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14 including Ukraine’s interior minister killed in helicopter crash

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The three main figures in Ukraine’s interior ministry have been killed in a helicopter crash beside a nursery in an eastern suburb of the capital Kyiv.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, 42, died alongside his first deputy minister and state secretary.

Fourteen people died when the helicopter came down in Brovary around 08:30 local time (06:30 GMT), including one child, authorities said.

There is no indication the crash was anything other than an accident.

But the SBU state security service said it was following several possible causes for the crash, which included sabotage as well as a technical malfunction or breach of flight rules.

The State Emergency Service had previously stated that up to 18 people were killed but later revised the death toll from the crash, saying 14 had died.

Mr Monastyrsky, who was one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s longest serving political advisers, is the highest profile Ukrainian casualty since the war began.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said the minister had been travelling to a war “hot spot” when his helicopter went down.

The head of police in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, Volodymyr Tymoshko, said the ministerial team were on their way to meet him there and he had spoken to them only yesterday.

The minister’s death cuts to the heart of the government in Kyiv as the interior ministry has the vital task of maintaining security and running the police during the war.

President Zelensky has spoken of a terrible tragedy that claimed the lives of “true patriots”.

The head of Ukraine’s national police force, Ihor Klymenko, has been appointed acting interior minister following Mr Monastyrsky’s death.

Witnesses in Kyiv said Russia’s war was to blame for the disaster.

“It was very foggy and there was no electricity, and when there’s no electricity there are no lights on the buildings,” local resident Volodymyr Yermelenko told the BBC.

Key officials are flown by helicopter across Ukraine at tree-level, but that comes with risks.

All that was recognisable of the helicopter was a door panel and one of its rotors which landed on the roof of a car. Next to it were three bodies covered in foil blankets.

The main kindergarten building was left badly damaged by the crash.

(BBC News)

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China’s current Covid-19 wave “coming to an end” – officials

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Chinese health officials say the country’s current wave of Covid-19 infections is “coming to an end”.

The number of severe Covid cases and deaths is trending downward, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report.

It also said there had been “no obvious rebound” during Lunar New Year holidays last week, where millions reunited for family gatherings.

There have long been questions raised about China’s Covid reporting.

But experts say the decline reported now corresponds with the expected timing of an end to this major wave.

The virus tore through Chinese cities and towns after authorities lifted zero-Covid restrictions in December. However fever clinic visit rates have dropped over 90% through January and hospitalisation rates are down over 85%.

Fears that the virus could surge again during the festive period have also not yet been realised.

In its report, the CDC said: “There has not been an obvious rebound in Covid cases during the Lunar New Year holidays.

“In this time, no new variant has been discovered, and the country’s current wave is coming to an end.”

(BBC News)

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At least 124 Afghans dead due to freezing weather

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At least 124 people died in freezing temperatures in Afghanistan in the past fortnight, Taliban officials say.

About 70,000 livestock had also perished in what is the coldest winter in a decade, a State Ministry for Disaster Management spokesman said.

Many aid agencies suspended operations in recent weeks after the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for non-governmental organisations.

A Taliban minister said despite the deaths, the edict would not be changed.

Acting Minister of Disaster Management Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund told the BBC that many areas of Afghanistan were now completely cut off by snow; military helicopters had been sent to the rescue, but they couldn’t land in the most mountainous regions.

The acting minister said the forecast for the next 10 days indicated temperatures would warm. But he was still worried about a rising death toll – of Afghans, and their livestock.

“Most of the people who lost their lives to the cold were shepherds or people living in rural areas. They didn’t have access to healthcare,” Mullah Akhund said.

“We’re concerned about those who are still living in the mountain regions. Most of the roads which pass through the mountains have been closed due to snow. Cars have got stuck there and passengers have died in the freezing temperatures.”

(BBC News)

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India blocks BBC documentary on Modi

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India has blocked the airing of a BBC documentary which questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, saying that even sharing of any clips via social media is barred.

Directions to block the clips from being shared have been issued using emergency powers available to the government under the country’s information technology rules, said Kanchan Gupta, an adviser to the government, on his Twitter handle on Saturday.

The government has issued orders to Twitter to block over 50 tweets linking to the video of the documentary and YouTube has been instructed to block any uploads of the video, Gupta said. Both YouTube and Twitter have complied with the directions, he added.

Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat when it was gripped by communal riots that left more than 1,000 people dead, by government count – most of them Muslims. The violence erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59.

Human rights activists estimate at least double that number died in the rioting.

Modi denied accusations that he failed to stop the rioting. A special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the role of Modi and others in the violence said in a 541-page report in 2012 it could find no evidence to prosecute the then chief minister.

Modi was named the candidate for prime minister of his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in 2013 and led it to power in general elections in 2014 and then in 2019.

Last week, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry termed the BBC documentary a “propaganda piece” meant to push a “discredited narrative”.

(Reuters)

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