UK says would cut tariffs, no checks on Irish border in no-deal Brexit

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Wednesday it would eliminate import tariffs on a wide range of goods and avoid a so-called hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The government announced the moves, which it said would be temporary, ahead of a vote by lawmakers later on Wednesday on whether Britain should leave the European Union without a deal, a prospect that alarms many employers with the scheduled March 29 Brexit date fast approaching.

Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a second, heavy parliamentary defeat on the withdrawal deal she struck with the bloc on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility of an abrupt, economically damaging Brexit without a transition arrangement.

However, lawmakers are expected to vote against a no-deal Brexit and then, on Thursday, vote in favor of seeking a delay to Brexit.

Under the tariff plan for a no-deal Brexit that would last for up to 12 months 87 percent of total imports to the United Kingdom by value would be eligible for tariff-free access, up from 80 percent now.

The new system would mean 82 percent of imports from the EU would be tariff-free, down from 100 percent now, while 92 percent of imports from the rest of the world would pay no duties at the border, up from 56 percent now.

Some protections for British producers would remain in place, including for the country’s carmakers and beef, lamb, pork, poultry and dairy farmers.

Cutting import tariffs on imported goods would ease the hit to British consumers from an expected jump in inflation in the event of a no-deal Brexit which would probably cause sterling to tumble and make imports more expensive.

But it would also expose many manufacturers to cheaper competition from abroad and, if maintained, low or zero tariffs would deprive Britain of ammunition for extracting concessions from other countries in future trade talks.

On the Irish border, the British government said it would not introduce any new checks or controls on goods moving from the Irish Republic to the British province of Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, stressing the plan was temporary and unilateral.

“The measures announced today recognize the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland,” Karen Bradley, Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland said in a statement. “These arrangements can only be temporary and short-term.”

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Britain would seek to enter discussions urgently with the European Commission and the Irish government to agree long-term measures to avoid a hard border.

Goods crossing the border from Ireland into Northern Ireland would not be covered by the new import tariff regime.

Britain, Ireland and the EU have said they want to avoid physical checks on the border, which was marked by military checkpoints before a 1998 peace deal ended three decades of violence in the region. But they disagree on the “backstop”, or insurance mechanism, to exclude such border checks.

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North Korean sham election had 99.99 percent turnout, state media says

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un casts his vote at a polling center at Pyongyang’s Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sunday, March 10, 2019.
(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea’s state media claims the turnout in the country’s recent rubber-stamp election was 99.99 percent – up from 99.97 percent last time in 2014 – and said it would have been 100 percent if not for the citizens currently abroad.

Millions of North Korean voters went to the polling booths on Sunday to accept a new lineup of roughly 700 members for the next session of the national legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA).

The so-called voters had to pick from just one state-sanctioned candidate per seat and were able to cast their ballots only to show their support for the candidate rather than actually select a winner.

On the day of the election, in the fashion of totalitarian communist states, the turnout was reported just above 99 percent.

US SEEKS ACCESS TO INSPECT REBUILT NORTH KOREAN MISSILE LAUNCH-SITE

Yet North Korea things took a step further and declared on Tuesday that not only was turnout 99.99 percent, but it would have achieved total participation of the country if not for those North Koreans “abroad or working in oceans” who weren’t able to cast a ballot, AFP reported, citing North Korea's official KCNA news agency.

As expected, every single vote cast in the election – just like in the 2014 election – was said to be in support of the named candidates.

“All the electors participated as one in the election to cement our people's power as firm as a rock,” the state media report said.

“All the electors participated as one in the election to cement our people’s power as firm as a rock.”

“One hundred percent of them cast their ballots for the candidates for deputies to the SPA registered in relevant constituencies,” it added.

NORTH KOREA AIRS DOCUMENTARY GLORIFYING KIM-TRUMP SUMMIT — BUT FAILS TO MENTION TALKS COLLAPSED

The election did have one surprise – unlike in previous years, the country’s leader Kim Jong Un didn’t appear on the ballot, raising questions what the regime is trying to symbolize, AFP reported.

People line up to vote during the election at a polling station in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sunday, March 10, 2019. Millions of North Korean voters, including leader Kim Jong Un, are going to the polls to elect roughly 700 members to the national legislature. In typical North Korean style, voters are presented with just one state-sanctioned candidate per district and they cast ballots to show their approval or, very rarely, disapproval.
(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Experts say that this doesn’t mean that the leader is losing his influence within the regime and it’s more likely that that Kim, who already holds multiple top positions in the country, may want to portray his country as more democratic and not take a seat at SPA.

