Moscow, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — After a monthlong hunger strike, it's a struggle for Lyubov Sobol to even raise her hands. Every gesture is difficult for the frail 31-year-old political activist.
This summer's wave of anti-government protests in Moscow propelled her to the forefront of Russia's opposition movement. Her name rang out on the streets of the capital, packed with demonstrators angered by the refusal of election authorities to allow independent candidates, including Sobol, on the ballot for the Moscow Duma, or city council.
Sobol has been the prime target of attacks by both the Kremlin-friendly media and election officials.
"The attitude to me is different because I work harder than others and I don't let people get away with lies," Sobol told The Associated Press. "I'm not afraid of telling people to their face what I think of them."
Moscow has been gripped by weekly protests for more than a month over the nearly two dozen candidates from across the political spectrum who have been excluded from the Sept. 8 election.
The numbers continue to grow: the Aug. 10 rally was Russia's biggest in eight years, and heavy-handed police tactics against peaceful protesters illustrates just how jittery the Kremlin is about the movement. More than 2,000 people were detained, and videos of riot police beating protesters were widely circulated.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov broke a month of silence Monday, praising the police and saying President Vladimir Putin has not spoken on the subject because he views the rallies as too insignificant to worry about.
Sobol, bespectacled and with a pony tail of platinum blond hair, has emerged in what has mostly been a leaderless movement, galvanized by the authorities' disregard for voters' rights. Protesters have been chanting her name at the rallies as well as slogans rich with wordplay: Lyubov literally means "love" in Russian.
A graduate of Russia's most prestigious law school, she has been behind some of the most visible anti-corruption investigations run by the country's undisputed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
She uncovered ties between the Russian government and St. Petersburg tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin, years before the U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller indicted him for allegedly funding the internet trolls involved in interfering with the U.S. presidential election in 2016. She led a campaign this year against Prigozhin's catering companies that were linked to an outbreak of dysentery in Moscow schools. Prigozhin denied any wrongdoing in the troll farm and his companies deny they were to blame for the dysentery outbreak.
Sobol was also one of the founders of Navalny's hugely popular YouTube channel that now boasts an audience rivaling Kremlin-controlled TV stations.
Leonid Volkov, Navalny's top strategist who has known Sobol for nearly a decade, describes her as a tough and "strong, remarkable leader" who "always stands her ground."
One of Navalny's original disciples, Sobol has worked with him on various political and anti-corruption campaigns since 2011. In a blog post Friday from jail, where he is serving a sentence for calling an unsanctioned protest, Navalny said he was "happy that a new, full-pledged political leader has been born."
She rejects suggestions of a solo career and says she is more focused on the common goals of the protest movement, not personal ambitions.
"What's important to me is to bring to life the ideas that I came to work here for," she said, sitting in Navalny's office in Moscow. "I want to live in a country where rights and freedoms are respected, a country with independent courts and independent media."
During the recent protests, Sobol appeared to be one step ahead of the other opposition figures, going on the hunger strike, staging a sit-in at the offices of the Russian Election Commission and plunging into a heated and emotional debate with the commission's head.
The mother of a 5-year-old, she has attracted a backlash as well: Prigozhin-controlled media have portrayed her as a bad parent. One election official compared her to a bedbug.
So far, the Kremlin has shown no willingness for compromise over the independent candidates, and Sobol's decisive, if not radical, approach is a natural response to that, said Tatyana Stanovaya, nonresident scholar at the Moscow Carnegie Center and head of the R.Politik political analysis firm.
"This decisiveness is called for," Stanovaya said. "But Sobol could alienate some liberal voters because of her emotionally charged, negative style."
Volkov rejects that, saying Sobol's rhetoric matches the protest mood: "It's the right thing to do and that's what's needed right now."
The Moscow protests follow major rallies in Russia's fourth-largest city of Yekaterinburg that pushed the government to scrap plans to build a cathedral in a popular park. Thousands in towns and villages in northwestern Russia have turned out since winter against a government plan to dump garbage from Moscow in their pristine forests. Residents of Siberia have demonstrated against the government's response in tackling sprawling wildfires.
