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70,000 Armenians, half of disputed enclave's population, have now fled

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(LONDON) -- At least 75,500 ethnic Armenian refugees have now fled Nagorno-Karabakh, more than half the disputed enclave's population, according to local authorities, as the exodus from the region continues to accelerate.

It is feared the enclave's whole population will likely flee in the coming days, unwilling to remain under Azerbaijan's rule following its successful military offensive last week that defeated the ethnic Armenian separatist authorities and restored Azerbaijan's control after over three decades.

The leader of Nagorno-Karabakh's unrecognized Armenian state, the Republic of Artsakh, on Thursday announced its dissolution, signing a decree that it will "cease to exist" by Jan. 1, 2024.

De facto President Samvel Shahramanyan signed the decree declaring that "all state institutions" will be dissolved.

A statement describing the decree said based on the ceasefire agreement last week, Azerbaijan would allow the unhindered travel of all residents, including military personnel who laid down their arms. The local population should make their own decisions about the "possibility of staying (or returning)," the statement said.

The decree marks an end to Armenian control over the enclave, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and has been at the center of one of the world's most intractable conflicts for 35 years.

Ethnic Armenians have lived for centuries in Nagorno-Karabakh. The current conflict dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Armenian separatists declared the republic and tried to break away from Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan waged a bloody war over the enclave that saw hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians driven from the region and ended with the ethnic Armenians in control of most of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in 2020, defeating Armenia and forcing it to distance itself from the Karabakh Armenians. Russia brokered a peace agreement and deployed peacekeepers, who remain in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Last week, after blockading the enclave for nine months, Azerbaijan launched a new offensive that defeated the Karabakh Armenian forces in two days. Since Sunday, tens of thousands of ethnic Armenian civilians have left Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan opened the road out to Armenia.

Those leaving say they fear life under Azerbaijan will be intolerable and that they will face persecution.

Shortages of food, medicine and fuel have been reported inside the enclave. Those fleeing describe spending 30 hours in traffic jams to leave.

Siranush Sargsyan, a local freelance journalist living in Nagorno-Karabakh, told Reuters it was impossible for ethnic Armenians to remain.

"Of course I'm going to leave, because this place is too small for both of us. If they are here, we have to leave. We don't want to leave, but we don't have [any] other choice," she said.

Azerbaijan charged a former leader of the Karabakh Armenians with terrorism offenses on Thursday after detaining him a day earlier when he tried to leave the enclave with other refugees.

Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire who made his fortune in Moscow, moved to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2022 and served as the head of its government for several months before stepping down earlier this year. A court in Azerbaijan's capital Baku charged him on Thursday with financing terrorism and creating an illegal armed group, which carries a potential maximum 14-year sentence.

The United States and other Western countries have expressed concern for the ethnic Armenian population. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev this week and urged him to provide international access to the enclave.


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Famous 'Sycamore Gap tree' in northern England found cut down overnight; 16-year-old arrested

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(LONDON) -- Authorities in England have arrested a 16-year-old boy after one of the most famous trees in the world was cut down overnight Thursday.

The "Sycamore Gap tree," also sometimes known as the "Robin Hood tree," was found deliberately cut down early Thursday, according to officials.

"Northumberland National Park Authority can confirm that sadly, the famous tree at Sycamore Gap has come down over night," the park wrote in a statement. "We have reason to believe it has been deliberately felled."

A 16-year-old boy was arrested "in connection with the incident," according to Northumbria police.

"He remains in police custody at this time and is assisting officers with their enquiries," Northumbria police wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Given our investigation remains at a very early stage, we are keeping an open mind."
MORE: Historic banyan tree in Maui shows signs of growth after wildfire damage

The statement continued, "We are working with the relevant agencies and partners with an interest in this iconic North East landmark and will issue more details once they are known."

The tree, which is about 300 years old, was located next to Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans beginning in 122 A.D. to mark the northern limits of Roman Britannia.

The tree is sometimes called the "Robin Hood tree" because it was featured prominently in the Kevin Costner-led film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," released in 1991.

"I can’t express how angry I am at the vandalism of the tree at #SycamoreGap," North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll wrote on X, prior to the arrest. "People have had their ashes scattered there. People have proposed there. I’ve picnicked there with my wife and kids. It’s part of our collective soul."

The tree was voted the English Tree of the Year in 2016.


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Travis King back in US months after crossing into North Korea

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(LONDON) -- Travis King, the American soldier who crossed into North Korea two months ago, is back on U.S. soil.

An official with the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that King landed in San Antonio early Thursday at around 1:30 a.m. ET.

The news that King was back in U.S. custody came Wednesday morning.

"We can confirm that U.S. officials have secured the return of Private King and departed PRC airspace en route to a U.S. military base," a senior Biden administration official said.

Later Wednesday, Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said in a statement that King could face future action from the Army but for now the focus is on his "well-being and privacy."