The ruling party’s official daily also affirmed the control of Kim, saying: “The election will strikingly manifest the fixed will of our people to firmly trust and uphold to the last Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un despite storm and stress.”

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“All the people have to fully display through the election the invincibility and might of the DPRK advancing by dint of the single-minded unity.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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ANDREW PIERCE A by-election? It’s not what the doctor ordered!

A by-election? It’s not what the doctor ordered! ANDREW PIERCE on how GP-turned-MP Sarah Wollaston can keep her seat until the next General Election

Among the defectors from the Tories to The Independent Group is the GP-turned-MP Sarah Wollaston.

By law, she and the other turncoats can keep their seats until the next General Election without having to resign and face a fresh vote with them standing as TIG candidates.

However, the situation is distinctly at odds with Wollaston’s previous views on rebel MPs.

(back row left to right) Independent Group members, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, (front row, left to right) Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan

For, in 2011, she co-sponsored a backbench Bill to make it compulsory for MPs who switch parties to resign immediately and face a by-election. 

Wollaston was chosen as Tory candidate for Totnes, Devon, in 2010 in a rarely-held primary, with postal ballot papers being sent to every voter in the Totnes constituency rather than just to Tory Party members.

It led to her being regarded with suspicion by some of her former Conservative colleagues.


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There has been much talk that the Gang of 11 should follow the example of two previous rebels.

Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected from the Tories to Ukip in 2014, but stepped down to face by-elections. Impressed by their principled stand, voters returned both men to Parliament.

So, will Wollaston take the risk, or leave herself open to accusations of hypocrisy?

Lord William Waldegrave was a minister during the Thatcher and Major governments

You’re a riot, Lord Waldegrave

On Saturday, Radio 4 will be broadcasting a documentary to mark the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Margaret Thatcher’s much-hated poll tax in Scotland. (It was imposed on England and Wales a year later, in 1990.)

Lord William Waldegrave, one of the Cabinet architects of the policy, tells the interviewer with delicious understatement: ‘The rates change had an intellectual beauty.’ 

What about the bloody poll tax riots which led to Mrs Thatcher being forced from No 10 just seven months later?

Jeremy Corbyn’s divisive leadership style has caused a steady trickle of Labour Party departures for some time.

Among them is journalist Fiona Millar, who says: ‘I have never felt more pleased that I left the Party six months ago — know of three friends who have done likewise in the past week.’

Millar — also a schools’ campaigner and Remain supporter — is the long-time partner of Alastair Campbell, once Tony Blair’s choleric communications chief.

Never a fan of Corbyn, will Big Al be the next to quit?

In the footsteps of Labour defector Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), three councillors on the Labour group of Wirral Council, next door to her constituency, have quit over ‘public attacks’ on them from ‘hard-Left parasites’.

Wisdom of the week 

Wigan Labour MP Lisa Nandy talking about her party’s U-turn in support of a second referendum: ‘Large numbers of my constituents are now saying that they want to vote for No Deal.

‘Not listening to people, not responding to their concerns, is what got us here in the first place.’

Blunt advice for Mr Corbyn from Lord (David) Owen, the former Labour foreign secretary who became one of the Gang of Four who created the Social Democratic Party in 1981 . . .

‘A leader less identified with Trotskyism, Marxism and anti-Semitism would be able to win,’ he told the New Statesman. ‘Corbyn’s got to step down, though he can’t be forced out. He’s got to face the reality that he can’t win.’

Is May out for Rudd’s blood?

There was a hateful spate of hostile briefings against Work & Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd in the weekend Press.

She was attacked for threatening, with two other Cabinet ministers, to resign unless a No-Deal Brexit was taken off the table by the Prime Minister. A friend of an undaunted Rudd says: ‘She knows No 10 is behind the briefings.’

They added sarcastically: ‘It won’t affect Amber’s relationship with Theresa May. For the truth is that few of the Cabinet have a particularly warm relationship with Theresa.’     

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Estonian center-right opposition heads toward election win

TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia’s opposition center-right Reform party was heading toward a surprise win over Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ governing center-left Centre party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, with some 95 percent of the votes counted.

