White House on lockdown, Trump press conference interrupted after reports of shots fired

US President Donald Trump’s press conference was interrupted after just a couple of minutes by the Secret Service, which ushered him out of the briefing room amid reports of shots fired outside the White House.

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One KILLED in massive protests in Minsk as demonstrators clash with Belarus police

A protester in Minsk has died from injuries caused by an explosive device he tried to throw at police, Belarusian authorities said, as mass demonstrations against the results of the presidential election continued.

The Interior Ministry of Belarus confirmed the death of a man in Minsk on Monday evening, after a clash with riot police that tried to remove the barricade set up by protesters across Pritytsky Avenue, in the western part of the capital.

“One of the protesters tried to throw an unidentified explosive device at law enforcement officers. It exploded in his hand” and caused “injuries incompatible with life,” a spokesman for the ministry told reporters.

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Belarusian law enforcement officers detain men during a rally of opposition supporters following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020.  © REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Police shoot grenades and tear-gas at protesters against presidential election results in Belarus

Sputnik Belarus reported that protesters on Pritytsky Avenue used Molotov cocktails to target police. Drone footage on Monday evening showed a large crowd of people blocking the avenue near the Pushkinskaya Metro station, and there were reports of police using flash-bang grenades to disperse them. At some point, a city bus was set ablaze. 

This is the first confirmed death in the protests. There were numerous reports of injuries in local media, and thousands of protesters have been detained. 

Special police in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020.


©  REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Earlier in the day, a special anti-terrorist unit was deployed to break up a crowd down the road, at an intersection closer to downtown Minsk, prompting panicked reports of the “army shooting at people” in local media. Rubber bullets and flash-bangs were used.

In addition to flash-bangs and rubber bullets, police have used tear gas to disperse demonstrators across Belarus since Sunday. Protesters have also used fireworks and, in some instances, tried to run police over with cars.

Opposition activists are refusing to accept the official results of the presidential election, which showed the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko winning almost 80 percent of the vote and easily defeating his main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

In addition to the capital, which has seen fierce clashes between protesters and law enforcement, there have been confrontations in other cities across Belarus. Footage from Brest, on the border with Poland, showed explosions and a standoff between riot police and demonstrators.

Protesters have embraced the white banner with a red stripe, the flag of the first independent Belarusian state, planting it on buildings and landmarks. In the Malinovka borough of Minsk, protesters were seen cheering loudly after positioning a flag atop of a bison sculpture.

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Explosions reported as Iraqi Shiite militia targets US military convoy near Kuwait border – security forces

An explosion has rocked a convoy carrying US military gear in Iraq near the border with Kuwait, according to Iraqi security services, who say a Shiite militia group is behind the attack.

The blast targeted a convoy near the Jraischan crossing on the Iraq-Kuwait border late on Monday after a militia group smuggled an explosive device into the area, Reuters reported, citing security sources.

Footage purporting to show the moment of the attack circulated on social media. Local news outlets reported that the Ashab al-Kahaf militia group had claimed responsibility for the attack.

No casualties have yet been reported, and it is unknown whether any American soldiers were in the convoy.

Convoys are routinely loaded with military gear at the Jraischan crossing and often guarded by foreign contractors hired by the Pentagon, the security sources said, though it is unclear if any were present at the time of the attack.

The attack comes less than a month after another convoy bombing in late July, which saw “Iraqi trucks carrying logistical support for American forces” targeted with two explosive devices, according to the Anadolu news agency. No group claimed responsibility for that operation, which came amid a string of similar strikes on logistics convoys in the region.

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Oops: Belarus police almost load arrested protester into CITY BUS by mistake

A pair of police officers in Minsk were caught on camera mistaking a yellow city bus for a riot wagon while making an arrest. Belarus is witnessing mass protests against the results of the presidential election.

The short video posted on social media Monday shows two riot police officers holding a demonstrator and attempting to load him up into a bus through the back door, before realizing their mistake. 

