tensions rising
June 29, 2020

The United States has revoked Hong Kong's special trading status, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in a statement Monday.

The decision comes as Beijing prepares to pass a national security law that many fear will severely curtail Hong Kong's autonomy and has prompted the U.S. to, among other things, place visa restrictions on some members of the Chinese Communist Party and end defense exports to Hong Kong. In his statement, Ross said the new security measures will increase the risk "that sensitive U.S. technology will be diverted" to the Chinese army and government. Subsequently, he said, the U.S. can no longer exempt Hong Kong from trade restrictions placed on China.

The end of Hong Kong's special status became a real possibility once the security law came into play, since its implementation will likely render "one country, two systems" nothing more than a slogan, and the U.S. had already announced it no longer considers the city autonomous from Beijing. The move will likely place Hong Kong's role as a leading global financial hub in jeopardy. Tim O'Donnell

December 4, 2019

Two employees of the Russian Embassy in Berlin have been expelled from Germany, after the country's federal public prosecutor said there is "sufficient factual evidence" linking Russia to an assassination that took place over the summer.

German authorities said the Aug. 23 killing was conducted by either Russian or Chechen intelligence agents. Prosecutors refer to the victim as "Tornike K.," a 40-year-old Russian-Georgian citizen deemed a "terrorist" by Moscow, The Washington Post reports. He was in charge of a Chechen militia between 2000 and 2004, and fought against Russian forces. After being shot four times in 2015, he went to Germany and claimed asylum.

The German Foreign Ministry said Russian authorities have ignored requests from "high-ranking" officials for help investigating the murder, and the two employees are now "persona non gratae." A Russian presidential spokesman called the accusation that the country was responsible for the killing "absolutely groundless." If Moscow was involved in the assassination, it would be Russia's first killing in Germany since the end of the Cold War, the Post says. Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2019

Some U.S. diplomats stationed in Venezuela left the country Friday amid rising tensions between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the U.S, The Associated Press reports.

President Trump recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó's claim to power as the interim president of Venezuela on Wednesday, spurring Maduro to call home all Venezuelan diplomats from the U.S., close Venezuela’s D.C. embassy and order all U.S. diplomats to leave the country by the weekend, per Time.

Washington refused to abide by the last demand, saying it isn't legal since the U.S. no longer recognizes Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Only nonessential U.S. staff left the country on Friday, citing security concerns.

Venezuela's economy currently has the highest inflation rate in the world, and 75 percent of its people are impoverished and without sufficient food. At least 12 Latin American nations vowed not to recognize Maduro's administration after he won a controversial election last year giving him another six-year term. Marianne Dodson

March 17, 2018

Moscow on Saturday announced 23 British diplomats have one week to leave Russia, a retaliation for the United Kingdom's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and cut off high-level communications with Russia earlier this week.

The first expulsion came in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, who now live in England. Both remain in critical condition. The U.S., U.K., France, and Germany have blamed the nerve gas attack on Moscow, which denies the accusation.

Russia's Saturday announcement also said the British Council in Russia, a cultural liaison, and the British Consulate in St. Petersburg will be shut down. The U.K. Foreign Office said it "anticipated a response of this kind." Bonnie Kristian

September 3, 2017

The Russian foreign ministry on Sunday registered its disapproval of the Trump administration's demand that Russian diplomats vacate three outposts in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., on Saturday. The evictions were ordered in response to Moscow's recent reduction of the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia.

"We treat these developments as a blatantly hostile act, a grave violation by Washington of international law," said the comments from Moscow. "We urge the U.S. authorities to come to their senses and immediately return the Russian diplomatic facilities," or else the U.S "will bear total blame for the ongoing degradation of the relations between our countries."

The San Francisco facility was Russia's oldest consulate in the United States, responsible for issuing some 16,000 tourist visas to Americans annually. Before the building was vacated, consulate staff on Friday apparently burned unknown items they wished to keep out of U.S. hands. Bonnie Kristian

August 22, 2017

President Trump is holding a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday night, and he mentioned on Fox News last week that he's "seriously considering" a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff recently convicted of criminal contempt for disregarding a federal judge's racial-profiling order before Arizona voters declined to re-elect him last year. If Trump plans to announce the pardon at the Phoenix rally, as widely believed plausible, he won't have gone through the normal channel for presidential pardons, CNN reports, citing a source familiar with that process.

Usually, a petitioner for a presidential pardon, serving time for a federal offense, submits a request to the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney, who reviews the application and gives a recommendation to the deputy attorney general, who makes his or her own recommendation to the president. Trump does not have to follow this process, and there is some precedent for a president pardoning a controversial ally without going through the Justice Department, as former President George W. Bush did when he commuted Scooter Libby's sentence in 2007.

Arpaio told The New York Times last weekend that he has not spoken with Trump since November, was "honored by the potential pardon," and would accept it if offered. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked Trump last week to postpone the rally, especially if he plans to pardon Arpaio, saying such an announcement at a raucous rally would just "enflame emotions and further divide our nation" after Charlottesville. On Monday, Stanton and other Phoenix officials said they will do their best to balance the risks of clashes against public safety and everyone's First Amendment rights. You can watch their comments and footage of early protests below. Peter Weber

October 11, 2016

The Kremlin announced Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be visiting France next week as planned. Though the Kremlin said the cancellation was due to a change in the event schedule, CNN reported it likely has to do with French President Francois Hollande's recent remark that Moscow may be guilty of war crimes in Syria.

In an interview Monday on the French TV station TF1, Hollande suggested he may cancel his meeting with Putin, adding that Russia could face charges of war crimes for launching attacks on Aleppo. "These are people who today are the victims of war crimes. Those that commit these acts will have to face up to their responsibility, including in the [International Criminal Court]," Hollande said.

Tensions between the leaders initially spiked over the weekend, when Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution proposed by Spain and France. The resolution was "aimed at ending Syrian regime airstrikes on Aleppo and allowing humanitarian aid into the city," CNN reported.

During his now-canceled France trip, Putin was slated to meet with Hollande and inaugurate a new Orthodox church. Becca Stanek

August 8, 2016

A suicide bombing at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, on Monday has reportedly left at least 67 people dead and nearly 100 injured. Reuters reported that both the Islamic State and Jamat-ul-Ahrar, which The Guardian described as an "offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban," have claimed responsibility for the attack, which seemingly targeted a group of prominent lawyers who had gathered at the state-run hospital after a high-profile colleague was shot and killed earlier that day. Bilal Kasi, the local president of the Bar Association, was assassinated earlier Monday in an incident also reportedly perpetrated by Jamat-ul-Ahrar.

Quetta, the capital city of Pakistan's poorest province, Balochistan, has faced increased violence in recent weeks as it grapples with a separatist insurgency. The attack on the Quetta hospital marks Pakistan's second deadliest this year, after the Easter Sunday attack in Lahore that killed 75 people. Jamat-ul-Ahrar vowed in an email Monday to "continue attacks in Pakistan till the establishment of the Islamic system in the country." Becca Stanek

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