The results put Reform leader Kaja Kallas in the pole position to become the country’s first female prime minister, although she will have to tackle difficult negotiations to form a governing coalition.

Most opinion polls since late last year had put Centre in front, although recent surveys had indicated a tight race, with some suggesting pro-business Reform could pull ahead.

Reform had 29.4 percent of the vote, while Centre stood at 22.2 percent and the far-right EKRE at 17.7 percent, more than double its vote in the previous election, the State Electoral Office’s count of votes from 428 of 451 districts showed.

Kallas, a 41-year-old lawyer and former European Parliament member, took over as Reform leader less than a year ago. The party’s founders include her father, Siim Kallas, a former Estonian prime minister and EU commissioner.

Estonian elections are typically decided late in the evening when votes from the large Russian-speaking districts, home to many supporters of the pro-Russian Centre party, are registered.

Estonia’s president is due to nominate the candidate for prime minister in coming days, after which the nominee will then begin negotiations to form a coalition as all parties fell well short of winning a majority.

Kallas looks likely to face a difficult task in hammering out a coalition government in a 101-seat parliament where all other parties have ruled out governing with the far-right EKRE.

“The winner of elections has to form a coalition and in the current situation, it will be interesting and challenging,” Ratas told national broadcaster ERR.

Kallas repeated that she ruled out governing with EKRE but was open to any other potential tie-ups.

“We keep all the options open for a coalition,” she said.

Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment, but regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.

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Two more Australian cabinet ministers quit as election looms

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Two more ministers in Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet said on Saturday they will not contest elections due in May, adding to a flurry of high-profile resignations as opinion polls suggest the center-right government faces a heavy defeat.

Morrison will need to retain all the parliamentary seats held by his coalition government, but his chances are weakened by a wave of incumbent lawmakers in marginal seats set to retire.

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo both announced on Saturday morning that they would not stand in the coming election.

Senator Linda Reynolds, Australia’s first female brigadier in the Army Reserve, was appointed the new Minister for Defence Industry.

Morrison said Reynolds would become Defence Minister should his government be returned to power.

“We have two members of the Cabinet who have decided not to re-contest the next election. That’s true,” Morrison said in a televised news conference from Canberra.

“What has also changed today is we have elevated Senator Reynolds into the Cabinet, which means there will now be seven women in Cabinet.”

Morrison said it was important for Pyne, who was responsible for a $200 billion ($141.60 billion) build-up of Australia’s military capability, to retain his portfolio until the election.

“In Christopher Pyne’s portfolio, we are dealing with some quite sensitive issues,” he said.

The prime minister said he intended to fill any other vacancies after the next election.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced his retirement last week after Human Services Minister Michael Keenan said he was stepping down. Minister for Jobs Kelly O’Dwyer also resigned, and former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month she would not stand for re-election.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who replaced Julie Bishop, announced six new foreign diplomatic appointments on Saturday including High Commissioners to South Africa, Nigeria and New Zealand; and Consuls-General to Shenyang, China, and Bali, Indonesia. She also announced a new ambassador to Qatar.

A Newspoll for The Australian newspaper showed the opposition Labor party retained a lead of 53 percent to 47 percent over the Liberal-National government last month, unchanged from the poll in December.

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Britain's Labour Party leader backs Brexit referendum

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s opposition Labour Party will back a new referendum on Brexit after parliament defeated its alternative plan for leaving the European Union, its eurosceptic leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

With 29 days left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, both Prime Minister Theresa May and Corbyn have been forced into making changes to their approaches to the divorce.

Corbyn, who voted against membership in 1975 and gave only reluctant backing to the 2016 campaign to remain in the EU, on Wednesday gave ambiguous backing for another referendum, saying he would push for one alongside a British parliamentary election.

It is the first time since Britons voted in 2016 to leave the EU that one of its two major political parties has thrown its weight behind giving voters a chance to change their minds.

But it was unclear what the exact question might be.

“After tonight’s votes in parliament, we’ll continue to push for a close economic relationship based on our credible alternative plan or a general election,” Corbyn said.

“We’ll also back a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or disastrous no deal.”

John McDonnell, the second most powerful man in the Labour Party, said it would put down an amendment calling for a second referendum as soon as May brought a deal back to parliament.

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Britain’s Brexit minister, Steve Barclay, said there was no consensus in parliament for another referendum or even on what question might be asked.

