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Police probe gunman’s motive as Prague reels from mass shooting

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Police probe gunman’s motive as Prague reels from mass shooting

Czech authorities sought a motive Friday in a student’s gun attack that killed 13 people at a Prague university, where tearful mourners have left a sea of candles to grieve for the victims. 

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The gunfire Thursday at the Charles University’s Faculty of Arts sparked frantic scenes of students running from the attack that was the Czech Republic‘s worst shooting in decades. 

A makeshift memorial of hundreds of candles flickered outside the university on Friday as police pursued the investigation at the campus in Prague’s historic centre.

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The gunman, a 24-year-old student, killed himself after the attack after shooting dead 13 people and wounding 25 others. 

“We know all 14 dead and their identity. It’s 13 victims of the mad gunman and the gunman himself,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan told public broadcaster Czech TV, revising down a previous toll of 14 victims.

He added that three of the wounded were foreigners. The Dutch foreign ministry said earlier one of them was a Dutch national.

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All the victims were killed inside the building, and at least some were the gunman’s fellow students.

Rakusan had said earlier that there was no link between the shooting and “international terrorism” and that the student acted on his own. 

Although police said there was no longer any imminent threat, they were still guarding selected sites including schools on Friday as a preventive measure and “a signal we are here”.

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The government has declared a national day of mourning on Saturday, with flags on official buildings to be flown at half-staff and people asked to observe a minute’s silence at noon.

‘Huge arsenal’

The gunman, previously unknown to the police, had a “huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition”, Police Chief Martin Vondrasek said after the killings on Thursday.

Police had started a search for the student even before the mass shooting, after his father was found dead in the village of Hostoun west of Prague.

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The gunman “left for Prague saying he wanted to kill himself”, Vondrasek said, declining to confirm whether the gunman had killed his father.

Police had started the search at a Faculty of Arts building where the gunman was expected to show up for a lecture, but he went instead to the faculty’s main building nearby.

Police learned about the shooting at around 1400 GMT and sent a rapid response unit to the scene. Twenty minutes later, the gunman was dead.

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Citing an inquiry into the student’s social media activities, Vondrasek said the gunman was inspired by a “similar case that happened in Russia”, without providing further details.

Vondrasek said police believed the same gunman had also killed a young man and his two-month-old daughter in a pram during a walk in a forest on the eastern outskirts of Prague on December 15.

The investigation into those murders, which had shocked Prague, had stalled until evidence found in Hostoun linked the gunman with the crime.

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‘Senseless’

The shooting at Charles University, which sits near major tourist sites like the 14th-century Charles Bridge, was the deadliest since the Czech Republic emerged as an independent state in 1993.

“There is no justification for this horrendous act,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said. 

US President Joe Biden sent his condolences, slamming the “senseless” shooting.

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“My heart is with those who lost their lives in today’s senseless shooting in Prague, those injured, and the Czech people,” he wrote on X.

“Our authorities are in touch with Czech law enforcement, and we stand ready to offer additional support if needed.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky were among those also offering condolences.

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Vive émotion en apprenant que l’Université Charles de Prague a été la cible d’une fusillade meurtrière. J’exprime ma solidarité avec les victimes, les blessés et leurs proches, ainsi qu’avec le peuple et les autorités tchèques.

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 21, 2023


Though mass gun violence is unusual in the Czech Republic, the nation has been rocked by some instances in recent years.

A 63-year-old man shot seven men and a woman dead in 2015 before killing himself in a restaurant in the southeastern town of Uhersky Brod.

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In 2019, a man killed six people in the waiting room of a hospital in the eastern city of Ostrava, with another woman dying days later. The man shot himself dead about three hours after the attack.

