At least 800 arrested in violent Moscow protests

WORLD NEWS At least 800 arrested in violent Moscow protests

Martin Holverda/iStock(MOSCOW) —  Hundreds of protesters were violently arrested in Moscow Saturday, the latest demonstration against the Kremlin-aligned United Russia party.

Independent watchdog OVD-Info said at least 838 people were detained.

Opposition leader Lubovj Sobol was among the jailed.

Authorities had warned that all necessary measures would be taken to stop the unsanctioned protest. Demonstrators said they wanted to march in the center of Moscow but it was impossible as police in riot gear were deployed in large numbers. Internet and cellular connection were also allegedly cut in the center of the city and human rights activists said lawyers were not allowed to meet with those who were arrested.

Last week police cracked down and arrested 1,400 people at a demonstration called by the same organizers.

These protests were sparked by authorities’ refusal to allow opposition candidates to take part in Moscow’s city council elections. But they have taken on a much broader significance, viewed as a sign of the Kremlin’s growing intolerance for even low-level political opposition.

Another opposition rally is scheduled for next Saturday.

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Posted On 03 Aug 2019

Assault rifle-toting Russians give new meaning to shotgun wedding with realistic prank

WORLD NEWS Assault rifle-toting Russians give new meaning to shotgun wedding with realistic prank

ABC News(MOSCOW) — It’s a nice day for a … fright wedding.

Russian companies are potentially giving new meaning to “shotgun wedding– sending in a platoon of former police and special forces soldiers dressed in full combat gear to simulate a police raid on your reception and leave you tied in knots while tying the knot.

The wedding raids are just some of the services offered by the companies intended to spice up personal events, from birthday parties to flower deliveries. In all of them, a group of masked men in uniform toting assault rifles surprises the recipient by pretending they are the target of a real police operation.

Among the most popular are marriage proposals, disguised as realistic drug stings. A carload of masked “police” will pull over a couple as they’re driving and hold them at gunpoint while they search the vehicle. During the search, they find a bag of drugs or a weapon planted there in advance. To the prospective fiancee’s horror, their partner admits it’s theirs.

Just as she starts to panic, the man — it’s almost always men — will suddenly get down on one knee and pop the question.

“It’s kind of extreme,” Sergey Rodkin, who founded Spetsnaz Show, one of the larger companies, based in St. Petersburg, told ABC News. “It’s emotions, for the love of God! It’s all for the sake of emotions. It’s a sharp swing — up and down. What else can you think of? [Arrive] on a horse — it’s boring.”

Creative proposals are common worldwide, but the Russian pranks stand out for their frightening realism and their roughness: in videos of the stunts online, actors almost indistinguishable from real police force people to lie on the floor and go through real questioning; in some, the wife-to-be is pinned with a gun pointed at her.

The women proposed to are sometimes terrified— perhaps not least because Russian police are known for routinely planting drugs and even minor possession charges can lead to years in jail. In one of Spetsnaz Show’s pranks, the pretend officers try to force a woman to sign a confession.

Despite the ordeals, Rodkin’s teams, which have done dozens of such proposals, said virtually all the women said yes. “It’s mainly tears of joy,” said Ramil Mukhametov, who runs the shows in Naberezhnye Chenly, a town in central Russia.

Sergey, 23, was nervously awaiting his proposal to his 21-year-old girlfriend. He had ordered a special forces team to stop his beloved on the way from the airport. The ring would be in a box of “drugs” in the car. Sergey himself would be dressed as one of the police team and at the crucial moment would pull off his ski-mask to declare his love.

“It’s just a type of unforgettable proposal so that later we can remember it,” said Sergey (ABC News has left out his last name since the proposal is still in the future) . Sergey, who works in Russia’s security services but preferred not to say which, had decided against a more traditional proposal involving a bouquet-throwing at another wedding, thinking this was something they could show their grandchildren.

“There will be no kind of psychological pressure on her to make a definitive answer,” he said. “I am a confident person so there’s no two ways about it, she will say ‘yes.’ It wouldn’t matter if it was with weapons, pressure or just something romantic, in any case, the answer will be ‘yes’ and I am 100% sure of that.”

