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Trump calls FBI raid on his lawyer’s office ‘an attack on our country’

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Trump wasted no time addressing the raids when reporters entered the Cabinet Room where he was meeting with senior military leaders, starting his remarks by calling Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” and a “disgrace.”

It’s “an attack on our country in a true sense, an attack on what we all stand for,” Trump said of the raids, which were first reported by The New York Times.

“That is at a whole new level of unfairness,” the president added. “This is now getting ridiculous.”

Trump last week denied having any previous knowledge that Cohen paid Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael,” he told reporters.

Cohen used his Trump Organization email while arranging to send the $130,000 to Clifford from a company that he had set up in Delaware shortly before the transfer.

Trump also repeated his assertion that there had been no “collusion” between his campaign and Russia, while reiterating his frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling his decision to recuse himself from the probe “a terrible mistake.”

“He certainly should have let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have put a different attorney general in,” Trump said. “So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country. But you’ll figure that out.”

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Russia: State authorities look to exercise control as parliamentary elections begin | World News

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Shortly after polls opened on Friday morning, a long queue had already formed outside a polling station in Moscow’s central Arbat district.

Many of those waiting were workers from the nearby Ministry of Defence as evidenced by the branded briefcases they were holding.

They’d been given the morning off to cast their votes at the start of three days of elections for the Russian parliament

Vladislava was monosyllabic. Did she think her vote would make a difference? Yes. Did she want change? She likes things how they are. Does she work for the state? Yes.

The ruling party United Russia has 353 of the 450 seats in the state parliament or Duma.

It is a supermajority the party wants to keep. But United Russia has been polling badly.

That’s why there are long queues so early in the voting process. It’s all about monitoring and mobilising as many United Russia voters as the state can muster.

A polling station in Moscow's central Arbat district
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Russians gathered to vote at a polling station in Moscow’s central Arbat district on Friday
Long queue of people waiting to vote outside polling station at the first day of elections in Russia
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A long queue of people formed outside on the first day of elections

Given President Vladimir Putin’s cast-iron grip on power, you might ask why the Kremlin is working so hard to control the outcome.

In the run-up to these elections, the full panoply of dirty tricks has been at play.

Doppelgänger spoiler candidates, cash handouts; independent candidates barred from running on spurious grounds – often for supposedly foreign links; and the time-honoured traditions of state workers marched out to cast their votes for United Russia. Old habits die hard.

Mr Putin pictured during a video meeting on security on 16 September
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President Vladimir Putin has a cast-iron grip on power. File pic

Then there are the Soviet-style repressions as if President Putin is trying to outdo his neighbour over in Belarus.

Alexander Lukashenko has been hammering anything even resembling dissent since mass protests last summer.

In Russia, around the same time, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned.

He is now in jail and most of his top team have fled the country.

Mr Navalny at a court hearing earlier this year
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Mr Navalny at a court hearing earlier this year

On Friday, US tech giants Apple and Google caved into demands they remove an app designed by Mr Navalny’s allies from their stores.

The Smart Voting app gives people detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to thwart the electoral chances of the ruling United Russia party.

Sources at Google told Sky News it was not a decision they took lightly but that their staff on the ground had received “multiple threats”.

The Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny's Smart Voting app is seen on a phone, in Moscow
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The Smart Voting app is seen on a phone in Moscow

More and more journalists are now joining the ever-growing numbers of Russians in exile.

Each Friday more names are added to the list of so-called foreign agents, which now stretches to 47 media outlets, activists and individuals.

Being on the list essentially brands you an enemy of the state, which means advertising falls away and you must prepare labour-intensive audits.

Even the tiniest mistakes can lead down a path of escalating criminal charges.

“I think for a long time the Russian authorities pretended that you have a democracy here.

“But one day they decided not to pretend anymore and to become a real autocracy,” Tikhon Dzyadko, editor-in-chief of independent TV station Dozhd, or Rain TV, told Sky News.

“If you can’t improve the economic situation yourself, you’ve got to find an enemy and blame them,” Pavel Grudinin, a wealthy farmer who was disqualified from running as a candidate for the Communist party, added.

