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In Russia-Ukraine faceoff, both sides stage combat drills

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In Russia-Ukraine faceoff, both sides stage combat drills
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends the opening ceremony of the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre in Moscow Region, Russia, Aug. 23, 2021. Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via

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(This Nov.24 story corrects Estonian Prime Minister title in paragraph 6)

By Alexander Marrow and Pavel Polityuk

MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) – Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, on Wednesday and said it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of heightened NATO activity near its borders.

Ukraine, which says it believes Russia may be preparing an invasion, held exercises of its own near the frontier with Belarus. An independent Russian investigative group posted photos and videos it said showed movements of tanks and other military vehicles in southern Russia in the past few days.

The increase of military activity on both sides follows weeks of rising tension that have raised the risk of war https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/qa-what-is-risk-war-between-russia-ukraine-2021-11-23 between the two ex-Soviet neighbours, even though Russia denies aggressive intent and Western intelligence sources have told Reuters they do not see any invasion as imminent.

Ukraine is not a NATO member but the United States and the alliance have signalled their backing for Kyiv in ways that Moscow considers provocative, including through warship manoeuvres this month in the Black Sea and a delivery of U.S. patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Reuters it would be “a grave mistake from Russia” to attack Ukraine.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the European Union must make it clear to Russia that there would be a high price to pay if it acted against Ukraine, urging the EU to quickly agree on how to deter Moscow.

In Wednesday’s exercises in the Black Sea, Russian fighter planes and ships practiced repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with air strikes, Interfax reported.

Separately, the news agency quoted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying the need for Russia to further develop its armed forces was dictated by “the complicated military and political conditions in the world and the growing activity of NATO countries near Russia’s borders”.

He said raising the armed forces’ capabilities, supporting the combat preparedness of nuclear forces and strengthening the potential of non-nuclear deterrence are among the priorities.

Shoigu complained on Tuesday that U.S. bombers had rehearsed a nuclear strike on Russia from two different directions earlier this month, and that the planes had come too close to the Russian border. The Pentagon said these drills adhered to international protocols.

UKRAINIAN ‘SPECIAL OPERATION’

Ukraine, which has tilted towards the West since a popular uprising ousted a pro-Russian president in 2014, on Wednesday held what it called a “special operation” at the border with Belarus, including drone exercises and military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.

It has deployed 8,500 extra troops to its boundary with Belarus, saying it fears being drawn into a migrant crisis which has seen the European Union accuse Minsk of flying in people from the Middle East and pushing them to enter neighbouring Poland. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.

Kyiv also worries that the border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, could be used by Moscow to stage a military assault.

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet last weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.

Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory, said it was not threatening anyone and defended its right to deploy its troops as it wished.

The Conflict Intelligence Team, an independent Russian investigative group, posted video and photos on its website showing movements of tanks, infantry combat vehicles and howitzers this month near Voronezh, about 190 km (120 miles) from the Ukrainian border, and a new concentration of army vehicles at a training ground to the south of the city.

It also posted what it said was video evidence of military trains carrying infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers in the past two days to Valuyki, 23 km from the Ukrainian border.

The group said Russian troops had been arriving as well in Crimea, the peninsula seized by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

It said its assessment was that Russian troops would be ready for potential operations inside Ukraine no earlier than the start of next year.

Intelligence sources, diplomats and analysts have told Reuters that Moscow may be using the escalation as part of a wider strategy to exert pressure in Europe, including by backing Belarus in the migrant crisis and parlaying its influence as the continent’s top gas supplier into pressure for quick regulatory approval of its new Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany.

“It feels… more like another piece of coercive leverage that the Russians are heaping onto this strategic situation in Eastern Europe,” said Samir Puri, senior fellow in hybrid warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It may well have value in that alone, rather than having to be followed through with a full-scale invasion which would be politically disastrous for Putin.”

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U.S. reports first case of Omicron variant

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U.S. reports first case of Omicron variant

(Reuters) – The United States identified a first case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in California, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday

For days, U.S. health officials have said the new variant -first detected in South Africa and announced on Nov. 25 – was likely already in the United States as dozens of other countries also detected its arrival.

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Dueling rallies as U.S. Supreme Court confronts abortion rights case

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Activists rally as U.S. Supreme Court hears high-stakes abortion case
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The United States Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

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By Gabriella Borter, Julia Harte and Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Carrying signs and playing music, hundreds of people favoring and opposing abortion rights staged dueling rallies in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as the nine justices prepared to hear arguments in a case that could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The groups stood close together and tried to yell over each other. Abortion rights activists chanted, “What do we want? Abortion access. When do we want it? Now.” Anti-abortion protesters held huge signs reading “abortion is murder,” some carrying Christian crosses and others playing Christian music.

The justices will consider Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed 2018 state law, blocked by lower courts, banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Jen Rudolph, 52, and her daughter Ella, 17, drove four hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, to join the rally for abortion rights.

“We’re here to be part of this crowd and support Roe v. Wade,” Jen Rudolph said. “Republicans get abortions, Democrats get abortions. It’s a healthcare right.”

