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British PM’s Office Apologizes to Queen for Staff Parties Held the Night Before Husband’s Funeral

Yesenia Harris



Boris Johnson’s office on Friday apologized to the Royal Family for holding staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year — the latest in a string of allegedly lockdown-breaching gatherings that are threatening to topple the British prime minister.

Farewell parties for Johnson’s departing spin doctor and another staffer, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth sat alone at her husband’s funeral because of social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Johnson spokesperson Jamie Davies acknowledged that news of the gatherings had caused “significant public anger.”

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologized to the palace,” he said, using a term for the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street office.

Johnson’s former communications director James Slack — who is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun — apologized “unreservedly” for the “anger and hurt” caused by his farewell party.

Johnson’s office said the prime minister wasn’t in Downing Street, where he both lives and works, on April 16, and had been unaware any gatherings were planned.

But each new revelation about social events inside the prime minister’s office during the pandemic has weakened his hold on power and strengthened calls for him to resign.

Police officers walk past Parliament in London on Friday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for going to a Downing Street garden party in May 2020, when the U.K. was under strict lockdown and people were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their households. Millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.

Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021, and funerals were limited to 30 people.

The symbolism of the latest events’ timing that has appalled many in Britain.

The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said Downing Street staff drank, danced and socialized late into the night, and that at one point an employee was dispatched with a suitcase to a nearby supermarket to buy more booze.

The next day, the widowed Queen sat alone in a church at Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her husband of 73 years.

Photos of the monarch, clad in black and wearing a face mask, became a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.

Many Conservatives fear the “partygate” scandal could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses, and his moral judgment.

A scandal that began with a report of a December 2020 office Christmas party has grown to about a dozen alleged social events in 10 Downing Street and other government buildings. On Friday, the former head of the government’s COVID-19 task force, Kate Josephs, admitted holding a drinks gathering in her office in December 2020.

“I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result,” said Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council.

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Russian Journalist Who Protested Ukraine War on State TV Is Charged

Yesenia Harris



Russian authorities on Wednesday detained a former state TV journalist who quit after making an on-air protest against Moscow’s war in Ukraine, and charged her with spreading false information about Russia’s armed forces, her lawyer said on social media.

Marina Ovsyannikova was charged over a protest she staged last month, invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name in a banner that said: “Putin is a killer, his soldiers are fascists. 352 children have been killed [in Ukraine]. How many more children should die for you to stop?”

If tried and convicted, Ovsyannikova faces up to 10 years in prison under a new law that penalizes statements against the military and that was enacted shortly after Russian troops moved into Ukraine, lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov said in a Telegram post.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ovsyannikova’s home was raided, and she was taken for questioning. Zakhvatov said she will spend the night in a holding cell at Moscow police headquarters.

WATCH | Ovsyannikova’s protest heard ’round the world:

Journalist with anti-war sign interrupts Russian state newscast

5 months ago

A TV editor interrupted the main news program on Russia’s state TV Channel One, holding up a sign behind the studio presenter. The sign, in English and Russian, read: ‘NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.’

Ovsyannikova, born to a Ukrainian father and Russian mother, used to work as a producer with Russian state-funded Channel One. She made international headlines on March 14, when she appeared behind the anchor of an evening news broadcast holding a poster that said “stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” She was charged with disparaging the Russian military and fined 30,000 rubles ($347 Cdn at the time).

After quitting her job, Ovsyannikova became somewhat of an activist, staging antiwar pickets and speaking out publicly against the conflict.

“Sadly, during the past years I worked at Channel One, I spread the Kremlin propaganda and I am very ashamed of this,” she said not long after her protest. “I am ashamed I allowed Russian people to be fooled.”

She was fined two more times in recent weeks for disparaging the military in a critical Facebook post and comments she made at a court where opposition figure Ilya Yashin was remanded in custody pending trial for spreading false information about the military.

According to Net Freedoms, a legal aid group focusing on free speech cases, as of Wednesday there were 79 criminal cases on charges of spreading false information about the military and up to 4,000 administrative cases on charges of disparaging the armed forces.