Protests first erupted on Sunday evening, after President Alexander Lukashenko announced he had been reelected with almost 80 percent of the vote. Opposition candidates accused him of election fraud.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk and other cities in Belarus again on Monday, where they were met with rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and tear gas.

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Belarus: Images of troops in camouflage uniform confronting protesters emerge amid brutal arrests

Heavily armed troops in military uniforms were filmed shooting rubber bullets and flashbang grenades at a crowd of protesters blocking traffic in Minsk, as demonstrations against the presidential election continued across Belarus.

Protesters blocked Kalvariyskaya street in western Minsk, a major thoroughfare near the First Ring road, on Monday. Riot police sent to disperse them were reinforced by troops in camouflage-pattern uniforms and armed with automatic weapons, who “opened fire” at demonstrators. 

As it turned out, the bullets were plastic riot rounds and the explosions were of flashbangs and smoke flares. Several people were injured, including journalist Natalia Lubnevskaya of Nasha Niva magazine, who was struck in the leg by a rubber bullet.

Pro-demonstrator social media accounts were quick to condemn “unidentified people in army uniforms without identification” who were “shooting at people.”

The uniformed men were quickly identified on social media, however, as members of the special anti-terrorist unit of the Belarusian Interior Ministry, known as ‘Almaz’ (Diamond). 

 

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Minsk and other cities in Belarus on Monday, protesting against the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election. The incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko officially won with almost 80 percent of the vote, but the united opposition led by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called for the election to be annulled, alleging widespread fraud and irregularities.

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Belarusian law enforcement officers detain men during a rally of opposition supporters following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020.  © REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Police shoot grenades and tear-gas at protesters against presidential election results in Belarus

Police have cracked down on Monday’s protests, using rubber bullets, flashbang grenades and tear gas in Minsk and elsewhere, according to local media reports. More than 3,000 people were arrested following the clashes between police and pro-opposition protesters on Sunday.

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Nikki Haley hit with avalanche of Twitter mockery and vitriol for daring to complain about tardy popcorn deliveries

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley might have thought she was taking a break from her usual opining on political issues to tweet about a personal concern – two birthday orders for popcorn that weren’t delivered on time.

Little did Haley know that, in a US political discourse that can never seem to get its fill of strife, even popcorn is a fighting word. As an ally of President Donald Trump, the former US ambassador to the United Nations was apparently deemed fair game for attack.

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So, what was the fuss about? “OK Popcorn Factory, two messed-up birthday orders missed delivery dates with no explanation,” Haley posted to Twitter on Monday. “First time I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Second one tells me not to buy from you again.” She tagged the message #DisappointedNephew.

In response, Twitter users dropped F-bombs, called Haley a Nazi and noted that “Americans are dying.” Others were at least successful in politicizing the issue, arguing that the deliveries were probably late because Trump is “sabotaging” the US Postal Service. Haley didn’t mention whether she requested FedEx or USPS shipping, both of which are used by the Popcorn Factory.

One Twitter poster criticized Haley for trying to shame a company and said: “So sorry for your First World issues. By the way, $30, $50 or even $100 on popcorn is a crappy gift for your nephew.”

Other tweeters managed to mock Haley with a sense of humor. “Every morning I check out the #DisappointedNephew hashtag to catch up on the latest shattered boys, and today did not disappoint,” quipped writer and comedian Daniel Kibblesmith.

Adam Blickstein, who worked in public affairs at the US Department of Defense under former President Barack Obama, said: “Nikki Haley, tougher on Popcorn Factory than she was on North Korea or Russia.”

Haley even inspired some entrepreneurship, as online T-shirt seller The Pirate Print Shop quickly created a special top based on her complaint. Under the account name ‘Nikki Haley’s Joyful Nephew’, the shop owner tweeted: “We are with you Nikki Haley! Fight the good fight! This shirt will cheer you and your nephew up.” 

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Russian watchdog says Apple abused dominance of mobile app market, orders US tech giant to stop restricting competition

Apple has been found guilty of exploiting its app market dominance by Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS). The investigation began after leading anti-virus software developer Kaspersky Lab lodged a complaint last year.