He acknowledged some worry his presumptive bride could get be upset or even angry, but hoped it would be alright.

“I think even if she gets very angry with me at that moment — although maybe she won’t even have time to — the surroundings around her, particularly the special forces themselves and the people watching, who film I think in front of a crowd she won’t be able to get mad at me,” he said.

Rodkin has been running the pranks for around 10 years and he said the reactions were usually positive. They had only had a handful of negative incidents early on due “to lack of experience,” he said. Some of the stunts are made to look more obviously like jokes. At the weddings, many of the guests — especially older people and those with children — are warned in advance.

“We very often refuse to do things, we make changes to make sure that it won’t be traumatic for the mind, for the heart,” Rodkin said.

All of Rodkin’s performers are former military or police, drawing on the deep pool of trained veterans in Russia, which has some of the world’s largest militaries and security services. Mostly, Rodkin’s men work on movie and television shoots, he said, doing the pranks on the side. A proposal on average costs around $500 and a wedding performance about $600.

The raids seem somewhat fraught with risk — what if a guest has a gun or perhaps really was being sought by police? But Rodkin and his colleagues said they screened every event beforehand and in any case their training meant they can swiftly defuse any any situation.

Mukhametov said the men storm the buildings in 20 seconds, giving no one time to react. Anyway, he noted, “If there is some kind of resistance, we detain them, let’s say, in handcuffs and take them to the police.”

The wedding pranks play partly on an old tradition once common in Russia and Central Asia of “bride-kidnapping,” where a bride would be abducted by her new relatives ahead of the ceremony.

Alexandra Altman, who ordered a raid against her husband at their wedding this July at a hall a little outside St. Petersburg, said she had wanted the stunt because it would be memorable and no one else had anything similar.

“I have been to the weddings of my friends and people I know. And it’s banal, to my taste,” she said.

At the wedding, black-clad gunmen stormed in just as the couple started their first dance. Stanislav was dragged away with his hands behind his back. Afterwards, the troopers made the guests do push-ups in bullet-proof vests.

Altman’s new husband was delighted. “Everyone’s smiling,” Stanislav Shishkin said. “It’s ever harder to surprise people. And this is really something that can surprise.”

Rodkin has franchises in 14 regions all across Russia and at least several other companies offer similar performances. The pranks seem to draw on a fascination with military hardware in Russian culture, partly encouraged by the state in a country that has long had a militarized society. And recently under president Vladimir Putin — himself a former spy — the army and security services have become increasingly venerated, especially since Moscow’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Sergey, the young man planning to propose, said he was more nerve-wracked as the big day approached. But he thought in the end they would both remember it “with a smile.”

“And so I think there’s no other options,” he said. “Only yes.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 03 Aug 2019

Former Portland State basketball player fatally shot; sister arrested

Sports News Former Portland State basketball player fatally shot; sister arrested

Twitter/@coachbpeery(PORTLAND, Ore.) — A 30-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death Friday of a former college basketball player at Portland State University in Oregon.

Tamena Strickland was taken into custody late Friday for the 2 p.m. shooting, Portland police said.

While the victim was not identified by police, the victim’s uncle told Portland ABC affiliate KATU that he was 22-year-old Deante Strickland, who was a senior on last season’s Portland State Vikings basketball team.

His uncle, Diante Strickland, said Tamena and Deante were sister and brother, and he had no idea why she would shoot him.

The shooting, which took place at a home in Portland’s Concordia neighborhood, also injured two women. Diante Strickland identified the two adult women as another sister and Deante’s grandmother. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening, according to police.

Tamena Strickland has been charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. She was booked into Multnomah County Detention Center just after 9:30 p.m. local time. She is being held without bail on the murder charge and $500,000 combined for the two attempted murder charges.

Eyewitness Kenneth Carter told KATU he was driving down the street when Deante tried to get his attention apparently moments after the shooting.

“As I crossed over Holman [Street], he came running down in the middle of the street,” Carter told KATU. “I didn’t know what was going on, his arms were flailing and flapping as to signal, to stop me.”

