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Kylie Moore-Gilbert: Lecturer released by Iran ‘in prisoner swap’

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A British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage has been freed in exchange for three jailed Iranians, Iranian media say.

The Australian government confirmed Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release but did not give details.

Dr Moore-Gilbert, a lecturer in Middle East politics at Melbourne University, had been detained in Iran since September 2018.

She was tried in secret and strongly denied all the charges against her.

According to Iranian state media, she was exchanged for an Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens “who had been detained abroad”. They have not yet been named.

News of the exchange first came on Wednesday in a statement on the website of the Young Journalist Club, a news website affiliated to state television in Iran.

“An Iranian businessman and two Iranian citizens who were detained abroad on baseless charges were exchanged for a dual national spy named Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who worked for the Zionist regime,” it said.

Video purporting to show the exchange was published by state broadcaster IRIB news and the Tasnim website.

The footage, which had no commentary, showed Dr Moore-Gilbert wearing a grey hijab and being driven away in a mini-van. Three men are seen being met by officials. One is in a wheelchair.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “extremely pleased and relieved” at the release of Dr Moore-Gilbert which she said “was achieved through diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government”. She made no reference to any exchange of prisoners.

“The Australian government has consistently rejected the grounds on which the Iranian government arrested, detained and convicted Dr Moore-Gilbert. We continue to do so,” she said in a statement.

Senator Payne said Dr Moore-Gilbert would “soon be reunited with her family” but did not specify when she would be returning to Australia.

“No doubt, as she recovers, she will draw on the same strength and determination that helped her get through her period of detention. I also commend the endurance, trust and resilience of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s family, friends and university colleagues throughout this period,” the minister added.

Dr Moore-Gilbert had been travelling on an Australian passport when she was detained at Tehran airport in 2018 as she tried to leave following a conference.

In letters smuggled out of Tehran’s Evin prison earlier this year, the Cambridge-educated academic said she had “never been a spy” and feared for her mental health. She said she had rejected an offer from Iran to become a spy.

“I am not a spy. I have never been a spy, and I have no interest to work for a spying organisation in any country,” she wrote.

Concerns for her wellbeing escalated in August when news emerged that she had been transferred to Qarchak, a notorious prison in the desert.

She was visited shortly afterwards by Australia’s ambassador to Iran, Lyndall Sachs, who reported that she was “well”.

Before being moved to Qarchak, Dr Moore-Gilbert had spent almost two years sleeping on the floor of a cell at Evin prison, according to a friend.

She had been in solitary confinement and on several hunger strikes, and was said to have been beaten for trying to comfort new prisoners.

Iran has detained a number of foreign nationals and Iranian dual citizens in recent years, many of them on spying charges. Human rights groups have accused Tehran of using the cases as leverage to try to gain concessions from other countries.

British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on spying charges in 2016. She has always maintained her innocence.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, welcomed reports of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release.

“Nazanin and I are really happy for Kylie and her family,” he told the BBC. “They have been through so much, borne with such dignity. And it is an early Christmas present for us all, that one more of us is out and on their way home, one more family can begin to heal.”

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said news of Dr Moore-Gilbert’s release was “an enormous relief”.

“There may now be renewed grounds for hoping that UK-Iranian dual-nationals like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will also be released from their unjust jail terms in Iran in the coming days or weeks,” she said.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, was jailed for 10 years in July 2019 after being convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55077744

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Ukraine nursing home fire: Four arrested after Kharkiv blaze leaves 15 dead

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Ukrainian authorities have arrested four people in connection with a deadly fire at a retirement home in Kharkiv.

15 people were killed after a blaze ripped through the nursing home on Thursday afternoon in the eastern Ukrainian city, according to emergency services.

Nine others were rescued, five of whom have been taken to hospital for treatment.

Pictures from the scene showed blackened rooms and barred windows on the upper floor of the two-storey building, which had been converted into a home for the elderly. 50 firefighters attended the incident to extinguish the flames.

In a statement on Facebook, the country’s attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, said four people have been arrested.

The suspects include those who owned and rented the building, as well as the manager of the retirement home. Authorities say they are investigating if the fire was started by arson or the short circuit of an electrical appliance.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the centre in Kharkiv and has announced a national day of mourning for Saturday.

In an earlier tweet, the President called on local authorities to do “everything possible” to help victims and relatives who had lost loved ones.

 

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/21/ukraine-nursing-home-fire-15-dead-and-five-hospitalised-after-blaze-in-kharkiv

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Europe’s space leaders seek to boost sector in light of Brexit, COVID and international competition

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The European Space Conference in Brussels takes place this week, so Euronews spoke to European Space Agency Director General Jan Wörner about the challenges the sector faces in 2021.

Brexit troubles Europe’s space sector

Brexit is a headache for the European space sector, as the UK is a permanent and committed member of ESA, but is now outside the EU. Leaving the EU has made everything more complicated: under the terms of the agreement signed in December 2020 the UK can continue to be part of the Copernicus Earth observation programme at least until 2028, as both the EU and ESA contribute funding to it. However, it loses access to high-quality positioning from the EU’s Galileo satellites, and is now out of EGNOS. The British stop being a full member of the European space debris tracking system, but still have access to it as a non-EU partner.