The Russian company insisted that Apple’s policy in the parental control applications market for mobile devices with its iOS operating system was unfair.

Monday’s ruling follows criticism from Telegram founder Pavel Durov over the predatory practices of Silicon Valley’s kingpins. “Apple and Google impose an insane 30 percent sales tax on all digital goods sold on every mobile phone in the world,” the Saint Petersburg-born developer tweeted. “The result – users pay higher prices, start-ups and entire industries get destroyed or never appear. Regulators have been ignoring this absurdity for 10 years.”

Kaspersky Lab said that Apple had started to use its dominant position to create a competitive advantage for its own Screen Time application. This is reflected in its demand that all iOS developers have to remove configuration profiles from their applications.

“The FAS Commission found that Apple abused its dominant position in relation to developers of parental control mobile applications and limited competition in the distribution market for applications for mobile devices running on the iOS operating system,” the anti-monopoly regulator explained, as quoted by news agency TASS.

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The violation also resulted in Apple having established the right to reject and exclude any third-party application from the App Store, even if it meets all the requirements. The company will be ordered to discontinue this practice in Russia.

According to Kaspersky Lab, Apple demanded that, in order to have its Kaspersky Safe Kids application certified for release via the App Store, it should disable its two main functions – Application Blocking and Safari Browser Blocking. Prior to that, the application had been available on the App Store for three years without any objections by Apple Inc.

In late April, it was reported that Apple explained the removal from the App Store of parental control applications made by a number of third-party developers via an official statement, claiming that they did not meet the requirements of the corporation’s policy regarding user safety and privacy. The corporation emphasized that removing third-party parental control apps from the App Store was not a matter of competition, but a matter of security.

The investigation established that Apple occupied a dominant position with a 100 percent share of the market for mobile applications on the iOS operating system, since it is only possible to legally install such an application via the App Store, which it controls.

A spokesperson for the Kaspersky Lab told TASS that they are satisfied with the outcome of the case. “Primarily because the abuse by large corporations and their attempts to transfer their market power, which has negative effects on competition in adjacent markets, must be prevented. Healthy competition fosters progress and as a result users benefit from that,” they explained.

“We hope that Apple will correct the policy and attitude towards competitors in the markets adjacent to the iOS platform and, when releasing its applications, Apple will not place them in a more privileged position and will not create all sorts of obstacles and barriers to other companies,” the statement continued.

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Beirut protesters tell RT they won’t leave streets until ENTIRE PARLIAMENT steps down after PM’s resignation

The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab along with his cabinet hasn’t quelled public anger in Beirut. Protesters told RT they’ll continue pushing for a “revolution” until the entire parliament steps down.

Diab announced his resignation on Monday, nearly a week after a devastating explosion ripped through Beirut, killing more than 160 people, wounding 6,000, and reducing large swathes of the Lebanese capital to rubble. Since the explosion, protesters had clamored for Diab’s resignation, after it emerged that 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in unsafe conditions by officials triggered the blast.

“People here are calling this a revolution,” RT correspondent Paula Slier said in her report on Monday night, as protesters again poured into the streets to demand change. She said protesters told her that “they’re not going to stop taking to the streets until the whole parliament itself resigns.”

Nine members of Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament have resigned since the explosion, yet the vast majority remain in office, as does President Michel Aoun. The president has the power to dissolve parliament, but needs the backing of two thirds of the cabinet to do so. Aoun accepted the government’s resignation but has asked Diab to stay in power in a caretaker capacity — and has thus far given no word on whether he’ll ask for a dissolution of parliament.

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Lebanon's PM Hassan Diab submits his resignation toPresident Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, August 10, 2020 © Reuters / Aziz Taher
Lebanese PM Hassan Diab announces resignation of entire government amid protests triggered by Beirut explosion

In the meantime, tear gas once again choked the streets of Beirut on Monday night. Mobs of protesters continued to throw rocks at police, who have in recent days responded with rubber bullets as well as live ammunition. “Beirut really hasn’t witnessed scenes like these in many many years,” Slier said. “[There’s] a lot of anger, a lot of frustration,” she added.

