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France probes threats against Russian prison rights activist

PARIS — French authorities are investigating death threats against a Russian rights activist who exposes abuses in Russian prisons and says he was the target of a possible assassination attempt at his home in France.

Vladimir Osechkin, founder of prisoners’ rights group Gulagu.net, suspects Russian security services of trying to “shut his mouth” or scare him away from continuing his activism. His recent work has notably had links to the Ukraine war.

While carrying a plate of spaghetti to his two children in the Atlantic coast city of Biarritz last week, Osechkin said he saw a red dot appear on the wall, tracing his movements. The family dropped to the floor and went to a safe room. He said police and neighbors heard shots in the vicinity. No one was hurt.

“Me and my colleagues … are seen like enemies of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, Putin’s regime,” Osechkin told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “He wants to destroy me.”

The prosecutor’s office for the region surrounding Biarritz issued a statement Tuesday saying that a preliminary investigation into death threats against the activist is underway as part of broader measures to ensure Osechkin’s protection.

“At this stage, there is no objective evidence that allows us to support the hypothesis of an assassination attempt that could have targeted Vladimir Osechkin last week,” the statement said.

Osechkin has been under French police protection for the past several months and had first reported death threats to police in March. He was warned Sept. 9 of a new possible threat to his life.

He said the incident on Sept. 12 could have been a “psychological attack” to scare him or a botched effort to kill him. He said he hopes further investigation clarifies what happened and who was behind it.

Russian officials have not publicly commented about him.

French local and national police and government ministries would not comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Osechkin sought political asylum in France after fleeing Russia under pressure from authorities over his prison activism. Osechkin’s group routinely publishes videos and accounts of alleged torture and corruption in Russian prisons, and he was among the first to reveal that Russia’s military was recruiting prisoners to fight in Ukraine.

Gulagu.net also helped bring Russian fugitive paratrooper Pavel Filatiev to France last month. Filatiev served in the Ukraine war before being injured, and later published accounts online of what he saw, accusing the Russian military leadership of betraying their own troops out of incompetence and corruption.

While Osechkin described being accustomed to pressure from Russian authorities, he said the incident Sept. 12 made him consider for the first time stopping his work to protect his children. But he said giving up would only hand victory to Putin and his allies.

“It’s very difficult for us and to our family, but I think that we don’t have the choice. We need to stop Putin and his regime,” he said. “It’s not a battle against Putin. It’s a battle against totalitarianism. And we need to do something to win, to protect democracy and human rights and the future of the Russian Federation.”

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Follow AP coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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North Korea fires ballistic missiles in latest tests amid tension | News

Japanese official reported that the missiles travelled 400kms (250 miles) and at a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles).

North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Pyongyang area towards the country’s east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese officials, marking Pyongyang’s fourth missile test launches in a week.

Japan’s NHK national television said multiple missiles were fired from North Korea on Saturday morning and were believed to have landed in the Sea of Japan though outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

“What appears to be a ballistic missile was launched from North Korea,” the Japanese coast guard said in a statement issued at 6:47 am (21:47 GMT) local time on Saturday.

In a second statement issued about 15 minutes later, the coast guard said another apparent ballistic missile was launched.

NHK said the projectiles seemed to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zones, citing government sources.

The office of Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted that the latest missile launch was being analysed and instructions issued for the safety of people, aircraft and vessels.

North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday and Thursday in the hours before and after a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to South Korea during which she emphasised the “ironclad” US commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

The latest launch also follows after the navies of South Korea, the United States and Japan staged trilateral anti-submarine exercises on Friday for the first time in five years.

Japan’s Vice Defence Minister Toshiro Ino said North Korea’s repeated missile firings are “persistently escalating provocations”.

“North Korea’s actions threaten the peace and safety not only for Japan but also the region and the international community, and are absolutely impermissible,” Ino said, calling the four launches in one week “unprecedented”.

The missiles rose to a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles) and flew as far as 400km (250 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan in areas outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Ino said.

The missiles may have been on “irregular” trajectory, which makes tracking more difficult.

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build its ballistic weapons capacity, as well as to take advantage of a world distracted by the Ukraine conflict and other crises.

Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea have long been banned by the United Nations Security Council.

“Despite North Korea’s internal weaknesses and international isolation, it is rapidly modernising weapons and taking advantage of a world divided by US-China rivalry and Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territory,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

A South Korean legislator said on Wednesday that the North has completed preparations for a nuclear test, and a window for such a test could open between China’s party congress in October and the US mid-term elections in November.



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US judge dismisses Mexico lawsuit against gun manufacturers

MEXICO CITY — A U.S. federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Mexican government against U.S. gun manufacturers arguing their commercial practices has led to bloodshed in Mexico.

Judge F. Dennis Saylor in Boston ruled Mexico’s claims did not overcome the broad protection provided to gun manufacturers by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act passed in 2005.

The law shields gun manufacturers from damages “resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse” of a firearm.

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would appeal the decision.

Mexico was seeking at least $10 billion in compensation, but legal experts had viewed the lawsuit as a long shot.

The Mexican government argued that the companies know their practices contribute to the trafficking of guns into Mexico and facilitate it. Mexico wants compensation for the havoc the guns have wrought on its people.

Among those sued were some of the biggest names in guns, including: Smith & Wesson Brands Inc., Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc., Beretta U.S.A. Corp., Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC and Glock Inc.

Another defendant was Interstate Arms, a Boston-area wholesaler that sells guns from all but one of the named manufacturers to dealers around the U.S.

The Mexican government estimates 70% of the weapons trafficked into Mexico come from the U.S., according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It said that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides in Mexico were linked to trafficked weapons.

Mexico argued the U.S. protection act did not apply when an injury occurred outside the United States.

Saylor did not agree.

“Mexico is seeking to hold defendants liable for practices that occurred within the United States and only resulted in harm in Mexico,” he wrote. “This case thus represents a valid domestic application of the PLCAA, and the presumption against extraterritoriality does not apply.”

The sale of firearms is severely restricted in Mexico and controlled by the Defense Department. But thousands of guns are smuggled into Mexico by the country’s powerful drug cartels.

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Officials: North Korea fires suspected ballistic missiles

TOKYO — North Korea has fired suspected ballistic missiles, the Japanese Defense Ministry said Saturday.

Further details are still being analyzed, ministry officials said.

Japanese media reported that the missiles are believed to have landed in the Sea of Japan.

Saturday’s firing is the latest of North Korea’s escalating missile launches and a third this week following those fired Friday in the wake of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit in South Korea.

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