed gluttonous.

“In short, (they were) acting like someone with anorexia,” Gaudiani said. “There’s something about our brains that fundamentally change when we get inadequate calories and lose weight.”

There is also a risk for behaviors such as bulimia, Keshen added. If people have a suppressed appetite, they may not eat at all during the day and then binge at night — which could then result in purging behaviors, he said.

“Perhaps a degree of moderate weight loss is a healthy outcome for some individuals,” Keshen said, “but it’s never going to be a healthy outcome to achieve rapid weight loss due to excessive pathological dietary restriction.”

How to protect those vulnerable to eating disorders

First, health care providers prescribing these medications need to screen for a history of eating disorders, active eating disorders and even vulnerability for an eating disorder, Keshen said.

“It may be worth trying to treat the eating disorder first, or perhaps not using a GLP-1 agonist at all in that patient,” he said.

If a doctor and patient choose to move forward with medication, it is important they also go over information about eating disorders and the importance of eating structured meals, Keshen said.

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Nourishment is something people on appetite-suppressing medication should review regularly with themselves, Gaudiani said.

“Humans, like all mammals, need to nourish throughout the day to have the energy to do with our body and minds what we want to do, and so we have to check, ‘Am I eating enough?’” she said. “‘How often am I thinking about food and body?’”

If those with histories of eating disorders find themselves reverting to old behaviors while taking GLP-1 agonists, they should contact their doctors and therapists, Gaudiani said.

And for those who haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder, or who might not even reach the threshold of one, if thoughts of weight and food are distracting from goals and priorities, it may be time to seek an eating disorder expert if resources are available, she said.

“If not, going on eating disorder treatment websites or listening to podcasts can just help bring some support and clarity to what’s going on,” Gaudiani said.

Senegal’s president backtracks on elections delay after top court rejects attempt

Tension has been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote to postpone elections to December 15.

Tension has been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote to postpone elections to December 15. John Wessels/AFP via Getty ImagesCNN — 

Senegal’s outgoing president Macky Sall Friday said he would hold presidential elections “as soon as possible” one day after the West African country’s constitutional council ruled against his decision to postpone elections.

“The President of the Republic has taken note of this decision which lies within the framework of the normal jurisdiction mechanism of a democracy and the rule of law sanctioned by the Senegalese constitution,” Sall’s office said in a statement.

“The head of state will conduct necessary consultations to hold the presidential election as soon as possible,” the statement added.

Sall was under pressure to react once the top court Thursday rejected his bid to delay elections until the end of the year. Civil society groups were also planning fresh demonstrations this weekend to double down on their demand for immediate elections.
Senegalese citizens have taken to the streets in anger since Sall postponed the polls leading to clashes between police and protesters in which at least 3 people have died, according to local media reports.

Senegalese riot police lobs tear gas at supporters of opposition presidential candidate Daouda Ndiaye in Dakar, Senegal, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

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In its ruling, the constitutional court said “neither the president nor the parliament can postpone a presidential election; only the Constitutional Council, acting as judge of the legality of all national elections, has the power to do so.”

The decision was widely welcomed amid fears Sall was trying to illegally extend his hold on power.

“I am not at all surprised [by the decision] and for me it’s a satisfaction,” scholar and leader of the coalition “Protect our election” Babacar Gueye told French radio station RFI Friday.

Rising tensions

Tensions have been rising in Senegal following the parliament’s controversial vote at the beginning of February to postpone the election to December 15. Several opposition lawmakers were unable to take part in the vote after being forcibly removed from the legislative chamber during the debate.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) urged all parties in Senegal to comply with the constitutional council’s decision.

“The Commission calls on the political class and all stakeholders to show restraint and give priority to inclusive dialogue to preserve the democratic gains of this model ECOWAS Member state,” the regional bloc said in a statement Friday.

Thursday’s ruling coincided with the release of several political detainees.

A government mediator, Pierre Goudiaby Atépa, told RFI that Sall was considering releasing “nearly a thousand” political detainees, including prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who enjoys widespread support among Senegalese youth, “in the coming days.”

