TPM World News

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and a frustrated European Union hesitantly edged forward during their first full divorce negotiation session this week, though it became clear Thursday that one of the biggest stumbling blocks will be agreeing which court will have the final say in settling legal disputes after Brexit.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, urged Britain to flesh out its positions on a variety of issues that need to be dealt with before discussions on a wide-ranging trade deal to follow the country’s exit from the bloc can begin.

He asked for a clear British plan on how much it should pay, the rights of citizens living in each other’s nations and how to keep make sure that the handling of the land border with Ireland doesn’t negatively impact on business and on the Northern Ireland peace process.

“This week’s experience has shown, we make better progress when our respective positions are clear,” Barnier said, in a comment that highlighted the bloc’s impatience with the British foot-dragging to start discussions following the June 2016 referendum that backed Brexit.

One major barrier is how much Britain will pay to meet its obligations as part of any Brexit deal. Estimates have ranged from around 40 billion euros ($34 billion) and 100 billion. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the EU can “go whistle” for its money if it comes with excessive demands.

“Accounts have to be settled,” Barnier countered.

Barnier said during a joint news conference that the “clarification of the U.K. position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier which is inseparable from other dossiers.”

British negotiators — 99 of them arrived on Monday — have been pushing back against EU allegations that they were ill-prepared, insisting they needed less public paperwork since they did not have to report back to 27 nations.

Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said that four days of talks among dozens of negotiators had provided “a lot to be positive about.”

Davis said he’s “encouraged by progress” on key issues, even though negotiators barely moved beyond exploratory issues during talks that are expected to stretch into late 2018.

One problem stood out, though. The EU wants its top court, the European Court of Justice, still to be the final arbiter on many issues in the wake of the Brexit agreement, which Britain rejects.

The court was a key issue during the 2016 referendum campaign, with ‘leave’ campaigners arguing that the primary role of the European court over national courts represented a substantial loss of sovereignty.

Barnier insisted the ECJ still needs a strong role.

“Quite frankly,” he said, “any reference to European rights imply their oversight by the court of justice of the European Union.”

It leaves the negotiators with plenty of work for the rest of the summer and early fall. Since the talks have taken four months to fully kick off, negotiators will now be pressed to make up lost time on a host of wickedly complicated issues which could take years, if comparable international examples like trade agreements are any guide.

While the official deadline is March 2019, there’s a practical deadline of late fall next year, since any agreement would still face ratification in the EU and its nations.

By October this year, they will be looking for agreement on “sufficient progress” on the rights of citizens living in each other’s nations, the bill Britain will have to pay, the border issue in Ireland and the place of the European Court of Justice as an ultimate arbiter. Once enough progress has been made on all these issues, both sides can also start looking at building a new trade and political relationship.

Davis held out hope Britain and the EU would remain the best of allies and that any settlement should not seek an edge on an opponent.

“Nobody expects a punishment deal. Michel and I are both going for a good deal,” Davis said.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis and Palestinians dug in over new security measures at a contested Jerusalem shrine after a deadly attack there, as international efforts were underway to try and stave off a major conflagration after Muslim clerics called for mass protests at the site on Friday.

Israel’s public security minister insisted Thursday that the metal detectors were essential to maintaining security, while Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders called for mass protests in the city if they are not removed.

Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will rule on the issue later in the day after he holds security consultations upon his return from a working visit to Europe. The Israeli security services are reportedly divided over what to do given the rising tensions surrounding the site. But Erdan rejected Arab accusations that new Israeli measures were an attempt to expand control over the site and insisted they were necessary to carry out proper security checks.

“The Israeli police needs these metal detectors so the security checks can give a proper response to the security considerations,” he said. “I assume there are contacts internationally to try to calm the situation, but in my eyes there is no reason why the situation should not be calm.”

Israeli security forces are on high alert ahead of Friday, the highlight of the Muslim religious week, when tens of thousands of Muslims typically attend prayers in the walled compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Muslim leaders have called for mass protests if the metal detectors are not moved before then.

Conflicts over the holy site — known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Noble Sanctuary to Muslims — have repeatedly triggered Israeli-Palestinian confrontations. Three Arab gunmen launched an attack from there last week, killing two Israeli policemen at a gate to the Muslim-administered compound.

In response, Israel began installing metal detectors — a security measure it said is used routinely at holy sites around the world.

Hamas called the initial closure a “religious war” and called on followers to attack Israelis.

Muslim clerics have been urging the faithful to skip prayers in neighborhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshippers have been asked this week to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.

Netanyahu, who is in Hungary, held a pair of urgent phone conversations with his security chiefs Wednesday and appears to be under intense international pressure to back down.

