World News

Greco-Roman funerary building, mummy portraits discovered in Egypt

Courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

(FAYOUM, Egypt) -- A huge 2,300-year-old funerary building and a number of mummy portraits were discovered in Egypt's southern province of Fayoum, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Cairo, the country's antiquities ministry said on Thursday.

The building and the paintings, which are famously known as the Fayoum portraits, date back to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras in the 3rd century B.C. They were found in Fayoum's Gerza village, which was known as Philadelphia during the Roman period.

"The discovered structure is a large building styled as a funerary building with colored gypsum tiled floors," Adel Okasha, who heads the antiquities department in Cairo and Giza, said in a statement. "To the south of it, there is colonnade hall where the remains of four columns were found."

The uncovering of the paintings was also hailed as one of the most important archeological discoveries this year, as it marked the first time such portraits were found in more than 110 years.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, British egyptologist Flinders Petrie excavated at least 150 mummy portraits at a Roman necropolis in in Fayoum's archeological site of Hawara.

"The discovery shows the diversity and difference in quality of the mummification process during the Ptolemaic and Roman times based on the financial status of the deceased," said Mostafa Waziry, the head of Egypt's Supreme Antiquities Council.

Waziry also said a "rare terracotta statue of [ancient deity] Isis Aphrodite was discovered inside one of the burials in a wooden coffin," as well as "papyrus-made records" with Demotic and Greek inscriptions that show the economic and religious statuses of the inhabitants of the area at the time.

Egypt, which has invested heavily in ancient discoveries in recent years, is hoping to revive its ailing tourism industry. The country also plans to inaugurate a state-of-the-art museum near the Giza Pyramids, which Egypt says will be the biggest museum in the world dedicated to a single civilization.

 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia-Ukraine live updates: No regrets starting war, Putin tells soldiers' mothers

Andrei Pungovschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion into neighboring Ukraine, the two countries are engaged in a struggle for control of areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose forces began an offensive in August, has vowed to take back all Russian-occupied territory. But Putin in September announced a mobilization of reservists, which is expected to call up as many as 300,000 additional troops.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 01, 3:28 PM EST
Biden 'prepared to speak with Putin' if he wants to end war

Speaking at a joint press conference with France's Emmanuel Macron, President Joe Biden said he would be open to speaking with Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader has legitimate interest in peace negotiations. Biden, however, said he has "no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin."

Biden also noted that Putin has "miscalculated every single thing" when it comes to this war.

"So the question is what is his -- how does he get himself out of the circumstance he's in? I'm prepared if he's willing to talk to find out what he's willing to do, but I'll only do it in consultation with my NATO. I'm not going to do it on my own," Biden said.

Meanwhile, President Macron, who has continued speaking with Putin, said it's up to Ukraine to come to the negotiating table.

"So it's only legitimate that President Zelenskyy sets some conditions to talk. We need to work on what could lead to a peace agreement. But it's for him to tell us when the time comes and what the choices of the Ukrainians are," Macron said.

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Dec 01, 1:46 PM EST
Shelling in Kherson damages power lines as energy company works to finish repairs

Electricity was back for 60% of customers in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, but shelling overnight damaged power lines, according to the head of Ukraine's regional energy company.

Workers are hoping to finish the repairs by the end of Thursday.

In Kyiv, 652,000 residents were subject to power outages throughout Thursday, according to the director of YASNO energy company, Serhiy Kovalenko. Kyiv's main power grid is operating at less than 70% capacity and 20% of residents are still without power or heat.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Dec 01, 12:20 PM EST
Russia accuses US, NATO of direct involvement in war

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of being directly involved in the war in Ukraine by supplying the country with weapons and training its soldiers.

"You are training their military on your territory, on the territories of Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries," Lavrov said at a press conference Thursday.

Lavrov also claimed that Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities and other key infrastructure were intended to weaken Ukraine’s military potential and derail the shipments of weapons from the West.

Lavrov also said Moscow is open to peace talks to end the conflict.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Nov 29, 11:47 AM EST
US to send $53M in energy aid to help Ukraine through winter

The U.S. will provide Ukraine with more than $53 million to acquire critical electric grid equipment to help its citizens get through the winter, the State Department announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes amid Russia's continued attacks against Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

"This new assistance is in addition to $55 million in emergency energy sector support for generators and other equipment to help restore emergency power and heat to local municipalities impacted by Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s power system," the State Department said in a release.

-ABC News' Matt Seyler

Nov 28, 4:36 PM EST
UN lays out 'dire' situation in southern Ukraine

Denise Brown, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, traveled to the Ukrainian cities of Kherson and Mykolaiv over the weekend to get an update on the humanitarian issues affecting the southern part of the country, according to the U.N.

Although repairs to the area's water system are finally able to commence, there is still a lot of work to be done to help the people in those cities, the U.N said.

"We continue to be concerned about the plight of civilians in Ukraine especially as winter sets in," a U.N. spokesperson said in a statement.

Some heating points have already been established in Mykolaiv to help people who cannot heat their homes, according to the U.N.

"Aid workers are providing supplies and generators to make these places functional," the U.N. said in a statement.

The agency added that donations and funding for humanitarian efforts are critical as the cold weather sets in.