King will be flown to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he will go through the military's reintegration process used to re-acclimate Americans who have been detained overseas, two U.S. officials confirmed to ABC News. Typically that process takes place at Brooke Army Medical Center, which is located at Fort Sam Houston.

During his Wednesday afternoon press briefing, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller confirmed that King was in the air en route to the United States.

"The United States has secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Earlier today, he was transported to the border between North Korea and China, where he was met by our ambassador to the People's Republic of China, Nicholas Burns. He then boarded a State Department OpMed plane and flew from Dandong, China to Shenyang, China, and then on from Shenyang to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, where he was transferred to the Department of Defense," Miller said.

Miller did not have additional details on how King was transported from inside North Korea to the country's border with China. He also said he did not know if Pyongyang had requested anything for King's freedom but reiterated that the U.S. had not made any concessions.

While he also didn't know how King was treated while in custody, he said he "would certainly imagine that he was interrogated that was that would be consistent with past DPRK practice with respect to detainees."

Securing the return of King back into U.S. custody from North Korea was the "culmination of a monthslong effort" that included multiple government agencies and the assistance of Sweden and China, according to senior administration officials.

"U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King's well-being. In addition, we thank the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK and the government of the People's Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King," Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

King "appears to be in good health and good spirits as he makes his way home" and has been able to speak with his family, senior administration officials told reporters Wednesday morning.

"Pv.t King was very happy to be on his way home. You know that that has been quite clear as we have resumed our contact with him and he is very much looking forward to being reunited with his family. That is the sentiment that is pervading all else right now," an official said.

North Korea transferred King to representatives from Sweden in North Korea who then drove King across the border into China and transferred him to a waiting U.S. official who took custody of King, a U.S. official said. A short time later King was aboard a U.S. plane that flew him out of China and began his return back to the U.S., the official added.

"This was truly an extraordinary interagency effort and really an incredible example of teamwork, detailed planning and rehearsals and flawless conduct of what I would say as a truly complex operation," an official said.

Officials said Sweden was the intermediary between the U.S. and the DPRK. Sweden has served as the protective power for the U.S. in the DPRK since 1995 and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang provide consular assistance to U.S. nationals in the DPRK, according to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

"It is gratifying that Travis King was able to return to the United States and that Sweden has been able to assist in accordance with its responsibilities as protecting power for the US in North Korea," the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.

China did not assist in those discussions, but it "played a very constructive role in facilitating a transfer" out of China.

"The operational complexity that we're pointing to here obviously includes a few factors. It includes the fact that the Swedish government transited into the DPRK. It includes the fact that we had to you know, be ready to receive him in the PRC and includes the fact that all of these pieces had to come together quickly and with the greatest concern for Private King's care and ensuring his safe and healthy transit home," a senior administration official said.

Officials were clear that there were no concessions for King's release.

"In terms of the question on any concessions that might have been given, the answer is simple: There were none. Full stop," an official said.

Sweden informed the U.S. that North Korea wanted to release King earlier this month, which led to the intense behind-the-scenes efforts to secure his transfer, senior administration officials said.

North Korea announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King, who ran across the border from South Korea during a tour in July.

"The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Miller confirmed Wednesday that Pyongyang had signaled a willingness to return King in recent days, but he noted that U.S. officials did not see this as a window for broader diplomacy with North Korea.

"I don't know that I would take from this that it heralds some breakthrough in diplomatic relations. Obviously, we're pleased to have secured his return," he said. "We tried ton reach out to them when Travis King first crossed the border into North Korea, we tried to reach out a number of occasions. They rejected our direct approaches and ended up talking to Sweden, and Sweden talked to us and helped negotiate this transfer but I would not see this as the sign of some breakthrough. I think it's a one off."

King, a 23-year-old cavalry scout serving in South Korea, was due to return to the U.S. and face administrative separation actions after being detained in a South Korean facility for 47 days for an assault conviction.

On July 17, he was escorted by U.S. military officials to South Korea's Incheon International Airport as far as the customs checkpoint. But instead of boarding the plane, he left the airport for a tour of the DMZ.

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British Museum seeks public help in finding stolen artefacts

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(LONDON) -- Please return if found: Hundreds of missing artefacts formerly housed in a museum in central London.

The British Museum has issued a plea to the public to assist in the recovery of ancient artefacts reported stolen or missing from its collection.

The museum -- which announced on Aug. 16 that the Metropolitan Police were investigating "a number of items" found to be "stolen, missing or damaged" -- is now appealing to anyone who may have seen the items to get in touch.

Sixty items have been returned thus far, the museum said in a statement sent to ABC News. Three hundred more are "due to be returned imminently."

The announcement followed one in August by British Museum Chairman George Osborne, who disclosed that "around 2,000" artefacts had been stolen from the museum's storerooms by a suspected museum curator.

The scandal, which has been called an "embarrassment" for the institution, triggered the resignation of British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer.

"The trustees of the British Museum were extremely concerned when we learnt earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen," said Osborne in a statement. "Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn't happen again."

The items the museum is seeking include "gold jewelry, and gems of semi-precious stones and glass" dating back to the 15th century B.C. and the 19th century A.D.