The Moscow protests appear to be far angrier than those against vote-rigging in 2011-12 that died down after Putin's re-election and the launch of criminal cases targeting a group of demonstrators.
After the recent demonstrations, 13 people face the more-serious charge of rioting, even though there has been no violence on their part or little damage to property. Protesters also have reported being approached by the military draft office and debt collectors after their detentions.
"I see that people are angry. They are on the verge, they're ready to stand for their rights and keep on fighting," Sobol said.
She dismissed comparisons with the Hong Kong protests that have been marked by increasing violence by demonstrators.
Sobol said she can picture an even tougher Kremlin crackdown, including a ban on social media that helped mobilize the rallies. She doesn't rule out a more violent turn to what have so far been peaceful protests, because the rougher police tactics are undermining any remaining trust in authorities.
"Russia is impossible to predict," she said. "The society is tired. It can blow up."
Berlin, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — A German government spokesman says Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson soon to discuss Brexit and bilateral issues.
Asked about reports of a possible meeting, Steffen Seibert told reporters that "indeed, a meeting is planned in the very near future."
Seibert said it "makes sense" to discuss Brexit, the issue that has dominated Britain's relationship with other European Union countries in recent years.
Johnson wants to renegotiate the agreement his predecessor Theresa May reached with negotiators from the remaining 27 EU countries.
Moscow, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — A Russian pilot whose passenger jet lost power in both engines after colliding with a flock of gulls shortly after takeoff Thursday managed to land in a cornfield smoothly enough that only one of the 233 people on board was hurt seriously enough to be hospitalized.
The quick thinking of the captain, 41-year old Damir Yusupov, drew comparisons to the 2009 "miracle on the Hudson," when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger safely ditched his plane in New York's Hudson River after a bird strike disabled its engines.
Experts say the two near-tragedies could force aircraft makers and regulators to rethink engine designs so they can better withstand bird strikes, although technology to do that is not yet available.
Yusupov was hailed as a hero after the feat, and Russian television stations showed passengers standing in head-high corn next to the plane, hugging Yusupov and thanking him for saving their lives.
The Ural Airlines Airbus A321 was carrying 226 passengers and a crew of seven as it took off from Moscow's Zhukovsky Airport en route to Simferopol in Crimea.
Russia's Rosaviatsiya state aviation agency chief, Alexander Neradko, told reporters that the crew "made the only right decision" to immediately land the fully loaded plane with its wheels up after both of its engines malfunctioned.
"The crew has shown courage and professionalism and deserve the highest state awards," he said, adding that the plane was fully loaded with 16 tons of fuel. "Just imagine what the consequences would be if the crew didn't make the correct decision."
The airline said Yusupov, the son of a helicopter pilot, is an experienced pilot who has logged over 3,000 flight hours. He worked as a lawyer before he changed course and joined a flight school when he was 32. A father of four, he has flown with Ural Airlines since his graduation in 2013. He became a captain last year.
Yusupov's wife told Rossiya state television from their home in Yekaterinburg that he called her after landing, before she had heard about the emergency.
"He called me and said: 'Everything is fine, everyone is alive,'" she said. "I asked what was it, and he said that birds hit the engine and we landed in a field. I was horrified and in panic and burst into tears."
Russian officials immediately rushed to shower the pilot and crew with praise. President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, hailed the pilots as "heroes" and said they will receive state awards. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev opened a session of Cabinet by praising the crew and asking the transport minister to explain what happened.
The Emergencies Ministry said that 74 people asked for medical assistance after the incident. Health authorities said 23 people, including five children, were taken to the hospital, but all but one was released following check-ups.
Bird strikes on planes occur regularly around the world even though airports use bird distress signals, air cannons and other means to chase them from runways. Smaller birds are usually chopped up by turbine fan blades, but engines aren't designed to withstand strikes from multiple birds or larger birds such as geese, said John Hansman, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Birds rarely disable both of a jet's engines, but with two cases reported in a decade, jet makers may have to redesign future engines to better resist such a strike, Hansman said.
"That's likely to be a discussion, just because the overall aviation system learns from incidents like this," he said, adding that risks and probabilities will have to be weighed.
