ABC - World News

Oleksii Liskonih/iStockBy JOOHEE CHO, ABC News

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea sent an apology letter to South Korea's presidential office on Friday explaining what happened in their waters when North Korean troops shot and killed a South Korean official who drifted into their waters earlier this week.

The letter from North's Central Committee's United Front Department also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is "very sorry" that an "unexpected and unsavory incident" took place while not being able to help fellow South Korean people who are already going through tough times fighting the threat of a vicious virus.

"It's extremely unusual for North Korea to issue a statement of regret so fast," Byun Sang-Jung, a researcher at Institute for National Security Strategy, told ABC News. "North Korea felt the need for South Korea to calm down, seeing that not only the public is infuriated, but the presidential office issued a statement condemning North Korea."

North Korean soldiers discovered a 47-year-old civil servant clutching on a floating device, questioned him from a distance, fired shots to kill, then burnt the corpse, South Korea's Defense Ministry announced on Thursday based on their intelligence gatherings. South Korea strongly criticized the shooting calling it a "brutal act" and demanded an explanation and punishment for the persons in charge.

According to North's explanation on Friday, North's army troops in charge of waters patrol spotted an unidentified man atop a flotsam. When asked to identify himself, he murmured at first and soon stopped answering. As he remained silent and not adhering to the patrol's demand, the patrol shot two blanks. North's troops fired towards the intruder from 130 feet when it came to a situation suggesting that he attempted to flee. After checking that the intruder had disappeared while "much volume of blood" was spotted, they set the remaining flotsam on fire.

In the very unusually long and detailed explanation, which North Korea rarely issued over any conflicts in the past, the North also expressed "big regret" that the South Korean military accused them on Thursday of committing an atrocious act without proof and prior to requesting an explanation.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kalpit Bhachech/iStockBy SREYA BANERJEE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- With the windows of his ambulance rolled down and the siren blaring, Mohsin Khan, 41, told his attendant why he drives ambulances.

"I lost my mother because no ambulance came on time to attend to her," he said. "The helplessness I felt, I don't wish that on my worst enemy."

On COVID-19 duty since the beginning of the pandemic in India, Khan has seen and done it all: from rushing patients to hospitals across Delhi to being the sole witness to last rites being performed. But this particular trip to the cremation ground brought him a sense of complete helplessness, as it involved him shifting the body of a 3-year-old COVID-19 victim, the youngest he has ever carried.

"She just reminds me of my daughter, she is somebody's child," he said tearfully.

"Sometimes I end up spending my entire day in cremation grounds and cemeteries. There are just too many bodies," he said as he waited to hand over the stretcher at the crematorium.

Since April 17, when Khan picked up his first COVID-19 patient, he has seen the numbers in cases and deaths rise consistently.

"My ambulance was the only one in the fleet until then," he said. "But with an increase in the number of cases and deaths, we now have 17 ambulances."

Some days, death is the only thing he sees.

"There are so many bodies and so many patients," he said. "On some days, we don't even have time to eat. There have been times when I have had to take six patients at once."

India this month surpassed Brazil as the country with the world's second-highest number of recorded infections. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre, the country has 5.6 million total cases, putting it not far behind the United States, which has 6.9 million.

The country is seeing between 70,000 and 90,000 new cases daily. The virus has killed more than 80,000 people and infection rates are surging across the country with no sign of stopping.

"The number of cases per day is a matter of concern. And everybody from governments, union governments, state governments, medical professionals, everybody is concerned," Dr. Arvind Kumar, a lung specialist at New Delhi's Gangaram Hospital, told ABC News. "And are we constantly having discussion, dialog, on what to do to contain this number?"

Experts also worry that the infection rate in India could be higher than what it is currently being reported.

In the past few months, the Indian government has been doing more testing -- up to one million tests are being carried out each day, according to authorities -- but per capita testing rates remain low.

"If you compare with other countries which have a comparable number of cases, the Indian test per million population is 47,000. Brazil is one-and-a-half times that, and Russia and the U.S. are six times that," said Dr. Rajib Dasgupta, a professor of community medicine at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. "And that's a far more sensitive indicator than saying we've gone up so many tests. So in that sphere, there's a lot more that needs to be done."

Testing in India also includes the rapid antigen tests, which result in a higher portion of false negatives, Dasgupta told ABC News.

"Antigen tests have been there for quite some months now and were meant for special situations like containment zones and people with high probability of illness," Dasgupta said. "But it's being done more generally now. On the plus side, this has pushed up testing numbers, but on the minus side you're picking up less than you would from such a high number of tests."

In March, India instituted a stringent lockdown to curb the crisis and give India's overburdened health care system a shot at dealing with the pandemic. But the lockdown plan did not account for the millions of internal migrants working in cities. Most of them were daily wage laborers who, overnight, found themselves without work and shelter.

They were left with no choice but to undertake arduous journeys, often on foot, to go back to their villages located thousands of miles away. And that contributed to the spread of the virus.

"We did have the unfortunate incidents of millions of laborers crisscrossing the country, which unfortunately carried this virus from cities to our rural areas, which were previously untouched," Kumar said.

The lockdown hit the economy hard. India's GDP went down 23.9% between April and June, and 121 million people lost their jobs between April and August.

By May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had begun easing the lockdown, just as cases were going up.

Authorities decided they couldn't afford a further slowing down of the economy, and they have since continued to ease restrictions despite the surge in cases.

Workplaces and businesses have reopened, construction has restarted, markets are bustling and restaurants have opened their doors. Metro rail services in different cities have resumed as well.