None of the items has recently been on public display, said the museum.

Although the museum is not sharing details of the lost and damaged items following advice from "recovery specialists," the museum announced that majority of the stolen items are from the Department of Greece and Rome, "mainly falling into the categories of gems and jewelry."

The museum also announced that some of the items had been placed on the Art Loss Register -- the world's largest private database of stolen art, antiques, and collectables: "This will ensure that if the stolen pieces appear in the over 400,000 items a year that are checked by them, they will be identified," said the Museum.

Involved too in the search are an international panel of experts, made up "leading specialists" in the field of identification and recovery of stolen items.

Prior to the public appeal, investigations into the missing items had been taking place behind closed doors in partnership with the metropolitan police. In a statement sent to ABC News, the Metropolitan Police confirmed one man had been interviewed on Aug. 23 in relation to the thefts. He was placed "under caution," having voluntarily attended a police station.

The Metropolitan Police told ABC News enquiries into the missing objects continue.

Many have pointed out the irony of the British Museum -- which has come under scrutiny to return artefacts in their possession to their country of origin -- seeking public assistance in retrieving stolen artefacts.

In August, the British Museum announced it will return 72 artifacts that were looted in 1897 -- including Benin Bronzes -- to the Nigerian Government.

The British Museum is also entangled in a debate with Greek authorities over ownership of the famous "Pantheon Sculptures," which were taken from the Pantheon between 1801 and 1805.

"Sir Nigel Boardman and I continue to work closely with the British Museum, other organizations and specialists in this area to recover stolen items and return them to the British Museum's collection," said Lucy D'Orsi, Joint Chair of the Independent Review. "We are very grateful for the support we have received."


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Over 50,000 Armenians flee enclave in Azerbaijan as exodus accelerates

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(LONDON) -- About 50,000 ethnic Armenians have now fled the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to local officials, as the exodus triggered by Azerbaijan's takeover of the region appeared to accelerate, with fears its entire population may leave.

More than a third of the population have now left, with nearly 12,000 people leaving overnight, and thousands more continuing to arrive into Armenia on Wednesday morning, in what Armenia's government has called the "ethnic cleansing" of the enclave.

Azerbaijan on Wednesday announced it had detained the former leader of enclave's unrecognized Armenian government as he sought to cross into Armenia. Ruben Vardanyan, a billionaire businessman who made his fortune in Russia, moved to Nagorno-Karabakh in 2022 and served as the head of its government for several months before stepping down earlier this year.

Vardanyan's detention signalled Azerbaijan may prosecute members of the Armenian separatist authorities that remain and will likely further enflame fears among the Armenians remaining there.

The exodus of Armenian civilians has begun following Azerbaijan's successful military offensive last week that swiftly defeated the local Armenian authorities, re-asserting Azerbaijan's control over the mountainous enclave and bringing a sudden end to a 35-year conflict.

Cars, buses and trucks loaded with families and what belongings they could carry have been streaming over the border crossing since Azerbaijan reopened the only road leading out to Armenia for the first time since blockading the enclave nine months ago. The first town on the Armenian side, Goris, was reported flooded with people coming to register as refugees. A 50-mile traffic jam snaked up the mountain road from the enclave, visible in satellite images released by Maxar Technologies.

The death toll from a devastating explosion on Monday at a makeshift gas station used by refugees inside the enclave has reached 68, with 105 people still missing and dozens more badly injured, local officials said. Helicopters evacuated 168 injured from the region's capital, according to Nagorno-Karabakh's unrecognized Armenian authorities. Shortages of food, medicine and fuel have been reported inside the enclave.

Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as Azerbaijan's territory but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war amid the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were driven from the region during that war that ended with ethnic Armenians establishing an unrecognized state, called the Republic of Artsakh.

In 2020, Azerbaijan reopened the conflict, launching a full-scale war that decisively defeated Armenia and obliged it to largely abandon its claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia brokered a truce and deployed peacekeepers to enforce it, which remain deployed.

But last week Azerbaijan launched a fresh offensive that forced the ethnic Armenian authorities to surrender after just two days of fighting and accept the reintegration of the enclave into Azerbaijan. Since then ethnic Armenians have sought to leave, fearing they will face persecution and violence under Azerbaijan.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday called Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, to urge him to "refrain from further hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh" and provide unhindered humanitarian access.

"He called on President Aliyev to provide assurances to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh that they can live secure in their homes and that their rights will be protected," the State Department said in a readout of the call.

He also urged Aliyev to commit to a broad amnesty for Armenians fighters and allow an international observer mission into Nagorno-Karabakh.

Samantha Power, the head of the USAID, visited the border crossing in Armenia on Tuesday and met with refugees there, also calling on Azerbaijan to allow international access to the enclave.

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More than 100 dead, including bride and groom, in fire at Iraqi wedding hall

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(NEW YORK) -- A bride and groom were killed along with more than 100 wedding guests as a fire ripped through a wedding hall in Hamdaniyah, in northern Iraq, on Tuesday, local officials said.