Tikhon Dzyadko, TV Dozd editor in chief. Pic: Denis Kaminev/Dozhd TV
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Journalist Tikhon Dzyadko said the Russian state has dropped all pretence of democracy. Pic: Denis Kaminev/Dozhd TV

Mr Grudinin ran for president against Vladimir Putin in 2018. He won just 12% of the vote but that was closer than anyone else came to defeating Mr Putin and it clearly riled powerful forces.

Since then he has faced off around 1,000 lawsuits – an aggressive campaign he thinks is designed to force him into bankruptcy.

Barring the likes of Mr Grudinin from the elections runs the risk of turning the communist party from a mostly pliant subordinate to United Russia into an actual political force.

Pavel Grudinin
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Pavel Grudinin ran for President Putin in 2018 but has faced numerous lawsuits since

Thanks to Mr Navalny’s Smart Voting app the communists look like they’ll be putting in their strongest showing in years.

There will most likely be a threshold they dare not cross, but it is an interesting new political dynamic in a carefully controlled political environment.

Outside the Arbat polling station, a man who gives his name simply as Andre says he was instructed by his state-employer to come but that he’ll use Smart Voting to make his choice.

“If everyone uses Smart Voting, then maybe things will change,” he said.

Things are unlikely to change, not now. But for all the certainty that this election will be neither free nor fair and that voter turnout will be pitifully low, there is still the potential for surprises.

“Forecasts in Russian politics never come true,” Mr Grudinin said.

“The rules are changing every time we hold an election. The British invented football. Just imagine if the rules of football changed every world championship. That is how we live.”

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South Africa: Farm where Nelson Mandela started anti-apartheid journey risks closure ‘because of pandemic and corruption’ | World News

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There are no fields or streams on display as you travel down the road to Liliesleaf farm.

Instead, the property has been completely enveloped by the suburban sprawl of northern Johannesburg.

But the fact that this unfashionable structure still occupies a patch of South Africa‘s largest city speaks volumes about the role it played in the formation of modern, democratic South Africa.

The farm faces a return to wilderness
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The farm faces a return to wilderness

It was at this unremarkable farmhouse that a collection of activists and idealists – both black and white – held key debates and meetings based on one critical idea.

They used Liliesleaf farm as a secret base to plot the downfall of the apartheid regime.

Together, they formed a who’s who of the liberation struggle, including Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Slovo, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki (father of president Thabo Mbeki) and a so-called houseboy named Nelson Mandela.

“Liliesleaf was an old house that needed work and no one lived there. I moved in under the pretext that I was a houseboy or caretaker that would live there until my master took possession… I wore the simple blue overalls that were the uniform of the black male servant,” wrote Mandela in his book, Long Walk To Freedom.

Nelson Mandela's room at Liliesleaf Farm. Pic: AP
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Nelson Mandela’s room at Liliesleaf Farm. Pic: AP

A man called Harold Wolpe purchased the house in 1961 for the underground South African Communist Party and his son, Nicholas, now heads the organisation which runs the property.

When we found him at Liliesleaf however, he was slumped in a chair next to the ticket booth and there was not a single visitor to be seen.

I asked him what was going on.

“We’re closed,” he said. “I don’t have money to pay for the staff and you can’t expect them to work for nothing can you? If they don’t come, we can’t open it, who is going to interact with the guests? It is the only option I had.”

He told me the government had refused his pleas for financial support after a series of COVID-related lockdowns destroyed the organisation’s revenue base.

Liliesleaf farm was empty when Sky News arrived
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Liliesleaf farm was empty when Sky News arrived

“Sooner or later there will be no historic sites, no museums, no theatres and eventually there will be nothing left for us to protect because they will have all disintegrated into wilderness.”

When Mr Wolpe went public with his criticisms, decrying the “abject failure” of the country’s arts of culture department, officials fired back, accusing farm managers of misusing 8.1 million rand (£400,000) donated by the department for the renewal of exhibition infrastructure in 2015.

Mr Wolpe says he had to use the money for operational costs and questions why the department is raising the issue now.