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Belarus on the brink? Unloved in Moscow, a pariah again in the West & facing protests at home, Lukashenko is running out of road

Alexander Lukashenko will likely ride out the gathering storm across Belarus. However, he cannot remain the president forever. Which means Russia needs to work out a realistic long term strategy toward its closest ally.

There is little that Russia’s leaders like less than political instability. The 2016 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation uses the word ‘stability’ no fewer than 24 times, and the term has appeared regularly in the speeches of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin throughout the 21 years he has been either president or prime minister. Given a choice between revolution and the status quo, the preference of most Russians runs firmly in favor of the latter.

This may explain Putin’s response to Sunday’s presidential election in Belarus. According to official figures (which many disbelieve), incumbent President Lukashenko won nearly 80 percent of the vote. Following the announcement of this result, violent protests broke out in cities across Belarus, with opposition activists complaining that the results had been falsified. 

On Monday, Putin, however, chose to ignore the demonstrations and instead congratulated his Belarusian counterpart on his re-election. “I hope that your governance will facilitate further development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian relations in all areas,” said Putin.

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FILE PHOTO: Russian President, Vladimir Putin, meets with Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, in Sochi. © Reuters / Mikhail Klimentyev
Putin congratulates Lukashenko after incumbent named winner of presidential vote in Belarus for 6th time

Lukashenko is not in Moscow’s good books at present. The Belarusian president has proven adept at playing the West and Russia off against each other, plotting a middle path for his country between the two sides. This has precluded Belarus from advancing too far along the road of integration with Russia. Since the Kremlin favors such integration, his stance has led to a certain degree of frustration in Moscow.

Given Belarus’ reluctance to do Russia’s bidding, Russia has been increasingly unwilling to subsidise the Belarusian economy by, for instance, supplying it with cheap oil and gas. This in turn has led Lukashenko to look to America, furthering suspicions of him in Moscow. The last couple of years have seen relations between Belarus and Russia spiralling slowly downwards.

Matters then took a serious turn for the worse during the recent election campaign, when the Belarusian authorities arrested 33 Russian ‘mercenaries’ who were passing through Minsk. Their destination was Turkey, at least at first.

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Arrest of 33 ‘Russian mercenaries’ in Belarus may have been orchestrated by Ukrainian intelligence – newspaper investigation

The Russians were accused of plotting to organize mass disorder. The preposterous nature of the charges, and the insinuation that the Russian state was behind the alleged plot, have seriously raised tensions between Moscow and Minsk.

That said, it seems that Russia would still prefer Lukashenko to the alternative, especially if it takes the form of revolution. While there is no reason to believe that Lukashenko’s main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, is ill-disposed to Russia, and thus few grounds for fearing that a revolution in Belarus will pull that country out of Russia’s orbit and into that of NATO or the European Union, it seems that the Kremlin would rather not take the chance. Russian, indeed broader East European, history demonstrates that revolutions have a habit of getting out of hand. Violent protests against alleged falsifications of elections are something Moscow most definitely does not wish to encourage. It’s better to leave things as they are.

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Belarusian law enforcement officers detain men during a rally of opposition supporters following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020.  © REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Police shoot grenades and tear-gas at protesters against presidential election results in Belarus

It’s also better not to jump to support a revolutionary movement which is likely to fail. The demonstrations in Belarus have led some Western pundits to leap to the conclusion that Lukashenko’s end is nigh. He is, as one article put it on Monday, ‘a dead man walking’. It seems that Putin sees things rather differently. In rushing to congratulate Lukashenko, Putin is gambling that the protests will run out of steam and that Belarus’ president will be able to ride out the current storm.

Putin may be right, but there are some risks to this strategy. In 2004, Putin similarly congratulated Viktor Yanukovich on his victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, only to see that result annulled a few weeks later following the so-called Orange Revolution. Should Lukashenko fall, Russia will find itself in a similarly embarrassing situation. Thus, there are advantages to be had in keeping options open and in maintaining good relations with Belarus’ opposition.

