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Belarus sanctioned after diversion of Ryanair flight to arrest journalist

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In this Sunday, March 26, 2017 file photo, Belarus police detain journalist Raman Pratasevich, center, in Minsk, Belarus.

Sergei Grits | AP

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration slapped a slew of sanctions against Belarus on Monday amid Western fury over the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to arrest an opposition journalist.

Last month, a passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Ryanair flight was escorted to Minsk by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet. Upon landing, authorities arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

The extraordinary diversion of a commercial airliner was described by some European Union leaders as a “hijacking.” The 27-nation bloc swiftly imposed sanctions against Belarus that included banning its airlines from using airspace and airports within the European Union.

The State Department has now followed suit, imposing sanctions on 46 Belarusian officials for their involvement in the arrest of Protasevich. In addition, Treasury announced sanctions on 16 individuals and five entities.

“These steps are also in response to the continuing repression in Belarus, including attacks on human rights, democratic processes, and fundamental freedoms,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a Monday statement, adding that the sanctions were aligned with Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

“These coordinated designations demonstrate the steadfast transatlantic commitment to supporting the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations,” Blinken wrote.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a stalwart defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, faced widespread calls for resignation following a disputed election that returned him to a sixth term. The almost daily protests rocked Belarus for nearly three months.

“The persons designated today have harmed the people of Belarus through their activities surrounding the fraudulent August 9, 2020, presidential election in Belarus and the ensuing brutal crackdown on protesters, journalists, members of the opposition, and civil society,” Treasury wrote in a statement.

Members of the Belarus diaspora and Ukrainian activists burn white and red smoke grenades during a rally in support of Belarus people protesting vote rigging in the presidential election, outside the Belarusian embassy in Kiev on August 13, 2020.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Those sanctioned by the United States on Monday include some of Lukashenko’s closest associates: his press secretary Natallia Eismant and former chief of staff Natallia Kachanava who currently serves as his presidential envoy to Minsk, Mikalai Karpiankou, Belarus’ Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and the current commander of the Belarusian police force and Belarus’ prosecutor-general Andrei Shved.

The U.S. also imposed sanctions on the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus, also known as the Belarusian KGB.

“The Belarusian KGB has detained, intimidated, and otherwise pressured the opposition, to include Pratasevich,” Treasury wrote in a statement, adding that the organization upped its offenses following the fraudulent 2020 election of Lukashenko.

Treasury also sanctioned the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, a Belarusian police force, for the violent suppression of peaceful protesters since the 2020 presidential election. 

The sanctions against Belarus, a Russian ally, come on the heels of President Joe Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart in Switzerland, where the two agreed to resume nuclear talks and return their ambassadors to their foreign posts.

National security advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the U.S. was prepping additional sanctions against Russia over Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment.

“We are preparing another package of sanctions to apply in this case,” Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday program. “It will come as soon as we have developed the packages to ensure that we are getting the right targets,” he added.

Concern over Navalny’s imprisonment and worsening health condition is the latest drumbeat in the already tense relations between Moscow and the West.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 2, 2021.

Moscow City Court | Reuters

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Manchester United sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73m

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Jadon Sancho is unveiled at Manchester United’s Carrington Training Ground on July 23, 2021.

Ash Donelon | Manchester United | Getty Images

Manchester United have signed Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73m.

Sancho, whose move to Old Trafford was agreed in principle on July 1, completed a medical earlier this month after his participation at Euro 2020.

He has signed a five-year deal at United, with an option of a further year.

The 21-year-old joins the Premier League club after four years in the Bundesliga with Dortmund, where he won the German Cup in his final season and scored 50 goals across 137 appearances.

Manchester City retain a sell-on clause for their former youth-team player, whose contract in Germany was due to run until the summer of 2023.

“I’ll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first-team football, although I always knew that I would return to England one day,” Sancho told United’s official website.

“The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League.

“This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop into something special to bring the success that the fans deserve.

“I am looking forward to working with the manager and his coaching team to further develop my game.”

United had a long-standing interest in Sancho and attempted to sign him last summer, but were put off by Dortmund’s £108m valuation.

Dortmund’s asking price for Sancho dropped to £85m by the start of this summer, with United able to negotiate a further £12m drop in the valuation.

Sancho becomes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s second signing ahead of the new season following the addition of goalkeeper Tom Heaton earlier in the transfer window.

