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Russian voters back reform allowing Putin to extend rule

Issued on: 01/07/2020 – 22:09Modified: 01/07/2020 – 22:09

Russians appeared to have paved the way ..

Issued on: Modified:

Russians appeared to have paved the way for Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036 by voting overwhelmingly for a package of constitutional changes which will also boost pensions, partial results of a nationwide vote showed on Wednesday.

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Results, after almost a third of ballots had been counted, indicated that the former KGB officer who has ruled Russia for more than two decades as president or prime minister would easily win the right to run for two more terms. That means he could remain president for 16 more years.

The Central Election Commission said 74% of votes counted across the world's largest country had supported changing the constitution. Just under 25% had voted no of the 30% of ballots counted.

Russians have been encouraged to vote with prize draws offering flats and an ad campaign highlighting other constitutional amendments in the same reform bundle, such as the pensions protection and a de facto ban on same-sex marriages.

One-off payments of 10,000 roubles ($141) were transferred to those with children at Putin's order as people headed to polling stations on Wednesday, the last day of the vote, held over seven days to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"I voted for the amendments to the constitution," Moscow resident Mikhail Volkov said. "We need radical changes and I'm for them."

Others voted for the changes with less enthusiasm.

"I didn't read about the amendments if I'm honest," another voter, Lyudmila, said. "What's the point of voting if they've already decided for you. It's like that in our country – read something and vote. I voted."

Turnout was around 65%, election officials said. The required turnout is 50% and the amendments will pass if they are backed by a simple majority of voters.

Putin, 67, made no mention of how the changes could affect his own career in an eve-of-vote speech on Tuesday. They would allow him to run for another two six-year, consecutive stints after his current term expires in 2024.

Putin has said he has yet to decide on his future. Critics say they are sure he will run again, but some analysts say he may want to keep his options open to avoid becoming a lame duck.

At 60%, according to the Levada pollster, his approval rating remains high but well down on its peak of nearly 90%.

With Russia reporting thousands of new Covid-19 cases each day, opponents have been unable to stage protests but have mocked the vote online, sharing photographs of polling stations in apartment stairwells, courtyards and the boot of a car.

Small protests

A small group of activists staged a symbolic protest on Red Square on Wednesday afternoon using their prostrate bodies to form the date — 2036 — before being swiftly detained by police, TV Rain reported.

The "No! Campaign," called on supporters to vote against the changes and then discuss the result on Moscow's Pushkinskaya SquarRead More – Source

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Europe

Europe swelters under a heatwave complicated by Covid-19 restrictions

Issued on: 09/08/2020 – 13:10

Sun-seekers flocked to beaches over the weekend as parts of Western ..

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Sun-seekers flocked to beaches over the weekend as parts of Western Europe sweltered in a heatwave, but authorities urged people to avoid crowded areas and keep wearing masks despite the heat over concern for the rising numbers of coronavirus cases across the continent.

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A day after Britain recorded its hottest August day in 17 years at 36.4° Celsius (97.5° Fahrenheit) much of its southern coastline was packed with visitors, many of whom had been forced to abandon more exciting foreign holidays because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Authorities in Bournemouth, home to a seven-mile golden stretch of beach, warned that most of the beach was so busy that "safe social distancing is not possible" and urged people to stay away.

There was a similar story across other parts of Europe, where many residents endured weeks of lockdown earlier this year.

Crowds of Germans also headed for the coast on Saturday, but local authorities warned residents that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there are too many people.

Police in the capital Berlin told residents to avoid popular lake Mueggelsee while the beach at Prenzlau lake in Brandenburg state was turning people away.

"First time I've experienced that in 30 years," said the manager of the Prenzlau site, Ronny Klein.

France has also been sweltering through a heatwave since Thursday, with temperatures pushing towards 40°C (104°F) in several areas.

In the southwest, Brive-la-Gaillarde broke its own record with temperatures of 40.8°C on Friday as did Cognac with 39.8°C while Nantes posted a new all-time record of 39.6°C.

No relief is expected until Wednesday, with the soaring temperatures compounding the pressure as the country's coronavirus outbreak worsens, the number of daily infections hitting 2,288 on Friday.

Authorities reminded sweltering citizens that masks must continue to be worn where they have been mandated, despite the heat, with a Read More – Source

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Europe

Lukashenko faces challenge in Belarus presidential vote, opposition figures detained

Issued on: 09/08/2020 – 09:55

Belarus began voting in an election on Sunday pitting President Alex..

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Belarus began voting in an election on Sunday pitting President Alexander Lukashenko against a former teacher who emerged from obscurity to lead the biggest challenge in years against the man once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington.

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The 65-year-old Lukashenko is almost certain to win a sixth consecutive term but could face a new wave of protests amid anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and his human rights record.

An ongoing crackdown on the opposition could hurt Lukashenko's attempts to mend fences with the West amid fraying ties with traditional ally Russia, which has tried to press Belarus into closer economic and political union.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko has ruled since 1994.

International election observers 'haven't even been invited' for Belarus vote

He faces a surprise rival in Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, a former English teacher who entered the race after her husband, an anti-government blogger who intended to run, was jailed.

Her rallies have drawn some of the biggest crowds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been detained in a widening crackdown.

Foreign observers have not judged an election to be free and fair in Belarus for a quarter of a century. Despite an election commission ban on the opposition holding an alternative vote count, Tikhanouskaya urged her supporters to monitor polling stations.

"We are in the majority and we don't need blood on the city streets," she said on Saturday. "Let's defend our right to choose together."

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Europe

Belarus opposition candidate’s campaign manager detained before presidential vote

Issued on: 08/08/2020 – 18:09

The campaign manager of Belarus's leading opposition candidate ..

Issued on: 08/08/2020 – 18:09

The campaign manager of Belarus's leading opposition candidate was detained on Saturday on the eve of a tense presidential vote, her office said.

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A spokeswoman for presidential hopeful Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told AFP that Maria Moroz had been detained and was expected to be held until Monday.

It was not immediately clear on what grounds she had been detained, said spokeswoman Anna Krasulina.

"She probably won't be released before Monday," Krasulina said.

Moroz was also detained by the interior ministry on Thursday after visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk. She was later released.

Belarus holds the presidential election on Sunday with Tikhanovskaya posing the greatest challenge in years to long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

The 65-year-old leader has headed the ex-Soviet country bordering Russia since 1994 and Sunday's polls are expected to hand him his sixth term.

Lukashenko has presided over an aggressive crackdown on the opposition and Tikhanovskaya has charged that he will rig the vote.

Europe's longest-serving leader

Early voting began in the country of 9.5 million people on Tuesday, with official turnout over the past four days already at more than 32 percent.

Tikhanovskaya has drawn huge crowds to campaign rallies throughout the country after she was allowed to participate in place of her husband who was jailed and barred from running.

Lukashenko, who is Europe's longest-serving leader, jailed twRead More – Source

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