On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Lukashenko will come out on top of the current crisis. In that case, Putin may be able to reap some dividends. 

In the past two years, Western states have been promoting better relations with Belarus. They may now change direction. Already, demands are being heard for the EU to impose additional sanctions on Belarus. Should the EU and the United States choose to take such a line, Lukashenko might be forced to shift in a more pro-Russian direction. 

Even if he does, however, Moscow still needs to consider what it will do once Lukashenko leaves office, as he eventually must. The short term advantage of standing by his side must be measured against the long term advantages of fostering good relations with the Belarusian people, as well as against the need to protect Russia’s commercial and strategic interests. For now, the preference for stability is winning out. It remains to be seen whether events will justify that choice.

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McDonald’s sues ex-CEO over CONSENSUAL flings: A virtue-signalling distraction for firm plagued with sex harassment probes?

McDonald’s is suing ex-CEO Stephen Easterbrook for allegedly concealing relationships with employees. Axed for a consensual fling last year, he’s an ideal distraction from the fast food giant’s larger sexual harassment problem.

The megachain has claimed that while Easterbrook admitted to one (consensual, non-physical) relationship with an employee when he was fired in November, he concealed three others — and destroyed evidence to cover his tracks, according to the lawsuit, revealed Monday in an SEC filing. He is accused of deleting sexually explicit photos and videos sent from corporate email accounts from his cell phone in order to keep them from investigators.

McDonald’s is using the latest accusations to attempt to claw back $670,000 the former exec received as part of his “without cause” separation agreement — the equivalent of 26 weeks salary — as well as compensatory damages. The company also wants to block him from exercising some $42 million in stock options, complaining he wouldn’t have been allowed to keep them had McDonald’s known about the other relationships prior to his firing and charging he “breached his fiduciary duties” as an officer of the corporation.

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When he was terminated for the text- and video-based hookup last year, Easterbrook attested that there were no similar “instances.” Relationships between employees of different ranks are forbidden under McDonald’s company policy, though they are reportedly common.

However, the lawsuit alleges that after being tipped off that Easterbrook had had a sexual relationship with another employee, McDonald’s discovered he’d had not one but three such relationships in the year preceding his firing, even rewarding one of the employees he’d trysted with by giving her a restricted stock grant worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Current CEO Chris Kempczinski condemned his predecessor’s alleged attempt to conceal his dalliances. “McDonald’s does not tolerate behavior from employees that does not reflect our values,” he said in a message to employees on Monday.

But this moral posturing over the ex-CEO’s indiscretions offers McDonald’s a welcome chance to grandstand, distracting from what is reportedly a widespread issue within the company. Just last week, the Nation ran an exhaustive cover story detailing sexual harassment allegations at McDonald’s restaurants in the US, and in May, the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) charged that sexual harassment was “systematic” and “rampant” throughout the company’s global fast food empire in a complaint filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

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Additionally, the Time’s Up legal defense fund filed 24 separate harassment complaints against McDonald’s last year, on the same day Brazilian authorities began probing the restaurant’s locations in that country over allegations of sexual assaults, racism, and promotions offered in exchange for sexual favors. Time’s Up also assisted in a $500 million class action lawsuit against McDonald’s in April for “systemic sexual harassment.” 

Because McDonald’s is a franchise, it has argued the company is not responsible for what happens at individual locations. 

But attacking the former CEO for consensual relationships while washing its hands of what the IUF called a “sexual harassment crisis” that is very much non-consensual comes off as tone-deaf and — given the hefty value of the stock options that could potentially end up back in McDonald’s hands — money-grubbing.

Already under fire for underpaying workers and continuing to serve up highly-processed, unhealthy food in a nation facing an unprecedented obesity crisis, McDonald’s certainly didn’t need another scandal. But attempting to reframe itself as a paragon of #MeToo virtue by suing its former CEO will not silence those demanding accountability for the fast food giant.

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