At least 150 others were injured when the wedding hall's ceiling caught fire and then collapsed, according to Hasan al-Allaq said, the deputy governor of the Nineveh region.

Fireworks set off inside the wedding hall, where as many as 1,000 were celebrating, may have caused the fire, local reports said.

Fire investigators were working at the scene on Wednesday morning.

Iraq’s prime minister has called for three days of national mourning.

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125 dead in blast as Armenian refugees flee disputed enclave

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(LONDON) -- At least 125 people were killed in an explosion on Monday night at a makeshift gas station being used by ethnic Armenian refugees as thousands sought to flee the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, according to local authorities, as senior U.S. officials visited Armenia to signal concern over the humanitarian crisis affecting the region's civilians.

Dozens of people are in a critical condition with severe burns and in urgent need of evacuation from the enclave where medical assistance was already minimal, the health ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh's unrecognized ethnic Armenia government, the Republic of Artsakh, said in a statement. It said many people were still missing following the blast.

The explosion and fire ripped through the fuel store on Monday night as hundreds of refugees were lining up for gas for their vehicles to leave Nagorno-Karabakh, according to local officials.

Thousands of ethnic Armenians have been leaving the enclave following a successful military offensive last week by Azerbaijan that defeated the local Armenian authorities and restored Azerbaijan's rule over the region.

Over 28,000 people have crossed from Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia since Sunday, according to a statement from Armenia's government. It's feared the enclave's entire population -- estimated at 120,000 -- may seek to flee in the coming days.

Armenia's prime minister on Monday said what was happening was the "ethnic cleansing" of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian population.

Long traffic jams of people seeking to leave were visible snaking miles along the only road out of Nagorno-Karabakh to a checkpoint in the "Lachin Corridor" that links the enclave to Armenia.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been at the center of a decadeslong conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Internationally recognized as Azerbaijan's territory, the two countries fought a bloody war over the enclave amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which Armenia backed local ethnic Armenian separatists, who succeeded in establishing control over most of the region. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians were driven from the region during that war.

Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in 2020, launching a full-scale war that decisively defeated Armenia and forced it to largely abandon its claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia helped broker a truce and dispatched a peacekeeping force there that remains deployed. Last week, Azerbaijan launched a new offensive that swiftly forced the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian's leadership to surrender.

Since then thousands of ethnic Armenians have been preparing to leave the enclave, which has been under Azerbaijani blockade for nine months, unwilling to live under Azerbaijan's rule and fearing they will face persecution.

Western countries, including the United States, France and Germany, have expressed concern for Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian population and warned Azerbaijan it bears responsibility for their rights and security.

The Biden administration has dispatched Samantha Power, currently administrator of USAID and senior another State Department official to Armenia to express U.S. support for the country amid the crisis.

Power on Tuesday visited the checkpoint at Armenia's border with Nagorno-Karabakh where refugees have been arriving, and called for international monitors and aid groups to be given access to the enclave and for Azerbaijan to facilitate the evacuation of injured civilians from there.

"It is absolutely critical that independent monitors as well as humanitarian organizations get access to the people in Nagorno-Karabakh who still have dire needs," Power told journalists at the checkpoint. "There are still tens of thousands of Ethnic Armenians there living in very vulnerable conditions," announcing the U.S. would provide $11.5 million in humanitarian assistance that would include everything from food to psychiatric support.

Power, who has been a high-profile campaigner for human rights, said she was in Armenia to also hear testimonies from people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh and that she would be reporting back to the Biden Administration as it considers how to respond to the crisis.

Power and the Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, Yuri Kim met with Armenia's prime minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday. Power delivered a letter from President Joe Biden in which he expressed condolences for the loss of life in Nagorno-Karabakh and promised help on addressing humanitarian needs.

"I have asked Samantha Power, a key member of my cabinet, to personally convey to you the strong support of the United States and my Administration for Armenia's pursuit of a dignified and durable regional peace that maintains your sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy," the letter read.

Pashinyan told Power the international community and Armenia had failed to prevent the "ethnic cleansing" of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians.

"Unfortunately, at the moment the process of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is continuing, it is happening right now. It's a very tragic fact. We tried to inform the international community that this ethnic cleansing would happen, but, unfortunately, we did not manage to prevent it," Pashinyan told Power and Yuri Kim, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, according to the prime minister's press service.

Armenia and Azerbaijan were due to hold talks mediated by the European Union in Brussels on Tuesday, the first talks between the sides since Azerbaijan's retook Nagorno-Karabakh.

Monday's blast at the fuel station added a horrific complication to the exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh, with local authorities pleading for people to hold off leaving as the traffic-choking the roads out was preventing the evacuation of the severely injured.

Helicopters from Armenia's capital, Yerevan, were reported to have flown to Nagorno-Karabakh to help evacuate some of the worst injured. A long line of ambulances was also filmed by Russian media crossing into the enclave.