“There have been times where I have wanted to burst out crying because… we have been able to stay above (allegations of corruption) for the last 19 years, that toxicity, the corruption and maladministration, we have managed to stay away from and now we find ourselves embedded, now we are in the middle of it.”

Allegations of corruption and shoddy administration are widespread and go to the top – and the heart of South African society.

Former president Jacob Zuma faces 16 counts of corruption, racketeering, fraud, and money laundering in relation to a £1.4bn arms deal with French manufacturer Thales.

A memorial to people killed under apartheid
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Memorial to people killed under apartheid at Freedom Park

He and his lawyers have managed to delay the trial for over 16 years by deploying a so-called “Stalingrad-approach”.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in June after failing to show up to a commission of inquiry into corruption that he appointed when he was president.

Controversially, he was granted “medical parole” after serving two months in a correctional centre in Durban.

Billions of rand have been lost to what South Africans term “state-capture” and the people charged with running the country’s key heritage sites are struggling to cope.

Jane Mufamadi is the head of Freedom Park, a heritage facility occupying 52 glorious hectares overlooking the capital Pretoria.

It was built on Nelson Mandela’s request in 2003 and honours thousands of freedom fighters who helped to challenge and dismantle the white-supremacist governments of the apartheid-era.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma
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Former South African president Jacob Zuma

Yet government grants have been cut and monies from ticket sales and events have virtually disappeared.

Ms Mufamadi said: “People are no longer coming as they used to do. In terms of the numbers we are just under 10% of normal visitations.”

“Even though people can come (after the lifting of COVID restrictions)?” I asked.

“Even though people can come – so we have to go back to the drawing board,” she replied.

Ms Mufamadi does not shy away from the fact the party of South Africa’s liberation struggle, the ANC, is also the party of Jacob Zuma and host of other discredited figures. Few would choose to honour them now.

Nelson Mandela at Freedom Park. Pic: AP
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Nelson Mandela at Freedom Park. Pic: AP

“You can see why young people are cynical,” I said.

“Yes definitely, definitely, there is no denying the fact we have challenges but we are a hopeful nation and if we could overcome apartheid we believe we can win against this.”

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France: AUKUS submarine deal has caused one of the gravest rifts among Western allies in living memory | World News

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France’s drastic decision to recall its ambassadors to the United States and Australia marks one of the gravest rifts among allies in living memory.

And it will also be watched by rivals like China and Russia with glee.

The extraordinary diplomatic rebuke follows a decision by Canberra to ditch a French submarine contract for a new nuclear submarine partnership with Washington and London.

Yet the French fury – conveyed in a communique by the foreign minister – omitted any mention of Britain even though the UK is clearly also in the firing line.

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‘AUKUS alliance will bring us closer than ever’

Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US, wrote on Twitter: “You can interpret the omission of the UK as a sign of conciliation or contempt. Your choice.”

The French move dashes hopes on the UK, US and Australian side that normal relations with Paris would resume once French “disappointment” at losing out on the multi-billion pound submarine deal faded.

Their so-called AUKUS partnership was meant to be about bolstering the defences of democratic countries in the face of a growing challenge posed by authoritarian China in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

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British nuclear-powered subs make rare ‘surface’

But instead of strengthening western unity, it has triggered this significant rupture – an outcome that could well be exploited by Beijing and Moscow.

Any friction between western allies is an opportunity for their authoritarian rivals to amplify.

The US, UK and France are all members of the G7 group of industrialised, democratic powers and the NATO defence and security alliance, while Australia is also a close and like-minded ally.

Frantic efforts will be going on behind the scenes to try and defuse the row

However, President Emmanuel Macron, heading into an election year, has been badly bruised on the international stage and needs to hit back.

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His country not only lost a big chunk of business when Australia sank the submarine contract, but it will also miss out on the prestige of providing the Australian navy with such a strategic asset over several decades.

Adding to the injury, Mr Macron will have to watch the US and the UK take France’s place.

Not a great look for a president who sees his country as the predominant military power in Europe.

The anger was clear in foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s statement: “The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project… and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States… constitutes unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners”.

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