After months of saying that Britain must leave the EU on time on March 29, May opened up the possibility on Tuesday of a short extension to the exit date.

She is hoping to bring back a tweaked divorce accord for a parliamentary vote, which could come as early as next week but may not take place until March 12.

Talks with the EU have moved forward in the last week, but there is a significant amount of work to do, May’s spokesman said.

BREXIT MAZE

If her deal is voted down, May has promised that lawmakers will get a chance to vote the day after on whether to leave with no deal and then on March 14 to vote on asking the EU to delay the deadline.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday the EU would agree to extend the Brexit deadline beyond March 29 only if Britain justified such a request with a clear objective.

Lawmakers on Wednesday voted 502-20 in support of an amendment proposed by opposition Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper that spelled out May’s proposed timetable.

The government backed the amendment though 20 lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party voted against and 80 abstained.

After enduring more than 2-1/2 years of uncertainty since the 2016 referendum, some business chiefs are relieved the threat of a no-deal exit has been pushed back to June though others said the delay merely prolonged the lack of clarity.

“I would categorize it as a further annoyance,” Aston Martin Chief Executive Andy Palmer told Reuters. “You’re holding that contingency stock for longer which means that your working capital is tied up for longer.”

Aston Martin, which has authorized up to 30 million pounds ($40 million) worth of contingencies, is stocking more components and could fly in parts if ports are clogged up.

British business confidence slid in February to its lowest level since June 2016, adding to other signs that Brexit uncertainty is hurting companies. Net migration to Britain from the European Union fell to the lowest since 2009.

GOLDMAN’S GUESS

Goldman Sachs said it expected many Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers to accept a revised deal, partly because the Labour Party was tilting toward a second referendum.

“We continue to see the most likely outcome of the current impasse as eventual ratification of the prime minister’s Brexit deal, with a three-month extension of Article 50,” Goldman said.

Goldman Sachs raised the probability of that outcome to 55 percent from 50 percent while cutting its view of no-deal Brexit to 10 percent from 15. It kept the probability of no Brexit at 35 percent.

One Brexit-supporting lawmaker in May’s party said May would have to achieve legally binding treaty change to get support for her deal.

“If the prime minister brings back something different then of course we will look at that very seriously,” Theresa Villiers told the BBC. “But it would have to be legally binding, treaty change.”

May has a serious chance of getting a deal approved by parliament in the next few weeks, Conservative Party lawmaker Oliver Letwin said.

“She might just squeak it,” Letwin told Sky.

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Going TikTok: Indians get hooked on Chinese video app ahead of election

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A video clip shot on a sparse rooftop of what looks like a low-rise apartment block shows a young Indian man swaying while lip-syncing a song praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Describing himself as a proud Indian with the online identity “garrytomar”, he is wearing ear-studs and shows a beaded necklace under a partly unbuttoned shirt in the 15-second clip.

“Modi has single-handedly trounced everyone … Modi is a storm, you all now know,” goes the Hindi song, posted on Chinese video mobile application TikTok, the latest digital platform to grip India’s small towns and villages ahead of a general election due by May. (bit.ly/2E3v0cv)

Created by Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, one of the world’s most valuable start-ups potentially worth more than $75 billion, TikTok allows users to create and share short videos with various special effects. It is becoming hugely popular in rural India, home to most of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, its unit WhatsApp and Twitter are extensively being used by Indian politicians for campaigning ahead of the election: Facebook’s 300 million users and WhatsApp’s 200 million have made India their largest market in the world, while Twitter too has millions of users.

TikTok is fast catching up: it has been downloaded more than 240 million times in India so far, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower. More than 30 million users in India installed it last month, 12 times more than in January 2018.

“Most urban elites haven’t heard of TikTok and those who have, tend to view it as a platform for trivial content. In reality, it hosts diverse content including a fair share of political speech,” said Kailas Karthikeyan, a New Delhi-based technology analyst who has tracked TikTok for nine months.

TikTok’s video-only interface makes it less elaborate and easier to use compared to platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, making it a bigger attraction in rural India, he added.

POLITICAL INTEREST

While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress party have not officially joined TikTok, videos tagged #narendramodi have received more than 30 million views and those about Congress chief Rahul Gandhi (#rahulgandhi) have got nearly 13 million hits. Total views for political videos is far higher.