Nov 25, 1:13 PM EST
Power restored in all regions, Ukraine grid operator says

All of Ukraine's regions are now connected to the European Union's energy system and all three nuclear power plants located in the Kyiv-controlled area are working, CEO of Ukrenergo grid operator Volodymyr Kudrytskyi announced.

"In one to two days, they will reach their normal planned capacity, and we expect to introduce planned rolling blackouts instead of emergency outages," Kudrytskyi said.

Power is slowly returning to all Ukrainian cities, but blackouts and emergency shutdowns continue. Power issues are the worst in Kyiv, Kirivigrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Poltava and Lviv, according to Kudrytskyi.

Kyiv's critical infrastructure receives electricity, the water supply is fully restored and heating is being restored, but 50% of residential houses remain without power. Only one-third of houses currently have heating, according to the mayor.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Scientists discover fossils of new predatory dinosaur species in Mongolia

Archaeologists explore a dig site in the Omnogovi Province in Mongolia, where they discovered a new species of dinosaur, the Natovenator polydontus, in 2008. - Sungjin Lee and Yuong-Nam Lee

(NEW YORK) -- Scientists have discovered a new predatory dinosaur fossil in Mongolia that was likely a semiaquatic diving predator.

A near-complete skeleton, found in the Omnogovi Province, depicts a bird-like specimen and was named "Natovenator polydontus," or "Swimming hunter with many teeth," according to a paper published in Communications Biology on Thursday.

Researchers from the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Expedition located the fossils at the Baruungoyot Formation in 2008, Young-Nam Lee, a professor of vertebrate paleontology who led the dig, told ABC News.

During the expedition, 27 members of the team gathered 196 cataloged specimens. The Natovenator polydontus was found by Robin Sissons, a graduate student of the University of Alberta, Lee said.

The fossil was not fully exposed in the field, so Sissons, despite not knowing what it was at the time, made a plaster jacket for it, Lee said.

All of the fossils from that collection were then shipped to South Korea for preparation and study, where “a whole skeleton came to light” of the new species of dinosaur, Lee said.

The specimen “was so delicate but beautifully preserved,” Lee said.

It included a skull, spinal column, one forelimb and the remains of two hindlimbs. Its streamlined body, with ribs that point toward its tail, is similar to modern diving birds and its long neck resembles modern water birds such as geese, the researchers said. These adaptions may have reduced the drag that Natovenator would have been subjected to when swimming, helping it to catch prey.

The fossil also included an "unusually high number of teeth" compared to the size of the dinosaur's jaw, indicating that it ate a fish or insect-based diet, according to the researchers.

“Instantly we realized it was something important,” Lee said. “It had a skull with many tiny teeth and a very long neck was distinct.”

This is the first time that a non-avian theropod -- a type of carnivorous dinosaur that walked on two legs -- was discovered with a streamlined body similar to some birds, according to the researchers.

Analysis of evolutionary relationships also indicate that the new species is closely related to halszkaraptorines, a group of non-avian theropods that previous research has suggested may have been adapted for a semiaquatic lifestyle.

“Natovenator is a valuable discovery,” Lee said. “Finding semi-aquatic dinosaurs means that the ecological diversity was very high in dinosaurs. Halszkaraptorines could change our prejudice about the lifestyle of dinosaurs.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Hosting thousands of war refugees, Lviv preps for winter without electricity and heating

Yuriy Zalizniak

(LVIV, Ukraine) -- Officials have warned that the city of Lviv, Ukraine, home to over 150,000 internally displaced people, could face a winter without power as they anticipate another surge in refugee numbers.

The mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, told ABC News that the city, near the western border with Poland, is preparing to stay completely without power supply and natural gas supply because of Russian missile attacks which have devastated Ukrainian infrastructure in recent weeks.

To cope with the coming winter, a major construction project is now underway in the city in order to facilitate a new wave of people fleeing from regions badly targeted by Russian missile strikes which involves both renovating existing modular houses and building new ones.

Amongst the current refugee population, there is a mix of fear ahead of the expected drop in temperatures as well as overall hope in Ukraine’s long-term ability to secure a victory in the war.

“We hope that we will move to a different location as it becomes cold in here,” Ksenia, a 17-year-old from New York -- a town in Donetsk region situated near the current frontline -- told ABC News. She has been living in Lviv since this summer, when warmer temperatures did not pose such a challenge, with her mother, grandmother, brother and two cats.

Maria, 45, from Zaporizhzhia, has tried to retain her optimism. Asked by ABC News about her family’s plans for the future, she said: “Only victory and a way back home.”

Both Maria’s brother and son are currently serving in the Ukrainian army and her husband, also a military serviceman, has been missing since 2015.

Maria’s mother, Olga says, the conditions were different in the summer when they just moved into a temporary house designed for the families of four people. Due to the building's thin walls, it can get very wet inside the home -- the walls, doors and even their beds are covered with condensation and, sometimes, even with fungus.

These modular houses were a result of an urgent decision made in the early stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to Mayor Sadovyi, five million people have moved through the city since late February and there were days when upwards of two million refugees were staying in Lviv at once.

“We were forced to come up with any decision to give these people an opportunity to sleep somewhere,” he said.

Now he plans to buy more powerful diesel generators to guarantee the city's residents heating, even without complete electricity.

“Every medical facility and several boarding schools are supposed to have a generator as an alternative energy source, and a solid fuel boiler as a second heating source,” Sadovyi said.

