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Putin says West trying to ‘hold back’ powerful Russia

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President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the West was trying to hold back an increasingly powerful Russia, during an end-of-year press conference that took aim at sanctions and “made-up” spy scandals.

Domestic concerns also loomed large at the annual event, after President Putin’s approval ratings took a beating in recent months over unpopular pension reforms.

Asked about Western sanctions against Moscow, Mr Putin said these were “connected with the growth of Russia’s power.”

“A powerful player appears who needs to be reckoned with. Until recently it was thought there was no longer such a country,” he said from behind a large wooden desk to an audience of hundreds of journalists.

The president dismissed spy scandals — such as the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England — as invented to damage Russia’s standing.

“If there hadn’t been the Skripals, they would have made up something else. There is only one aim: to hold back Russia’s development,” he said, later lamenting that relations with Britain were at a “dead end”.

President Putin began the press conference, as usual, by reeling off economic growth figures.

“The main thing is that we need to get into a new economic league. We could very well take the fifth place in terms of size of economy. And I think we’ll do that,” he said.

Russia’s economy is currently ranked 12th in the world by the International Monetary Fund, which lists the United States first, followed by China, Japan, Germany and Britain.

Mr Putin said the economy grew 1.7 percent over the first 10 months of the year, roughly in line with predictions, while unemployment was down. Full-year growth is estimated at 1.8 percent.

But he appeared to damn his prime minister, former president Dmitry Medvedev, with faint praise, saying that he was “generally” happy with the work of his government.

Mr Putin was re-elected to a fourth term in March with nearly 77 percent of the vote, but recent polls have seen his support drop below 50 percent.

His previous term in the Kremlin was defined by a decline in living standards for many Russians, despite what were perceived as foreign policy wins.

An increase to the retirement age this year provoked anger and rare street protests but Mr Putin said the hike was “unavoidable” when questioned on the subject.

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Against a backdrop of strained ties with the US, Putin praised President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria though condemned his withdrawal from a Cold War arms agreement.

There was a growing tendency to underestimate the threat of nuclear war, the Russian leader said.

But Mr Putin insisted Mr Trump was legitimately elected president and that any attempt to cast doubt on this — or the result of the Brexit referendum — showed “disrespect” to voters.

In the wide-ranging session, Mr Putin dismissed a recent crackdown on Russian rappers as pointless and condemned the creation of an independent Ukrainian church.

And he repeated Kremlin claims that Ukrainian actions in the Kerch Strait off Crimea were a “provocation”, following a naval confrontation and Russia’s arrest of several Ukrainian sailors.

The Kremlin demands questions be sent in advance, but reporters every year go to great lengths to encourage the president to call on them.

On Thursday, one journalist was dressed as a Russian fairytale character, the snow maiden, while another came holding a tambourine.

Organisers, however, put a size limit on the placards media representatives traditionally hold up to attract Putin’s attention.

The president began the tradition of such end-of-year press events in 2001, but with time they have evolved into marathon events. Since 2004, all December press conferences have surpassed three hours.

His record was in 2008, when questions and answers went on for four hours and 40 minutes.

The appearance was shown live on several TV stations, with some channels trailing the event with a day-long countdown clock.

As Russia has become increasingly centralised under Mr Putin, questions at the conference have begun to resemble lobbying attempts to resolve specific problems.

This year he promised to help open a new football pitch for children in Saint Petersburg, and coyly answered questions on his health and love life.



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State to keep Sh18m seized from suspended NLC chief : The Standard

