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Pulse survivor and others gather to celebrate ‘freedom’ from being gay

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WASHINGTON — Pulse nightclub shooting survivor Luis Javier Ruiz joined a few dozen others at a so-called Freedom March in Washington, D.C., on Saturday where those in attendance celebrated no longer identifying as gay or transgender.

“I don’t want to tell everyone it’s a ‘gay-to-straight’ thing because God is not calling me to that,” Ruiz told NBC News. “I feel that I want to live in a life of purity. I feel that through loving Christ, he will walk me out of any situation. I love the LGBTQ community, I love my family. There’s no hate here, there’s love.”

Image: Luis Javier Ruiz speaking at the Freedom March in Washington D.C. on May 5, 2018.
Luis Javier Ruiz speaks at the Freedom March in Washington D.C. on Saturday.Chandelis Duster / NBC News

Ruiz, who said he no longer identifies as gay and denied going to conversion therapy, promoted his decision to attend the event on Facebook. That post, which has since been taken down, led to threats and the loss of many friends, Ruiz said.

A few dozen people in total showed up at the event on a cloudy Saturday celebrating “freedom from homosexual/transgender lifestyles by the grace and power of Jesus Christ,” according to the march.

Jeffrey McCall, a former transgender rights activist and organizer of the event, shared his story, which seemed to have taken a sharp turn from his days of LGBTQ advocacy. Wearing a red shirt emblazoned with “#Jesus,” he stood before the small crowd at the National Mall and said he had left his gay identity of 12 years behind.

Image: People watching and listening during praise and worship ahead of the Freedom March in Washington D.C. on May 5, 2018.
People watching and listening during praise and worship ahead of the Freedom March in Washington D.C. on May 5, 2018.Chandelis Duster / NBC News

“Everyone has marches, all kinds of views and opinions,” McCall told said, explaining his decision to hold the event. “So I said, ‘I don’t really know about a march for people coming out of the LGBTQ [community] to follow Jesus so I want to do that.’

“I want all these people to have their story told. So I said why don’t I provide an outlet for people to march and have their stories told?” McCall said.

McCall said he struggled with his sexuality at a young age and felt a stronger tug toward what he called a feminine identity, which led to him living as a woman named Scarlett for two years. That changed, he said, when God spoke to him and said, “You will live for me.”

McCall denied seeking conversion therapy, a discredited and nonscientific method of changing a person’s sexual orientation.

Saturday’s event was cosponsored by Voice of the Voiceless, which has previously advocated for forms of conversion therapy on college campuses but says its mission is to “to defend the rights of former homosexuals, individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction, and their families.”

Daren Mehl, president of Voice of the Voiceless, said he did not seek conversion therapy in his personal journey from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He said the decision was “not forced but a choice.”

“I didn’t convert, as in go through a program. I saw Jesus about who I am. I found grace to Jesus to live according to my values and belief,” he said.

McCall said the journey to living his new life in Christ and outside that LGBTQ community has not been easy, but he plans to bring the event to other cities in future.

He said he still feels urges to return to being gay, but added that “God gives him the grace not to do it.”

Fredi and Paul Cleveland, pastors of Koinonia Congregation in Washington, came to the event to support those who had left their gay and transgender identities behind and also to support the message of love.

“It was very fair, especially for those who have struggled with homosexuality,” Fredi Cleveland said, adding that she was moved to hear people open up about their experiences with depression and other issues. “It was refreshing to hear people speak of the victories not the negative. It builds us up.”

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Jack Ma: Chinese tycoon appears in public for the first time since October | Business News

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Chinese tycoon Jack Ma has appeared in public for the first time in nearly three months – after speculation about his whereabouts following a clampdown by Beijing on his business empire.

The founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba was seen on Wednesday speaking by video in an online ceremony for an annual event for rural teachers.

The 50-second video made no mention of his disappearance.

The Alibaba Group logo is seen during the company's 11.11 Singles' Day global shopping festival at their headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, November 11, 2020
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Alibaba is known for its annual Singles Day sales extravaganza

He had last appeared publicly on 24 October when he took aim at China’s regulators in a Shanghai speech, saying they had an old-fashioned “pawnshop mentality” and were hampering innovation.

In November, authorities pulled the plug on plans for what would have been a record-breaking £26bn stock market float for finance giant Ant Group – founded by Mr Ma – with two days to spare.

Last month, anti-monopoly regulators warned executives at Alibaba and five other tech giants not to use their dominance to block new competitors.

More recently, Mr Ma was replaced in the final episode of a reality TV show on which he had been a judge.

The events had prompted online speculation about whether the ruling Communist regime wanted to make an example of the 56-year-old tycoon.

Hong Kong-listed shares in Alibaba – known for its annual Singles Day sales extravaganza – rose 8.5% after Mr Ma resurfaced.

Jack Ma performs onstage during Alibaba's 20th anniversary party as the co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant steps down from his role as the company's chairman, at a stadium in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 10, 2019.
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Jack Ma does not usually shun the limelight

The tycoon had previously often appeared in public to speak at conferences and other events, though less frequently than in 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alibaba and Mr Ma’s charitable foundation both confirmed that the businessman, a former English teacher, had participated in the event on Wednesday.

The video also contained footage, dated 10 days ago, of him meeting staff at a school in Hangzhou.

The topic “Jack Ma makes his first public appearance” and his video address to teachers began trending on Chinese social media.

Mr Ma has stepped down from corporate positions at Alibaba and Ant Group but retains significant influence over the companies.

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US says China is committing genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities | World News

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The US State Department has declared that China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in a campaign targeting Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. 

In a statement, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs by the Chinese party-state.”