Amit Malviya, the BJP’s chief of information technology, said the party was tracking TikTok conversations and it was “a brilliant medium for creative expression”. The party, however, has no plans as of now to officially join the platform, he said.

A Congress source said the party was exploring joining TikTok and assessing how it could be used to better reach out to people in rural areas in the run-up to the election.

Not all political videos on TikTok seek votes. Some videos show people waving the Congress flag on Indian streets. Another clip shows Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a stage, with a Hindi-language rustic voiceover of her saying she will marry the Indian leader.

“I would die with him and live with him,” the Merkel voice impersonator declares in the video. (bit.ly/2XjTdUQ)

In another TikTok post, Modi fan Yogesh Saini says the prime minister is his world, moments before opening his jacket to reveal a video of Modi on his chest. (bit.ly/2SQq0SN)

Saini, 23, isn’t affiliated to any political party, but says: “It’s my job to support Modi-ji, so I’m doing that,” using the honorific Indian suffix. He spoke to Reuters from the small town of Sawai Madhopur in the desert state of Rajasthan.

SCRUTINY, BACKLASH

Jokes, dance clips and videos related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the platform. #Bollywood tagged videos have nearly 13 billion views and the app is also flooded with memes, as well as videos on cooking.

TikTok, though, is facing opposition from some quarters.

The information technology minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, M. Manikandan, said he will urge the federal government to ban the app as some content was “very unbearable”.

“Young girls and everybody is behaving very badly. Sometimes the body language is very bad, and (people are) doing mimicry of political leaders very badly,” Manikandan told Reuters.

A Hindu nationalist group close to Modi’s BJP too has called for a ban on TikTok.

TikTok said it respects local laws and there was “no basis” for the concerns. Promoting a safe and positive in-app environment was its “top priority”, it said.

The backlash comes as social media companies face increased scrutiny from authorities over fake news and undesirable content ahead of the polls. A federal proposal will mandate them to swiftly remove “unlawful” content when asked.

A senior government official in New Delhi said the government wants TikTok to comply with the new Indian regulations as and when they kick in, but there wasn’t any immediate concern on content.

Still, the government has asked the Chinese company to have better checks in place to ensure its users are aged above 12, which is recommended by the app itself, the official said.

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Russia jails top cyber agent for treason

A military court in Moscow on Tuesday jailed a former chief of the cybersecurity department of Russia’s main domestic security agency on treason charges — in a remarkably murky case that has attracted speculation that it could be linked to the 2016 U.S. election.

The Moscow District Military Court sentenced Sergey Mikhailov, who oversaw part of the Russian intelligence agency FSB’s cybersecurity center, to 22 years in a maximum security prison and fined him 400,000 rubles ($6,130). His co-defendant, Ruslan Stoyanov, a former police investigator and top researcher at the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, received 14 years in prison.

The trial has been cloaked in deep secrecy, conducted behind closed doors — meaning very few details have surfaced publicly. But what has come emerged has offered tantalizing and frequently confusing insights into the closed world of Russian cyber espionage — with allegations (suggestions) that the men were convicted for passing classified information to U.S. intelligence.

The charges against Mikhailov and Stoyanov have never been formally made public. But they are known to be based, at least in part, on 9-year-old allegations by a web entrepreneur and convicted cyber criminal, Pavel Vrublevsky — whom Mikhailov helped jail in 2013.

Vrublevsky, who has insisted he is the key witness in the case, asserts that in 2010 Mikhailov and Stoyanov indirectly passed classified law enforcement information from a criminal investigation against him to the FBI via an American cyber-security researcher, Kimberly Zenz.

Last week, the Russian newspaper, Kommersant, reported that court documents show the FSB’s accusations in the case essentially track with those of Vrublevsky. According to the newspaper, the FSB accuses Mikhailov of giving a compact disk with secret information related to Vrublevsky’s case to Stoyanov. Stoyanov is then alleged to have flown with the disk to a cyber security conference in the United States, where he handed it to Zenz.

The newspaper reported that the men received $10 million in return.

Russian authorities have not commented on the report. Zenz has denied she ever received classified material from Stoyanov and in interviews she has said she believes that he is being unfairly tried.

In Tuesday’s verdict, the judge said Mikhailov had been found guilty of two episodes of state treason, and Stoyanov of one, but did not say whether they had passed information to a foreign country. The court also stripped Mikhailov of several state honors, including a medal for Merit to the Motherland, First Class.

