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Russia's Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country, accepting a request from the justice ministry that the religious organization be considered an extremist group.

The court ordered the closure of the group's Russia headquarters and its 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property.

The Interfax news agency on Thursday quoted Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova in court as saying that the Jehovah's Witnesses "pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security."

The Jehovah's Witnesses claim more than 170,000 adherents in Russia. The group has come under increasing pressure over the past year, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia's anti-extremism laws.


Under tight security, Pakistan's top court is to deliver a much-awaited decision on Thursday on corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family which could determine his political future.

If the Supreme Court announces punitive measures against Sharif or his family members as part of the decision, it may lead to a crisis in government. In 2012, the same court convicted then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.

Thursday's decision will be the outcome of petitions from opposition lawmakers dating back to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm that indicated Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.

Sharif's family has acknowledged owning offshore businesses.

The opposition wants Sharif, in power since 2013, to resign over tax evasion and concealing foreign investment. Sharif has defended his financial record.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters the government will "accept the court decision."

Naeemul Haq, a spokesman for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party is leading the petition, said the decision will be an "historic one."

Lawyer A.K. Dogar, who is not involved in the probe by the Supreme Court or the petition, said the decision could determine the political fate of Sharif.

Senior opposition politician Mehnaz Rafi, from Khan's party, told The Associated Press she hopes the decision will help recover tax money from Sharif's family and others who set up offshore companies to evade taxes. If the court finds Sharif's family evaded paying taxes, she said he should resign as he will no longer have "moral authority to remain in power."

The prime minister has insisted his father built up the family business before Sharif entered politics in the 1980s. Sharif says he established a steel mill abroad while he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.



An Austrian court has found a former Croatian general guilty of embezzling millions of euros and sentenced him and an associate to two years in prison.

The court in the southern city of Klagenfurt determined Wednesday that the ex-general, Vladimir Zagorec, and Guenter Striedinger were involved in diverting loans from the now-defunct Hypo Alpe Adria Bank. Striedinger was a bank board member.

Judge Michaele Sanin said the damages caused by the two amounted to over 17 million euros ( $18 million.)

The bank was nationalized to prevent bankruptcy in 2009 and its assets are being sold to pay off creditors.

Lawyers for both men say they are appealing the verdict and sentence.

A third man whom the court did not name also was found guilty and given a suspended prison term.


Bangladesh's High Court on Sunday confirmed the death penalty for two people tied to a banned Islamist militant group for the killing of an atheist blogger critical of radical Islam.

The court also upheld jail sentences for six others after appeals were filed challenging the verdicts handed down by a trial court in 2015.

Sunday's decision involves the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death in 2013. Haider had campaigned for banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

One of the defendants was Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, the leader of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and the rest were university students inspired by his sermons.

During the trial, the students said that Rahmani incited them to kill Haider in sermons in which he said all atheist bloggers should be killed to protect Islam.

The two North South University students who received the death sentences included Faisal bin Nayeem, who the court said hacked Haider with meat cleavers in front of his house in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Another was tried in absentia. The others received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Rahmani was sentenced to five years.



Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled it can take over the powers of congress in what opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro as well as foreign governments denounced as the latest step toward installing a dictatorship in this South American nation.

In a decision late Wednesday, the magistrates said that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past court rulings nullifying all legislation coming out of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the high court can step in and assume congressional duties itself.

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest while condemnations poured in from governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States called for an emergency meeting to deal with what he called a "self-inflicted coup d'etat" by Maduro against the congress. Some hard-line Venezuelan opposition members went on social media to appeal for the military to intervene, and a few protests broke out in the capital.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its call for immediate elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives," the U.S. statement said.

While past decisions by the government-stacked Supreme Court had stripped power from congress, Wednesday's move allows Maduro to rule by fiat, said Julio Borges, the assembly's president. He joined opposition leaders in calling for a new round of demonstrations beginning with a march Saturday, although recent attempts to apply street pressure on the government have failed to attract a large following.



South Korea's disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was being questioned Thursday by a court that will decide if she should be arrested over corruption allegations that have already toppled her from power.

Live TV footage earlier showed a stern-looking Park entering the Seoul Central District Court building amid a barrage of camera flashes. She did not comment to reporters. The court is expected to decide by Friday morning whether to approve her arrest.

If the court approves the arrest warrant requested by prosecutors, Park will be immediately sent to a detention facility as prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before laying formal charges.

If the court rejects the arrest request, prosecutors can still indict and charge her.

Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoings. The allegations prompted millions of South Koreans to stage streets protests every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled to dismiss her on March 10. Park's presidential powers had already been suspended after parliament impeached her in December.

It was a dramatic setback to Park, South Korea's first female president who rose to power four years ago amid conservatives' nostalgia for her late dictator father who is credited by supporters for pulling a war-torn country out of poverty in the 1960-70s. Liberal critics revile her father as a ruthless leader who tortured and imprisoned his opponents.

Earlier Thursday, hundreds of her supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, gathered near her Seoul home, waving national flags and chanting slogans when she left for the court.



Turkish protesters on Monday demanded the death penalty, abolished in Turkey more than a decade ago, for 18 alleged coup plotters on trial for the killing of a military officer who resisted an effort to overthrow the government.

The demonstrators jeered as security forces escorted the defendants into a courthouse in the Turkish capital, Ankara. The crowd also displayed an effigy of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric based in Pennsylvania who is blamed by Turkey for the failed coup attempt on July 15. The effigy had a noose around its neck. Gulen has denied involvement in the uprising.

Turkey abolished the death penalty as a campaign to join the European Union gained momentum, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said since the coup attempt that Turkey could hold a referendum on reinstating it if parliament fails to pass such a measure. European leaders say any talks on Turkey's bid to join the EU, which faltered years ago, would end if Ankara restores the death penalty.

Relations reached a new low this month because of Turkey's anger over the refusal of some European countries to let Turkish Cabinet ministers campaign for diaspora votes ahead of an April 16 constitutional referendum on increasing the powers of the Turkish president. Supporters of the measure say a more centralized leadership would help Turkey deal with security, economic and other challenges; critics say its approval would fit a pattern of increasingly authoritarian behavior by Erdogan.

The suspects who appeared in court in Ankara are accused of involvement in the shooting of Omer Halisdemir, an officer who was killed after he shot dead Semih Terzi, a renegade military commander who allegedly tried to take over the special forces headquarters in the capital during last year's uprising by some military units.

Suspect Ahmet Kara, who was Terzi's military aide, testified last month that he was duped into participating in the rogue operation without understanding that it was an attempt to overthrow the government. The defendants, whose trial began in February, face life imprisonment if convicted of murder and other crimes.


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