Opera legend Placido Domingo was greeted with a standing ovation in Salzburg, Austria, at his first appearance on stage since nine women accused him of sexual harassment dating back three decades.
Even before he sang a single note, Domingo was greeted with a thunderous applause that grew to a crescendo until most of the house was on its feet.
“Wonderful public, good performance all,” the Spanish-born singer said as he signed autographs after the performance of Verdi’s tragic opera Luisa Miller. “I mean, so much love from the public.”
The Associated Press reported last week that nine women accused Domingo of using his position as general director at the Los Angeles Opera and elsewhere to try to pressure them into sexual relationships. Several of the woman said he offered them jobs and then punished them professionally if they refused his advances. Allegations included repeated phone calls, invitations to hotel rooms and his apartment, and unwanted touching and kisses.
In a statement to the AP, Domingo called the allegations “deeply troubling and, as presented inaccurate” and that he believed his interactions with the women were consensual.
Two U.S. opera houses, in Philadelphia and San Francisco cancelled performances by Domingo after the allegations surfaced, while others, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, took a wait-and-see attitude pending an investigation.
As of Sunday, Domingo was still booked to star in Macbeth at the Met in New York next month.
Hong Kong police drew their guns and fired a warning shot Sunday night after protesters attacked officers with sticks and rods, and brought out water cannon trucks for the first time, an escalation in the summerlong protests that have shaken the city’s government and residents.
The day’s main showdown took place on a major drag in the outlying Tsuen Wan district following a protest march that ended in a nearby park. While a large crowd rallied in the park, a group of hard-line protesters took over a main street, strewing bamboo poles on the pavement and lining up orange and white traffic barriers and cones to obstruct police.
After hoisting warning flags, police used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd. Protesters responded by throwing bricks and gasoline bombs toward the police. The result was a surreal scene of small fires and scattered paving bricks on the street between the two sides, rising clouds of tear gas and green and blue laser lights pointed by the protesters at the police.
The protesters eventually decided to abandon their position. Two water cannon trucks and a phalanx of police vehicles with flashing lights joined riot police on foot as they advanced up the street. They met little resistance. Television footage showed a water cannon being fired once, but perhaps more as a test, as it didn’t appear to reach the retreating protesters.
Officers pulled their guns after a group of remaining protesters chased them down a street with sticks and rods, calling them “gangsters.” The officers held up their shields to defend themselves as they retreated. Police said that one officer fell to the ground and six drew their pistols after they were surrounded, with one firing the warning shot.
Some protesters said they’re resorting to violence because the government has not responded to their peaceful demonstrations.
“The escalation you’re seeing now is just a product of our government’s indifference toward the people of Hong Kong,” said Rory Wong, who was at the showdown after the march.
One neighborhood resident, Dong Wong, complained about the tear gas.
“I live on the 15th floor and I can even smell it at home,” he said. “I have four dogs, sneezing, sneezing all day. … The protesters didn’t do anything, they just blocked the road to protect themselves.”
Police said they arrested 36 people, including a 12-year-old, for offenses such as unlawful assembly, possession of an offensive weapon and assaulting police officers.
Earlier Sunday, tens of thousands of umbrella-carrying protesters marched in the rain. Many filled Tsuen Wan Park, the endpoint of the rally, chanting, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
The march in Hong Kong’s New Territories started near the Kwai Fong train station, which has become a focal point for protesters after police used tear gas there earlier this month. Police with riot gear could be seen moving into position along the march route.
Protesters have taken to the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s streets for more than two months. Their demands include democratic elections and an investigation into police use of force to quell the protests.
A large group clashed with police on Saturday after a march in the Kowloon Bay neighborhood, building barricades and setting fires in the streets. Police said they arrested 29 people for various offenses, including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assaulting police officers.
The clashes, while not as prolonged or violent as some earlier ones, ended a brief lull in the violence. The protests, which began in early June, had turned largely peaceful the previous weekend, after weeks of escalating violence.
In nearby Macao, another Chinese territory, a pro-Beijing committee chose a businessman as the gambling hub’s next leader with little of the controversy surrounding the government in Hong Kong.
Ho Iat-seng, running unopposed, will succeed current leader Chui Sai-on in December. Asked about the protests in Hong Kong, the 62-year-old Ho said they would end eventually, like a major typhoon.
Protesters in Hong Kong have demanded that the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, also chosen by a pro-Beijing committee, step down, though that demand has evolved into a broader call for fully democratic elections.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees rallied to mark the second anniversary of their exodus out of Myanmar.