Netanyahu said Israel is in close contact with Jordan, the traditional Muslim custodian of the shrine, to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty, with ancestry said to go back to Prophet Muhammad, derives much of its legitimacy from custodianship over the shrine. The White House has also called for tensions to be reduced.

The site remained quiet Thursday and Azzam Khatib, the director of the site’s Muslim administration, or Waqf, said he was hopeful an arrangement could be found before the Friday prayers.

“We will never ever accept any changes in the mosque, and Israel has to put an end to this crisis by removing the metal detectors,” he said.

Jerusalem resident Ruben Abu Shamsi said the status of the gates posed a “borderline” for tragedy. “I hope the Israeli government will be so wise to avoid the violence,” he said at the site.

Nationalist Israeli politicians have been pressuring Netanyahu from the opposite direction. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, warned of an Israeli “capitulation” that “will damage Israel’s power of deterrence and will endanger the lives of the visitors, the worshippers and the police officers.”

After last week’s shooting, Israel closed the site for two days for searches. It was only the third closure since Israel captured the shrine, along with east Jerusalem and other territories, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The closure drew wide condemnation from the Muslim world. Israel began opening the site gradually on Sunday.

Jews revere the 37-acre (15-hectare) raised platform as the site of their biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Muslims believe the hilltop marks the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Also on Thursday, the Israeli military said it shot and killed a 26-year-old Palestinian attacker who tried to stab soldiers at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Hebron.

In the past two years, Palestinians have killed 45 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks. During that period, Israeli forces have killed more than 255 Palestinians, most of them said by Israel to be attackers while others were killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders to commit attacks. Palestinians say the attacks stem from anger over decades of Israeli occupation of territories they claim for their future state.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that a woman who was detained after wearing a miniskirt in a video that went viral has been released without charge.

The decision not to press charges was a rare win for supporters of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, who criticized the public outcry against her. It also comes as Saudi Arabia overhauls its prosecution system under a new, young heir to the throne who has taken steps to try and modernize the country and its public image.

The viral video and the reaction to it in Saudi Arabia prompted police to bring the woman in for questioning for wearing “immodest clothes” in violation of the kingdom’s conservative Islamic dress code.

Her release from detention without charge suggests that the subsequent international attention brought to the case may have helped lead to her quick release. Some women fleeing allegedly abusive families have languished in prison without charge, and others in the past have been imprisoned for defying Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving.

The young woman drew attention over the weekend when the video appeared online showing her walking in a historic village north of the capital, Riyadh, wearing a miniskirt and crop top, and showing her hair.

Saudi rules require all women living in the kingdom, including foreigners, to wear long, loose robes known as abayas in public. Most Saudi women also wear a headscarf and veil that covers the face.

A statement released by the Center for International Communication said police released the woman, who was not named. It says she was released Tuesday evening after a few hours of questioning and that she told investigators that the video posted on social media was published without her knowledge.

“She was released without charge and the case has been closed by the prosecutor,” the statement said.

It is common in Saudi Arabia to see heavily blurred or pixelated images of women’s faces on billboards and storefronts — in stark contrast to the many towering images of senior male royals displayed across the country.

Despite such government controls, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25 and many are active on social media where they can access the internet and bypass government censors. Twitter is wildly popular among Saudis as a place to vent frustrations and gauge public opinion.

Conservatives and others angered by the video took to Twitter , writing that she violated rules and should be arrested to set an example. Others rushed to her defense, questioning why the video had sparked such outrage when violations that affect human rights, for example, have not led to similarly fierce internal debate.

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Residents of Venezuela’s capital say they are blocking streets on their own initiative to voice frustration ahead of a general strike in protest of a government push to rewrite the constitution.

Protester Jimmy Arvelo says he and neighbors set up a barricade of tree trunks and tires in his Caracas neighborhood. Arvelo says they are protesting peacefully, but “we are resisting.”

Such roadblocks paralyzed much of Caracas on Wednesday, with some public bus lines shutting down.

Venezuela is in the throes of a political crisis that has seen months of protests in which scores of people have died.

The government intends to hold a July 30 election to select an assembly charged with rewriting the nation’s charter.

President Nicolas Maduro’s allies have called on the assembly to impose executive-branch authority over the few remaining institutions outside the control of the ruling party.

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PARIS (AP) — A French woman captured in the Iraqi city of Mosul with her four children is facing possible prosecution in Iraq for allegedly collaborating with the Islamic State group, in a test case for how governments handle the families of foreign fighters now that the extremists are in retreat.