Sonko was barred from the polls after the Senegalese Supreme Court upheld his conviction over a defamation case. Protests flared after his sentencing on a separate charge last year, leaving at least 16 people dead.

One of the freed detainees, Cheikh Oumar Diagne of the opposition Rally for Truth party kicked against the proposed dialogue while demanding that elections be held instead.

“We have a country to build and criminals to neutralize. Tell Macky that the last thing he needs to do in this ending term is an election not a dialogue!”, Diagne said in a Facebook post after his release.

“No to presidential election postponement”, said another released opposition leader Aboubacar Djamil Sané of the PASTEF Party, who had been imprisoned for seven months.

Russia and Ukraine exchange air attacks after sinking of Russian warship

A woman inspects damage to a school in Lviv following Russian attacks on Thursday.

A woman inspects damage to a school in Lviv following Russian attacks on Thursday. Roman Baluk/ReutersCNN — 

Russia and Ukraine exchanged air attacks on Thursday, with Moscow targeting cities across Ukraine and Kyiv striking the Russian border city of Belgorod, one day after Kyiv said it sank another Russian warship off the coast of Crimea.

At least seven people were reported injured after attacks on Kyiv, Lviv and the eastern city of Zaporizhzhia, and infastructure facilities were damaged, in a string of attacks launched by Russia early on Thursday.

Hours later, Russian authorities said five people were killed and 18 injured, in a missile strike on the Russian city of Belgorod. The regional governor Vyacheselv Gladkov also said that seven homes were damaged.

The city, which sits near the border with northeast Ukraine, has been a hotspot of Russia’s war, as Kyiv looks to bring the conflict home to the Russian people in an effort to dent domestic support for their country’s invasion.

The latest series of strikes follows the damage to Russia’s landing ship Caesar Kunikov, which was attacked with “MAGURA” V5 drones that punctured “critical holes” on its left side before sinking, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said on Telegram. Russia has not disclosed if there were casualties in that attack.

Russian authorities in Belgorod following Ukraine's attack on the border city.

Russian authorities in Belgorod following Ukraine’s attack on the border city. Governor of Belgorod Region Vyacheslav Gladkov/Telegram/Reuters

In Zaporizhzhia, the secretary of the city council, Anatolii Kurtiev, said at least four people had been injured and an infrastructure facility damaged. “It is also currently known that apartment buildings, an educational institution, and the premises of a trade facility were damaged,” he said.

The head of the Lviv regional military administration, Maksym Kozytskyi, said strikes had landed in the city injuring at least three people and causing damage to buildings.

“A hit to an infrastructure facility in Lviv was documented. The fire continues,” he said, adding, “in 16 residential buildings on Naukova Street, part of the windows were blown out by the blast wave, cars parked nearby were damaged.”

The Russian Navy's large landing ship Caesar Kunikov sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik

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In Kyiv, the city military administration said missiles had approached the city from multiple directions but that no significant damage or deaths had been reported.

“The air raid alert in the capital lasted for more than 2 hours.  All enemy missiles flying at Kyiv were destroyed by the forces and means of air defense,” the administration said.

Ukraine’s attack on the warship Wednesday was the latest in a series of Ukrainian strikes on Russia’s navy, as it tries to land both strategic and symbolic blows against Russian forces that annexed Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine claimed last week that they had disabled about a third of Russia’s warships in the Black Sea, amounting to 24 disabled ships and one submarine. The landing ship Caesar Kunikov would be the 25th disabled ship, according to Ukraine’s count.

Ukraine’s strikes on Belgorod on Thursday are the latest in a series of attacks on the city, which has been dragged into Moscow’s conflict.

Ukrainian attacks on Russian regions near the border have continued almost daily for over a year, sometimes resulting in civilian casualties. At the end of last year Russia claimed Ukraine killed 24 people in shelling on Belgorod.