The enclave's Armenian health authorities said the hospitals in the enclave, already short of medicine and other equipment, were not equipped for the disaster.

Russia's peacekeeping contingent said it was also providing medical assistance and showed videos of its soldiers evacuating some of the injured.

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Nelson Mandela's granddaughter dies at 43

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(LONDON) -- Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Zoleka Mandela, has died at the age of 43.

“The Nelson Mandela Foundation extends its heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family on the passing of Zoleka Mandela, tragically last night,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement released on Tuesday morning. “We mourn the loss of a beloved grandchild of Mum Winnie and Madiba and a friend of the Foundation.”

Zoleka Mandela -- born April 9, 1983 -- was an outspoken writer and activist for healthcare and justice throughout her life.

“Her work in raising awareness about cancer prevention and her unwavering commitment to breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease will continue to inspire us all,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said.

A statement posted to Zoleka Mandela’s Instagram account detailed her ongoing recent struggles with cancer.

“On Monday, September 18th, Zoleka Mandela was admitted into hospital for ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer to the hip, liver, lung, pelvis, brain and spinal cord,” the statement attributed to family spokesperson Zwelabo Mandela read. “Recent scans revealed significant disease progression including fibrosis in the lungs as well as several emboli.”

“Zoleka passed away on the evening of Monday, September 25th, surrounded by friends and family. Our sincerest gratitude to the medical team that took care of her,” the message read.

Mandela was 43.

Said the Nelson Mandela Foundation: “Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this most difficult time. Hamba kahle Zoleka, we will remember you.”

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Climate change is making climbing in the Himalayas more challenging, experts say

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(NEW YORK) -- Climbing Mount Everest is one of the most difficult feats known to humankind, but the treacherous expedition is getting even more challenging due to climate change, according to experts.

Warming temperatures around the globe are making both the topography of the glaciers in the Himalayas and the weather patterns mountaineers rely on to plan the timing of their journeys more unpredictable, climbing experts and climatologists told ABC News.

A record number of people died while attempting to climb Mount Everest this year. While the Nepalese government blamed climate change for the extraordinary number of deaths, experts say global warming may not be entirely responsible.

This is how climate change is affecting climbing in the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountain ranges:

The topography of the glaciers, mountains are less reliable

Research in recent years has overwhelmingly shown that glaciers in the Himalayas are thinning, Joseph Shea, an associate professor of environmental geomatics at the University of Northern British Columbia, told ABC News. Climate change is roasting the Himalaya region, causing glaciers to retreat and permafrost to melt, according to a 2019 report authored by Shea.

Several of the routes that climbers use to gain access to higher peaks rely on the stability of glaciers, such as the Khumbu Icefall, located near the Everest base camp and used to trek up to Camp 1, Shea said.

"The Khumbu Icefall, which is already really difficult to navigate, that becomes less reliable," said Shea, who was been researching the Himalayas since 2012.

Researchers have drilled into the Khumbu Glacier near the Everest base camp and found that it is "very close to the melting point," Duncan Quincey, a professor of glaciology at the University of Leeds, told ABC News.

With just a small increase in atmospheric temperatures, the Khumbu Glacier won't be far from being in a scenario where it will start to melt rapidly, Quincey said.

Climate change can also exacerbate other risks like rockfall events, especially in the high mountain areas because many of the formations in the highest levels are held together by alpine permafrost, or frozen ground that then thaws, Shea said.

Before the region began to warm rapidly, climbers could have more confidence in passing some of these treacherous areas because everything was "very much frozen" and much more stable, Quincey said.

Many of the slopes are becoming exposed for the first time, and rock avalanche events will be increasingly unpredictable, Quincey said.

Snow and ice avalanches in the Himalayas are also increasing risks for climbers as global temperatures warm, a study published in the European Geosciences Union in July found.

"And as we go forward, I think we can expect the whole region to become a lot more hazardous," Quincey said.

Everest's perfect weather window is becoming more unpredictable

Weather patterns in the region are also becoming more erratic, making it difficult for climbers to plan safe expeditions from more than a few days out, research shows.

Everest experts know that there is a "magical" window in May in which the winds die down below 30 mph, typically between May 15 and May 30, Chris Tomer, a Colorado-based meteorologist and weather forecaster for mountaineering expeditions, told ABC News.

The window tends to appear as the monsoon season approaches and the jet stream, an area of high wind that typically sits on the summit, gets pushed off, allowing the winds in the region to drop dramatically and improving conditions for climbing, Tomer said. But that timing has been changing.

Typically, if winds are above 30 mph, most people will not climb, Alan Arnette, a seasoned mountaineer who is the oldest American to climb K2 at 58 years old, told ABC News.

"It's just too dangerous, and it increases the chance of frostbite and other problems," he said.

"What I've noticed is that it's become a little bit harder to predict, and it's a little bit more erratic," Tomer said.

In 2019, there were only three days -- as opposed to the typical 11 to 14 days -- where winds were suitable for climbing, Arnette said. But in May 2022, nearly the entire month had favorable wind conditions, something that has never happened before, he said.