John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said the bird-vs- engine problem has been under study for years, with no fix available at present. If engine components are made of heavier, stronger materials, there's a risk that they could crack and break off, striking the fuselage and injuring passengers, he said.
"As far as the engine being able to digest the larger birds, we don't have the technology," he said. "We don't have the metals. They really pushed the envelope where we are today."
Airports could also deal with the problem on the ground by monitoring birds with radar and restricting takeoffs when large flocks are in the area, Hansman said.
Some Russian media reports suggested the birds could have been drawn to Zhukovsky Airport by an unauthorized garbage dump nearby, but there was no immediate confirmation of the claim.
On Jan. 15, 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 piloted by Sullenberger hit a flock of geese after taking off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport and both of its engines shut down. The crew made an emergency landing in the Hudson River along midtown Manhattan and all 155 people aboard survived despite landing in frigid water.
The so-called "miracle on the Hudson" was immortalized in the Hollywood movie "Sully," based on the autobiography of Sullenberger and starring Tom Hanks.
Pilots train often to fly with one engine disabled, but it's rare for birds to knock out both engines, experts say. Still, pilots do prepare to lose both engines and often know the safest places near an airport to land, said Goglia, who spoke often about bird strike risks when he was an NTSB member.
Another problem is that many Canada geese, which caused Sullenberger's Hudson River emergency landing, are not migrating as often due to warmer temperatures blamed on climate change, so they're around northern airports for longer periods, Hansman said.
With both engines down, the Russian pilot was flying what essentially is a glider that he could control for a limited time. His toughest decision, Hansman said, was where to try to land.
"When you're in a glider, you've got a certain amount of altitude," he said. "You have to make the judgment what's the best place I can fly with the amount of energy I have left because I'm not getting any more from the engine."
Besides a runway, a cornfield is a good place to land because it's free of big rocks and trees that could damage the plane, Goglia said.
The lack of deaths or serious injuries is an example of how the aviation safety system worked correctly, according to Hansman.
Aircraft seats are manufactured to protect passengers in cases like this, and the fuel tanks are designed to stay intact for a rough landing to prevent fires. And the pilots seemed to be well prepared for such an emergency, Hansman said.
"The pilot did a good job, but that's why he was there," he said.
London, Aug 15 (AP/UNB) — The British government wants to create an "express freight service" to ensure essential medicines are still available if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a divorce deal.
The Department of Health said Thursday it is inviting potential providers to submit offers for a contract lasting at least a year. The department hasn't specified what method of transportation the service would use.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists Brexit will happen Oct. 31 whether or not there is an approved agreement with the EU.
Many economists say no amount of planning can prevent economic damage from a no-deal Brexit, which would bring new customs inspections and tariffs.
Mark Dyan of the Nuffield Trust health charity says the proposed medicines service shows "the scale of disruption the government is preparing for."
London, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — The man who was Britain's top finance official until three weeks ago broke his silence on the new administration Wednesday, saying "unelected people" are pushing the government toward a damaging no-deal Brexit that isn't backed by Parliament or the voters.
Philip Hammond, who stepped down as Treasury chief before Boris Johnson became prime minister, said the government is making demands that are bound to derail talks with the European Union because they are unacceptable to the bloc. Writing in the Times of London, Hammond said Johnson had moved from a tough negotiating stance to a "wrecking" one by insisting on changes to the withdrawal agreement hammered out over the past two years.
"The unelected people who pull the strings of this government know that this is a demand the EU cannot, and will not, accede to," he said. "Not just because they will be stubborn in their defense of the single market (although they will) but because the fragility of their own coalition of 27 means that any attempt on their side to reopen the package would see their unity collapse."
Hammond also criticized the government for perpetuating the "myths" that the British people voted for a no-deal Brexit and that leaving the EU without a negotiated settlement would be painless.
During the 2016 referendum on EU membership, voters were told that a deal to protect Britain's trade with the bloc would be easy to negotiate, Hammond said. He added that "all credible economic analysis" shows that the costs of leaving without a deal would far outweigh the benefits.
"It's time for our government to demonstrate a commitment to a genuine negotiation with the EU to achieve a deal that will maintain Britain's trade with its nearest neighbors, protect British jobs and ensure our future prosperity," Hammond said.