Almost 200,000 Rohingya participated in a peaceful gathering, which was attended by UN officials, at the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Sunday.
More than a million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state now live in southern Bangladesh in the world’s largest refugee settlement. The majority having fled military-led violence in 2017 that the United Nations says was executed with “genocidal intent”.
Refugees say Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist civilians carried out mass killings and gang rapes during weeks of “clearance operations”. Myanmar has denied the charges, saying only that the military was conducting legitimate operations against Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts.
The rally was held days after Bangladesh, with the help of the U.N. refugee agency, attempted to begin the repatriation of some 3,000 Rohingyas. But none of the refugees agreed to return to Myanmar without being granted a citizenship and guaranteed basic rights.
The UNHCR said that building confidence was essential for repatriation.
For centuries, Myanmar has refused to recognize the Rohingya as legitimate residents of the country. They were denied citizenship and subjected to tight restrictions on freedom of movement.
A U.N investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown but Myanmar rejected the allegations.
Last week, another U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar released a new report concluding that rapes of Rohingya women by the state security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide.
Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry.
President Jair Bolsonaro also tried to temper global concern, saying that previously deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared. Even so, the fires were likely to be urgently discussed at a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in France this weekend.
Some 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.
The military’s first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of water on fires, he said.
An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility. On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland, as well as a large column of smoke billowing from one fire.
The municipality of Nova Santa Helena in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state was also hard-hit. Trucks were seen driving along a highway Friday as fires blazed and embers smoldered in adjacent fields.
The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.
Azevedo, the defense minister, noted U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer in a tweet to help Brazil fight the fires, and said there had been no further contact on the matter.
Despite international concern, Bolsonaro told reporters on Saturday that the situation was returning to normal. He said he was “speaking to everyone” about the problem, including Trump, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and several Latin American leaders.
Bolsonaro had described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.
The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity. Protesters gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in European and Latin American cities Friday, and demonstrators also marched in Brazil.
“The planet’s lungs are on fire. Let’s save them!” read a sign at a protest outside Brazil’s embassy in Mexico City.
The dispute spilled into the economic arena when French leader Emmanuel Macron threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Brazil and several other South American countries.
“First we need to help Brazil and other countries put out these fires,” Macron said Saturday.
The goal is to “preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs,” he said.
In a weekly video message released Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Group of Seven leaders “cannot be silent” and should discuss how to help extinguish the fires.
Bolivia has also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields. A U.S.-based aircraft, the B747-400 SuperTanker, is flying over devastated areas in Bolivia to help put out the blazes and protect forests.
On Saturday, several helicopters along with police, military troops, firefighters and volunteers on the ground worked to extinguish fires in Bolivia’s Chiquitanía region, where the woods are dry at this time of year.
Farmers commonly set fires in this season to clear land for crops or livestock, but sometimes the blazes get out of control. The Bolivian government says 9,530 square kilometers (3680 square miles) have been burned this year.
The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales has backed the increased cultivation of crops for biofuel production, raising questions about whether the policy opened the way to increased burning.
Similarly, Bolsonaro had said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether lax enforcement of environmental regulations may have contributed to the surge in the number of fires.
Brazil’s justice ministry also said federal police will deploy in fire zones to assist other state agencies and combat “illegal deforestation.”
Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.
More than half of those fires occurred in the Amazon region.
President Donald Trump is threatening to use the emergency authority granted by a powerful but obscure federal law to make good on his tweeted “order” to U.S. businesses to cut ties in China amid a spiraling trade war between the two nations.
China’s announcement Friday that it was raising tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. imports sent Trump into a rage and White House aides scrambling for a response.
Trump fired off on Twitter, declaring American companies “are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” He later clarified that he was threatening to make use of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in the trade war, raising questions about the wisdom and propriety of making the 1977 act used to target rogue regimes, terrorists and drug traffickers the newest weapon in the clash between the world’s largest economies.
It would mark the latest grasp of authority by Trump, who has claimed widespread powers not sought by his predecessors despite his own past criticism of their use of executive powers.
“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Trump tweeted late Friday. “Case closed!”
For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Case closed!
The act gives presidents wide berth in regulating international commerce during times of declared national emergencies. Trump threatened to use those powers earlier this year to place tariffs on imports from Mexico in a bid to force the U.S. neighbor to do more to address illegal crossings at their shared border.