The iconic Taj Mahal, India's biggest tourist attraction, also welcomed back tourists on Sept. 21, though in much smaller numbers, after closing its doors for an unprecedented six months.

But, as cases increase each day, India's health care system has been put to the test.

"Yes, it's a fact that in most of the big cities we are reaching a saturation point where most of the hospitals are choked to capacity. There is a scarcity of ventilators," said Kumar.

Precious oxygen has also been in short supply.

Dasgupta believes so far the health services have broadly managed to deal with the pandemic.

"If cases stabilize at this point we can assume that services can cope. If they continue to increase, it will become difficult," he said. "The other issue is that other services are affected, for example, routine services such as ante natal care, like immunization, post-natal care, treatment for those with chronic diseases. All of those have been affected to a varying extent, and that's often not part of the story."

It's those on the front lines of the battle who are most at risk. The Indian Medical Association claimed that at least 382 doctors have lost their lives fighting COVID-19 after the Indian government said they had no data on the deaths of health care personnel.

For Mohsin Khan, the ambulance driver, the danger of infection is ever-present. But he soldiers on.

"There was an ambulance driver in Chennai who got coronavirus and died. People have told me about this incident and asked me what I would do. I told them that I wouldn't leave this job. If God gives us courage, then we will continue," Khan said.

At 1.6%, officially India's mortality rate remains low. This means that of all the people with a positive COVID-19 test, only about 1.6% die of the disease. In comparison, the U.S. has a mortality rate of 2.9 % and in the United Kingdom, that rate is 10.4%.

But in India, the death rate is likely a massive undercount. It has been reported that people suffering from comorbidities, who die after contracting coronavirus, may not always be considered COVID-19 fatalities.

"This is quite contrary to the guidance of the World Health Organization," Dasgupta said. "While a state has full authority to review deaths, and indeed should do rigorous mortality analysis, it should be guided by the WHO's position on this matter."

In parliament, health minister Harsh Vardhan blamed "irresponsible societal behavior" for contributing to the spike in cases. He urged all Indians to follow proper hygiene, wear masks and practice social distancing.

"I think people are now getting restless and probably becoming less compliant with social distancing norms, masks and hygiene, than at the beginning of the lockdown," said Arvind Kumar. "I have been repeatedly requesting people that no matter how many months have passed, we have no choice but to continue to abide by social distancing norms."

It's not just COVID-19 fatigue. In a country like India that is densely populated, with crowded public areas, and cramped housing solutions, most people don't have the luxury of space.

In the narrow, crowded lanes of Old Delhi, the Mughal era walled city, social distancing is next to impossible.

Piyush Dixit, who runs an eatery in one of the narrow lanes, has seen his benches fill up since restaurants started opening up.

"Earlier, people were scared, they weren't coming out, they were trying to maintain distance from each other. But it's human nature, how long can you confine someone to one space?" Dixit told ABC News. "Cases are only going to rise. But people aren't going to wait inside anymore. Be it for work or for just going out, they will come out."

Dasgupta believes that people will have to learn to live with the virus for the foreseeable future.

"There's no end in sight as we speak since there are at this point a million active cases and current reproduction rate is 1, which is not bad but it means that a million cases will be transmitted to another million," said Dasgupta. "The most optimistic scenario is plateauing, but it's not going to end soon."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pool/Max Mumby/Getty ImagesBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Another royal baby is on the way.

Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank are expecting their first child, Buckingham Palace announced Friday morning.

“Her Royal Highness Princess Eugenie and Mr Jack Brooksbank are very pleased to announce that they are expecting a baby in early 2021," the palace said in a statement. "The Duke of York and Sarah, Duchess of York, Mr and Mrs George Brooksbank, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh are delighted with the news.”

Princess Eugenie, 30, also shared the news on Instagram, “Jack and I are so excited for early 2021....” next to a photo of tiny teddy bear slippers.

Eugenie is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, the Duke and Duchess of York, who will be first-time grandparents.

The new baby will be the ninth great-grandchild for Eugenie's grandparents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

Eugenie, also a cousin of Prince Harry and Prince William, married Jack Brooksbank in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, in October 2018.

Prince William's two oldest children -- Prince George, 7, and Princess Charlotte, 5 -- served as page boy and bridesmaid, respectively.

Her exchanging of vows took place less than six months after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's high-profile wedding in the same chapel.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


pawel.gaul/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan deal in Congress to compensate victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and assist Sudan in its fragile transition to democracy has fallen apart at the last minute.

The breakdown risks those victims and their families not receiving any compensation after decades of litigation or Sudan remaining on the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism list, a designation that blocks U.S. and international investment, including from the World Bank.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer led that intervention amid concerns over how the deal would impact victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, their families and their right to sue Sudan.

Several congressional and State Department officials told ABC News 9/11 victims would maintain their right to litigation, but under new procedures. They also accused Schumer of doing the bidding of insurance companies who would be left out -- a charge his office and other congressional aides denied.

"The embassy bombing victims who have waited 22 years for justice, compensation and accountability are about to be screwed and left out in the cold," said one congressional aide. "And we are potentially derailing a democratic transition in a very dangerous neighborhood in East Africa."

Sudan, Africa's third-largest country, is at a tenuous crossroads. Mass demonstrations in 2019 led to a military coup that ousted strongman Omar al-Bashir and eventually agreed to a transition to civilian rule. But the country's transitional government remains stymied by international sanctions and instability and beset by flooding and the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. could help by lifting the state sponsor of terrorism designation and opening the door to international assistance. The Trump administration has said that it will do so only when a deal is finalized for victims of the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The blast in Nairobi killed 213 people, including 12 Americans, and injured an estimated 4,000, while the simultaneous attack in Dar es Salaam killed 11 people and injured 85. Five years earlier, the U.S. had designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism for the support it had provided Hezbollah and other Islamist extremist groups, and al-Bashir's government was found to have harbored the al-Qaeda militants responsible for the 1998 bombings.