The designation was made in the dying hours of the Trump administration. But the incoming Biden team had previously voiced its support for such a definition, labelling the repression of Uighurs genocide in August last year.

And although Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has pledged to reverse a host of President Trump’s foreign policy measures, he said that he agreed with Mr Pompeo’s determination.

In his determination of crimes against humanity, Pompeo cited “the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilisation, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labour, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement”.

Mr Pompeo and his top aides are rushing to complete actions they believe will cement their legacy
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Mike Pompeo said he believed the genocide was ongoing

Beijing is likely to react furiously. At a press conference held last week in the Chinese capital, Communist Part official Xu Guixiang said: “This utterly untethered fabrication of ‘genocide’ regarding Xinjiang is the conspiracy of the century.”

Analysis: Condemnation of China might be the only point of consensus between Biden and Trump

The US labelling China’s treatment of Uighurs and other minorities as genocide is the most significant intervention on the issue. It might get lost in the pageantry of today’s inauguration, and the pressing domestic concerns of the US, but it will reverberate for months and years to come.

China’s reaction is guaranteed to be apoplectic. But it will seek to portray the genocide designation as motivated by politics, the last gasp of an outgoing administration and the personal vendetta of Mike Pompeo – public enemy number one in Chinese propaganda.

Critics elsewhere might agree with some of that. The Trump administration was not well known for its protection of minorities and human rights, whether at home or abroad. The US ignored calls to declare Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as genocide, for example.

And President Trump previously sidestepped human rights issues in his dealings with China, preferring initially to focus on trade. His former national security adviser John Bolton alleged that in July 2019 President Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he was correct to build detention centres for Uighurs.

The designation isn’t too much of a curveball for the Biden administration, which has voiced its agreement – perhaps the only point of consensus between two vastly different administrations. For all the division in the US, it is united on China.

But it might make things more difficult for America’s allies. The British government narrowly defeated an amendment to legislation that would have added a genocide clause to trade bills, a clause aimed squarely at China. And the EU has recently concluded its own massive trade deal with China. The Biden administration may take a dim view of all that, and the genocide designation adds more moral heft.

In practical terms, the designation legally allows the US to take some new measures, although none of those are massive. The power is in the symbolism. And that symbolism may be most apparent in a year’s time, when the 2022 Winter Olympics begin in Beijing.

It’s hard to imagine Team USA competing in a country the US government accuses of ongoing genocide. Would other countries join that boycott?

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Jailed Alexei Navalny releases investigation into Vladimir Putin’s ‘£1bn palace’ | World News

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He may be behind bars, but the Kremlin has not succeeded in silencing Alexei Navalny.

On his first full day in Moscow’s Matrosskaya-Tishina prison, Mr Navalny’s team have released a huge video investigation into the construction and alleged slush fund behind what is known as “Putin’s palace”, a £1bn private residence on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

Calling it “Putin’s biggest secret”, Mr Navalny and his team reveal new details about the sprawling complex near the resort town of Gelendzhik which has long been rumoured to belong to the Russian President.

Alexei Navalny talking about the 'palace' in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny
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Alexei Navalny talking about the ‘palace’ in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny

Drone footage over the grounds which the team says are 39 times the size of Monaco shows an underground ice hockey complex, 2500 square metre greenhouse and underground tunnel leading out to the Black Sea.

Architectural floor plans secured from a contractor shocked at the extent of the luxury reveal a lavish indoor theatre, fully-fledged casino and purple-tinted “hookah bar”.

It is “the most expensive palace in the world”, Mr Navalny says in the narration. “A new Versailles, new Winter Palace.”

Mr Navalny says the idea for the investigation, which he presents from Germany, came during his time in intensive care.

He travels to Dresden to trace Vladimir Putin’s path from lowly KGB operative on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, showing how the friends he made in the 1990s have remained the principle beneficiaries of his kleptocratic regime to this day.

“Putin’s personal money is kept by those he met thirty years ago,” the investigation says. “In search of sponsors for the most corrupt ruler in the history of Russia, you need to go to his past.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Chief Executive of Gazprom company Alexei Miller at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 19, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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The Kremlin has denied that Mr Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik

He calls the Gelendzhik property the “biggest bribe in the world” and claims to have uncovered a scheme by which money for its construction is funnelled into offshore accounts by Putin’s cronies as payment for lucrative state contracts he has handed them over the years.

“The standout for me is how bizarre and cuckoo-in the head our president is,” says Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Mr Navalny and executive director of his now disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Why do you need a billion dollar palace which you would never really use, as president?”

The Kremlin has denied that president Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik.

The almost two hour video investigation ends with a plea to the Russian people to go out and protest. “If 10% of those who are disaffected take to the streets, the government will not dare falsify elections,” Mr Navalny says.

It is a call he repeated in a video message from a Moscow police station on Monday, shortly before he was taken to jail. In a hastily convened court session inside the police station, a judge ruled that his detention should be extended for 30 days, until 15 February.

On 2 February a court will decide whether to convert a three and a half year suspended sentence he was serving for an alleged embezzlement charge into a custodial sentence on the grounds that he violated the terms of his parole whilst convalescing in Germany.

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Navalny calls for protests over his arrest

Mr Navalny says all the various charges he has faced over the years are politically motivated.

His team are calling for a nationwide day of protest this Saturday. Mass gatherings are banned in Russia because of the pandemic and so far in Moscow, just two thousand people have registered as going on the Facebook page.

“The message about Putin’s property will reach people in different formats and different channels,” Mr Ashurkov says.

“It’s unlikely that the regime will change tomorrow and we’ll see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets but it’s a campaign of constant pressure and history teaches us that the only constant throughout the decades is change.”

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