(AFP)

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‘Noon against Putin’: A small gesture and a powerful symbol of Russia’s opposition

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‘Noon against Putin’: A small gesture and a powerful symbol of Russia’s opposition

The widow of Russia’s late opposition leader Alexei Navalny is calling on voters in the country’s presidential election to turn up at polling stations en masse at 12 noon on March 17 and either vote against Vladimir Putin or spoil their ballot. The protest action, known as “Noon Against Putin”, aims to honour Navalny’s last wishes, while illustrating the high number of voters who are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin is hoping for record turnout in the country’s forthcoming March 15-17 elections. And now the Russian strongman, who is seeking a fifth term in office in a tightly controlled vote, might find his wish has been granted.

But if voters turn out in high numbers on March 17 at noon sharp, Putin might feel he should have been careful what he wished for.

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The “Noon against Putin” protest action was called for by the late Alexei Navalny two weeks before his death in an Arctic prison, and is now being continued by his widow Yulia.

Promoters of the protest want Russians to wait until noon on March 17 to go to their polling station. They don’t care which candidate they vote for – as long as it’s not Putin and as long as they come precisely at noon.

“The choice is yours. You can vote for any candidate except Putin,” Navalnaya said in a YouTube video.

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“You can ruin the ballot, you can write ‘Navalny’ in big letters on it. And even if you don’t see the point in voting at all, you can just come and stand at the polling station, and then turn around and go home.”

Russia’s presidential election is widely expected to hand Putin another six-year term, keeping him in the Kremlin until at least 2030. The vote is being held with no meaningful opposition challengers and international observers have already raised concerns about its transparency and accountability.

Navalnaya views the polling protest as a gesture of support for the Russian opposition and a powerful way for citizens to show they are against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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Indeed the protest action may be the only thing motivating Russians who are against Putin to turn out and vote.

“How many people will show up is the only interesting figure in these elections,” says Matthew Wyman, a specialist in Russian politics at Keele University in the UK.

‘Navalny’s political legacy’

“We have to sabotage it [the election],” says Maxim Reznik, an exiled Russian opposition figure who came up with the idea for the initiative, when interviewed by independent Russian news website Meduza.

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Reznik first suggested the protest action during a debate – “What to do about the presidential election?” – broadcast in January 2024 on the opposition channel Dozhd.

Since then, most of Russia’s leading opposition figures have voiced their support for the “Noon Against Putin” initiative, starting with Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which rarely misses an opportunity to promote it.

Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, has even called the protest action “Navalny’s will”.

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“It’s very appropriate to link it to Navalny because it’s the kind of thing he would have done,” Wyman points out.

“It is in the spirit of a lot of things Navalny was doing and asking people to do: it’s not difficult, and with small steps you can hope to make big changes,” adds Jenny Mathers, a specialist in Russia at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

“Noon against Putin” ties in perfectly with this strategy. Going to the polling station at a specific time calls for no particular effort from voters – neither does it put them at risk.

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“What they are doing is trying to find ways to show resistance without risk of being put in jail. The protest is brilliant because they are doing exactly what the regime wants you to do: going to vote,” says Wyman, adding that the police would find it hard to justify arresting voters for doing their civic duty.

Mathers suggests it is important to start with small steps.

“The idea is to rebuild civil society and a credible opposition force that has been badly hit lately,” she notes. “After small steps, maybe a bigger one will come? I see it as one piece of a long-lasting campaign,” Mathers adds.

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The number of Russians opposed to the war

This type of protest action illustrates “the creativity of actions undertaken by the opposition in Russia”, explains Wyman, adding that “the space to protest has been kind of reduced and reduced”.

“Noon against Putin” is just one of a long list of initiatives in a similar vein. Demonstrators have held up blank sheets of paper to symbolise the censorship of any criticism of Russia’s war on Ukraine, and activists have added QR codes to advertising billboards so that citizens can access websites critical of Putin.

“These are the kind of practices you see in regimes that become more and more oppressive,” says Mathers.

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“It is like what China does, when they use Winnie the Pooh,” adds Mathers, referring to China’s ban of a Winnie the Pooh film after the Chinese used memes to mock their leader Xi Pingping by comparing him to the honey-loving bear.

Some wonder if the protest action will have any real impact.