The deal tentatively reached between the U.S. and Sudan's new government would create a $335 million fund for those victims. It would pay out $10 million for Americans killed in the blast, $3 million for those injured, $800,000 for foreign citizens working at the U.S. embassy who were killed and $400,000 for those foreigners injured -- as well as a private settlement for the USS Cole attack and the murder of USAID employee John Granville.

Those numbers may vary in the final version and between individual victims, versus a victim's family or estate, according to congressional aides.

The disparity between Americans and others has slowed approval of the deal by lawmakers who called it inequitable. But proponents have said it's the best the U.S. can do, given the precedent set by previous compensation deals for U.S. terror victims, the other funds available to victims and Sudan's poverty.

For the money to start flowing, Congress must approve of the compensation deal and pass legislation that restores Sudan's sovereign immunity, a legal principle that means a government cannot be sued.

Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, that immunity doesn't apply to countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism. In 2016, Congress also passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, which now allows Americans to also sue countries that aren't designated if they have aided acts of terrorism against the U.S.

While the pieces seemed to finally be lined up this week, the needed language was not included in drafts of the continuing resolution Congress is working on to fund the federal government. Without must-pass legislation to hitch onto, it seems unlikely to pass until at least later this year, according to the congressional aides.

In the last week, a handful of lawyers for Sept. 11 victims and their families objected to restoring Sudan's sovereign immunity. Sudan has never been found liable by U.S. courts or the U.S. government for the terrorist attacks, but the lawyers charged the deal would "strip the 9/11 community of its rights."

According to one congressional aide and a source familiar with the negotiations, that was because of a last-minute intervention from insurance companies that would not be able to file claims under the deal.

Schumer's office denied that was true, with one lawyer for 9/11 families calling it "profoundly false and shockingly unfair."

"The State Department lawyers screwed this up massively. That's a reality," said Jack Quinn, who represents more than 2,500 Sept. 11 families. "They're trying to cover their tracks by throwing the 9/11 victims' families overboard, and it's just wrong, it's so wrong. Congress should not be in the business of extinguishing private legal rights that are the subject of ongoing litigation in order to settle entirely separate claims."

The tentative agreement would not fully extinguish those rights, but require that they take a different avenue. The deal would prohibit future litigation under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but victims of 9/11 and their families could still sue under JASTA.

"Ensuring that 9/11 victims have the opportunity to pursue claims against Sudan and the rescission of Sudan's State Sponsor of Terrorism designation are not mutually exclusive," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News, pointing to JASTA and adding the agency "will continue our ongoing efforts to protect the interests of 9/11 victims."

The legislation would also extend the statute of limitations under JASTA and create an enforcement mechanism, so that if any plaintiffs won, they could seize Sudanese government assets. And it would extend a U.S. government fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism for five years, totaling $1 billion, according to congressional aides.

But to Quinn, it's not enough because the two laws require different standards -- comparing it to someone taking away your left shoe, but saying you still have your right: "Why do they want to take those rights away? It’s not acceptable."

Congressional aides conceded the deal is not perfect, but argued it's the best chance to secure compensation for victims, leave an opportunity for 9/11 victims to pursue litigation and support Sudan's transitional government.

In Khartoum, time is running out, according to some aides and officials. Sudan's economy remains in tatters, especially after historic flooding in the last few weeks and COVID-19. The longer the economic pain lasts, the more volatile the political situation will be, analysts warn, even as the civilian government makes progress.

Because the legislation isn't part of the current funding bill, known as the continuing resolution, it likely won't get a vote until November or December, according to congressional aides.

That may be too late. In a letter obtained by ABC News, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress last week, "This legislation needs to be enacted no later than mid-October in order to ensure that payment of compensation to victims can occur as soon as Sudan's State Sponsor of terrorism designation is rescinded."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Arctic sea ice has melted to the second-lowest level in 42 years, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, a trend experts say shows how climate change is impacting the vulnerable ecosystem and the people who rely on the ice there.

Sea ice in the Arctic is actually frozen seawater, as opposed to glaciers or ice that covers land like in Antarctica. Even though there is evidence the Arctic was actually tropical hundreds of thousands of years ago, scientists that study the area now say the warming is faster than any natural trend.

"There isn't a natural cycle that we are currently in that could explain this rate of change we are experiencing today: the warming of the Arctic, the loss of sea ice areas, the thinning of the sea ice. It's just there's no natural cycle that would line up to give us this rate of change," Zachary Labe, a climate researcher at Colorado State University, told ABC News.

Areas of the Arctic are feeling the impacts of climate change faster than other parts of the world, both on land and in the ocean. Alaska climate specialist Richard Thoman works at the International Arctic Research Center and said most of the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed into the ocean, which then melts ice from below. And when ice that has been there for a long time melts, the ice that replaces it is weaker.

While the most infamous image associated with climate change and the Arctic is the polar bear, Thoman said the changes could have even more serious consequences for communities in remote parts of the Arctic that could lose sources of water, places to hunt or even infrastructure if too much ice melts or is broken away by storms.

"We certainly have communities in Alaska that are imminently threatened with not being able to be there. And when I say imminently threatened, I mean there they are one storm away. If everything, all the ingredients come together and everything goes wrong, those communities will not be inhabitable as they are now," he said.