Solskjaer added: “Jadon epitomises the type of player I want to bring to the club, he is a forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United.

“He will form an integral part of my squad for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom.

“His goals and assists records speak for themselves and he will also bring tremendous pace, flair and creativity to the team.”

It could be argued Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have more pressing needs in other areas. Many fans might prefer a central defender.

But Sancho has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting young players in recent years and it is easy to understand why United were so determined to finally get their man.

Manchester United will host rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the 2021/22 Premier League season.

United face a possibly season-defining run of games in October and November, which starts with a trip to Leicester on October 16, the first showdown with Liverpool at Old Trafford on October 23, and a visit to Tottenham on October 30.

November 6 marks the first Manchester derby of the season as champions Manchester City travel to Old Trafford, before United head to Champions League winners Chelsea on November 27 before rounding off the month by hosting Arsenal on November 30.

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Farming and solar power set to combine in Netherlands-based pilot

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Drazen_ | E+ | Getty Images

Swedish energy firm Vattenfall has been given a permit to build a project in the Netherlands that plans to combine solar power with farming, in the latest example of how renewables and agriculture can potentially dovetail with one another. 

In a statement earlier this week Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development for the Netherlands, explained how the project would “alternate rows of panels with strips where various crops are grown for organic farming.”

The pilot, known as Symbizon, is slated to last four years and be located in Almere, to the east of Amsterdam. Funding has come from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Schouten said that double-sided solar panels would be used in order to ensure “sufficient light yield.” Such a setup would also enable the panels to “catch the reflected light from the soil, the crops and the adjacent rows and use it to produce solar energy.”

While plans have taken a step forward, Vattenfall has yet to confirm if the project will actually progress. A decision on this is expected by the end of 2021. If it does get the green light, construction work will start in 2022. 

A wide range of stakeholders are set to be involved if the scheme is fully realized. These include independent research organization TNO, which would develop a “solar tracking algorithm” to track energy and crop yields, among other things.

The idea of deploying solar panels on farmland has been around for many years. One strand of this is called agrivoltaics, which also goes by the name of agrophotovoltaics.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

According to Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, agrivoltaics “enables the dual use of land for harvesting agriculture and solar energy.”

The idea behind the concept traces its roots back to the early 1980s and is attributed to Adolf Goetzberger, founder of Fraunhofer ISE, and his colleague Armin Zastrow.

According to the Institute, agrivoltaic installations grew from around 5 megawatts in 2012 to approximately 2.9 gigawatts in 2018.

Solar panels can also be used to help those working in agriculture with their day-to-day activities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, for instance, has noted that “solar technologies are becoming a viable option for both large and small-scale farmers.”

In 2020, CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy” reported on how one Zimbabwe based farmer, Cheneso Ndlovu, was using solar tech to help her grow produce.  

“We do gardening using a solar powered borehole for watering,” she said.

“We planted tomatoes on a small patch we were watering and we realized it was thriving, so we decided to grow other vegetables,” she added. “We use the water for other domestic needs like washing.”

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US-listed China education stocks plunge as Beijing regulators crack down

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Chinese private educational company New Oriental logo seen in Shanghai.

SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

BEIJING — Two U.S.-listed Chinese education stocks plunged sharply in pre-market trading Friday after reports of a government crackdown on the sector that included bans on foreign investment.

TAL Education shares fell 55% in extended, early-hours trading. New Oriental Education and Technology shares dropped by more than 60%.

The reports come as Chinese authorities stepped up restrictions in recent months on the private education industry, and increased scrutiny on domestic companies listing overseas in the U.S.

Caixin, a major Chinese financial news site, reported Friday that new Chinese government restrictions on the education sector were starting to be implemented in Beijing and other cities nationwide.

Copies of the policy document were circulating online Friday afternoon.

Educational training institutions are banned from raising money through stock listings, while foreign capital cannot invest, according to a copy of the Chinese-language document seen and translated by CNBC. It was dated July 19 as issued from the top executive body — the State Council — and the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee.

One of the bans on foreign investment included variable interest entities, a common structure by which Chinese companies use to list in the U.S.

CNBC has not independently verified the document. The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment outside of Beijing business hours.

A policy document of the same name — referring to lowering costs for after-school tutoring — was among five approved at a May 21 meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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New Oriental Education declined to comment to CNBC and TAL did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The pre-market stock plunge followed sharp declines for education stocks traded in Hong Kong, which began to drop in the afternoon.

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