Carter said Deante was bleeding from his mouth when he stopped his car.

“Our Viking Family lost a special soul today, Deante Strickland,” Portland State basketball coach Barret Peery said on Twitter. “A Beautiful young man in every way! A special teammate, friend and family member. A PROUD Portland native that loved everything about representing the city of Portland, his Family and his school! He will be missed more than we can possibly imagine today. We are all BLESSED to have had him in our lives.”

The coach also shared a picture of Strickland on his account.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Deante,” Portland State Athletics Director Valerie Cleary said in a statement. “He represented everything it means to be a Viking in his hometown of Portland. He will forever be remembered for his character, determination and warm smile. Our prayers go out to his family and friends.”

Strickland played two seasons for Portland State after transferring from Casper State in Wyoming. The point guard played in 34 games and started 10 as a junior, averaging 7.7 points and 2.6 assists per game. As a senior, he averaged 7 points and 2.5 assists per game as a reserve.

He was a social science major and said in his school bio he wanted to be a sports agent.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 03 Aug 2019

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello officially resigns, Pedro Pierluisi sworn in

Political News Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello officially resigns, Pedro Pierluisi sworn in

ABC News(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) — Ricardo Rossello, the embattled governor of Puerto Rico who was forced to step down amid a political scandal and mass protests, officially resigned as the island’s leader at 5 p.m. Friday, and later in the evening his successor, Pedro Pierluisi was sworn in as the next governor of the island.

Pierluisi was sworn in by a judge at 5 p.m., the hour Rosselló had set to leave office, according to the Associated Press.

Two hours after taking the oath, Pierluisi emerged at the governor’s residence to address the press and said he would only promise to serve as governor until Wednesday, when the Senate has called a hearing on his nomination, the AP reported. If the Senate votes no, Pierluisi said, he will step down and hand the governorship to the justice secretary, the next in line under the constitution.

The future of the position and who would hold it in the long run remained shrouded in uncertainty right up until the hours leading up to Rossello’s promised resignation.

Pierluisi was sworn in as secretary of state Wednesday, making him next in line of succession — though he has not been confirmed by Puerto Rico’s Senate.

The House of Representatives confirmed his nomination Friday, but the Senate will not hold a vote until Monday afternoon.

Rosselló said confirmation by both houses was unnecessary for a recess appointment, an assertion that appeared certain to generate legal challenges, according to AP.

Several legislators expressed concern over Pierluisi, alleging a conflict of interest because he worked for a law firm that represents a controversial federal control board overseeing the island’s finances.

Wanda Vazquez, the secretary of justice, had been considered a serious contender for the position.

She has been the subject of heavy criticism since it became clear she could hold the title.

Critics have charged that Vazquez has not taken action in investigating corruption involving members of her and Rossello’s party, the New Progressive Party.

Last November, officials from the Office of Government Ethics said they received a complaint about possible ethical violations involving Vazquez, according to the Associated Press. She was accused of intervening in a case in which a suspect was charged with stealing government property at a home where Vázquez’s daughter lived, the AP reported.

Vazquez, a former prosecutor, faced multiple charges but a judge in Puerto Rico ultimately determined there was not enough evidence to arrest her.

She had also made it clear she did not want the governor’s job.

“I reiterate, I have no interest in occupying the position of Governor,” Vasquez wrote in a tweet in Spanish on Sunday. Yet, she tweeted, “The constitution dictates it.”

She later clarified that she was ready to take over the governorship if Pierluisi wasn’t confirmed.

The island was thrown into disarray after leaked text messages allegedly showed Rossello and his staff making homophobic, misogynistic and sexist comments against opponents and critics, as well as mocking victims of 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

In Rossello’s resignation speech, he cited the accomplishments of his administration when it comes to infrastructure, corruption reforms and LGBTQ rights. He also noted the challenges the island faced after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“I hope that this decision will serve as a call for citizen reconciliation that we need so much to move forward with the welfare of Puerto Rico as its north,” Rossello said. “I complete my mandate and the most I desire is peace and progress.”

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Posted On 03 Aug 2019