A separate complex for young mothers and pregnant women was built in Lviv about three months earlier this year -- a totally different type of accommodation that is resistant to low temperatures, is more comfortable and can house over 100 people at once.

Lilia Kilchytska, head of a charity called "Unbroken Mothers", says that IDPs from Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and other partially occupied regions live there at the moment.

To provide electricity and heating for the children and their mothers, the center has been granted a power generator by an international charity organization. It has already saved the families during the several blackouts caused by the Russian missile strikes.

A large number of refugees have lost their homes because of the war. Besides temporary shelters placed at dormitories, malls, theaters, schools, hospitals and other social infrastructure facilities, the administration is actively searching for long-term housing projects for IDPs.

Officials are currently considering buying, building or renovating enough square meters for the forced newcomers to the region but money is scarce, and authorities have said they require more donations and financial support if they are going to scale up their efforts.

At the moment, there are only 1,733 places for refugees to stay in these renovated buildings in Lviv over the upcoming winter.

That number, according to the authorities, pales in comparison to the potential flood of people who may leave their homes in other parts of Ukraine as Russian strikes continue this winter.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Macron says Putin made 'huge mistake' invading Ukraine but negotiations still 'possible'

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- French President Emmanuel Macron told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he believes a negotiation is still "possible" with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- which Macron called a "huge mistake."

Macron spoke with Stephanopoulos ahead of meeting with President Joe Biden on Thursday for the first state dinner of Biden's administration. In the interview, Macron talked about his visit to Washington and reinforcing France as the oldest ally of the U.S., especially during the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Stephanopoulos asked Macron about his vision for a "successful peace" in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February.

The French president stressed that such peace would need to be “sustainable" and driven by the Ukrainians.

"A good peace is not a peace which will be imposed to the Ukrainians by others, No. 1," Macron said, adding, "A good peace is not a peace which will not be accepted on the mid-to-long run by one of the two parties."

During Macron's U.S. visit, he and Biden plan to address issues including economic ties between the two countries, challenges from China, Iran and the Middle East, and aligning how to best support Ukraine against Russia, according to the White House.

"I think President Putin made a huge mistake by launching this war,” Macron told Stephanopoulos, mentioning the Minsk agreements made between Ukraine and Russia after 2014 in an effort to prevent war.

Putin has since said he doesn't recognize that deal.

"There was a political and diplomatic process with involvement of the international community. And he decided on his own, based on a fake narrative, saying NATO will use Ukraine to attack Russia, which is totally wrong,” Macron said.

Stephanopoulos asked: "Is a man who's capable of making a decision like that, a mistaken decision like that, capable of negotiating what you call a good peace?"

"This is exactly the question," Macron said.

But still, he said he hopes Putin will be “rational” with a negotiated end to the war.

“[Putin] is in charge and he's been in charge for quite a long time … He knows his people. I think he made mistake,” Macron said. “Is it impossible to come back [to] the table and negotiate something? I think it's still possible."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prince William, Kate will not see Prince Harry, Meghan during US trip, sources say

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

(BOSTON) -- Royal watchers hoping for a family reunion between Prince William and Prince Harry while William and Kate are visiting the United States may be left disappointed.

Sources close to William and his brother Prince Harry, who lives in the U.S. with his wife Meghan, confirm the two couples have no plans to meet while William and Kate are on their three-day visit to Boston.

William and Kate, the prince and princess of Wales, are visiting Boston to attend Friday's awards ceremony for the Earthshot Prize, an initiative William launched in 2019 to create solutions for environmental problems.

While in Boston, the couple will meet with Caroline Kennedy and tour the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Just a few days later, on Dec. 6, the California-based Harry and Meghan will be in New York City to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award from Kerry Kennedy, a cousin of Caroline Kennedy and niece of the late John F. Kennedy.

The fact that the two couples will be so close to each other on the East Coast in a short time span but will not meet is a sign of their continued strained relationship, according to ABC News contributor Victoria Murphy.

"I think the fact that there isn’t going to be a meeting says it all -- the fallout is still very real and raw," said Murphy. "Yes, Boston is a long way from California but Harry and Meghan are making the trip to New York just a few days later, so citing distance as the reason for not meeting doesn’t feel like the full picture."

The couples have seen each other only a handful of times since Harry and Meghan stepped down from their senior working royal roles in 2020 and moved from the U.K. to California.

The last time William, Kate, Harry and Meghan appeared publicly together in person was during the mourning period for the late Queen Elizabeth II in September. Prior to that, the two couples, once called the "Fab Four" by royal watchers, had not been seen together in public in over two years.

"The brothers put on a show of unity for the queen’s funeral but the reality is that the divisions and disagreements are very much still there and they could get bigger depending on what is in Harry’s book and the couple’s docuseries," said Murphy.

Harry and Meghan will be featured in a docuseries airing on Netflix in December and the next month Harry's memoir, titled Spare, will be published on Jan. 10.

When the book was announced last year, Harry said it would be a "firsthand account" of his life that is "accurate and wholly truthful."

The spotlight on Harry and Meghan means William and Kate's U.S. trip, their first in eight years, comes at an "interesting time," according to Murphy.

"Since they stepped back from royal life, Harry and Meghan have, at times, been very visible, but at times they have had periods out of the limelight with their young family," she said. "Right now, it feels like they are very visible with anticipation building around their docuseries and Harry’s book and an awards gala to attend in New York."