In the latest developments in the invasion, Ukraine’s air force said Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly string of explosions at an air base in Crimea.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in Tuesday’s blasts — or that any attack took place.

Smoke rises after explosions were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea, on Wednesday, in this still image obtained by Reuters. (Reuters)

Ukrainian officials stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility for the explosions — which killed one person and injured 14 others — while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saki air base to catch fire and blow up. Analysts also said that explanation doesn’t make sense and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to strike the base.

If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014. Russian warplanes have used Saki to strike areas in Ukraine’s south.

Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

Russian authorities sought to downplay the explosions on Wednesday, saying all hotels and beaches were unaffected on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist destination for many Russians.

The Current19:25Fears of catastrophe at Ukrainian nuclear plant under Russia control

In Ukraine, a nuclear plant under Russian occupation has the international community warning of potential catastrophe. Guest host Michelle Shephard discusses the risks with Philip Crowther, international affiliate correspondent for the Associated Press; and Mariana Budjeryn, a Ukrainian nuclear expert at Harvard’s Belfer Center.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, cryptically said that the blasts were either caused by a Ukrainian-made long-range weapon or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.

The base on the Black Sea peninsula, which dangles off southern Ukraine, is at least 200 kilometres from the closest Ukrainian position — out of the range of the missiles supplied by the U.S. for use in High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers.

In other developments, Russian forces shelled areas across Ukraine on Tuesday night into Wednesday, including the central region of Dnipropetrovsk, where 13 people were killed, according to the region’s governor, Valentyn Reznichenko.

Reznichenko said the Russians fired at the city of Marganets and a nearby village. Dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several administrative buildings were damaged.

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U.K. All Decked Out for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee

Yesenia Harris



The United Kingdom will mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne this week with four days of celebrations — from military parades and a church service, to street parties and a pop concert outside Buckingham Palace.

Elizabeth, 96, has been on the throne since she was 25, an ever-present figure in the U.K. and one of the most recognizable faces in the world.

Here’s a look at the the decorations, the royal fans and the special events ahead of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations that begin Thursday.

Outside Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus

People gather on The Mall looking toward Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial statue on Tuesday in London. The road is lined with Union Jacks and closed to traffic ahead of the Platinum Jubilee.

(Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Royal fan John Loughrey poses with a cutout of Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday in a tent he has put up to camp outside Buckingham Palace for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

(Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

People take pictures of the screen in Piccadilly Circus as it displays a countdown to the Platinum Jubilee, featuring two photos of the Queen, in London on May 27.

(Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

Sightings of Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth is given a tour by Keith Weed, president of the Royal Horticultural Society, of the floral displays at its Chelsea Flower Show in London on May 23.

(Paul Grover/Reuters)

The Queen is shown how to purchase a ticket as she unveiled a plaque to mark the completion of London’s Crossrail project at Paddington station in London on May 17.

(Andrew Matthews/Reuters)

Elizabeth and guests watch the Royal Windsor Horse Show Platinum Jubilee Celebration at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, on May 15.

(Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

The Queen speaks with a worker as she arrives to watch horses competing on the second day of the horse show in Windsor on May 13.

(Toby Melville/Reuters)

Exhibits featuring Elizabeth

Members of staff hold the Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, painted by Andy Warhol in 1985, as part of an exhibition at Sotheby’s in London on May 27.

(Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

Sotheby’s exhibitions celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee opened in London May 28, free to the public until July 15. The Queen (2022) by Oluwole Omofemi is on view.

(Tristan Fewings/Sotheby’s/Getty Images)

Lightness of Being (2022) by Chris Levine is also on view at Sotheby’s. The exhibition brings together important loans of aristocratic tiaras and royal portraiture of each of Britain’s seven queens.

(Tristan Fewings/Sotheby’s/Getty Images)

At Madame Tussauds in London, studio artists retouch wax models of the British Royal Family in a new grouping and outfits, ahead of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations on May 25.

(Toby Melville/Reuters)

(Toby Melville/Reuters)

The Queen at Legoland

Legoland modeller Freya Groom poses for a photo while placing a model of Queen Elizabeth in a vehicle near a model of Buckingham Palace at Legoland in Windsor on Tuesday.

(Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

A model of the Red Arrows is shown flying over a model of London.

(Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

A model of Elizabeth in a vehicle is pictured near a model of the Admiralty Arch landmark on The Mall.

(Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Other public displays

Flower Tower, a display of more than 4,300 handmade knitted and crocheted flowers, is seen at All Saints Church, ahead of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, in Middleton Cheney, Britain, on May 26.

(Andrew Boyers/Reuters)

A yarn Queen Elizabeth with a corgi and accompanying guards is pictured above a post box in Hangleton near Hove, East Sussex, on Tuesday.

(Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

A crocheted scene of Elizabeth standing inside a castle is seen on top of a post box in New Brighton, Britain, on May 9.

(Phil Noble/Reuters)

Royal fans and their memorabilia

Royal super-fan Margaret Tyler poses for a photograph with her collection of royal memorabilia in her “Jubilee room” at home in London on Monday. Her collection fills the ground floor of her house.

(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Royal Family memorabilia collector Jan Hugo stands near a life-size figure of the Queen, surrounded by her collection that boasts over 10,000 pieces, in Nulkaba, Australia, on May 4. Hugo’s is Australia’s largest collection of royal memorabilia.

(Stefica Nicol Bikes/Reuters)

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Hurricane Agatha Blamed for Mudslides That Kill 11 in Mexico

Yesenia Harris



Residents of Mexico’s Oaxaca state are cleaning up after Hurricane Agatha struck the area on Monday as a Category 2 storm.

Hurricane Agatha left at least 11 people dead and 33 missing in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, where it set off flooding and landslides, Gov. Alejandro Murat said Wednesday.

More than 40,000 people in the state have been affected, primarily along the coast and in the mountains just beyond, Murat said.

Murat on Tuesday said rivers overflowed their banks and swept away people in homes, while other victims were buried under mud and rocks.

“There were fundamentally two reasons” for the deaths, Murat told local media. “There were rivers that overflowed, and on the other hand, and the most serious part, were landslides.”

Murat said the deaths appeared to be concentrated in a number of small towns in the mountains, just inland from the coast. But he said there were also reports of three children missing near the resort of Huatulco.

Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane ever recorded to come ashore in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season.

A shack is pictured in the aftermath of Hurricane Agatha, in San Isidro del Palmar, Oaxaca state, Mexico. Agatha made impact as a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 168 km/h. (Jose de Jesus Cortes/Reuters)

It made landfall Monday afternoon on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in Oaxaca.

It was a strong Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 168 km/h, but it quickly lost power moving inland over the mountainous interior. Remnants of Agatha were moving northeast Tuesday into Veracruz state.

Murat has said power had been restored to some communities near the coast, but that some bridges had been washed out and mudslides blocked a number of highways.

San Isidro del Palmar, only a couple miles inland from the coast, was swamped by the Tonameca river that flows through town.

A restaurant is seen Tuesday damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Agatha, in San Isidro del Palmar. (Jose de Jesus Cortes/Reuters)

Residents waded through neck-deep water to salvage what items they could from their homes, walking gingerly with piles of clothing atop their heads and religious figures in their arms.

Argeo Aquino, who has lived in the town his whole life, said he could recall only two other occasions when he saw such flooding.

“The houses are totally flooded, so they are getting everything out,” Aquino said Monday as he watched his neighbours. “There are stores, houses. More than anything else, we have to try to save all the good material, because everything else is going to be washed away.”

The Tonameca’s brown waters reached the windows of parked cars and the minibuses used for local transportation.

A man stands Tuesday at his house damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Agatha, in San Isidro del Palmar. (Jose de Jesus Cortes/Reuters)

Nearby, heavy rain and high winds lashed the beach town of Zipolite, known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe. The wind howled for about six hours on Monday, said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel.

“The sound of the wind was really loud, high-pitched,” said Ranfagni. “It started at 1 p.m. when the telephone coverage went out and it didn’t calm down until 7:30.”

“A lot of trees were down, roads washed out,” she said. “A lot of metal and thatched roofs were blown off.”

Agatha formed on Sunday and quickly gained power. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections.

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