Approximately 150,000 people live in the Arctic, most of whom are part of Indigenous tribes in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Denmark. Elders from tribes in northern Alaska said in the Arctic Report Card issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year that they face reduced access to the species they hunt and fish to feed their communities, and disappearing land from coastal erosion and melting permafrost.

Roberta Tuurraq Glenn is from Utqiagvik, Alaska. She's now studying geoscience and coastal erosion as a graduate student at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Glenn said her community relies on whaling for food and trade year-round, but that declining sea ice has made it more dangerous and unpredictable.

"What we're seeing in our spring whaling is that the sea is not as stable, the sea ice is not as predictable. There are some seasons where we'll start out spring whaling and we actually won't be able to get any wind crews out on the ice until at the very end of the season because the sea ice conditions are just too dangerous. And if we're not able to practice, if we're not able to go out whaling, then we're not able to feed our communities," she said.

National Geographic Explorer In Residence Enric Sala spent time with these communities in Canada and Greenland while working on his new documentary, The Last Ice.

"It started as an environmental film; we wanted to see what was the effect of the loss of ice on the animals, but it ended up being a film about Indigenous rights, about the livelihoods, the culture, the traditions of the Inuit of Canada, in Greenland, and how climate change is affecting them," he said.

The documentary also focuses on the growing push to increase shipping, drilling for oil and other industrial activity now that there is less ice in the Arctic.

"Now, the Arctic is melting and you see these meetings of big powers and big companies, they are rubbing their hands," Sala said. "They know, 'Wow. Now, there are new fishing grounds that are opening up. Now that our new shipping routes that we're going to use, and there is no more ice, we will be able to drill for oil in some areas."

"So everybody is seeing the Arctic as the new source of profit," he added. "The problem is that that does not respect the traditional cultures and Indigenous rights, and also the environmental consequences in the Arctic, of any accident, would be horrible."

But despite the challenges, Glenn said her community will be able to adapt and survive, especially if climate researchers and government officials listen to their expertise and their needs.

"The environment is changing and our people are intimately familiar with that change, our livelihoods depend on being able to navigate these changes every day. And that's what we do and that's what we're going to continue to do," she said.

"I don't believe that our people are going to be, you know, our culture is are going to die out, just because, you know, are experiencing these changes, I don't believe that our, you know, our languages are going to die because I, I believe that we are resilient people here in Alaska. And we've been able to make it this far and I believe that we'll be able to keep going," she added.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of National Geographic and ABC News. The National Geographic documentary "The Last Ice" premieres on National Geographic Channel in October.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


bedo/iStockBy JOOHEE CHO, ABC News

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean government civil servant drifting in their waters and then allegedly burned the corpse, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

“We sternly warn that all responsibility for the brutal act committed towards our citizen lies solely with North Korea," Ahn Young-ho, a top official from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a press briefing Thursday morning, demanding the North’s explanation and punishment for the persons in charge.

Pyongyang has not commented.

The 47-year-old official at the South’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries was reported missing on Monday from a fisheries patrol and monitoring boat on duty just 12 miles away from North Korean shores, close to South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

South Korea did not clarify why and how the man drifted into North Korea, but according to defense ministry officials, they have obtained intelligence that North Koreans discovered the man, father of two, “looking haggard and exhausted clutching a floating device” wearing a life jacket. North Korean troops wearing gas masks then questioned him “at a distance,” then allegedly fired shots.

It is unclear how South Korean officials obtained the information.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/Craig LambertBY: JULIA JACOBO, ABC News

(SYDNEY) -- Nearly 400 pilot whales have died after they became stranded off the coast of Australia, wildlife officials announced Wednesday.

The whales began piling up off Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's West Coast earlier this week, according to the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. While marine biologists initially believed about 270 whales had been stranded in three different locations, a fourth location containing an additional 200 whales was found about 6 miles into the harbor at Fraser Flats.

Practically all of those whales were found dead. About 30 at that location remain alive, marine biologists determined.

Nearly 380 whales in total have died.

On Wednesday, rescue crews continued their attempt to save the whales by re-floating them, according to the wildlife service. So far, about 50 have been saved.

"That’s a success and we will continue to try and free as many of the remaining alive animals as we can," said Nic Deka, wildlife regional manager for the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

Many of the whales are in locations that are not easily accessible, Deka said. But the wet and cool weather -- as well as a higher tide in coming days -- is increasing the likelihood that some of the whales will survive, he noted.

"Whenever they are still alive and still in water there is certainly hope for them, but as time goes on, they do become more fatigued and their chance of survival reduces," Deka said. "We will continue working while there are still alive animals on site."

Strandings of pilot and sperm whales are not uncommon in Tasmania, Deka said on Monday, adding that Macquarie Harbor seems to be a "hot spot."

The location where the 200 whales were found dead was a farther distance than the other spots and "not necessarily a place that is obvious for a stranding," Deka told reporters on Wednesday.

The whales' navigation and false echoes may lure them into the harbor and wildlife biologist Dr. Kris Carlyon hypothesized that the "misadventure" of one or two whales while feeding off the coast could lead many others astray because of the social nature of the species.

“There is little we can do to prevent this occurring in the future," Carlyon said Wednesday.

Rescue crews will do a more extensive search now that more whales have been found, Deka said. Pilot whales often travel in pods of up to 1,000, so there may be more offshore, Carylon said.

ABC News' Tomek Rolski and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


PeterHermesFurian/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in as president in a surprise, secretive ceremony held Wednesday amid tight security and with no announcement beforehand.