The fate of the children, ranging in age from 6 months to 8 years old, is in legal limbo. Their father’s whereabouts are unknown.

The woman’s lawyer says the family should be brought to France, even though she would probably be jailed and could face terrorism charges upon her return. Lawyer William Bourdon fears she could face abuse in Iraq and be used as a scapegoat for IS crimes or as a pawn in domestic political conflicts.

But French government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Wednesday the mother should be prosecuted in Iraq, saying she wasn’t in battle-torn Mosul “for tourism.”

While he said France condemns reported abuses by Iraqi troops in their campaign against IS, he insisted “the authorities in Iraq are justified in wanting to judge (foreign fighters) on site.”

How Iraq and France choose to handle this family’s case could set a precedent for the many other foreigners who joined the IS cause. France alone estimates that 750 French people are among extremists in Iraq and Syria — including up to 450 children.

Iraqi authorities wouldn’t comment Wednesday on the French family’s case.

While Bourdon could not provide details about why the French family joined IS, France has sent more extremists to Iraq and Syria than any other Western country. France has also been repeatedly targeted by deadly IS attacks, mainly staged by homegrown extremists.

The captured Frenchwoman abruptly left her home in a Paris suburb in late 2015 and followed her husband to Syria and then to Iraq, taking their three children along, according to Bourdon. The woman’s family doesn’t want her name released for their protection.

The woman gave birth to a baby girl six months ago in Mosul, Bourdon said, even as Iraqi troops — with help from U.S., French and other forces — battled to oust IS from its main stronghold in Iraq.

The woman and children were captured July 8 in Mosul’s old city, then transferred to Baghdad last week, according to Bourdon.

“The logical solution, from a judicial and human standpoint, would be for the family to be handed over to French authorities,” Bourdon told The Associated Press. “That she made the most stupid choice of her life is not a reason to have a view of her that is only judicial.”

The government spokesman said French and Iraqi authorities are working to verify the children’s identities, but would not detail where they are or might be taken next.

The French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it had told the woman’s family last month to urge her to turn herself in to French consular authorities in Baghdad or Irbil.

Iraqi officials also said they arrested a German woman last week in Mosul’s Old City, the first time they reported arresting a foreign IS-linked woman. They said she had been recruited by an Arab IS member through social media.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was caught Wednesday by a live microphone railing against the European Union’s “crazy” insistence on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a precondition for closer ties with the 28-state bloc, and trumpeting Israel as essential to its prosperity and survival.

Netanyahu was meeting with leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a regional summit, where a conversation with his Czech and Hungarian counterparts discussing Iran, Syria, the Islamic State, and EU-Israel relations was accidentally broadcast to journalists covering the conference.

Netanyahu also made a rare public admission that Israel has struck Iranian arms convoys in Syria bound for Hezbollah “dozens and dozens of times.”

The Israeli premier was overheard blasting the European Union’s approach to Israel, saying “it’s crazy. I think it’s actually crazy” that the EU maintains that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must come before closer trade ties.

“There is no logic here. Europe is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining the connection with Israeli innovation because of a crazy attempt to create conditions (for peace with the Palestinians),” said Netanyahu.

European ties with Israel would determine whether the 28-member union would “live and thrive or shrivel and disappear,” he added.

The EU doesn’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war, including the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to establish a state. It has been a vocal critic of Israel’s settlement construction and has adopted measures mandating the labeling of goods produced in West Bank settlements.

“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel — that produces technology in every area — on political conditions. The only ones. Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said, citing Russia, China and India’s willingness to do business with Israel despite politics.

Netanyahu has pushed for closer trade ties with India and China in recent years. Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a state visit to Israel, during which the two countries signed a number of trade agreements cementing increasingly warm relations.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — A dispute over metal detectors is escalating into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over a Jerusalem shrine that has triggered major Israeli-Palestinian confrontations in the past.

Israel says installing the devices at the gates to the walled compound after Palestinians launched an attack there last week is a routine security measure. Palestinians claim Israel is trying to expand control over the Muslim-run site that is also revered by Jews.

Muslim worshippers have stepped up protests following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new procedures. The confrontation could come to a head Friday, the highlight of the Muslim religious week, when tens of thousands typically converge on the holy site for prayers.

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WHAT CAUSED THE LATEST TENSIONS?

Three members of Israel’s Arab Muslim minority fired from the sacred compound at a police post near one of the gates on Friday, killing two Israeli officers before being shot dead. Israel’s police chief said they had hidden weapons in the compound beforehand and ordered it closed for two days of searches. The closure marked only the third time the shrine had been closed since Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City and its holy sites, along with other territories, in 1967.