Kyiv is increasingly using drones to level the playing field with Russia. Ukraine’s former top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, stressed the importance of drones in a CNN op-ed written earlier this month before he was removed from his post last week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“It is these unmanned systems – such as drones – along with other types of advanced weapons, that provide the best way for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a positional war, where we do not possess the advantage,” Zaluzhnyi wrote.

Ex-army strongman leader claims victory in Indonesian presidential election

Prabowo Subianto attends a campaign event in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 27, 2024.

Prabowo Subianto attends a campaign event in Jakarta, Indonesia on January 27, 2024. Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesCNN — 

A former army general with a controversial past has claimed victory in Indonesia’s presidential election.

Unofficial results show Prabowo Subianto, 72, winning nearly 60% of the vote – enough to avoid a presidential runoff – with around 85% of votes counted, according to state-owned news organization Antara, CNN affiliate CNN Indonesia and Reuters, which are reporting early counts done by a series of non-government think tanks. Ballot stations closed across the country early on Wednesday afternoon.

Prabowo, billed as the frontrunner ahead of Wednesday’s contest, told supporters in Jakarta, he and running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is the eldest son of President Joko Widodo, would govern “for all the people of Indonesia.”

“Although we are grateful, we must not be arrogant, we must not be euphoric, we must remain humble. This victory must be a victory for all Indonesian people,” Prabowo declared. “I will lead together with Gibran to nurture, protect and defend all the people of Indonesia, regardless of tribe, ethnic group, race and religion and social background, the people of Indonesia are our responsibility to protect.”

Popular former governor Anies Beswadan was running second with fewer than 22% of the votes, with rival Ganjar Pranowo in third, according to the unofficial early count.

Both their teams have disputed the early results and said it is too early to call the election, according to party spokespeople quoted by Reuters.

A woman casts her ballot to vote in Indonesia's presidential and legislative elections at a polling station in Banjar Teba, Jimbaran on the resort island of Bali on February 14, 2024.

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CNN cannot independently verify the early polls, though counts by reputable thinktanks have proved accurate during previous Indonesian elections.

During his speech Wednesday, Prabowo called for supporters to “calmly wait” for the official vote to be declared by the country’s election commission, which will publish its official results in March.

Deadly riots broke out after the last election in 2019 when Prabowo, who lost, contested the results.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and home to the world’s largest Muslim population. More than 200 million people across 38 provinces were eligible to cast their votes on Wednesday, in what was billed as the world’s biggest single-day election.

However, running a vote in the world’s largest archipelagic nation is a huge effort. The country is wider than the United States and straddles three time zones. It is made up of over 18,000 islands and islets, of which 6,000 are inhabited, and over 150 languages spoken across its breadth.

Young voters have been key to this year’s vote, experts note, with around half of registered voters being under the age of 40, according to the General Election Commission.

Gibran, who took the stage after Prabowo, acknowledged the impact of youth voters in during the election, telling supporters that in “the future we will involve young people.”

What will a Prabowo presidency mean?

Prabowo hails from an elite political family and his past is controversial, especially his time during years of the late dictator Suharto, who was also his former father-in-law. Accusations of human rights violations in his military past have dogged him throughout his political career.

His father Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, was a former Finance and Trade minister and his grandfather Margono founded the state Bank Negara Indonesia and led a presidential advisory council.

He enrolled in Indonesia’s Military Academy in 1970 and went on to become a special forces commander where he led missions against pro-independence groups during Indonesia’s ruthless 24-year military occupation of East Timor.

He is also alleged to have ordered the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in the final months of Suharto’s authoritarian regime.

He has since transformed himself into a supporter of Indonesia’s vibrant democracy, building an image more recently as a friendly but dependable grandfather figure, and has been a major player within politics over the last decade.

He ran for president in 2014 and 2019 but lost both times to outgoing president Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi.

The two former rivals then shelved their differences when Jokowi brought Prabowo into his cabinet as defense minister.

This year, he teamed up with Jokowi’s eldest son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as his vice presidential pick – a controversial decision that also sparked heated criticism of Jokowi over alleged interference as he prepares to leave the presidency.