"That shows you the extremes that are happening," he said.

It's not clear what will happen in the future in terms of jetstream position and the timing of the wind switch, Shea said.

While the long-term forecasts for the perfect window may ultimately change in the future, the short-term forecasts will remain accurate, Shea said.

"Once you're up there, you have to decide if you're going to make that call to go for it or not," he said.

Himalayas region a key indicator of climate change

Most glacier mountain regions around the world are exhibiting clear examples of climate change, the experts said.

Research shows that if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced, glaciers will keep losing mass and retreating drastically, Shea said.

"This is a very clear climate change signal," Shea said. "And models that we use to look at what happens in the future predict the same thing, like big declines in total glacier volumes, glacier extents."

For those who have studied the region for years, the changes are apparent to the naked eye, including exposed slopes on the flanks of the main glaciers and lakes of water pooling on the ice surfaces that were free of meltwater, Quincey said.

"It's very, very difficult not to see the impacts of climate change," Quincey said. "There's some very clear visual indicators of the impact that climate is having in that region."

Climate change likely not the culprit for majority of deaths on Everest this year

Seventeen climbers died while trying to Everest this year, an extraordinary figure compared to the average of four to six climbers per season, Arnette said.

While the Nepalese government blamed the steep increase in Everest fatalities on climate change, inexperienced and ill-equipped or unqualified guides is likely to blame for the majority of the deaths, the climbing experts said.

Of the 17 people who died, 11 of the deaths were preventable, Arnette said. Several of the deaths were blamed on natural causes, which is typical, Arnette said.

"It is to be expected that you're going to have people that are going to die from natural causes when climbing Everest because the lower amount of oxygen, and then the exertion that the body goes through climbing at that altitude is stresses the body," Arnette said.

The only year that saw just as many deaths was in 2014 when 17 people also died -- but the majority of the deaths were sherpas who were killed in a single avalanche.

In addition, there were a record number of climbers in 2023, Shea said, which increased the likelihood of more deaths.

Nepal issued a record 478 climbing permits to foreigners for 2023, Arnette wrote in his blog. When accounting for the number of sherpas accompanying the foreigners, the number jumps to about 1,200 climbers pursuing Everest's summit over the spring.

The unpredictability of the weather patterns could also lead to overcrowding on the summit. If forecasters can only predict conditions with certainty four or five days out, it forces everybody into a smaller summit window, Tomer said.

"Instead of being able to spread 400 people out over five days, everybody gets crammed into a one or two-day window," Tomer said.

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Large explosion rocks warehouse as thousands of ethnic Armenians start to flee disputed enclave

ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- A large explosion has reportedly torn through a fuel store being used by ethnic Armenia refugees amidst their exodus from the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of ethnic Armenians have started fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh following Azerbaijan’s successful military offensive to retake control of the region last week.

The explosion occurred at a fuel depot close to the Stepanakert-Askeran highway that leads from the enclave's capital, according to the enclave’s ethnic Armenian authorities. The explosion caused a large fire, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Local authorities said casualties and injuries were still being recorded, but local media reported it was feared dozens could be dead and injured.

Gas was reportedly being handed out to refugees trying to leave the enclave, that has been suffering fuel shortages.

At least 6,650 people had crossed the border into Armenia by Monday evening, according to an Armenian government statement quoted by the Russian state news agencies, with over three thousand arriving in just several hours.

An adviser to the enclave’s ethnic Armenians leadership on Sunday told Reuters that virtually its entire population -- estimated at 120,000 -- would now leave. If they stayed, they would be "ethnically cleansed" by Azerbaijan, he said.

"Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan," David Babayan, the adviser, told Reuters on Sunday. "Ninety-nine point nine percent prefer to leave our historic lands."

Reporters on the border reported dozens of civilian cars and other vehicles have been driving to the crossing since Sunday, when Azerbaijan begin permitting some people to exit. Reuters reported that groups of civilians in the region’s capital, called Stepanakert by Armenians, were seen loading and packing belongings onto buses. Armenian authorities said they are prepared for tens of thousands of families to flee.

Azerbaijan has blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh for nine months prior to last week's offensive and controls the only main route out. On Sunday it allowed the first civilians to leave, reportedly escorted by Russian peacekeepers.

Azerbaijan launched an offensive last week that in just two days of fighting defeated the ethnic Armenia authorities in the enclave, who laid down their arms and agreed to disband their military forces. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for most of the last 35 years following a bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan amid the break up of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians were also driven out of Karabakh by Armenian forces during the war in the 1990s.

Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in 2020, launching a full-scale war that decisively defeated Armenia and forced its government to largely abandon its claims to it. Last week's new offensive, that killed and wounded hundreds, finally defeated the enclave's ethnic Armenian authorities, restoring Azerbaijan's control.

Amid the crisis, Samantha Power, the head of USAID and a vocal campaigner on human rights, landed in Armenia's capital on Monday.