Murphy continued, "So it’s an interesting time for William and Kate to be in the U.S. -- the country Harry and Meghan have made their home -- right at the moment when there is a particular buzz and anticipation around what Harry and Meghan might have to say next about the royals."

William and Kate's trip also comes at an important time for the couple, who have taken on new roles since the queen's death.

The trip is their first international trip since taking on the new roles of prince and princess of Wales. It also comes at a time of change for the monarchy under King Charles III, William and Harry's father.

It is also William and Kate's first trip since their visit to the Caribbean, where they faced protests over colonialism.

"I think this trip will be an interesting one because the monarchy has had a lot of criticism in the past few years," said Murphy. "The picture is very different to when William and Kate visited the U.S. in 2014, so this trip could be seen as an opportunity to gauge how the U.S. public feels about the working royals and the monarchy right now and what that might mean for the royal family globally."

The trip is also of personal importance to William, the heir to the throne, who has made preserving the environment a central point of his royal work.

"This is William’s passion project and something he is dedicating himself to over a decade and that he wants to do so that he can look his children in the eye over climate change," said Murphy. "Their biggest goal is absolutely to get more focus around the awards and what we can do for climate change."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Watch Prince Harry, Meghan in new Invictus Games promo

SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The Invictus Games are still less than a year away, but Prince Harry and Meghan, the duke and duchess of Sussex, are getting ready for the international event.

On Wednesday, the Invictus Games Foundation released a new promotional video for the paralympic-style competition featuring several Invictus competitors facing off in a ping-pong match -- Prince Harry and Meghan appear in the video.


Prince William, Kate sit courtside at Boston Celtics game: Latest updates

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

(BOSTON, Mass.) -- Prince William thanked the "people of Boston" as he and his wife Kate arrived in the city to kick off their first U.S. tour in nearly a decade.

Their whirlwind tour ends with an awards ceremony for the Earthshot Prize, an initiative William launched in 2019 to create solutions for environmental problems.

This is William and Kate's first visit to the United States since they visited New York City in 2014. It is also their first overseas trip since the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and their first overseas trip since taking on the titles of Prince and Princess of Wales.

"[William and Kate] are both excited for their first international trip since taking on their new roles," a Kensington Palace spokesperson told ABC News. "Both appreciate the history associated to the titles but understandably want to look to the future and pave their own paths."

Check back for updates throughout their trip.

Wednesday: Prince and princess of Wales sit courtside at Celtics game

Following their visit to city hall, William and Kate headed to TD Garden for a basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

Kate donned a blue blazer while William wore a blue button down and dark blue blazer. They were all smiles as they cheered on Celtics courtside alongside Governor-elect Maura Healey, Celtics co-owners Steve Pagliuca and Wyc Grousebeck, and Grousebeck's wife Emilia Fazzalari.

William and Kate light Boston green

William and Kate's first stop on their Boston trip was Boston City Hall.

They were greeted by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, the first woman and first person of color to be elected as mayor in the city last year, and U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy.

In honor of the Earthshot Prize, which was inspired by President John F. Kennedy's Moonshot Initiative, the couple helped light Boston buildings and landmarks green.

In his address to Mayor Wu and the crowd at Boston City Hall, Prince William thanked Wu and Reverend White-Hammond for their support for the Earthshot Prize. He also noted why Boston was the "obvious choice for the Earthshot Prize in its second year" and said he was inspired by President Kennedy's moonshot speech to launch the Earthshot Prize.

"Sixty years ago, President John F. Kennedy's 'moonshot' speech laid down a challenge to American innovation and ingenuity," Prince William began. "'We chose to go to the moon,' he said, 'not because it is easy, but because it is hard.'"

"Where better to hold this year's awards ceremony than in President Kennedy's hometown, in partnership with his daughter and the foundation that continues in his name," he added. "Boston was also the obvious choice because our universities, research centres and vibrant start-up scene make you a global leader in science, innovation and boundless ambition. Mayor Wu, you have also been a leader in putting climate policies at the heart of your administration. Thank you."

"Like President Kennedy, Catherine and I firmly believe that we all have it in ourselves to achieve great things, and that human beings have the ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve," William said. "We cannot wait to celebrate the Earthshot Prize later this week, and we are both looking forward to spending the next few days learning about the innovative ways the people of Massachusetts are tackling climate change."

President Biden to greet Prince William and Kate in Boston on Friday

Earlier on Wednesday during a White House press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden “intends to greet the prince and princess of Wales” on Friday when he is in Boston. The White House previously announced that Biden would be in Boston this week for a fundraiser.

William and Kate arrive in Boston

Upon their arrival in Boston Wednesday morning, William said he and Kate are "delighted to be back in the United States." He also used the moment to reflect about his grandmother, who celebrated her 1976 bicentennial in the U.S.

“On this, our first visit since the death of my grandmother, I would like to thank the people of Massachusetts and particularly of Boston for their many tributes to the late queen. She remembered her 1976 bicentennial visit with great fondness,” William said in a statement.

"My grandmother was one of life’s optimists. And so am I," he added. "To the people of Boston, thank you. I’m so grateful to you for allowing us to host the second year of the Earthshot Prize in your great city. Catherine and I can’t wait to meet many of you in the days ahead."

Spokesperson for William addresses racism accusations surrounding godmother

As William and Kate were making their way to Boston, a controversy erupted in the U.K. involving William’s godmother, Lady Susan Hussey.