On Sunday, Israel began gradually reopening the site. By Tuesday, five of the eight gates used by Muslims had been fitted with metal detectors, and three of those five gates were open, Muslim officials said. A ninth gate, used by non-Muslim visitors, previously had been fitted with metal detectors and was also open Tuesday.

WHY IS THE SHRINE IMPORTANT?

The Jerusalem landmark is the centerpiece of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, looming large in rival national and religious narratives.

Jews revere it as the Temple Mount, or home of biblical Temples destroyed two millennia ago. It is the holiest site of their religion. For now, Jews worship at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the compound.

Muslims believe the hilltop compound marks the spot from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Known to them as the Noble Sanctuary, it is the third holiest site of Islam and houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques.

WHO CONTROLS IT?

After capturing east Jerusalem, including its Old City, and the West Bank in 1967, Israel sought to avoid a confrontation with the Muslim world. It allowed Muslims to keep administering the Jerusalem compound. Jews could visit, but not pray there.

Jordan, east Jerusalem’s pre-1967 ruler, remained custodian of the shrine. Employees of the Muslim administration, or Waqf, stayed on Jordan’s payroll.

For decades, the status quo held, in part because leading rabbis, citing religious purity laws, banned Jews from entering. In recent years, religious opinion has shifted, and growing numbers of Jews are visiting the compound, with Israeli police and Waqf guards enforcing the no-prayer rule.

This shift has stoked Muslim fears of a purported Israeli plan to expand Jewish control there. Israel has denied this, most recently after the weekend attack when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “status quo will be preserved.”

WHO IS THE GATEKEEPER?

The two sides disagree.

Jordan and the Waqf have said that after 1967, the Waqf remained in charge of who can enter the compound. They said this rule was in place until 2000, when a provocative visit to the site by then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped trigger a Palestinian uprising that only ebbed in 2005.

Israel says it has always been in charge of security at the compound, including the gates.

In recent years, Israeli security forces have typically been posted outside the gates, conducting spot checks of some of those entering or holding the ID cards of suspected troublemakers until the end of prayers. At times of heightened tensions, police enforce Israeli access restrictions, such as an entry ban for men below a certain age.

Waqf guards are posted inside the gates and have the right to turn any visitors away.

THE ISRAELI VIEW

Israel says the metal detectors are a routine security measure.

“Two Israeli police officers were just murdered on the Temple Mount by terrorists who smuggled in guns,” government spokesman David Keyes said Tuesday. “Magnetometers are vital for security. That’s why they are at the Western Wall and at holy sites around the world.”

Police would not say what was found in the search of the compound. On Sunday, Israel’s Army Radio quoted the Jerusalem police chief as saying officers found dozens of knives as well as slingshots, stun grenades and binoculars, but no guns or live ammunition.

Israel previously accused Waqf officials of allowing Palestinian protesters to hoard stones, sticks and firecrackers for use in confrontations with police.

THE PALESTINIAN VIEW

Muslim clerics and Palestinian politicians contend Israel is changing the status quo under the guise of security,

Ikrema Sabri, a top Muslim official, said installing the detectors “is an attempt to impose Israeli sovereignty over the mosque” compound.

Rami Hamdallah, the prime minister of the Palestinian autonomy government in the West Bank, expressed his “absolute rejection of Israel’s security pretexts in changing the status quo.” He also warned of a “deterioration of the security situation” if the measures continue.

The local Muslim leadership and the Jordanian-run Waqf have urged the faithful to pray in “streets and alleys” rather than pass through the metal detectors.

Since Sunday, there have been sporadic clashes between small groups of Palestinian stone-throwers and Israeli security forces in and near the Old City. Meanwhile, worshippers have lined up in the streets, dozens at a time, to perform prayers in the streets.

MUSLIM ARAB WORLD

The Arab League, an umbrella group of Arab countries, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have issued separate statements calling on Israel to lift the security measures.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II spoke by phone with Netanyahu on Saturday, before the reopening of the shrine, to condemn the attack but also call for de-escalation. The two countries have discreet security ties, but frequently clash over Israel’s policies at the Jerusalem site.

Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty, with ancestry said to go back to Prophet Muhammad, derives much of its legitimacy from custodianship over the shrine.

Underscoring the importance of that role, a headline Tuesday in the state-run Jordan Times daily read: “Arab League praises king’s efforts to protect Jerusalem.”

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MOSCOW (AP) — Separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday proclaimed a new state that aspires to include not only the areas they control but also the rest of the country. But Russia, their chief backer, sought to play down the announcement, saying it was merely part of public discussion.