The ceremony was held without a live broadcast on state media and most Belarusians only learned of it after Lukashenko's press service announced he had already been sworn in. Troops and riot police sealed off the main avenues of the capital in Minsk and the Independence Palace, where the ceremony took place. Lukashenko's cortege was filmed speeding through the capital's empty streets, flanked by motorcycle outriders.

Video aired on state television afterward, showing Lukashenko in a marble hall speaking to an audience of several hundred officials.

He told the audience his inauguration was "a day of convincing and fateful victory."

"We not only elected a president of the country, we protected our values, our peaceful life, sovereignty and independence," he said.

A presidential election in August gave Lukashenko over 80% of the vote, amid allegations of massive ballot fraud, which has triggered weeks of historic protests demanding he step down and new elections be held. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have protested for seven weeks, in face of often brutal violence from Lukashenko's security services.

The secretive inauguration triggered new protests on Wednesday, with several thousand people taking to streets in Minsk and in other cities across Belarus. There were chaotic scenes not far from the palace where Lukashenko was inaugurated, as riot police moved violently to disperse the peaceful protesters, using water cannons on the crowds, the first time they had done so in the capital since the crackdown in the first weeks on the protests.

Lukashenko's main opponent in the election Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has declared herself "national leader" and pledged to hold new elections, on Wednesday dismissed his inauguration as illegitimate.

"Today, secretly from the people, Lukashenko tried to hold his own inauguration. We all understand what's going on. This so-called inauguration is, of course, a farce. In fact, today Lukashenko has simply retired," Tikhanovskaya said in a statement.

"This means that his orders to the power structures are no longer legitimate, which means they are not subject to execution. I, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, am the only leader elected by the Belarusian people. And our task now is to build a new Belarus together," she said, adding that European countries are ready to support the protest movement.

Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in neighboring Lithuania where she was forced to flee after the election, was given just 9% of the vote by the official count during it, widely viewed as vastly underestimating the real result.

Several European countries refused to recognize Lukashenko's inauguration, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

"Presidential elections in #Belarus were neither free nor fair. Election result is illegal. No ceremony -- pompous or secret -- will change this indisputable fact or create illusion of legitimacy," Gitanas Nausėda, Lithuania's president, wrote on Twitter. He and others urged Lukashenko to open dialogue with the protesters and hold new free and fair elections.

The United States and the European Union have already refused refused to recognize Lukashenko's reelection and have said they are preparing sanctions against top officials in his regime.

Russia, which has thrown support behind Lukashenko, has recognized him as president, as has China and a number of authoritarian former Soviet countries.

The Kremlin's spokesman on Wednesday said he had been unaware the inauguration was taking place.

Inaugurations, as in other countries, are normally major events, held with pomp and announced weeks in advance. Lukashenko's decision to conduct it without any public involvement appeared on highlight the hollowness of his claims to have won the election with massive support, observers said.

"Unannounced in advance, not broadcast to nation. This is not how a candidate with "80% support" does these things," Dr Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and now a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote on Twitter.

Protests have continued against Lukashenko for weeks since the election and the crackdown that followed it, with smaller ones taking place most days and huge demonstrations happening each Sunday, involving often over 100,000 people. Despite the massive protests, Lukashenko's government in recent weeks has moved to shore up its grip, increasing the pressure on the demonstrations by detaining hundreds of protesters and targeting opposition leaders, most of whom are either detained or have been driven into exile.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/Craig LambertBY: JULIA JACOBO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A rescue team in Australia is attempting to save as many pilot whales as possible after more than 270 became stranded in waters off the coast of Tasmania.

The whales are currently in three different locations off Strahan, a town on the west coast of Tasmania, according to Nic Deka, wildlife regional manager for the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service.

Some of the whales are stranded near a sandbar off the Macquarie Heads boat ramp while others are stuck at a sandbar several hundred meters away inside Macquarie Harbor, Deka said, adding that those whales are submerged in water.

About 30 whales are also stranded off Ocean Beach and about 25 have died, Deka said. About a third of all the whales have died, Dr. Kris Carlyon, a wildlife biologist, told reporters.

Many of the whales are in locations that are not easily accessible, Deka said. But the wet and cool weather is increasing the likelihood that some of the whales will survive, he noted.

A rescue effort consisting of about 60 parks department staff, employees from a nearby fish farm, police and volunteers set out Tuesday morning in an attempt to re-float the whales, which will involve getting water beneath them again, Carlyon said. The rescuers will begin with the animals with the best chance of survival, Carlyon said.

It is unclear how long the rescue will take.

Strandings of pilot and sperm whales are not uncommon in Tasmania, Deka said, adding that Macquarie Harbor seems to be a "hot spot." Deka hypothesized that it may have something to do with the whales' navigation and false echoes, while Carlyon said the "misadventure" of one or two whales while feeding off the coast could lead many others astray because of the social nature of the species.

A stranding of this size has not occurred in more than a decade, Deka said.

Pilot whales often travel in groups of up to 1,000, so there may be more offshore, Carylon said.

Rescue efforts may receive a boost in a few days when stronger tides arrive in the area, Carlyon said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


SteveAllenPhoto/iStockBy DRAGANA JOVANOVIC, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The mystery surrounding hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana seems to have been solved and the findings bring an end to months of speculation on why at least 330 elephants were found dead in the northwestern region of the Southern African country earlier this year.

Initially, possible explanations over the deaths had ranged from poaching to anthrax to poisoning. Now, however, the country has pointed to toxic blooms of cyanobacteria, a naturally occurring neurotoxin and biological phenomenon which has increased due to climate change, according to Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Botswana department of wildlife and national parks.