J.C. Carpenter, 49, drove from Marysville, California, to voice her opposition to abortion.

“I think Roe needs to be abolished. It was one of the biggest mistakes our country ever made,” Carpenter said. “I am feeling optimistic,” she added.

At noon, about 60 pro-choice activists will engage in an act of “civil disobedience” outside the courthouse, according to one of the participants, Heidi Sieck, the CEO and co-founder of #VOTEPROCHOICE, a voter mobilization project dedicated to electing candidates who support abortion access.

Sieck said the group will “engage in radical self-expression” with signs, songs and costumes, and that they plan to sit in the streets until forced to move, which could run afoul of local laws against blocking city streets to traffic.

“If that does include an arrest, so be it,” Sieck said on Tuesday.

The fact that the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, agreed to hear the Mississippi case does “not bode well” for advocates of abortion rights, Sieck said.

Anti-abortion activists rallying outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday also expected the justices to limit abortion access.

“The fact that four justices decided to even hear the case tells you that they want to do something about abortion and Roe v. Wade, whether that means a full overturn or some kind of degrading of it,” said Mark Harrington, the president of anti-abortion group Created Equal, in an interview on Tuesday.

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Deadly Michigan school shooting baffles police as young suspect stays silent

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Deadly Michigan school shooting baffles police as young suspect stays silent
© Reuters. Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a deadly shooting where at least three were killed and six were wounded at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, about 35 miles (55 km) north of Detroit, U.S., November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Seth Herald

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By Steve Gorman and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) -Investigators were reviewing video and reading the writings of a 15-year-old boy on Wednesday as they sought clues to what drove him to go on a deadly shooting spree at his high school north of Detroit, where he killed four fellow students.

The suspect, whose name was withheld by officials because he is a minor, opened fire on Tuesday http://reuters.com/world/us/least-4-hurt-shooting-michigan-high-school-suspect-custody-report-2021-11-30 with a handgun his father had purchased four days earlier, killing three students in Oxford, Michigan, about 40 miles (65 km) from Detroit.

Tate Myre, 16, died in a patrol car en route to a hospital. Hanna St. Julian, 14 and Madisyn Baldwin, 17, also died on Tuesday. A fourth student, 17-year-old Justin Shilling, died on Wednesday, the Detroit News reported.

A teacher and six other students were wounded, some critically, authorities said.

By Wednesday morning, more than 50,000 people had signed an online petition to rename the school’s stadium after Myre, who was a member of Oxford High’s football team, saying he tried to disarm the shooter.

“Tate is not just a hero to his fellow students at Oxford high school but a legend, his act of bravery should be remembered forever and passed down through generations,” the petition on Change.org said.

The shooting spree was the deadliest on U.S. school property this year, according to Education Week. It was the latest in a decades-long string of deadly American school shootings that will likely fuel debates about gun control and mental health care.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in an interview on CNN on Wednesday that it was clear that the shooter intended to kill people.

“He was shooting people at close range, oftentimes towards the head and chest. … It’s just absolutely coldhearted murders,” he said, adding that the shooter fired at least 30 shots.

Bouchard said investigators were poring over writings of the shooter they obtained in the middle of the night that contain “some of his thoughts.” They were also watching surveillance videos of the incident.

“We can’t get the motive from the suspect that we have in custody, but we think we’ve got a path to get a lot of supportive information as to how and why this occurred,” he said.

The suspect was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun his father had purchased on Nov. 26, along with three 15-round magazines. Seven live rounds remained in the gun when the youth was arrested, the sheriff said late on Tuesday.

The suspect was disarmed and taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies minutes after the shooting began. He declined to speak with investigators after his parents retained a lawyer and denied authorities permission to interview their son, Bouchard said.

“The person who’s got the most insight on motive is not talking,” the sheriff said.

Bouchard said he was unaware of any previous run-ins with law enforcement by the suspect, a high school sophomore, adding that investigators had so far seen nothing to suggest a history of disciplinary problems or threats.

He said forensic technicians were collecting evidence from the crime scene, while detectives began collecting video footage from security cameras mounted around the school and interviewing witnesses and those acquainted with the suspect.

The sheriff said a search warrant was executed at the suspect’s home in Oxford and his cellphone was seized.

SWIFT ACTION SAVED LIVES

Bouchard credited swift action by his deputies for preventing greater loss of life, saying they arrived on the scene within minutes and moved straight toward the sound of gunshots.

Officers confronted the young assailant advancing down a hallway toward them with a loaded weapon, and he put his hands over his head and surrendered, Bouchard said.

The precise sequence of events during the violence remained unclear, but police believe the student carried the weapon into school in a backpack, the sheriff said.

“The only information I have is that he came out of a bathroom with a weapon, and I don’t know where he went first,” Bouchard said.

Prosecutors will decide what charges to bring and whether the suspect should be treated as an adult or juvenile, the sheriff said.

The boy, who was unharmed, was being detained in a special cell under suicide watch at a juvenile detention center, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said.

The boy apparently “had been shooting” the gun before Tuesday’s attack and had posted pictures of the weapon and a target he was using, according to the sheriff.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis)

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