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Police arrest 37 of Balkan crime gang across Europe: Europol

An international police operation coordinated from Croatia has broken up a “highly violent” criminal gang from the Western Balkans and arrested 37 people, Europol said Thursday.

The “powerful criminal cell” was mainly involved in the large-scale trafficking of drugs and firearms across Europe, the European Union law enforcement agency said.

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“A total of 37 suspects were arrested over the course of the investigation, including the gang’s ringleader –- a national from Bosnia and Herzegovina considered as a high-value target by Europol and currently serving a four-year-long prison sentence in Italy,” Europol said in a statement.

The gang leader is suspected of having orchestrated the trafficking of drugs and firearms by giving orders to his subordinates from behind bars, Europol added.

On Thursday, a series of raids was carried out simultaneously across Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Germany against suspected members of the gang.

Along with the arrests, police seized some 148,000 euros ($159,000) in cash, 18 firearms including two machine guns and 500 grams of TNT with remote detonators.

Police also seized 15 kilos of cocaine, 11 kilos of heroin as well as quantities of amphetamine, marijuana and hashish.

The international sweep followed what Europol described as a “complex investigation” led by Croatian police as part of the “Balkan Cartel” Operational Taskforce.

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Russia accuses Ukraine of ‘blatant lies’ about Crimea discrimination, MH17

Russia on Thursday denied Ukrainian accusations that it backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and discriminates against ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea, accusing Kyiv instead of “blatant lies” at the UN’s top court.

Ukraine has asked the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Russia to halt alleged discrimination against the Tatar ethnic group in Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.

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“Ukraine is constantly turning to blatant lies and false accusations leveled against the Russian federation,” the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands, Alexander Shulgin, said at the second day of hearings at the ICJ.

“Nothing could be further removed from the truth,” he said.

In the same case, a panel of 16 judges at the ICJ this week began hearing Ukraine’s assertion that Moscow violated a UN anti-terrorism treaty by equipping and funding pro-Russian forces, including militias who shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 298 passengers and crew in 2014.

Last November, a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist in absentia for their role and sentenced them to life in prison. It found that Russia had “overall control” over the separatist forces.

Russia rejected what it called the “scandalous” decision by the Dutch court. On Thursday Russia’s ambassador-at-large Gennady Kuzmin told the ICJ the Dutch judgment was biased against separatist forces in the Donetsk region.

“At the end of the day, Ukraine’s MH17 case boils down to nonsense,” Kuzmin said.

The hearings in the case at the ICJ, which stems from 2017, marked the first time lawyers for Ukraine and Russia met at the ICJ since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

On the first day of the hearing Ukraine accused Russia of being a terrorist state who knowingly funded and equipped pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine and tried to erase the culture of ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.

Russia denies systematic human rights abuses in Ukrainian territory that it occupies.

Ukraine will have a chance to reply to Russia’s case next week. The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is expected to rule on the whole of the case before the end of this year.

The ICJ is the United Nations top court for disputes between states and its rulings are binding but have no enforcement mechanism.

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Indian police intensify sexual abuse probe against wrestling chief

Indian police have questioned more than 155 people in a widening investigation of sexual harassment accusations against the chief of the national wrestling body, a police source with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.

The government has set a June 15 deadline to wrap up the investigation after the accusations made by the country’s wrestlers in January against the official, who is also a member of parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party.

The wrestlers camped outdoors in New Delhi for months to protest against a lack of action, but police cleared the site and detained some of the Olympic medalists when they threatened to march on India’s new parliament building last month.

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“We are recording statements and gathering evidence from everyone directly and indirectly attached with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI),” said a New Delhi police official who is overseeing the investigation.

“The aim is to wrap up all sides of the police inquiry this week,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He added that 155 people had been examined as the effort widens.

A police spokesman declined to comment on the figure during a continuing investigation.

A lawyer for Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the WFI, said his client was innocent and rejected the accusations. A six-time MP, Singh is set to hold a rally in his northern constituency on Sunday to seek public support.

The protest, and police action against top athletes, shone a spotlight on the government’s delay in tackling the complaint against a member of the ruling party.

Police complaints reviewed by Reuters showed seven female athletes, including a minor, detailed harassment by Singh.

At a meeting with the protesting wrestlers on Wednesday, Sports Minister Anurag Thakur promised swift action and efforts to boost safety for female wrestlers, along with fair elections to appoint a new chief of the body.

“It’s been a deeply humiliating experience at multiple levels but we will continue our fight if the government fails to provide justice,” said protest leader Bajrang Punia, who took the men’s 65 kg freestyle bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Punia, another Olympic medalist, Sakshi Malik and Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat had to be talked out of plans to dump their medals in a river in protest on May 30.

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Air India carrying stranded passengers from Russia lands in US

The Air India relief flight carrying stranded passengers from the small Russian town of Magadan landed in its original destination San Francisco two days after a technical problem grounded the initial flight.

“Flight AI173D from Magadan (GDX) landed safely in San Francisco (SFO) at 0007 Hours on 08 June 2023,” the airline said in a statement.

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The previously stranded passengers and crew have reportedly been granted on ground assistance and clearance formalities, including medical care, ground transportation, and onward connections.

Over 220 passengers and crew were stuck in a Russian town for nearly two days from June 6 since the Delhi-origin, US-bound jet made an emergency landing owing to engine trouble.

Videos shared by a journalist on social media showed the passengers accommodated in a school with “bare minimum facilities.”

Following the wide circulation of the video, the Indian carrier, owned by Tata Sons, released a statement explaining the emergency landing and claiming “infrastructure limitations around the remote airport” for the use of mattresses on the floor of a school as makeshift accommodation.

In its latest statement, Air India thanked “government agencies, regulatory authorities, our staff and partners involved in supporting our endeavour to bring our passengers to SFO as soon as possible and in providing them care while they waited in Magadan, Russia.”

Flight AI173D from Magadan (GDX) landed safely in San Francisco (SFO) at 0007 Hours on 08 June 2023 (local time).
All our passengers are being extended maximum on-ground assistance with clearance formalities and provided other…

— Air India (@airindia) June 8, 2023

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