Hussey, a longtime lady-in-waiting to the late queen, was accused of making racist remarks to an attendee at a reception hosted by Queen Escort Camilla on Tuesday at Buckingham Palace.

On Wednesday, Buckingham Palace said it had launched an investigation into the allegation and said Hussey had "stepped aside from her honorary role."

A spokesperson for William commented on the incident while briefing reporters ahead of William and Kate’s arrival in Boston.

"This is a matter for Buckingham Palace but as the Prince of Wales' spokesperson, I appreciate you're all here and understand you'll want to ask about it. So let me address it head on," the spokesperson said. "I was really disappointed to hear about the guest's experience at Buckingham Palace last night."

He continued, "Obviously, I wasn’t there, but racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Family of Paul Whelan, former Marine held in Russia, worried after communication cut off

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The family of Paul Whelan, the American former Marine held hostage by Russia, say they are worried for his safety after he dropped out of contact at the prison camp where is being held last week.

Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, on Tuesday said camp authorities had claimed they had abruptly moved Whelan to a prison hospital without explanation. In a statement, he said the family fear Whelan could have suffered a sudden medical emergency or that the prison authorities might be lying to conceal that Whelan was now in solitary confinement or otherwise held and not allowed to communicate.

Paul Whelan has spent nearly four years in detention since he was seized in 2018 by Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, while visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges but the United States and his family say were fabricated in order to take him as a political bargaining chip.

Whelan has been held in at Correctional Colony 17 -- a prison camp in the Mordovia region around 300 miles from Moscow -- for more than two years. His family began sounding the alarm on Monday after Whelan missed scheduled calls with his parents and the U.S. embassy last week.

“We're concerned that he may have either some emergency medical issue that is not being disclosed or that he is in fact still at IK-17 and has been placed in solitary as retaliation for something,” David Whelan said in an email statement.

David Whelan said the prison camp claims his brother was moved to the prison hospital on Nov. 17 but Whelan had not complained of any medical issue to U.S. embassy staff that visited him a day earlier or mentioned any move to his parents in a call on Nov. 23.

“Paul was not complaining of any health conditions that required hospitalization, so has there been an emergency? He appeared healthy and well to the Embassy staff,” David Whelan wrote.

“If Paul's at the prison hospital, why is he being prohibited from making phone calls that every prisoner is allowed to make? Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at IK-17 but he's been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact,” he wrote.

He said the prison had previously sent Whelan to the hospital against his will, sometimes as a punishment. Previously, however, Whelan noted that his brother had always told them when he was being sent to the hospital, David Whelan said.

Whelan’s Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told ABC News that Whelan had a medical check up two weeks ago which suggested no issues.

Zherebenkov said there were two explanations why Whelan was not making his calls -- either there are technical issues or he was being punished.

Asked by ABC News on Tuesday, the spokesman for the White House National Security Council, John Kirby, said it was the first he had heard Whelan had missed a call but he expressed deep concern for Whelan’s conditions.

Whelan is able to speak most weeks to his parents in the U.S. via video call from the prison, according to his family, and also has scheduled calls to the embassy.

“They have a call scheduled with him on Thursdays and he failed to make it last week. It's incredibly unusual for Paul to miss trying to call home on a holiday like Thanksgiving,” David Whelan said. He said he hoped the U.S. embassy would find out Whelan’s condition.

“Is his phone card out of funds? Is he in solitary? Has he been moved to a hospital camp again without his request? Transport somewhere always comes to mind because prisoner transfers always seem to happen on a Friday. And, if it's punitive, what is the prison retaliating for?"

The U.S. is seeking to negotiate Whelan’s release as well as the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been in Russian detention since February and who American officials also believe was taken by the Kremlin as a political bargaining chip.

Griner arrived earlier this month at a nearby prison camp in Mordovia after she was sentenced to nine years on drug smuggling charges, the U.S. says were trumped up.

Russia has signaled it wants to trade Whelan and Griner in a prisoner exchange for Russians imprisoned in the U.S., but efforts to reach a deal have stalled.

The Biden administration this summer said it was prepared to trade Viktor Bout, the notorious arms trafficker who is serving a 25-year prison sentence on weapons smuggling charges and is widely suspected to have ties to Russian intelligence. But Russia has so far rejected the offer, despite publicly suggesting for years Bout was a top candidate for any swap.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov earlier this month said he hoped the prospect of trading Bout was “getting stronger” but that the two sides were “yet to arrive at a common denominator.” He confirmed the U.S. and Russia were negotiating on the issue via a “special channel” and that Bout was among those being discussed.

A potential sticking point is Moscow may be their unwillingness to trade two Americans for one Russian citizen, even one of Bout’s importance.

In new comments on Tuesday, Ryabkov said “there is always a chance” that a deal might be reached soon, but gave little suggestion one was close.

“Regretfully, we have seen a number of situations where we thought a decision would be made soon. That did not happen,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Ryabkov also criticized the U.S. for speaking publicly about the negotiations, accusing it of “going over the top by using megaphone diplomacy."

The acting U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, in an interview with Russian state media this week confirmed that the U.S. was continuing to discuss Griner and Whelan through special channels.

“We have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has not yet received a serious response to these proposals,” she told RIA Novosti.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Prince William's godmother steps down from royal role amid accusation of racism

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Prince William's godmother and a longtime lady-in-waiting to the late Queen Elizabeth II has stepped down from her role amid an allegation of racism.