It was not immediately clear how Trump could use the act to force American businesses to move their manufacturing out of China and to the U.S, and Trump’s threat appeared premature — as he has not declared an emergency with respect to China.
Even without the emergency threat, Trump’s retaliatory action Friday — further raising tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. — had already sparked widespread outrage from the business community.
“It’s impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said in a statement.
The Consumer Technology Association called the escalating tariffs “the worst economic mistake since the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 — a decision that catapulted our country into the Great Depression.”
And trade association CompTIA stressed the logistical strain that would follow if companies were forced to shift operations out of China, saying it would take months for most companies.
“Any forced immediate action would result in chaos,” CEO Todd Thibodeaux said in emailed comments.
The frequent tariff fluctuations are making it hard to plan and are casting uncertainty on some investments, said Peter Bragdon, executive vice president and chief administration officer of Columbia Sportswear.
“There’s no way for anyone to plan around chaos and incoherence,” he said.
Columbia manufactures in more than 20 countries, including China. This diversification helps shield the company from some fluctuations, but China is an important base for serving Chinese customers as well as those in other countries, Bragdon said. The company plans to continue doing business there.
“We follow the rule of law, not the rule of Twitter,” he said.
Presidents have often used the act to impose economic sanctions to further U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. Initially, the targets were foreign states or their governments, but over the years the act has been increasingly used to punish individuals, groups and non-state actors, such as terrorists.
Some of the sanctions have affected U.S. businesses by prohibiting Americans from doing business with those targeted. The act also was used to block new investment in Burma in 1997.
Congress has never attempted to end a national emergency invoking the law, which would require a joint resolution. Congressional lawmakers did vote earlier this year to disapprove of Trump’s declared emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, only to see Trump veto the resolution.
China’s Commerce Ministry issued a statement Saturday condemning Trump’s threat, saying, “This kind of unilateral, bullying trade protectionism and maximum pressure go against the consensus reached by the two countries’ heads of state, violate the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and seriously damage the multilateral trading system and normal international trade order.”
Thousands of angry and frustrated Rohingya refugees marked the second anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh on Sunday by demanding their citizenship and other rights in the country they fled from.
The event came days after Bangladesh with the help of the U.N. refugee agency attempted to start the repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya Muslims but none agreed to go back voluntarily. Myanmar had scheduled Aug. 22 for the beginning of the process but it failed for a second time after the first attempt last November.
The repatriation deal is based on an understanding that the return has to be “safe, dignified and voluntary.” The refugees also insisted on receiving Myanmar citizenship and other rights, which the Buddhist-majority nation has refused to grant so far.
More than 1 million Rohingya live in Bangladesh.
On Sunday morning, more than 3,000 gathered at a playground in Kutupalong camp. Some carried placards and banners reading “Never Again! Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day,” and “Restore our citizenship.”
A prayer session was scheduled for the victims of the killings, rape and arson attacks by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist militias. Security was tight in the camps despite the Rohingya groups’ pledge that they would protest peacefully.
Muhib Ullah, one of the organizers, said they planned a massive rally later Sunday when tens of thousands of refugees are expected to join.
“We want to tell the world that we want our rights back, we want citizenship, we want our homes and land back,” he said. “Myanmar is our country. We are Rohingya.”
Myanmar has consistently denied human rights violations and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most of the Rohingya fled from, were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
A U.N.-established investigation last year recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya. Myanmar dismissed the allegations.
On Thursday, the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a new report concluding rapes of Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide. The report said the discrimination Myanmar practiced against the Rohingya in peacetime aggravated the sexual violence toward them during times of conflict.
Fortify Rights, a human rights group that has documented abuses in Myanmar, called on the Myanmar government on Saturday to implement recommendations from the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was appointed by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The commission recommended that the government end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohinya Muslims, ensure full humanitarian access, tackle Rohingya statelessness and “revisit” the 1982 Citizenship Law and punish perpetrators of abuses.
“Rather than deal with ongoing atrocities, the government tried to hide behind the Advisory Commission,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “The commission responded with concrete recommendations to end violations, and the government should act on them without delay. The government needs to urgently address the realities on the ground.”
This is the second story in a series on how the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols are being carried out in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Read the first story here.
VOA News Center Immigration Reporter Ramon Taylor, and VOA Spanish Service reporters Jorge Agobian and Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.