“As in so many other situations, such as the wildfires in California and Oregon and the floods in the U.K., climate change is the threat multiplier,” Dr. Niall McCann, co-founder of U.K.-based charity National Park Rescue, told ABC News. “Climate change and the effect of global warming on the region is increasing both the intensity and severity of harmful algal blooms, making this issue more likely to reoccur.”

“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are anaerobe bacteria found in water of seasonal water pans,” Reuben told ABC News by phone from Gaborone, the country’s capital.

They spent months studying samples from the carcasses, environmental samples from soil and water as well as samples from the live animals and sent them to specialized regional laboratories as well as laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe, according to Reuben.

Most carcasses, spotted by aerial surveys, were found clustered around water sources close to the Okavango Delta which, in normal times, is a major tourist safari destination. Some animals were even seen walking dizzily in circles before suddenly dying.

“The unexplained deaths ceased as these seasonal waterholes and water pans dried up in late June, the beginning of our fall,” Reuben explained. “We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”

With the exception of one horse, other animal species were not affected by the blue-green algae phenomenon.

“One working hypothesis is that, unlike other animals, elephants suck water with their trunks from underneath, so they drink from deeper levels in the waterholes, closer to silt where the anaerobe toxins are contained,” Reuben explained.

Although there are no official indications that the Botswana elephant deaths might be linked to the unresolved deaths of more than 20 elephants near Hwange, a national park in neighboring Zimbabwe, in August, McCann believes a common denominator is climate change.

“Climate change is the ultimate cause, even if the proximate cause is something different,” claims McCann. “These type of things are only going to become more common, more frequent and the issue of warming waterholes is going to become worse and worse in time.”

Because of climate change, Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to CSAG, one of the leading climate research groups in Africa.

Botswana is home to about 130,000 elephants -- the world's largest elephant population -- with more than a third of Africa's elephants, according to the latest Great Elephant Census, which Reuben's colleagues at the Department for Wildlife and Natural Parks helped produce. It is also one of the most stable countries in Africa with one of the best wildlife records. Tourism accounts for a fifth of Botswana's GDP.

“The important thing is that investigations continue into why this happened so that going forward we can stop this from happening again in time,” concluded Reuben. “The country is already engaged in development of monitoring plan aimed at detecting the blooms early in the water before they cause harm to the animals and taking necessary precautions.”

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday, authorizing new sanctions on Iranian officials and entities, and those that buy or sell arms to them, because of the "snapped back" United Nations sanctions.

The rest of the world does not consider those U.N. sanctions in place, but part of Trump's cabinet assembled Monday to assert that the U.S. will enforce them.

"We don't need a cheering section to validate our moral compass. We do not find comfort based solely on numbers, particularly when the majority has found themselves in an uncomfortable position of underwriting terrorism, chaos and conflict. We refuse to be members of that club," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft.

The move has been rejected by the United Nations and U.S. allies, like France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and adversaries, such as China and Russia -- who all remain part of the Iran nuclear deal -- setting up a showdown for when a U.N. embargo on conventional weapons expires next month.

In a show of force, Craft was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and national security adviser Robert O'Brien at the State Department to unveil the new sanctions.

"The country that's isolated today is not the United States, but rather Iran. By these actions, we have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce these sanctions," Pompeo said, including U.S. allies. The European Union has its own arms embargo against Iran, so its members are unlikely to face the new U.S. penalties.

Instead, Monday's announcement targeted 27 Iranian officials and entities, as well as Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro -- already heavily sanctioned. The U.N. arms embargo doesn't lift until Oct. 18, when Russian and Chinese companies, among others, are expected to start conventional arms sales with Tehran.

Laying the groundwork for sanctioning those pending sales, the Trump administration announced sanctions on Iran's defense ministry and its Defense Industries Organization, a government agency that procures weapons for its armed forces, and its director.

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned five new officials, a manufacturing firm, and its subsidiary for their reported role in Iran's ballistic missile program.

Pompeo said the sanctions will remain "until Iran comes to the table," which the Iranian government says it has no intention of doing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the new sanctions as "nothing new" during an event with the Council on Foreign Relations Monday.

"I don't think that's anything new, and I don't think it will have any more significant impact on on Iran," he said, despite the deep impact sanctions have had on the Iranian economy in the last two and a half years.

Under existing authorities, the State and Treasury Departments also sanctioned six officials and three state-owned firms for their role in Iran's nuclear program, while the Commerce Department is also blacklisting five Iranian scientists from receiving U.S. exports.

Reuters reported Sunday that the Trump administration believes Iran has enough enriched uranium to create a nuclear bomb by year's end. Iran has violated its commitments on how much uranium it can enrich and at what level after the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions -- although it's still below the 90% threshold needed for a bomb.

"The State Department's 'maximum pressure' campaign has not pressured Iran toward diplomacy and a new agreement. It has pressured them toward an increase in malign activity in the region and toward the development of a nuclear weapon," said Mick Mulroy, Trump's former top Pentagon official for the Middle East and a retired CIA officer who's now an ABC News contributor.

Pompeo declined to comment on the report, but he argued the decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal has made the U.S. safer by blocking funds to the Iranian government, notwithstanding their growing enriched uranium stockpile.

With fears that Iranian and U.S. forces in the region could clash in the coming weeks before the November election, the defense secretary said U.S. forces are at a "high state of alert" and maintain "preparedness to deal with anything."

"While the October deadline for the arms embargo looms large, a more important date is the November U.S. election, which will decide the fate of (Trump's) max pressure" campaign, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

ABC News' Matthew Seyler contributed to this report.