Buckingham Palace said Wednesday it launched an investigation into an accusation that Lady Susan Hussey made racist comments to an attendee at a palace reception hosted by Queen Camilla.

Ngozi Fulani, the founder of Sistah Space, a nonprofit organization that supports women and families affected by domestic abuse, shared in a Twitter post that she was asked repeatedly by Hussey where she was from.

"What part of Africa are you from?" Fulani alleges Hussey asked her, according to her tweet.

Fulani wrote that when she replied she was from the United Kingdom, Hussey continued to question her, allegedly saying, "Oh, I can see I am going to have a challenge getting you to say where you're from. When did you first come here?"

Fulani -- who was at the palace for a reception on combatting violence against women, one of Camilla's main charitable interests -- wrote that she had "mixed feelings" about her visit to the palace, saying that after her conversation with Hussey, the "rest of the event is a blur."

Hussey was one of Elizabeth's longest-serving ladies-in-waiting, an honorary role that serves as a kind of personal assistant to the queen.

Camilla, who became queen consort after Elizabeth's death in September, did away with the lady-in-waiting role, instead choosing to have lady companions, one of whom is Hussey's daughter.

On Wednesday, Buckingham Palace confirmed Hussey had "stepped aside from her honorary role."

"We take this incident extremely seriously and have investigated immediately to establish the full details. In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made," the palace said in a statement. "We have reached out to Ngozi Fulani on this matter, and are inviting her to discuss all elements of her experience in person if she wishes."

The statement continued, "In the meantime, the individual concerned would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused and has stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect. All members of the Household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times."

Prince William, who is starting a three-day trip in Boston Wednesday with his wife, Kate, the Princess of Wales, has not commented on the incident. Camilla has not commented beyond the statement from Buckingham Palace.

The apology from the palace comes less than two years after Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made bombshell allegations of racism within the royal institution in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

In the two-hour, prime-time interview, Harry and Meghan, who stepped down from their senior royal roles in 2020, alleged that conversations were had with Harry about the skin color of their son Archie, the first American British biracial royal born in the U.K., and also widely considered to be the first mixed-race child born into the royal family.

When Harry and Meghan were dating in 2016, Harry lambasted the "abuse and harassment" of Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, in the press and criticized "racial undertones" in some coverage of her.

Earlier this week, a senior police official confirmed the Sussexes faced "disgusting and very real" threats when they lived in the United Kingdom.

Neil Basu, the former head of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, told Channel 4 News that there were serious and credible threats made against Meghan, mostly emanating from what Basu described as "extreme right-wing terrorism."

"If you'd seen the stuff that was written and you were receiving it, the kind of rhetoric that's online, if you don't know what I know, you would feel under threat all of the time," he said of the threats against Meghan. "We had teams investigating it. People have been prosecuted for those threats."

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French baguette earns a spot on UN list of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Philippe Ramakers / EyeEm

(NEW YORK) -- The French baguette, beloved by everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to pedestrians on the streets of Paris, has earned a prominent place in food culture history.

The United Nations body, UNESCO, voted to add the staple of French cuisine to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage on Wednesday.

The decision made by UNESCO experts, who gathered in Morocco this week, came in the wake of a warning from France’s culture ministry of a "continuous decline" in the number of traditional bakeries, with nearly 400 closing each year over the last 50 years.

Plus, U.N. cultural agency’s chief Audrey Azoulay said this distinction honors more than just baguette because it recognizes the "savoir-faire of artisanal bakers" and "a daily ritual."

“It is important that these craft knowledge and social practices can continue to exist in the future,” Azoulay, a former French culture minister, added.

By adding the bread to this list, the artisanal know-how behind the cherished traditional baguette baking process is a protected one.

What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

"Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants," UNESCO explained of the designation. "While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization."

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is "the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next."

The French government said it plans to create an artisanal baguette day, called the "Open Bakehouse Day," to connect the French better with their heritage.

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China's 'zero COVID' policy: A look back as protests erupt across the country

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(NEW YORK) -- Over the past several days, protests have erupted in cities across China, as citizens push back against the country's so-called "zero COVID" policy.

Since the virus began spreading across the world in January 2020, China has enforced harsh restrictions, including lockdowns and mass testing in an attempt to prevent outbreaks.

As most countries ease mitigation measures and focus on the importance of vaccination and boosting, China has kept the strict policy in place.

But public resentment over the disruption to daily life is growing, posing a problem for leader Xi Jinping and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"The Chinese government does not have a plan B or has not prepared for a way out of this zero COVID policy, and all these lockdowns," Dr. Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist with the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, told ABC News.

"You cannot keep a country locked down. Why? Because right now what's happening in China is the economy has been impacted, the livelihood has been impacted and as a result, lives are being impacted meaning more mental health [crises], quality of life is really bad, more chronic conditions," Mokdad said.

China implements its zero COVID policy

After the first cluster of patients were discovered in Wuhan in December 2019, a public notice was released on Dec. 31 and, about a week later, Chinese officials announced they had discovered a novel coronavirus.

Lockdowns were implemented in Wuhan, then in the larger Hubei Province -- where Wuhan is located -- and lastly in most of China. Travel was banned and those who tested positive for COVID with mild or moderate symptoms were removed from their homes to prevent household transmission.

