Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 13 July 2020

Space dragons and talk of Turkish coups: Non-coronavirus news you might have missed

The first Nasa astronauts to head to space from the US since 2011 are set to blast off tonight

SpaceX to launch historic Nasa astronaut mission

Nasa and Elon Musk's SpaceX are scheduled to make history early on Thursday morning with the launch of two astronauts into space from the US for the first time since 2011.

Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 53, will travel to the International Space Station at 4.33pm Eastern time on Wednesday, which is 12.33am on Thursday UAE time, from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Unlike previous astronaut launches that were run by Nasa, SpaceX will be in charge of mission control and the Crew Dragon capsule has been built by billionaire entrepreneur Mr Musk's company.

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Daily briefing

Muslim woman becomes Britain’s first hijab-wearing judge

A woman in Britain who has become the first judge in the western world to wear a hijab hopes to be an inspiration to young Muslims.

Raffia Arshad, 40, who grew up in Yorkshire, north England, has wanted to work in law since she was 11.

Ms Arshad, a barrister, was last week appointed a deputy district judge on the Midlands circuit.

Raffia Arshad, 40, who grew up in Yorkshire, north England, has wanted to work in law since she was 11 and has worked as a barrister. Last week she was appointed a deputy district judge on the Midlands circuit. St Mary's FLC
Raffia Arshad, 40, who grew up in north England has wanted to work in law since she was 11. St Mary's FLC

She said her promotion was great news for diversity in the world’s most respected legal system.

Ms Arshad said the judicial office was looking to promote diversity, but when they appointed her, they did not know that she wore the hijab.

‘It’s definitely bigger than me,” she told Metro newspaper. "I know this is not about me.

"It’s important for all women, not just Muslim women, but it is particularly important for Muslim women."

Ms Arshad, a mother of three, has been practising private law dealing with children, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and other cases involving Islamic law for the past 17 years.

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Last day of Eid

Erdogan backers peddle rumours of another coup in Turkey

Pro-government supporters in Turkey have recently revived talk of another coup attempt in what critics said was an effort to target opponents and distract from domestic concerns compounded by the coronavirus outbreak.

Nearly four years after a failed coup, followed by widespread purges of the military and other state institutions, the suggestion of another takeover attempt was met with scepticism by observers.

“It’s really confusing because who is there in the military to mount anything like that?” said Ahmet Evin, a political scientist and a senior fellow at the Istanbul Policy Centre think tank.

Since the attempt to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, nearly 19,500 members of the military, including many senior officers, have been dismissed in purges targeting the religious sect said to be behind the plot.

“There’s a tradition in Latin America that the army is the only institution that has its own ways and means,” said Mitat Celikpala, deputy rector at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “However, under the current circumstances, I don’t see any environment in which a coup could happen.”

Nevertheless, Mr Erdogan’s backers insisted the threat remained.

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Swarms of locusts arrive in India

Long read: Russia appoints special Syria representative to address 'incompetence'

President Vladimir Putin has elevated Moscow’s ambassador in Damascus to become his special representative for Syria as signs emerge of unruliness in the alliance between the two countries, undermining Russia’s drive to consolidate its gains.

Loyalist media in Damascus and Moscow reported on Monday that Alexander Efimov has been appointed Special Representative of the Russian President for the Development of Relations with the Syrian Arab Republic.

Mr Efimov will be pulling on behalf of his boss a short-of-bewildering array of strings tied to the country’s complex societal mix-up and the regional and international powers involved in the nine-year conflict.

An Arabic speaker, the 62-year old diplomat will also be managing Russia’s surrogates in Damascus. But the Syrian regime has been adept at making the most of its position as the meeting point between Russia and Iran and playing on contradictions between the two countries.

Some Russian media outlets have lately accused Syrian officials of incompetence. The criticism prompted public denunciations of Russia in Syrian regime areas for the first time since Moscow intervened militarily to prop President Bashar Al Assad up in late 2015.

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Twitter labels Trump tweets with warning for the first time

Twitter labelled two Donald Trump tweets "unsubstantiated" and accused him of making false claims on Tuesday, a first for the social network which has long resisted calls to censure the US president over truth-defying posts.

The move drew a furious response from Mr Trump, who used the platform to accuse Twitter of "interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election."

"Twitter is completely stifling free speech, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!" he tweeted.

The social media giant targeted two tweets the president posted on Tuesday in which he contended without evidence that mail-in voting would lead to fraud and a "Rigged Election."

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Beyond the Headlines

'We want to breathe freely' - Afghan ceasefire holds as Taliban prisoners released

The men stood silently in the hot sun, having left behind prison cells – often shared by another 20 inmates – that many called home for years, decades even.

At the Parwan Detention Facility, a prison next to the US’s Bagram Airbase, about an hour’s drive north of Kabul, 525 Talibs lined up to be released; their shoes and clothes shiny and new, their bodies quickly shoved into buses that would take them to the capital’s bus stations – and from there to their home provinces, their freedom. The only strings attached: the fighters have promised not return to the war.

When the Taliban announced a ceasefire for the Eid Al Fir holidays, the government quickly reciprocated, with President Ashraf Ghani saying he would order the release of a further 2,000 prisoners immediately. A total of 1,000 inmates have already been released over Eid with more releases planned.

Over the holiday, violence subsided throughout the country, offering a glimpse of hope after decades of war.

Read full dispatch here

Updated: May 27, 2020 04:03 PM

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