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Евгений Харитонов/iStockBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Paleontologists in China have discovered a brand new species of burrowing dinosaur that dates back an estimated 125 million years ago.

The newly found dinosaur species was discovered in the Lujiatun Beds, located in northeast China in the Liaoning Province, in the oldest layers of the famous Yixian Formation which has produced several hundred preserved dinosaur skeletons over the past 20 years.

The fossils of the Changmiania liaoningensis were found perfectly intact and uninterrupted, suggesting to scientists that the animals were trapped by a volcanic eruption while they rested at the bottom of their burrows.

“The Lujiatun Beds would have been a kind of Cretaceous 'Pompeii',” said the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in an article announcing the discovery.

The newly described species is thought to be the most primitive ornithopod dinosaur to date.

The fossils did not retain any traces of feathers but the skeletons were incredibly preserved in three dimensions.

"These animals were quickly covered by fine sediment while they were still alive or just after their death," says palaeontologist Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. “However, certain characteristics of the skeleton suggest that Changmiania could dig burrows, much like rabbits do today. Its neck and forearms are very short but robust, its shoulder blades are characteristic of burrowing vertebrates and the top of its snout is shaped like a shovel. So we believe that both Changmiania specimens were trapped by the volcanic eruption when they were resting at the bottom of their burrows 125 million years ago.”

The new species of dinosaur’s name, Changmiania liaoningensis, comes from the Chinese word “Changmian” which means “eternal sleep.”

The full study was published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

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Oleksii Liskonih/iStockBy SOMAYEH MALEKIAN, ABC News

(TEHRAN) -- Iran officials again denied Saturday any plot to assassinate the U.S. ambassador in South Africa as an act of retaliation to the killing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' top general, Qassem Soleimani. However, the commander of the IRGC vowed that revenge for Soleimani's death would be "decisive, serious and real."

"We will hit the people who, directly and indirectly, played a role in the martyrdom of the great man [Soleimani]," IRGC Commander Hossein Salami said in a ceremony addressing military commanders and staff as Tasnim News Agency reported on Sunday.

Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike approved by President Donald Trump on Jan. 3. Soleimani was considered the most influential person in executing IRGC's extraterritorial operations including those in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

The IRGC commander said that any revenge for Soleimani would be taken in an "honorable, fair and just manner, not on a female ambassador to South Africa."

"If a hair is missing from an Iranian, we will burn all of your hair. These threats are serious. We won't do verbal fights. We will leave everything to the field of action. We will go on, with confidence and strength," he added.

Iran had dismissed the plot about killing the U.S. diplomat in South African right after accusations were made when Politico published a report on Sept. 13 about an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Lana Marks, a longtime friend of Trump who began her work as an ambassador to South Africa in October.

The IRGC commander made the revenge statements after South Africa's State Security Agency said it had found no evidence to support the reports on the Iranian plot.

"At present, the information provided is not sufficient to sustain the allegation that there is a credible threat against the United States ambassador to South Africa," State Security Agency spokesperson Mava Scott said in a statement, adding that South African officials had met with their U.S. counterparts to request additional information.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


solarseven/iStockBy ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Israel's second COVID-19 lockdown started on Friday as the Jewish High Holidays began.

The lockdown, which will last for three weeks, went into effect at 2 p.m. local time. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins Friday night, and is typically a time for family gatherings.

Supermarkets and pharmacies will stay open during the lockdown but schools and nonessential businesses will close.

Synagogues can stay open but there are strict rules as to how many worshippers can go inside at one time. Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur; attending synagogue is an important part of both holidays.

Israel has over 179,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19. At least 1,196 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Israel's first nationwide pandemic lockdown ended in May.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alessandro Biascioli/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- The summer of protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was not confined to the United States. Demonstrations featuring placards emblazoned with Floyd's face and his last words, "I can't breathe," spread to Canada and Brazil, to Europe, and even as far as Australia.

Yet the protesters weren't merely demonstrating in solidarity with their U.S. counterparts. They turned inward -- looking at their own countries' histories of racial violence, the present state of systemic racism, and police brutality.

How far these protests have impacted the nature of policing and the understanding of racism in Europe is a matter of debate, but the visibility and depth of the protests were undeniable in a continent that, in the words of one commentator, "offshored its slavery and colonialism" to the U.S.

The nature of policing

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black citizens at the hands of the police this year once again threw into sharp focus the United States' long history of police brutality. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the U.K. and France, recognition of the deaths of Black people in confrontations with the police was a prominent feature of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is not directly linked to the U.S. equivalent.

"I think it's been an astonishing year, an astonishing summer, for a massive increase in anger at police all over the world," Lawrence Sherman, criminologist and director of Cambridge University's Center for Evidence Based Policing, told ABC News.

Yet, in terms of scale, tactics and accountability measures, police violence in the U.S. is "enormously different" than in other advanced democracies, according to Sherman.

Police in the U.S., by far, kill more civilians per year than other wealthy democracies, according to data compiled by the Prison Policy initiative. Last year, 1,099 people were killed in confrontations with the police in the U.S., a rate of 33.5 citizens per 10 million per year; the next highest countries were Canada with 36 deaths (9.8 citizens per 10 million) and Australia with 21 (8.5 citizens per 10 million). In England and Wales -- the scenes of some of the largest Black Lives Matter protests outside the U.S. this summer -- only three people were killed in police shootings last year, a rate of 0.5 citizens per 10 million.

Crucial to that disparity, according to Sherman, is not just the fact that many other national police are not armed -- but that the populations aren't either. There are an estimated 270 million civilian firearms in the U.S., which amounts to 89 firearms per 100 residents, according to the Small Arms Survey. In contrast, there are only 30 civilian firearms per 100 residents in Germany, the highest number among countries in the European Union, and just six guns per 100 people in England and Wales.