“It is widely expected for the president to remain neutral in elections,” said Leena Rikkilä Tamang, Asia Pacific Director at International IDEA. “A Prabowo win will also be seen as “a continuation of Jokowi’s policies.”

Prabowo supporters at a campaign rally in Jakarta on February 10.

Prabowo supporters at a campaign rally in Jakarta on February 10. Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Prabowo’s popularity has risen since the 2019 election, experts note, owing largely to Jokowi’s tacit support.

Jokowi, who came from humble origins and campaigned as a break from Indonesia’s traditional wealthy elites, oversaw impressive economic growth and will leave office popular. But Indonesia also backslid on human rights and on corruption indexes during his time in office. Prabowo very much positioned himself as a successor to Jokowi’s legacy.

“Concerns (about a Prabowo presidency) will focus on the potential for an increase in illiberal actions as he has previously advocated for removing presidential term limits, ending direct presidential elections and curtailing human rights protections,” said Laura Schwartz, Senior South East Asia Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft. “Such developments would dent Indonesia’s reputation and its ability to attract foreign investment.”

As Indonesia prepares for next month’s presidential and legislative elections, a video that uses artificial intelligence to resurrect the image and voice of the late longtime dictator Suharto has sparked a debate over the ethical and legal implications of using such technology for political campaigns.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />The video, posted on social media Sunday by a politician from the Golkar Party, which was founded by Suharto, shows a lifelike simulation of the former president, wearing a batik shirt and urging voters to vote for Golkar candidates.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />Suharto, a former army general, rose to power amid a bloodbath of nationwide turmoil in the mid-1960s and held power for 32 years before his fall in 1998 ushered in a new era of democracy in Southeast Asia’s largest country.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />“I am President Suharto, the second president of Indonesia, inviting you to elect representatives of the people from Golkar,” the digital Suharto says in the video, which was posted on Instagram and X by Erwin Aksa, the party’s deputy chairman.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />The video, which was created by the party, according to an Indonesian news report, has been viewed at least 4.5 million times on the social media platform since it was posted on Jan. 6.

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Zachary Abuza, a professor in Southeast Asian politics and security issues at the National War College in Washington, DC, told CNN Prabowo “has worked really hard to reinvent himself and to whitewash his past.”

Having a former military man at the helm could signal a return to the dark days of authoritarian rule, he added. “Jokowi surrounded himself with many army generals and had a tendency to ‘securitize’ many problems such as the (coronavirus) pandemic but things could get worse with Prabowo,“ Abuza said.

“I think he would go into the ranks of retired military men for his advisors and cabinet officials. But the bigger concern is that he would accelerate the return of the military.”

Voters in Jakarta told CNN that this year’s result could also signal the return of “dynasty politics.” Yohanes Gregorius Tukan, 41, said Prabowo and Gibran’s campaign showed “nuanced nepotism and corruption.” Another voter, Kuncoro Rikoni, feared “a return to authoritarian rule.”

“We do not want to lose the democracy that we have fought for with blood and tears in 1998.”

Finland’s presidential election won by ex-prime minister Alexander Stubb

National Coalition Party candidate Alexander Stubb pictured at an election night event in Helsinki on Sunday.

National Coalition Party candidate Alexander Stubb pictured at an election night event in Helsinki on Sunday. Tom Little/ReutersHelsinki, FinlandReuters — 

Alexander Stubb of the center-right National Coalition Party narrowly won Finland’s presidential election on Sunday, defeating liberal Green Party member Pekka Haavisto, who conceded defeat.

Stubb is pro-European and a strong supporter of Ukraine who has taken a tough stance towards Russia.

He declared himself winner in the run-off vote after securing 51.6% of the votes as 99.7% of ballots had been counted, against Haavisto’s 48.4%, justice ministry data showed.

Finland’s new head of state will be responsible for its security and foreign policy, including the recently approved NATO member’s stance towards Russia, with which it shares a long border.

In televised remarks Stubb called his victory “the greatest honor” of his life.

“The feeling is calm, humble but of course at the same time I am extremely happy and grateful that the Finns in such large numbers have voted and that I get to serve as president of the Republic of Finland,” he said.