The surprise announcement in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk casts further doubt on the 2015 cease-fire deal that was supposed to stop fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland and bring those areas back into Kiev’s fold while granting them wide autonomy. Some rebels said they have no intention of joining the new state.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting since Russia-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The rebels originally sought to join Russia but the Kremlin stopped short of annexing the area or publicizing its military support for the rebels.

Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said in comments broadcast on Russian television that rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk as well as representatives of other Ukrainian regions would form a state called Malorossiya.

Most of the areas which are currently part of Ukraine were referred to as Malorossiya, or Little Russia, when they were part of the Russian Empire.

Zakharchenko said they are drawing up a constitution that would be put up to a popular vote.

“We believe that the Ukrainian state as it was cannot be restored,” Zakharchenko said in remarks carried by the Tass news agency. “We, representatives of the regions of the former Ukraine, excluding Crimea, proclaim the creation of a new state which is a successor to Ukraine.”

Although separatists in the east have some sympathizers in other Ukrainian regions, they have not attempted to capture territories there, nor do they have any political representation there.

France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia worked out an agreement in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in 2015 which laid out a roadmap for ending the conflict between government troops and separatists. Under the deal, the rebels would return control of the territories they had captured to Kiev while Kiev would allow a local election there and grant wide autonomy to the region.

While the deal helped to reduce the intensity of fighting, none of the political components has been implemented.

Breaking several hours of silence that passed after the separatists’ announcement Tuesday, Boris Gryzlov, Russia’s envoy mediating the peace talks in Minsk, dismissed the idea as public discussion.

“This initiative does not fit with the Minsk process,” Gryzlov told Russian news agencies. “I see it merely as an invitation for discussion. This announcement does not have entail any legal consequences.”

While the separatists are believed to be guided by the Kremlin, they have made statements in the past that clearly caught Moscow off guard.

Yevgen Marchuk, Ukraine’s envoy at the talks, said on the 112 television channel that the announcement, made one day before the next round of talks in Minsk, “could block the negotiations entirely.”

In Luhansk, rebel leaders denied that they were part of the deal. Local news website Luhansk Information Center quoted rebel representative Vladimir Degtyarenko as saying they had not been informed of the plans and have “great doubts about the expediency of such a step.”

Throughout the conflict, the rebel-controlled areas have been ruled by self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk who call themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Separatist leaders in Luhansk, unlike their counterparts in Donetsk, have tended to stay away from directly expressing intentions to join Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday accused Russia of directing the rebels’ hand in making the announcement and seeking to split Ukraine in pieces.

“You should understand that Zakharchenko and (rebel leader) Plotnitsky are not political actors,” he said, dismissing them as “puppets” whose only job is to voice “the messages they receive from Russia.”

Poroshenko said Ukraine is committed to the peace accords and pledged to restore control over eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko speculated that the Kremlin had instigated the announcement, perhaps trying to scare the West with a possibility of Ukraine’s breakup.

“The Kremlin is no longer trying to push this malignant tumor back into the body of Ukraine,” Fesenko said, adding that it is too early to predict the fallout of Tuesday’s announcement because Zakharchenko is known for making outlandish claims.

The Associated Press has documented how Moscow has been propping up the separatists in Ukraine with funds, weapons and recruits. The Kremlin has firmly denied sending Russian troops to fight alongside the separatists despite the overwhelming evidence.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Police in Saudi Arabia have arrested a young woman who wore a miniskirt in public and who had posted the video online, sparking an outcry from people who say she flagrantly violated the kingdom’s conservative Islamic dress code.

Saudi Arabia’s state-run TV reported Tuesday that police in the capital, Riyadh, arrested the woman for wearing “immodest clothes” and referred her case to the country’s public prosecutor.

The young Saudi woman drew attention over the weekend when she shared on Snapchat a video of herself walking in a historic village north of the capital wearing a miniskirt and crop top, and showing her hair.

Saudi Arabia has strict dress codes for men and women. Women must wear loose, long robes and most also cover their face.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal of its nationwide ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious denomination.

The court’s appeals chamber has upheld the April approval of the Russian Justice Ministry’s call to halt Jehovah’s Witnesses activities and to declare it an extremist organization.

The rejection of the religious group’s appeal allows Russia to liquidate the 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and seize their property. The group claims about 170,000 adherents in Russia.

Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman David Semonian said in a statement that “it’s very concerning that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, powerful elements within Russia continue to frame our organization as extremist.”

Viktor Zhenkov, a Russian attorney for the group, said Monday’s ruling would be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, according to the Interfax news agency.

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