“Obviously it’s not going to change the outcome of the election,” admits Mathers.

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However, Wyman believes it will give a “better picture” of the strength of the opposition to the war on Ukraine.

The vast crowds that gathered for Navalny’s funeral on March 1 have already given some insight into the feeling of dissent in Russia. At least 27,000 people came to say farewell to Navalny at Borisovsky cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow, according to a count by the independent Russian news outlet Mediazona.

But Stephen Hall, a Russia specialist at the University of Bath, predicts that voter turnout will be much higher than it was for Navalny’s funeral – pointing out that it was mainly Muscovites who attended, and that police had warned people to stay away.

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“Here the risk of arrest is low and it’s [taking place] all over Russia.

“This is a low risk way to show you’re against the regime and the war.”

Stealing the media limelight from Putin

Hall believes one of “Noon Against Putin’s” main challenges will be mobilising people outside of Moscow or St Petersburg.

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“Putin has always counted on popular support on the outskirts of major urban centres. If long queues form in front of polling stations all over Russia at midday on Sunday, he may start to worry about the real level of his popularity,” he explains.

“Noon against Putin” also aims to steal the media spotlight from the Kremlin.

“The regime wants this election to be non-controversial. So the more disruption there is, like huge numbers going to polling stations at noon, the more this might be a problem for Putin,” says Mathers.

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“Putin desperately wants all the world headlines after the election to say he ‘got 85 percent’,” says Reznik.

“But now, rest assured, you’ll see! All the headlines won’t be about Putin’s performance but about what happened at ‘Noon’,” Reznik adds.

“It’s about creating a counter-narrative,” agrees Matthew Wyman.

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This is partly so that Russians opposed to the regime do not feel alone, but it’s also “a way to say to the world we are not all Putin, and that there is a movement to support in Russia”, adds Mathers.

But for that to happen, voters will need to turn out in high numbers at polling stations at noon on Sunday.

This article has been translated from the original in French. 

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US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passes TikTok ban bill

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US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passes TikTok ban bill

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill on Wednesday that would force TikTok to divest from its Chinese owner or be banned from the United States.

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The legislation is a major setback for the video-sharing app, which has surged in popularity across the world while causing nervousness about its Chinese ownership and its potential subservience to the Communist Party in Beijing.

The lawmakers voted 352 in favor of the proposed law and 65 against, in a rare moment of unity in politically divided Washington.

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“Today’s bipartisan vote demonstrates Congress’ opposition to Communist China’s attempts to spy on and manipulate Americans, and signals our resolve to deter our enemies,” Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said after the vote.

“I urge the Senate to pass this bill and send it to the President so he can sign it into law,” he added.

But the fate of the bill is uncertain in the more cautious Senate, where some key figures are apprehensive of making such a drastic move against an app that has 170 million US users.

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President Joe Biden will sign the bill, known officially as the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, into law if it came to his desk, the White House has said.

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban,” said a spokesperson for TikTok in a statement.

“We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” the spokesperson added.

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The measure, which only gained momentum in the past few days, requires TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to sell the app within 180 days or see it barred from the Apple and Google app stores in the United States.

It also gives the president power to designate other applications to be a national security threat if they are under the control of a country considered adversarial to the US.

The renewed campaign against TikTok came out of the blue to the company, the Wall Street Journal reported, with TikTok executives reassured when Biden joined the app last month as part of his campaign for a second term.

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is in Washington, trying to stop progress on the bill.                  

The Trump factor

China warned on Wednesday that the move will “inevitably come back to bite the United States.”

“Although the United States has never found evidence that TikTok threatens US national security, it has not stopped suppressing TikTok,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, condemning it as “bullying behavior.”

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Republican lawmakers approved the bill, in an unusual act of defiance against Donald Trump.

In a turnaround from his earlier stance, Trump on Monday said he was against a ban, mainly because it would strengthen Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, which he called an “enemy of the people.”

When Trump was president, he attempted to wrest control of Tiktok from ByteDance, but was blocked by US courts.