Stubb, a former prime minister, had won the first round on January 28 with 27.2% of the vote ahead of Haavisto on 25.8%. He has also led Haavisto in opinion surveys, most recently by 6-8 percentage points.

Haavisto congratulated Stubb as “the 13th president of Finland.”

“I believe Finland now gets a good president for the republic. Alexander Stubb is an experienced, competent person for the job. No more babble,” he said.

National Coalition Party (NCP) Presidential candidate Alexander Stubb, center, reacts to the results of the advance votes at his election reception in Helsinki, Finland, February 11, 2024.

National Coalition Party (NCP) Presidential candidate Alexander Stubb, center, reacts to the results of the advance votes at his election reception in Helsinki, Finland, February 11, 2024. Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva/Reuters

The vote marks a new era in Finland, which for decades has elected presidents to foster diplomacy, in particular with neighboring Russia, and opted not to join military alliances so it could soothe tensions between Moscow and NATO.

But Finns changed their minds after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, in a rapid U-turn that led to the country joining NATO in April last year.

Now under the Western alliance’s security umbrella, Stubb will replace Sauli Niinisto, who is retiring after two six-year terms in which he earned the nickname “the Putin Whisperer” for his previous close ties with the Russian leader.

Stubb will have a central role in defining Finland’s NATO policies, while taking the lead on overall foreign and security policy in close cooperation with the government and acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

“Warm congratulations to Alexander Stubb. Finland is our close friend and partner,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a post on X.

Lauri, a 36-year-old IT worker who voted in Helsinki, named Russia as the main task the new president will face.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier this month.

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“Obviously we all know that we are in a difficult position nowadays looking at Russia, the entire turbulence in the world today. So I think that’s the biggest threat and biggest issue that we have,” he told Reuters on Saturday.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Stubb said there would be no Russian pillar in Finland’s foreign policy for now.

“Politically, there will be no relations with the president of Russia or with the Russian political leadership until they stop the war in Ukraine.”

Stubb is in favor of deep NATO cooperation, such as allowing the transport of nuclear weapons across Finnish soil and placing some NATO troops permanently in Finland. He does not support storing nuclear weapons in Finland, however.

“At times, a nuclear weapon is a guarantee of peace,” Stubb said in a debate on Tuesday.

Russia has threatened Finland with retaliation in response to its NATO membership and a defense cooperation agreement signed with the US in December.

Former Manchester United star makes shock move to South Korea

Jesse Lingard in Premier League action for Nottingham Forest against Manchester United on April 16, 2023.

Jesse Lingard in Premier League action for Nottingham Forest against Manchester United on April 16, 2023. Visionhaus/Getty Images/FileSeoul, South KoreaCNN — 

Former Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard has signed for South Korea’s FC Seoul in a surprise move that ends the England international’s months-long search for a new club.

FC Seoul announced the transfer on Thursday, calling Lingard, 31, “the biggest name in K League history.”

Lingard, who had been training without a team since he was released by English Premier League side Nottingham Forest in the summer, expressed his delight on social media.

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“New beginnings,” he wrote on Instagram Thursday. “So excited to finally get back on the pitch and do what I love the most. (I’m) so grateful for the love and support in Korea.”

Lingard rose through the ranks at his boyhood club Manchester United, where he lifted trophies including the EFL Cup, UEFA Europa League and scored the winning goal in the 2016 FA Cup final.

He also impressed for England at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where the team reached the semi-finals. He won his most recent of 32 international caps in 2021.

But Lingard fell out of favor at Old Trafford, failing to find consistency in a team struggling to live up to to the glory days of yesteryear.

Following a successful loan spell with Premier League side West Ham in 2021, Lingard made a permanent transfer to newly promoted Forest, becoming the team’s highest-paid player.

FC Seoul, South Korea’s oldest professional club, finished seventh in the top division last year. The new K League season begins next month, when Lingard could make his debut in FC Seoul’s clash with Gwangju FC on March 2.