"Gun ownership is a huge factor," Sherman said. "And it differentiates the American police not only from Britain, where the police are unarmed, but from the rest of Europe where they all carry guns. But they never shoot anybody relative to U.S. numbers. So, why don't they shoot anybody? Because the population is largely unarmed."

Despite that difference, recent polls published after the death of Floyd suggest that even if the scale of fatal violence is not comparable, racism in the police is a very real and pressing issue. The anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate published poll findings in August that found 80% of Black Britons said that "police are biased against people from my background," with 65% of all ethnic minorities agreeing with the statement.

The racial breakdown of law enforcement and representation in the criminal justice system in the U.K. is broadly similar to that in the United States. Black people in the U.K. are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people, which the Equality and Human Rights commission attributes to "racial discrimination." In the U.K., Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) residents make up 25% of the adult prison population and 40% of the youth custody population, despite comprising 14% of the overall population. And although there are relatively few deaths at the hands of police, in confrontations with the police where force is used, BAME individuals are two times more likely to die than white people.

"The relationship between Black people here and Black people with American police is identical," Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, told ABC News. "There's as much antipathy, distrust. And for good reason. There's the same problems -- it's just not as violent."

"It's less extreme, right? But it's not better," Andrews said. "It's the same system. There is no difference between American racism and British racism. They have the same root, they have the same logic. It's the same thing playing out over there and here."

There is, however, a marked difference in the levels of accountability between British and American police, at least on a legal level. Enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty with 47 state signatories, is a "duty to investigate all suspicious deaths" at the hands of state agents.

Each time serious injury or death in police custody occurs in the U.K., Sherman said, police forces refer themselves to the Independent Office of Police Conduct, a watchdog which has the power to take over internal investigations. In the U.S., on the other hand, such reviews are often "internal matters" for police departments.

Since 1856, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in the U.K. has had the power to "defund" malfunctioning police departments, and the establishment of an equivalent entity in the U.S. could drastically change accountability, Sherman said.

"The remarkable thing about the regulatory process in the U.S. is that it's heavily driven by individual lawyers going to court, and that's how the information came out in Rochester [with the death of Daniel Prude]," he said. "But in principle the state could give an inspector general of the police [the power] to go in in the wake of any such event ... and the power to decertify all those officers after a review."

A reckoning with history

This summer was by no means the first summer of European protests sparked by a police killing, even if in this instance the impetus came from abroad. The U.K., Andrews said, has a long history of "urban rebellion," including the 2011 London riots sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan, and race riots in the London neighborhood of Brixton throughout the 1980s.

In France, the renewed scrutiny around Floyd's death prompted protests to demand justice for Adama Traore, a 24-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2016.

So does the U.K. have its equivalents to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, names that are used to call for an end to racial injustice?

"Within Black Britain, there are a number of names that we do have in the same way," Andrews said. "It probably hasn't caught the mainstream attention as much … to be honest, the only real difference between these [2020] protests and all the protests in the U.K. over the past 50 years is that white people paid more attention."

The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a Black man killed in a racist attack in London in 1993, is perhaps the highest profile death of that kind, he said.

Both in the U.S. and Europe, images of Floyd and Taylor adorned many of the placards at the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. That's in part because countries often look to the U.S. as a focal point for social justice issues, since the U.S. "culturally does have dominance in general," Andrews said. But the history of the British Empire and slavery mean there is still an interconnection between Black experiences across the Atlantic.

"One of the things that gets missed sometimes with this is that Blackness is defined by diaspora," Andrews said. "So when we see something that's happening in America, or the Caribbean, or Africa, it does happen to us. There's a very real sense it happens to us."

That diaspora has its origins in Europe's slave-trading past -- which is why perhaps the defining images of the U.K.'s recent Black Lives Matter protests involved the denigration of monuments to the continent's colonial history.

In Bristol, England, protesters toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader whose name, to this day, is featured on some of the city's concert halls and pubs. The statue was unceremoniously thrown into the harbor where Colston based his slave trading, which is believed to have involved the kidnapping and trafficking of over 80,000 West Africans, about a quarter of whom died in transit to the Americas.

And in Brussels, Belgium, demonstrators protested a statue of King Leopold II, who was responsible for horrific atrocities in Congo, by climbing atop the monument and waving the African country's flag.

A reckoning with Britain's imperial legacy appeared to be a central point of the protests. One participant in London's June protests told ABC News they were marching to help "educate" fellow Britons about their colonial past.

"One of the reasons why education and colonial history is such a big part of the movement here, is because we offshored our racial violence," according to Andrews. "Britain and Europe like to pretend that they're different from the States."

Even so, it is difficult to say whether Europe has reckoned with its past in the aftermath of a tumultuous summer. According to Sherman, who regularly consults with U.K. police leaders, "because of what happened in the U.S., there's much more pressure on British police than there was before George Floyd was killed."

The visibility of the protests has helped raise funding for grassroots organizations -- yet the national conversation around racism in the U.K. and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minorities has swiftly moved on, according to Andrews, who said he's surprised at "how quickly things have gone back to normal," with "race only talked about in the culture wars context."

Perhaps, said Andrews, the intensity of the summer's protests was partly a result of the pandemic.

"The cynic in me is mostly down to the fact that it was lockdown, there wasn't much else going on, and it kind of caught the imagination for that reason," he said. "I strongly doubt if we were going about our normal business whether this would have made the impact that it did."

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