Like border cities everywhere, Nuevo Laredo is a portal. People and merchandise cross the five road and rail bridges between the U.S. and Mexico every day, in both directions, for work, school, business meetings, shopping, family visits, doctor appointments – the quotidian building blocks of life along the Rio Grande.
Pay 25 cents and you can walk right across Puente #1, as it’s known colloquially, in a few minutes if you’re in a rush and there’s no line at the immigration agent desks.
Formally the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge, it links Laredo’s historic city center neighborhood of San Agustin, to the commercial strip of shops, pharmacies and low-key lunchtime restaurants on Nuevo Laredo’s Avenida Guerrero.
It’s at the end of this bridge, when entering Mexico from the U.S., in the parking lot built for buses and trucks at the Mexican immigration agency’s customs office, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have dropped off migrants and asylum-seekers sent back to Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) policy to wait for their immigration court dates.
“In Nuevo Laredo, we’re used to seeing a lot of migrants (traveling through), historically,” said Raul Cárdenas Thomae, secretary of the Nuevo Laredo city council. “But in the last few months, the number of people crossing into the U.S. has definitely increased.”
Register in Mexico
At first, asylum-seekers would register with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, which in turn would share lists of the asylum-seekers with the U.S. government, Cárdenas Thomae said. The list would allow the asylum-seekers to schedule an initial hearing with a U.S. immigration judge.
Beginning on July 9, however, Nuevo Laredo began receiving people from the other direction under the Trump administration’s new policy. Since then, more than 3,000 asylum-seekers who had crossed into the U.S. and are awaiting immigration court dates have been returned to Mexico under the MPP policy.
Moreover, migrants aren’t the only — or even the main — issue for local government for this city of about 400,000.
Nuevo Laredo maintains a prickly balance among massive amounts of transnational business, politics, migration and organized crime, and it’s long been a base for the Los Zetas cartel, whose activities are deeply entrenched in the city’s fabric.
Nuevo Laredo Mayor Enrique Rivas Cuéllar said every city has its dangers, its risks. But the city is not the one that is pushing migrants to leave, he insists.
“We obviously can’t force anyone not to be in the city of Nuevo Laredo, but what we can be strict about is that the laws are followed; that there is an order that doesn’t disrupt the rights of others,” he told VOA.
Officials didn’t know how many people to expect. At one point, local officials understood they might receive as many as 15,000 returnees, Cardenas Thomae said. Moreover, they don’t know how long people will stay — or even if they will stay.
Buses to Monterrey
The Mexican government at first provided buses from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey, a 270-kilometer (168-mile) journey that takes about three hours to drive. The buses were an option for migrants; no one was forced on board.
Beginning earlier this month, though, the buses that showed up at the bridge drop-off site were bound for Chiapas, the Mexican state bordering Guatemala, which in turn, borders Honduras and El Salvador.
The Homeland Security Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to multiple VOA requests for comment on Mexico’s busing plan and concerns over how people would be able to return for their U.S. court dates.
Calling the busing plan “voluntary,” said Maureen Meyer, director of Mexico programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a Washington-based human rights organization, “seems hard to justify when the people aren’t even very clear on what they’re going into.”
Meyer traveled to Chiapas this month to see the buses from Nuevo Laredo arrive, after a more than 30-hour trip. Mexican immigration agents at the border with Guatemala seemed confused about what they should advise the busloads of people, she told VOA.
The arrival also raised issues for the migrants themselves, each theoretically with a U.S. court date in the coming months. Being closer to home could mean a place to shower and regroup, or pick up more paperwork for their cases. However, they often don’t understand that even a brief return home could weaken their asylum cases, Meyer said.
Behind the scenes, CBP officials, journalists, shelter directors, politicians, and immigration lawyers are asking questions about how MPP functions. Unlike CBP and DHS officials, though, Nuevo Laredo municipality officials were willing to not only talk, but sit down for interviews on camera and address MPP.
The migrants themselves don’t have access to these discussions, though, or to people whom they could ask questions. They have some paperwork that in some cases they don’t understand, or don’t trust, such as a list of free or low-cost lawyers from CBP. The migrants have often thrown away their cellphones before crossing the river and haven’t seen the news in weeks or months.
Immigration attorneys acknowledge that even if the migrants could get cellphone service in Mexico, and can pay for phone credit, there’s a good chance they couldn’t get a lawyer. Border attorneys are stretched thin, and the length of some asylum cases — which can take years — makes it difficult for outside lawyers to connect with potential clients.