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“I think it will die in the Senate,” said representative Nancy Mace, a Trump ally. “This is not our job to do this.”

Other efforts to ban TikTok have failed, with a bill proposed a year ago getting nowhere largely over free speech concerns.

Similarly, a state law passed in Montana banning the platform was suspended by a federal court on the suspicion that it violated constitutional free speech rights.

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TikTok staunchly denies any ties to the Chinese government and has restructured the company so the data of US users stays in the country with independent oversight, the company says.

(AFP)

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Charles de Gaulle’s eldest son, Philippe de Gaulle, dies aged 102

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Charles de Gaulle’s eldest son, Philippe de Gaulle, dies aged 102

The eldest child of French World War II Resistance leader and first postwar president Charles de Gaulle, has died aged 102, the family said on Wednesday.

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Philippe de Gaulle, who was a significant military figure in his own right, heeded his father’s call to join Free French forces in the fight against Nazism in World War II.

He later had a successful naval career, rising to the rank of admiral, and also became a senator.

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Despite a striking physical resemblance, he was a more low-key figure than his father but devoted himself to preserving the memory of Charles de Gaulle, notably through numerous books including the successful work “De Gaulle, my father”.

His son Yves de Gaulle told AFP that he died overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday in the Invalides in central Paris, the French military institution where he had lived for two years.

Les armées s’inclinent devant la disparition de l’amiral Philippe de Gaulle. De la fougue du combattant de la France Libre à la finesse de l’officier général, son parcours continuera de guider les générations sous les armes. Saluons l’engagement d’une vie au service de la 🇫🇷. pic.twitter.com/xHxmNtLMSS

— Chef d’état-major des armées (@CEMA_FR) March 13, 2024

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“Philippe de Gaulle anticipated his father’s call to join the Resistance,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote in a tribute on X.

“Sailor, admiral, senator, he never came up short when courage and honour were required. A century of French bravery.”

Macron opened a cabinet meeting Wednesday with a tribute to Philippe de Gaulle and would hold a national memorial ceremony at the Invalides next week in his memory, government spokeswoman Prisca Thevenot said.

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Eric Ciotti, head of the right-wing Republicans party that sees itself as the inheritor of de Gaulle’s political mantle, described Philippe de Gaulle as a “pillar” of France.

“His life dedicated to the service of France, in the navy and in the Senate, was a living example for the Republic,” he wrote on X.

“France was in his heart until the end,” added Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu.              

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‘Not easy’  

He joined the Free French Naval Forces in 1940 and fought in the North Atlantic until 1944, then in France itself when the Resistance joined the Allies in pushing the Nazis out of France, taking part in the Normandy Landings of D-Day.

After the war, he saw action during post-colonial conflicts in Indochina (modern day Cambodia, Laos and parts of Vietnam and China), Morocco and Algeria.

Charles de Gaulle was wary of the slightest hint of nepotism and never helped his son win a post, nor did he decorate him with the Order of Liberation after the war.

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The upbringing of Charles de Gaulle’s three children was austere, with their mother Yvonne said to only kiss Philippe and his two sisters on their birthday and December 31.

The eldest of the sisters, Elisabeth died in 2013 while the youngest of the children Anne, who suffered from Down Syndrome, died in 1948 aged just 20.

“I know everything, my boy. Your position has never been easy. It’s not nothing to be the son of General de Gaulle,” he was told on one occasion by his father.

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“But your attitude has always been the one I expected of you,” said Charles de Gaulle.

Nicolas Lacroix, the president of the Charles de Gaulle memorial in the eastern town of Colombey-les-deux-Eglises where de Gaulle lived before World War II and died in 1970, said Philippe de Gaulle would be buried opposite his father in the local cemetery and alongside his wife Henriette, his mother Yvonne and sister Anne.

“Our country has lost one of its great defenders. Gaullism has lost one of its greatest ambassadors,” he said, adding the French flag would be at half mast at the memorial until the burial takes place.

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(AFP)

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