Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : US Soldier Jailed for Nearly Four Years in Russia

Gordon Black, a US Army staff sergeant, who was detained in Russia on May 2 on suspicion of stealing from a woman he was in a relationship with, appears in a court in Vladivostok, Russia, June 19, 2024. REUTERS/Tatiana Meel
Gordon Black, a US Army staff sergeant, who was detained in Russia on May 2 on suspicion of stealing from a woman he was in a relationship with, appears in a court in Vladivostok, Russia, June 19, 2024. REUTERS/Tatiana Meel
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US Soldier Jailed for Nearly Four Years in Russia

Gordon Black, a US Army staff sergeant, who was detained in Russia on May 2 on suspicion of stealing from a woman he was in a relationship with, appears in a court in Vladivostok, Russia, June 19, 2024. REUTERS/Tatiana Meel
Gordon Black, a US Army staff sergeant, who was detained in Russia on May 2 on suspicion of stealing from a woman he was in a relationship with, appears in a court in Vladivostok, Russia, June 19, 2024. REUTERS/Tatiana Meel

A US soldier was sentenced on Wednesday to nearly four years in a Russian penal colony after being found guilty by a Russian court of stealing $113 from his girlfriend and making threats to kill her, a Reuters witness reported from the courtroom.
The judgement brings an end to a tempestuous love story that brought together - and then tore apart - a married US staff sergeant and a Russian woman after an international romance that stretched from South Korea to Russia.
Gordon Black, a 34-year-old US staff sergeant, was detained on May 2 in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok after an argument with his girlfriend, Alexandra Vashchuk, whom he had met while in South Korea.
Judge Yelena Stepankova of the Pervomaisky District Court of Vladivostok found Black guilty of stealing 10,000 roubles ($113) from Vashchuk's purse and threatening to kill her.
"The court found that Black G. K. in the period from 05/01/2024 to 05/02/2024, while in an apartment on Sakhalinskaya Street in Vladivostok, during a quarrel that arose on the basis of personal hostility, threatened to kill the victim," the court said.
He "also committed theft," the court said.
Black, standing in a glass cage in the court room, was sentenced to three years and nine months in a Russian penal colony and ordered to pay back the 10,000 roubles.
He pleaded not guilty to threatening to kill her but admitted he was partially guilty of taking the money, though out of necessity. His defense lawyer will appeal the verdict.
Prosecutors said that during an argument at Vashchuk's apartment, Black had grabbed her by the neck and then took the money. Black argued that Vashchuk had drunk half a bottle of vodka that day, was aggressive and had struck him.
Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of four years and eight months, while the defense asked for Black to be acquitted of all charges.
Vashchuk did not come to the court on Wednesday. Before they fell out, she had previously referred to Black on social media as her "husband" and affectionately as "pindos", a Russian slang word for Americans that roughly translates to "Yankee punk."
Black in April signed out of the Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys in the Republic of South Korea on a permanent change of station to return to Fort Cavazos in Texas, but instead he flew to China and then to Russia to meet Vashchuk.
The Pentagon has said that he broke army rules by travelling to Russia and China without authorization.
Black has a wife and child in Texas. His wife Megan told Reuters last month that he and Vashchuk had a tempestuous relationship.
Black's mother, Melody Jones, told Reuters he had followed his girlfriend to Russia even though they "fought like cats and dogs".



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Bangladesh Factories, Banks Reopen as Curfew Is Eased After Protests Taper Off 

Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
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Bangladesh Factories, Banks Reopen as Curfew Is Eased After Protests Taper Off 

Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)

Rush-hour traffic returned to the streets of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Wednesday, as a curfew was eased after four days of nationwide shutdown that followed deadly protests led by university students against quotas in government jobs.

Offices reopened and broadband internet was largely restored, although social media continued to be suspended, days after the clashes between protesters and security forces killed almost 150 people.

The country has been relatively calm since Sunday, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an appeal from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government and directed that 93% of jobs should be open to candidates on merit.

Bangladesh's mainstay garment and textiles industries, which supply to major Western brands, also began reopening some factories after a pause in production during the curfew.

"All our factories are open today. Everything is going smoothly," said S.M. Mannan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

The stock exchange opened too, as well as banks, after remaining shut the past two days.

Residents of Dhaka were out on the streets, some making their way to offices as public buses also began running in some places.

"It was a hassle to reach the office on time," said Shamima Akhter, who works at a private firm in the capital. "Some roads are still blocked for security reasons. Don't know when everything will get normal."

Local news websites, which had stopped updating since Friday, were back online too.

Bangladesh authorities had shut mobile internet and deployed the army on the streets during the curfew that was imposed from midnight on Saturday.

The government said curfew restrictions would be relaxed for seven hours on Wednesday and Thursday, and offices would also be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

STUDENT DEMANDS

Analysts say the student action has given fresh impetus to Hasina's critics, months after she won a fourth-straight term in power in January in a national election boycotted by the main opposition party.

"The informal federation of government critics appears deeper and wider than before the election, which presents a serious challenge to the ruling party," said Geoffrey Macdonald at the United States Institute of Peace.

Hasina, 76, is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, who led the country's movement for independence from Pakistan.

The earlier 56% job quotas included a 30% reservation for families of veterans of the 1971 independence war, which critics said favored supporters of Hasina's Awami League.

Hasina's government had scrapped the quotas in 2018, but a high court ruling reinstated them last month.

Students were furious because quotas left fewer than half of state jobs open on merit amid an unemployment crisis, particularly in the private sector, making government sector jobs with their regular wage hikes and perks especially prized.

Hasina has blamed her political opponents for the violence and her government said on Tuesday that it would heed the Supreme Court ruling.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has denied any involvement in the violence and accused Hasina of authoritarianism and a crackdown on her critics, charges denied by her government.

Protesting students have given the government a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to fulfil four other conditions of an eight-point list of demands, and said they would announce their next steps on Thursday.

"We want the government to meet our four-point demand, including restoration of internet, withdrawal of police from campuses, and opening universities (which have been closed for a week)," protest coordinator Nahid Islam said.