US Border Patrol
The long wait may push people to reattempt a stealth border crossing, possibly in a more dangerously remote area.
“I envision a time where everybody… (is) going to try and traverse and evade apprehension and become part of this smuggling effort that happens on this side of the border, as opposed to just on the Mexican side of the border,” Del Rio Sector U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said.
Meanwhile, the migrants and asylum-seekers are still arriving to Nuevo Laredo, and still deciding how and where to wait out the months until their first hearing.
Lilian, a Honduran woman traveling with her 9-year-old son, said the group dropped off at Puente #1 on August 8 was told if they didn’t get on the buses to Chiapas, they would be put out on the street.
She and her son, along with a woman and her children in the CBP facility, did not get on the bus, but headed to another Mexican city.
“What I don’t want is to go back to Honduras. … If we go to Chiapas, how much is it going to cost me to come back? I don’t have that kind of money,” said Lilian, who was given a November court date.
Hong Kong is experiencing another Saturday of protests, as the rallies enter their third month.
Police clashed with demonstrators and used tear gas to disperse the crowd outside a police station Saturday.
Protesters also cut down a “smart lamppost” because they feared it was being used for surveillance by Chinese authorities.
Hong Kong’s government said, however, that the lamppost only collected data on traffic, weather and air quality.
Protesters have called for an attempt Saturday to blockade routes to the city’s airport, which could disrupt the complex if large numbers turn out.
Last week, Hong Kong’s airport was forced to close when protesters occupied terminals. China called the behavior “near-terrorist acts” and some protesters later issued an apology.
Hong Kong police said Friday said the city’s high court extended an order restricting protests at the airport.
“Any person who unlawfully or willfully obstructs or interferes with the normal operation of the airport” is liable to face criminal charges, said Foo Yat-ting, the senior superintendent of Hong Kong Police Force’s Kowloon East Region.
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority also published a half-page notice in newspapers urging people to “love Hong Kong” and not to block the airport.
On Friday, thousands of Hong Kong protesters joined hands to form human chains in a peaceful protest, recreating a “Baltic Chain” that pro-democracy demonstrators used against the Soviet Union three decades ago.
Demonstrators linked hands or held their lighted phones above their heads, creating a line of lights against the night sky.
The “Baltic Chain” or “Baltic Way” was one of the largest anti-Soviet demonstrations, with more than one million people linking hands over 600 kilometers on August 23, 1989.
Saturday’s demonstration in Hong Kong is the latest in a weeks-long movement that began with calls to stop an extradition bill, which has now been scrapped, and has expanded to include demands for full democracy.
Also Saturday, the news emerged that China has released from custody an employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong.
Protesters had called for Simon Cheng’s release.
Cheng was allegedly arrested by Chinese police on the night of August 8 while traveling back to Hong Kong from a business trip. His whereabouts remained unknown for some time. China confirmed Wednesday that Cheng had been held for a 15-day administrative detention became of allegations of violating local laws.
He was arrested in Shenzhen, the mainland city neighboring Hong Kong.
Over Russian 100 medical workers who helped treat victims of a recent mysterious explosion at a military testing range have undergone checks and one man has been found with a trace of radiation, officials said Friday.
The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers and injured six. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but authorities insisted it didn’t pose any danger.
The Arkhangelsk regional administration said Friday that 110 medical workers have undergone checks, and that one man was found with a low amount of radioactive cesium-137 in his muscle tissue. It said the man’s health isn’t in danger and argued that he could have got the radioactive isotope with food.
The statement followed Russian media reports claiming that dozens of medical workers were exposed to radiation.
The reports claimed that medical teams at the Arkhangelsk city hospital hadn’t been warned that they would treat people exposed to radiation and lacked elementary protective gear. They said that Russia’s security agency forced the medical workers to sign non-disclosure papers.
The workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing official reprisals, said many doctors and nurses felt angry about the authorities putting their lives at risk by concealing the vital information.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov shrugged off the reports, questioning the veracity of anonymous sources. He also alleged that certain forces that he didn’t name could be interested in making false allegations about radioactive threats.
Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a spike in radiation and advised people to stay indoors and close windows. Terrified residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.
Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 briefly reached 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood — about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts for a couple of hours before returning to normal.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion. Observers saw that as part of an effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help determine the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.
President Vladimir Putin has hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing. Some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, said the explosion occurred during tests of Russia’s prospective Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile that was code-named “Skyfall” by NATO.