"At this important moment for the country and region, I’m here to reiterate the U.S.'s strong support & partnership with Armenia and to speak directly with those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh," Power wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The U.S. and other western countries have expressed concerns for the ethnic Armenians in the enclave, warning Azerbaijan it must ensure their security and rights.

Azerbaijani troops have been halted on the edge of the enclave's capital since end of the offensive, during which Azerbaijan already seized a number of villages and cut off roads leading to some. Power cuts and shortages of food, medicine and water have been reported, with thousands of displaced people sheltering in the city.

Azerbaijan has said it wants to “reintegrate” the Armenian population but has not presented any plan for doing so or for safeguarding their rights. In areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it has previously retaken, Azerbaijan has encouraged Azerbaijanis to come resettle and some Armenian cultural sites have been erased or damaged.

Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev on Monday hosted Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strongly backed Azerbaijan, including providing weapons and military advisors. The two met in Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan enclave, which is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by southern Armenia and that Aliyev has threatened to use force to reconnect with a corridor.

"I am certain that the process of integration of the Armenian population of Karabakh will go successfully," Aliyev said at the meeting, according to the Russian news agency TASS. He added that all residents of the enclave were "Azerbaijan citizens."

A second round of talks between Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenian leadership was held on Monday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh, in which the sides reportedly discussed establishing facilities for urgent medical in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Russians committing rape, 'widespread' torture against Ukrainians, UN report finds

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(NEW YORK) -- Russian forces are allegedly committing continuous war crimes in Ukraine, including rape and "widespread and systematic" torture, the latest Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine found.

The Russians are allegedly torturing people accused of being Ukrainian army informants in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and in one case, the torture was so extreme that it caused a victim's death, the commission said in its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.

One torture survivor said, "Every time I answered that I didn't know or didn't remember something, they gave me electric shocks," according to the commission.

"Well into the second year of the armed conflict, people in Ukraine have been continuing to cope with the loss and injury of loved ones, large-scale destruction, suffering and trauma as well as economic hardship that have resulted from it," Eric Mose, chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, wrote in the report. "Thousands have been killed and injured, and millions remain internally displaced or out of the country."

In the Kherson region, members of the Russian forces allegedly sexually assaulted women as their relatives were forced to listen from nearby rooms, the commission said. Sexual assault victims ranged in age from 19 to 83.

The commission also found evidence of "unlawful attacks with explosive weapons," including attacks on residential buildings, shops, a restaurant and a medical facility.

Konstantin Yefremov, a senior Russian army lieutenant who fled Russia, told ABC News in February he witnessed his country's troops torture prisoners in Ukraine, including beating and threats to rape.

Yefremov, 33, spent three months as an officer in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region and said he personally witnessed the torture of Ukrainian prisoners during interrogations, including the shooting of one POW in the arms and legs and threats of rape.

The commission stressed "the need for accountability" for Russia's "scale and gravity of violations," as well as "the need for the Ukrainian authorities to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate the few cases of violations by its own forces."

ABC News' Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.



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US border agency chief meets with authorities in Mexico over migrant surge

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(CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico) -- The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Sunday that the agency's top official has met with authorities in Mexico to work on ways to better secure their shared border.

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller traveled to Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the Rio Grande, just south of El Paso, Texas, where he met with senior officials from the Mexican government and the railway industry on Friday.

During those discussions, Miller "urged coordination of efforts to diminish surging irregular migration, and continuation of lawful trade and travel while reiterating the need for coordinated engagement -- to include mirrored patrols with local Mexican law enforcement agencies," CBP said in a press release.

Miller also "noted his appreciation for the continuing attention to dangerous migrant travel aboard railcars" and "discussed the impact that increased resource needs being devoted to processing inadmissible noncitizens has on CBP's enforcement mission and operations at the ports of entry," according to the press release.

"We are continuing to work closely with our partners in Mexico to increase security and address irregular migration along our shared border," Miller said in a statement Sunday. "The United States and Mexico remain committed to stemming the flow of irregular migration driven by unscrupulous smugglers, while maintaining access to lawful pathways."

On Saturday, CBP announced the resumption of operations at the international railway crossing bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The United States has been grappling with a surge of unauthorized crossings of migrants at its southwestern border after so-called Title 42 restrictions expired in May, when the federal government lifted the national public health emergency for COVID-19. The restrictions were a pandemic-related immigration policy that allowed the U.S. to swiftly turn back migrants at its border with Mexico for the last three years in the name of protecting public health.

Many of the migrants are fleeing poverty and hardship in their home countries in Central and South America, but some are coming from as far as Asia.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News' Matt Rivers, airing Monday on Good Morning America, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens said he believed the thousands of migrants who arrived in Eagle Pass, Texas, last week were by design. Organized crime draws the law enforcement focus there, he said, making it easier to smuggle people elsewhere.

"In terms of flow and the threats that we're seeing with fentanyl and with the criminal organizations that are our adversary, it's about as bad as I've ever seen it," Owens told ABC News.