COVID-19 cases peaked in China in early February 2020 before declining to low levels by the end of summer 2020.

At the end of the first wave, the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an article arguing for a zero COVID strategy over more lax mitigation measures.

"The successful containment effort builds confidence in China, based on experience and knowledge gained, that future waves of COVID-19 can be stopped, if not prevented," the authors wrote. "Case identification and management, coupled with identification and quarantine of close contacts, is a strategy that works."

Only about 5,000 deaths have been reported in mainland China since the start of the pandemic, fewer than most countries with large populations including the U.S. and the U.K.

"The COVID policies were very effective in preventing people in China from getting the infection and dying, and that was a real achievement for the Chinese government," Robert Sutter, a professor of practice of international affairs at George Washington University -- with expertise in U.S.-China relations and China's domestic and foreign affairs -- told ABC News. "In 2020, they looked really good compared to the United States in particular, and they were handling it just fine and it was working well."

"With the severe lockdown in Wuhan, they bought us time, all of us to be prepared and the Chinese health officials early on were really open about what they are seeing shared information, which really helped everybody's response," Mokdad added. "So, we need to give them that credit."

Following the first outbreak, similar strict measures were enforced to control outbreaks happening elsewhere in China. But cases are now on the rise and the country reported its first COVID-19 deaths since May.

"Right now, the Chinese government, the policy that they have implemented, as successful as it was in the past first year, is a failure right now quite honestly," Mokdad said.

Less effective vaccines

In July 2020, the Chinese government allowed the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine to be administered under emergency use authorization. More than 90% of the population has been vaccinated, according to the government.

However, research has shown the Sinovac vaccine is just 60% effective at preventing severe disease compared to 90% for the Pfizer vaccine and 97% for the Moderna vaccine.

What's more, when it comes to booster shots, only 69% of those aged 60 and older and 40% of those aged 80 and older have gotten boosted.

A combination of low vaccination rates and people not being exposed to the virus due to lockdowns has led to low immunity coverage.

"So, here you have a country that started a policy of locking down, but it resulted in less immunity," Mokdad said. "The country, at the same time, has low vaccination coverage, a vaccine that is not effective or has low effectiveness against Omicron and all the variants that came after."

He added, "So now if they open up, what will happen is they'll have more cases, more mortality. They'll overwhelm their hospitals."

Sutter said it's not clear why the Chinese government has rejected the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but it may be due to rejecting medicine from the traditional West in favor of their own vaccines or trying to convince the rest of the world they have the situation under control.

"On the one hand, they don't want to bring in the U.S. vaccines given the state of their attitude toward the United States," Sutter said. "And on the other hand, they don't want to acknowledge that they mishandled the situation."

Frustration bubbling

During the early days of the lockdown, Sutter said there was support among the Chinese public for the stringent measures.

However, tensions have been rising and protests have rung out in cities across China, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and the capital Beijing, after a fire in a high-rise building in Urumqi, a city that was under lockdown, led to the deaths of 10 people.

People have questioned whether COVID restrictions prevented residents from fleeing the burning building and first responders from helping.

In addition, the Draconian measures have also led to food shortages and have prevented people from visiting doctors' offices for non-COVID-related visits.

"The zero COVID policy, it's very disruptive for people's lives and it leads to a lot of frustration," Sutter said. "This has been going on now for three years and so I think there's just a fatigue factor with it all. And people are fed up with the policy, particularly, as they learn more about other countries in the world, they're all opening up."

The government has tried to appease protesters, with Beijing announcing gates will no longer be erected around apartment complexes where COVID-19 cases are detected.

Sutter said he believes local officials may be worried about lifting restrictions because they will get blamed for any deaths.

"The local officials seem to be under the impression that they're going to be held responsible if there are deaths in their area," he said. "So, it leads to a very confused situation with a lot of local officials being cautious and therefore not changing the zero COVID policies because if they have a lot of deaths, they will be held responsible, and they will suffer the consequences."

Meanwhile, over the last week, China has been reporting a record number of COVID-19 infections, mainly due to more transmissible variants.

Mokdad said if China is ever to exit from the zero COVID strategy, officials need to convince the government to accept more effective vaccines and to ease restrictions slowly.

"That's the key message for the Chinese government, that the virus is not going anywhere," he said. "It's mutating, and we have more deadly or more infectious variants. And unless you have immunity, you're not going to be able to avoid getting infected. And the only way to get immunity is either through infection, which we don't want, or through vaccination."

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What goes into protecting Prince William and Princess Kate as they visit the US?

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(NEW YORK) -- Months before Prince William and Catherine, princess of Wales, were set to visit Boston -- their first trip to the U.S. since 2014 -- one little-known American government agency sprang into action.

The royal couple on Wednesday begins a three-day swing in Massachusetts culminating in an awards ceremony Friday night.

Agents from the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) -- diplomats with badges and guns -- make up their protective detail, according to two senior DSS officials who spoke with ABC News.

"We are the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State and we protect the secretary of state, foreign dignitaries who are visiting the United States foreign ministers, former heads of state, members of the royal family, in this case, as well as U.S. citizens, athletes, corporate sponsors," Andrew Wroblewski the deputy assistant secretary and assistant director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) for domestic operations, said.

Wroblewski, who served on various protective details himself during his tenure at the agency, said they have been working with the United Kingdom to get the schedule and protection strategy firmed up.