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A former National Lands Commission (NLC) senior official has lost over Sh18 million that was recovered from her house.
Suspended Director of Valuation and Taxation Salome Munubi (pictured), who is facing graft charges, failed to explain the source of the money that had been retrieved from her house by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) sleuths during a search on May 4, 2017.
But the court declined a request by EACC to have her property seized by the State, with the judge saying the agency’s lead investigator, Pius Maithya, had not proven that the wealth was proceeds of crime.
Justice John Onyiego ruled on Wednesday in a case pitting EACC, Ms Munubi, her husband Sostenah Ogero Taracha and alleged daughter, Priscila Nyambura alias Risper Bwari.
The cash – Sh1 million and USD 168,900 (approximately Sh18 million) – was found in one of the homes raided by the EACC as part of investigations into a compensation scheme involving the Standard Gauge Railway project.
“The over Sh18 million recovered from Ms Munubi and Mr Taracha’s house amounts to unexplained assets hence I do hereby direct the same to be forfeited to the government,” reads Justice Onyiego’s judgement.
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Munubi’s husband and purported daughter were also directed to bear the cost of the suit.
The former NLC officer disowned the money found in her house, claiming it belonged to her husband, who is a businessman with a monthly earning of Sh2 million.
Munubi told the court her husband had borrowed the money from his step-daughter.
But during interrogation by EACC sleuths, Nyambura claimed it was part of Sh21 million given to her by her Sudanese step-father to purchase a house for herself and her siblings.
“Accordingly, I am satisfied that EACC has proved its case on a balance of probability against Taracha and Nyambura and judgement is thus entered against them jointly and severally with a determination and finding that the amount of money listed as recovered is unexplained assets,” ruled the judge.
He noted that even though Munubi’s husband and purported daughter were asked to justify acquisition of the said amount before May 4, 2017, the information given was conflicting.
He said further probe went beyond the said date and this was necessitated by the peculiar nature of the case in which parties not targeted originally came into the picture claiming proceeds reasonably suspected to be those of crime or generally money that could not be lawfully accoutered for.
According to Maithya, he and other officers of the commission were tasked to investigate allegations of irregular compensation of land following compulsory acquisition of land along the SGR line by the government through NLC.
“We were in receipt of credible information that Munubi was engaged in corrupt conduct and had amassed assets well beyond her known legitimate sources of income,” Maithya told the court.
He also said they were investigating Munubi over claims of involvement in a case of fictitious acquisition and compensation of four land parcels in Embakasi, Nairobi County, despite falling within the Kenya Railways Reserve and therefore not subject to compulsory acquisition.
The case took a different turn when the investigators probed the millions found in the house. The evidence adduced saw Nyambura interrogated, only to emerge as the in-law of Munubi and the husband, who hails from Murang’a County.
Munubi was then detained alongside her chairman Muhammad Swazuri, chief executive officer Tom Chavangi, Finance Director Francis Mugo and his deputy Ben Cherutich.
Besides the homes, the detectives raided the commission’s offices at ACK Bishops Annex and took away documents and electronics they said were crucial in the investigations.
More officers are under investigation after complaints that some of the payments made were riddled with corruption.
Parliament and the police are also investigating the claims.
On April 17, 2019, Munubi was arrested alongside several other NLC top officials and charged with conspiracy to commit economic crimes and money laundering, among other charges, according to a statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions office.
Swazuri and Munubi were later released on a cash bail of Sh3.5 million.
Evidence gathered by the prosecution showed how fake compensation claims, double payments, overpayments, inflation of land values and payment of people whose land was never on the corridor were used to loot taxpayers’ money.
However, crucial data that was key in the investigations mysteriously disappeared after a break-in at the commission’s offices. Following the burglary, the NLC stated that what got lost was a central processing unit in one of the computers within the Directorate of Valuation and Taxation.

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National Lands CommissionSalome MunubiCorruptionSGR

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Always assume everyone is COVID-19 positive: Kagwe » Capital News

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 10 – The Ministry of Health has urged Kenyans to take extra precautions by adhering to government regulations of social distancing in order to protect themselves from contracting coronavirus.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said everyone, including small-scale traders operating in the open-air markets should always assume that everyone has contracted the virus.

“Just assume that everybody is positive,” the CS told a news conference Thursday.

Kagwe further told Kenyans to be each one’s keeper even as the traders are asked to maintain thorough hygiene when dealing with their clients.

Five more positive cases were confirmed in the country Thursday, raising the total to 184.

“I want to urge Kenyans to take care of themselves and look out for each other as well because this virus is transmitted from one person to another,” the CS added.

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The government has issued a directive on salons, barbershops, vegetable vendors and the Jua kali sector to always put on masks and ensure their clients have done the same as a protective measure.

Kenya has imposed a dusk to dawn curfew nationwide, with travel restrictions to and from counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale which were classified as high risk areas.

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Not wearing a mask will land you in jail, Kagwe warns – KBC

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Not wearing a mask will land you in jail, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe warns

Kenyans risk hefty fines or risk jail term if found not wearing a mask according to the Kenya Gazette Supplement No. 41 signed by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe.

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The new directive aimed at curbing the further spread of Coronavirus/Covid-19 will see Kenyans found violating the Ministry of Health’s order-pay Ksh 20,000 or risk a jail term not exceeding six months.

“A person who commits an offence under these rules shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both,” read part of the gazette notice.

Citizens found not wearing a mask while using a public or private transport and observing social distance of not less than one metre in public places during the restriction period shall be found guilty.

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“Users of public or private transport and public transport operators shall wear a proper mask that must cover the person’s mouth and nose and also maintain a physical distance of not less than one metre.”

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The new orders from Health CS Mutahi Kagwe will also see organizations business entities, traders or vendors whether in a market or enclosed premises provide at their business location or entrance to their premises, a handwashing station with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer approved for use by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

According to the new rules, burials or cremations of loved ones who die to Coronavirus/Covid-19 will be carried out within 48 hours from the time of death.

The Government has also limited the attendance at the funeral to fifteen people and at the same time banned night vigils held in relation to a funeral.

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