Owens wants more agents and resources in response to the surge, hoping something will change. He said his agency's ability to respond to the current amount of migrants at the border "isn't sustainable."

"This is up and down the system," he added. "Everybody is overwhelmed."

ABC News' Luke Barr and Matt Rivers contributed to this report.

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Canada House speaker apologizes for praising Ukrainian veteran who fought for Nazis

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(LONDON) -- Canada's House of Commons speaker apologized for praising a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi unit.

During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to the Canadian parliament on Friday, speaker Anthony Rota called 98-year-old veteran Yaroslav Hunka a "hero."

Hunka, who was in the crowd and received two standing ovations, served as a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS before retiring to Canada.

Jewish human rights groups raised concern, with The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center calling the praise shocking and outrageous, claiming that Hunka's military unit was implicated in the mass murder of Jews and others.

"There should be no confusion that this unit was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable," a statement by FSWC reads.

On Sunday, the speaker issued an official apology.

"I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision," Rota said. "I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world."

He also took on full responsibility for admitting and praising the veteran in the Canadian Parliament, saying that no one among the Ukrainian delegation or the fellow parliamentarians knew about his plans or remarks beforehand.

The opposition however has called for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize and investigate. Trudeau's office said that Rota's apology was "the right thing to do" and that he acted alone.

The 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, also known as the Galicia Division, was a voluntary unit made up mostly of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command.

Although the unit has not been found guilty of any war crimes by a tribunal, its members are accused of killing Jewish civilians, BBC News reported.

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Molotov cocktails tossed at Cuban Embassy in Washington, minister says

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Embassy of Cuba in Washington, D.C., was "the target of a terrorist attack," when two Molotov cocktails were tossed at the building on Sunday night, according to Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Embassy staff "suffered no harm" and "details are being worked out," Rodríguez Parrilla said on social media.

"Terrorist attack against the Cuban embassy in the United States. The Cuban Embassy staff have not been injured," the embassy said in a statement.

The Molotov cocktails tossed on Sunday amounted to the second violent attack on the embassy since April 2020, when "an individual shot several rounds against the embassy using an assault rifle," Rodríguez Parrilla said.

"The anti-Cuban groups resort to terrorism when feeling they enjoy impunity, something that Cuba has repeatedly warned the US authorities about," he said.

The Embassy of Cuba reopened in 2015, when formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were normalized.

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Iran president's wife denies UN findings that protesters were killed in turmoil after Mahsa Amini's death

ABC News

(TEHRAN) -- In a new interview, the wife of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi repeated claims by her country's officials that the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last fall was the result of a preexisting illness -- which Amini's family vigorously disputes, believing instead that she was beaten in custody after being arrested by Iran's notorious morality police for not wearing her hijab properly.

Speaking with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz in an interview that aired Sunday, Jamileh Alamolhoda defended Iran's approach to requiring headscarves for women in public while seeking to minimize the crackdown on protests sparked by Amini's death.

"She was loved by all of us. I'm a mother myself, and I do understand that -- the value of girls and women as a whole," Alamolhoda said.

She also claimed that she was in "constant contact" with "all of the medical personnel" involved in Amini's case.

Since last year, massive protests of thousands have roiled Iran in what some international observers believe mark the biggest threat to the government's authority since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Those demonstrations have also been met with a sharp response.

According to the U.N., some 500 people, including 71 children, have been killed by Iranian security forces and police. But Alamolhoda disputed those figures, telling Raddatz the protests were "a big lie" while blaming the uprising on the U.S.

"I do think things can happen of that nature in any country, naturally," she said. "However, in our country, they are turned into political projects and those are fundamentally because of the intentions of foreign governments whom are keen to see other events occur in Iran."

"So no one was killed?" Raddatz pressed. "No one was executed because of those protests? Is that what you're saying?"

"Many were killed, but in defending the Islamic Republic of Iran," Alamolhoda said.

Alamolhoda is the most public-facing wife of an Iranian president since the revolution five decades ago that brought about Iran's modern government. She comes from an ultra-conservative family, has two daughters with her husband and holds a PhD.

Raddatz pressed Alamolhoda on her opinion of a law passed last week by Iran's parliament that imposes harsher punishments on women who violate the country's hijab laws. Under the new legislation, violators face up to 10 years in prison.

Alamolhoda did not directly answer the question initially, only comparing the law to "dress codes everywhere."

"You have dress codes everywhere, even here in university environments, in schools and everywhere else," Alamolhoda said. "And I need to tell you that hijab was a tradition, was a religiously mandated tradition, accepted widely. And now for years it has been turned into a law. And breaking of the law, trampling upon any laws, just like in any country, comes with its own set of punishments."

Raddatz followed up.

"There are women who believe it is repressive. While they respect those who choose to wear the hijab, they don't want to be forced to wear the hijab. What do you think the punishment should be?" she asked.

"I do not specialize in law," the president's wife responded. "So I cannot ... answer you on a professional level. But punishments are equally dispensed to any breaking of the law throughout many countries."

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