"So, whenever the Diplomatic Security Service has a visiting foreign dignitary, what we do is we assess the threat against that dignitary in the United States," he explained without getting into specifics about the royal couple's visit. "We have our Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, they'll actually look at all source reporting from open source to classified intelligence. And we'll make it a determination on whether or not we need to protect that person and at what level we need to provide protection."

Matthew O'Brien, the assistant special agent in charge of the Boston DSS field office, the lead office for the visit, told ABC News preparations started in September, and have involved 11 law enforcement agencies -- from local police to state police and the federal government.

"I'm confident in the plan we've we've built," he said. "I will say that we cannot do anything without our state and local partners."

The Boston field office is one of the 33 different offices in the United States. Where the agency's presence is really felt is in the 170 countries the agency is in.

They are also protecting the U.S. Men's National Soccer team at the 2022 World Cup, according to the officials.

The movements of the royal couple are "choreographed down to the minute" and the same goes for the security plan, O'Brien said.

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Black rhino populations are starting to thrive in Zimbabwe for the first time in decades, experts say

International Rhino Foundation

(NEW YORK) -- Rhinoceros populations are beginning to rebound in the species' native home of Zimbabwe, a sign that efforts to preserve the species are working, according to animal conservationists.

The rhino population in Zimbabwe has surpassed more than 1,000 animals for the first time in more than 30 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission's African Rhino Specialist Group. This includes 614 black and 415 white rhinos, listed as critically endangered and near threatened on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, respectively.

Dedicated conservationists continue to persevere in protecting the country’s rhinos "with great success," despite soaring costs for food and fuel, according to the International Rhino Foundation, which was founded 31 years ago amid a poaching crisis.

The populations have thrived due to intensive protection, monitoring and management of these animals, Christopher Whitlatch, spokesperson for the International Rhino Foundation, told ABC News.

Included in the population of black rhinos in Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy is Pumpkin, who was injured and orphaned by poachers and continues to flourish after she was re-released into the wild just months later.

During a routine patrol in July 2020, conservationists from the Lowveld Rhino Trust found Pumpkin's mother, who had been killed by poachers, Whitlatch said. Near her body, the conservationists noticed "little bloody footprints," to which they tracked down Pumpkin, who was still alive but had been shot in the torso by the poachers and was severely injured, Whitlatch said. She was just about 16 months at the time.

Pumpkin's will to live was apparent from the get-go, as were her "spunk" and "charisma," Whitlatch said. She even took a bottle from her caregivers, a foreign concept to baby rhinos that gave them confidence that she would survive.

After some months of rehabilitation, Pumpkin was released in October 2020 back into the protected land, home to most of the rhinos in Zimbabwe and where she continues to thrive today, Whitlatch said.

Pumpkin is monitored on a regular basis, and has even made the acquaintance of a young male black rhino of the same age named Rocky, giving conservationists hope that they will mate and reproduce, Whitlatch added.

However, it has still been a difficult year for rhinos, according to the International Rhino Foundation. After a temporary lull in poaching due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, criminal networks have quickly adapted to the new challenges, and poaching rates and trade volume have begun increasing again this year, according to the IRF.

"Large, organized crime groups, who see wildlife trafficking as low-risk, high-reward crime, became even more involved in rhino horn trade during the pandemic, monopolizing key networks and moving higher volumes of horn," the conservation said in a statement.

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Top Belarus opposition leader reportedly in 'intensive care'

Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- A top jailed Belarus opposition leader, who became the face of its pro-democracy movement, is reportedly in intensive care after being hospitalized for an unknown reason, according to her supporters.

Maria Kalesnikava was one of three women who found themselves at the head of mass street protests in 2020 that came close to toppling Belarus' long-ruling dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

Kalesnikava, 39, was imprisoned after she tore up her passport to prevent Lukashenko's security forces from forcibly deporting her in 2020. She became one of Belarus' most prominent political prisoners, sentenced to 11 years in prison in September 2021 on charges of extremism and seeking to illegally seize power that were widely condemned by western countries as politically motivated.

On Tuesday, an official Twitter account linked to another jailed opposition figure Viktor Babariko, tweeted that Kalesnikava was now in intensive care.

"Masha Kalesnikava is in intensive care. The reason is unknown," the account tweeted, saying the information was confirmed by her lawyer.

The account said Kalesnikava is in a hospital in the city of Gomel, saying she was brought there on Monday and hospitalized in a surgical department before being transferred to intensive care.

The account added that Kalesnikava's lawyers had been complaining to authorities about the state of her health but that they had been ignored.

A former professional musician, Kalesnikava was initially a spokeswoman for Babariko, but teamed up with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to challenge Lukashenko in a 2020 presidential election after Babariko and Tsikhanouskaya's husband were barred from running and jailed. She became one of the faces of the protests that erupted after Lukashenko declared victory in the vote that was widely criticized as rigged, becoming known for the heart shape sign she often flashed with her hands.

Lukashenko's regime was shaken by the protests-- that saw hundreds of thousands demonstrate peacefully for weeks— but he eventually succeeded in smothering the uprising with a relentless crackdown, during which security forces have arrested thousands of people. Kalesnikava became one of the only top leaders of the protests who remained in the country, after most were driven into exile.

After Kalesnikava was sentenced last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned it, calling it "further evidence of the regime's total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus."

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