There are outstanding questions over the role of British companies in building spacecraft for EU-related projects. ESA DG Jan Wörner told Euronews he believes ‘it is possible to have a solution’, given that non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway are able to take part in the construction of satellites under Brussels contracts. However, the sheer size of the UK space sector is an issue. “Some fear in Brussels that if a big member state is doing something different, then this could be a magnet for other countries to do the same,” admits Wörner.

EU project to beam internet to all

A hot topic around the virtual and real water coolers at the Brussels Space Conference will be the Commission’s new plans to create a network of low-Earth orbiting internet satellites, which should offer broadband, 5G and more to rural communities across the bloc.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Commissioner for Internal Market, Thierry Breton, with a broad consortium of space industry players comprising Airbus, SES, Arianespace, Eutelsat, OHB, Orange, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.

The vision is similar to the Starlink and OneWeb systems, both of which have already launched satellites aimed at offering a new kind of holy grail in communications, a low-flying communications network from orbit which allows everyone, at least in theory, to enjoy high-speed connectivity.

The European version would be a public-private partnership, and initial work will begin this year.

Defining ESA-EU relations

The EU’s enthusiasm for space is clear: just before Christmas the European Commission and Parliament approved a 14.8 billion euro budget for EU space activity. The funding for the period 2021 to 2027 includes 9 billion for Galileo and 5.4 billion for Copernicus.

It’s part of a continued and rising commitment to developing Europe’s space sector, but it does beg the question of just how close ESA and the EC would like to become? For Wörner, moving further in the EU’s direction is a ‘political decision’ but not one that necessarily fits with ESA’s principals on return on investment, which see agency member states receiving reciprocal industrial contracts which are very close in size to their level of investment in a given programme. “The link between what ESA is doing and what states want to happen is very close, and a really big advantage,” he says.

The current director of Earth Observation at ESA, Josef Aschbacher, has said that defining the relationship between the two organisations is one of his main objectives when he replaces Wörner in July 2021.

Competition from US and China

A key focus of the Brussels Space Conference is the desire for Europe to develop a vibrant and independent private space sector. So far, major initiatives like Galileo and Copernicus have spawned a large number of small and specialist space startups selling value-added services based on the free data from these two projects. However, the old continent has so far struggled to create the kind of attention-grabbing commercial space firms like SpaceX and Planet Labs that NASA has helped foster in the US.

Then, there’s the speedy growth and unbridled ambition of the Chinese to take into account. When Jan Wörner first came to his job in 2015 he made a media splash with his dreams of creating a ‘village on the Moon’. In late 2020, however, he could only watch in awe as the Chinese sent a robotic mission to fetch samples from the Moon. It’s something only the Soviet Union and the United States have achieved before.

“My first thought was congratulations, of course,” he says, “but I quickly thought ‘ah, they are fast, and we should be faster'”. He told Euronews he hopes the joint ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return mission will be even more inspiring and impressive and give Europe’s exploration programme a much-needed boost in publicity.

There are areas where ESA is a leader, particularly in Earth observation thanks to the Sentinel fleet. Catching space debris and working out how to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth are another two of the growth areas for public and private initiatives in Europe. ESA is also pushing ahead with its Space Rider vehicle, an un-crewed flying machine which resembles a mini-Shuttle, and could offer commercial and institutional clients a relatively low-cost means of reaching orbit, and returning home afterwards.

However, the new Ariane 6 rocket continues to face delays. Much vaunted as a flexible new vehicle to compete in this highly-competitive market, the replacement for the heavy-lift Ariane 5 is now only due to launch in the second quarter of 2022. Arianespace has called on European governments to step up their commitment to launchers to better compete with SpaceX, which has grown rapidly on the basis of lucrative American government launch contracts.

Read from source: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/11/europe-s-space-leaders-seek-to-boost-sector-in-light-of-brexit-covid-and-international-com

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Queen Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh receive Covid-19 vaccine

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Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh have received their Covid-19 vaccinations, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said Saturday.

The inoculations were administered by a household doctor at Windsor Castle, a royal source said.
To prevent inaccuracies and further speculation, Her Majesty, who 94, decided that she would let it be known that she has had the vaccination, the source added. Her husband is 99 years old.
The couple’s son, Prince Charles, tested positive for coronavirus and went into isolation in March. The 72-year-old later said he was lucky to only experience mild symptoms, adding he’d “got away with it quite lightly.”
Meanwhile, their grandson Prince William, second-in-line to the British throne, also tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year, UK media reported, though exactly when he contracted the virus is unclear.
The UK has recorded more than 3 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 80,000 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.
The UK reported 1,325 coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday — its highest ever daily increase in deaths.
Health officials face a deadly start to 2021 as a new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, sweeps the nation.
In the capital, London’s mayor declared a “major incident” on Friday, warning that hospitals in the city were close to being overrun.
“The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement.
“The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April.
“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point,” Khan added. “If we do not take immediate action now, our [National Health Service] could be overwhelmed and more people will die.”

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