Both men pleaded not guilty, the judge said.

The case remains remarkably opaque, and few observers believe that Vrublevsky’s allegations provide the full story. Some cybersecurity experts have suggested that they believe Vrublevsky’s allegations are being used as a pretext for jailing the men.

Stoyanov’s attorney, Inga Lebedeva at the court on Tuesday told reporters that they considered Vrublevsky to have ordered the case against the men. Lebedeva said that the court had also refused an offer from Zenz to testify in the case, despite her being a central figure in the alleged conspiracy.

Vrublevsky and the two convicted men have history. Vrublevsky, who runs a web-payments company, Chronopay, blames Mikhailov and Stoyanov for his conviction in 2013, when he was jailed for two years for ordering a denial-of-service attack against a rival payment platform that prevented customers from buying tickets from the Russian airline Aeroflot.

Vrublevsky himself has previously suggested to ABC News that he does not believe his allegations are the real reason for the trial now.

But, even if true, there remains no answer to the question of why authorities would be trying to jail the men.

The timing of Mikhailov and Stoyanov’s arrest, just weeks after the 2016 election, and the allegations that the men passed information to U.S. intelligence, has prompted speculation that they could be related to the Russia’s election hacking. The Kremlin has denied that — along with any claims of interference in 2016 — and no evidence has emerged to support the theory.

On Tuesday, Lebedeva, Stoyanova’s lawyer, told reporters that Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections had not figured in the case.

But questions around the trial continue to abound.

A respected human rights lawyer and a defense attorney in the case, Ivan Pavlov has repeatedly hinted that the men are being tried for reasons other than with what they are charged.

In 2017, Pavlov suggested cryptically to ABC News that the men may have been jailed for safe-keeping — to prevent them from sharing what they may know.

“It’s very like they just wanted to isolate people” Ivan Pavlov said in 2017. “Because they know too much. For example, that which they would like to hide.”

Vrublevsky himself has continued to offer wild conspiracy theories for why the men have been jailed now, venturing numerous, often fantastical explanations. In one, he suggested to ABC News that Mikhailov was an FBI agent intending to flee to the U.S. where he would give phony testimony that falsely implicated Russia in the 2016 election hacking.

Others have suggested that the case may be the product of a conflict within the FSB, or between the FSB and other Russian intelligence agencies.

In 2017, Stoyanov, who was known as one of Kaspersky Lab’s top researchers, wrote an open letter from his detention cell in which he warned that the FSB was following a practice of co-opting criminal hackers for intelligence missions — risks which he said could potentially supercharge cybercrime in Russia.

“The essence of the deal: the state receives access to the technologies and information of cyberthieves in exchange for the permission to steal abroad,” Stoyanov wrote in the letter, published in part by the outlet, RBC.

One of Stoyanov’s co-defendants in the treason trial is accused by U.S. law enforcement of doing just that.

Dmitry Dokuchaev is a major in the FSB who served under Mikhailov.

Mikhailov, according to Russian media reports, had been a criminal hacker until he was recruited by the security agency. In 2017, the FBI indicted Dokuchaev for helping run a massive 2014 hack on Yahoo Inc!, that stole roughly half-a-billion accounts.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Dokuchaev directed criminal hackers to steal passwords, authorising them to enrich themselves in the process so long as they provided the FSB with desired accounts.

Dokuchaev and another defendant, Georgy Fomenko, a little-known businessman, have reportedly both pleaded partly guilty to the charges in the FSB treason case and are co-operating with investigators. They remain in pre-trial detention and are yet to be sentenced.

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Nigeria's President Buhari takes unassailable lead in election: Reuters tally

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday took an unassailable lead in the country’s election race, Reuters data based on results announced in different parts of the country showed.

A combination of results confirmed by the electoral commission and of provisional ones announced in state capitals showed that his main rival, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, could no longer catch up.

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Senegal PM says President Sall won re-election in first round of vote

DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal’s prime minister said President Macky Sall won the first round of an election on Sunday with at least 57 percent of votes, even as the opposition said preliminary results showed a run-off was unavoidable.

“We must congratulate the President for his re-election in the first round,” Prime Minister Mohammed Dionne told journalists, also citing preliminary figures.

Official results are due by Friday at the latest with a run-off for the top two on March 24 if no one secures a majority.

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