They come on foot, bicycles, cars and even electric scooters.
They bring what they can which isn’t much, dragging their suitcases behind them. Some have dogs and others cat boxes. They are exhausted after a journey that has taken days, but all seem hugely relieved to have left Putin’s Russia.
One couple laughed with relief. “Very tired, but happy,” said Katy. The relief seemed almost to overwhelm her.
We are on Georgia’s border crossing with Russia. It straddles a pass high in the Caucasus. A steady stream of Russians are coming through. They tell stories of chaos on the other side.
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Vitaly and Maria have four children. They left home four days ago. The last two they had spent walking and queuing with thousands of others crammed into the narrow gorge on the Russian side. They also had to bribe guards to have any chance of getting through.
Those waiting to cross face an anxious ordeal. The temperature at this altitude is either very cold, in the shade or roasting hot in the sun. One couple told us of moments of panic as rumours swept through the crowds that authorities would soon close the border – or were sending the military to find men of mobilisation age and pack them off to the front.
Some are too scared to talk even outside of Russia, fearful of retribution against their families left behind. Others seize the opportunity to speak their mind, almost shaking with anger as they do.
“Putin is a murderer,” Vitaly told me with a smouldering fury.
They had told the children they were going to the seaside he said. They couldn’t risk telling them the truth in case they passed it on to strangers. They won’t be going back until there is a change of government and a new president.
“My boy is 17 next year,” he said, pointing to his eldest. “He will be taken to the army. The war is not going to end tomorrow. If he goes, what, did I raise him for Putin?”
They had left everything behind apart from what is in their suitcases. They even abandoned their car on the border. They had no plans beyond catching a taxi to Tbilisi, but even a future that uncertain, they said, was preferable to life under Putin.
Putin’s mobilisation decree has prompted a massive increase in the numbers of people leaving.
We met only one man who had actually received call-up papers. ‘Nick’ is now on the run from authorities who want to send him to Ukraine to fight.
His government “wants to make meat from me” he told us. He was a scientist and an engineer and has so much more than that he said to give to his country.
We have met IT specialists, managers and even a nuclear physicist. They have all given up their jobs and walked out of Russia.
Russia is haemorrhaging its brightest and best. It is a huge tragedy for the country that it will take years to recover from.
But it may also be exactly what the regime wants as it plots its future. The young and the savvy who have the best chance to see beyond the state’s lies and propaganda and what is really going on in their country.
One official has said as much – Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s election commission.
“Let the rats who are running run,” she is quoted as saying. “The ship will be ours. It’s gaining strength and clearly moving towards its target.”
As an observer on Twitter noted, she seems gloriously unaware of the reason rats flee ships.
A mass exodus is under way. In less than a week, the number of Russians fleeing has doubled. Before Putin’s mobilisation announcement 300,000 had left – but in the week since at least that number have left.
They are fleeing into Mongolia, Finland, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Many are the younger ones, better educated and best qualified because they are of fighting age and do not want to be called up to fight.
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Vladimir Putin has succeeded in mobilising an army of Russians, mustering on the borders, not to fight but to flee.
The reservists that authorities do successfully corral into the army will likely be reluctant and demoralised. There have been multiple protests against the draft by young Russian men who do not want to fight.
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On Russian state TV, pundits openly urged the government to round up artists, street musicians, the mentally disabled and ethnic minorities and send them to war. Even by their own bigoted standards it was a startling exchange between state-funded propagandists.
Putin is looking increasingly unlikely to win this war, and the addition of hastily trained, poorly motivated men, even in their hundreds of thousands is not likely to change that.
But he is prepared it seems to send many more to the front. Between 40,000 and 80,000 have been killed or injured in this war already. Many more will follow.
At least 35 people killed after falling into well during celebration at Indian temple
At least 35 people have died after the roof of a stepwell collapsed, plunging scores of people tens of feet down into the well.
The army was called in last night to help with rescue operations that have gone on for over 18 hours.
The incident took place at the Baleshwar Mahadev temple in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
Devotees had thronged the temple on Ram Navami, one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar which celebrates the birth of Lord Rama.
Dr Ilayaraja, the District Collector of Indore, said “a total of 35 people died, one missing and 14 people have been rescued. Two people returned home safely after getting treatment. The search operation to trace persons reported missing is underway.”
A fire ritual (Havan) was being conducted on the concrete slab covering the stepwell where the devotees had gathered. The platform could not take the weight of the many on it and gave way.
Mahesh Chandra Jain, of the state Disaster Emergency and Response Force, said the army joined the rescue operation late on Thursday.
“Seventy army soldiers started the rescue and recovered at least 16 bodies buried under the debris of the roof in the stepwell.”
The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), police and locals have been engaged in rescue operations. Unable to reach some areas of the well, the authorities requested for military help.
Mr Jain said: “We were facing difficulty in rescue operation because water is continuously coming out of the stepwell.”
In a tweet Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Extremely pained by the mishap in Indore.
“Spoke to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and took an update on the situation. The State Government is spearheading rescue and relief work at a quick pace. My prayers are with all those affected and their families.”
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. “I have given instructions to investigate the incident. In this unfortunate incident, the government stands with all those families with full sensitivity, whom we could not save.”
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The temple head priest Laxminarayan Sharma, who was rescued, said that due to construction in the temple the fire ritual was conducted on the stepwell platform.
“The roof was constructed without any concrete and was supported by putting stone slabs and concrete by fitting iron rods”, he added.
Images from the site showed many people including women and children trapped in a mesh of iron rods and concrete debris.
There are reports that residents of the area had made prior complaints to the municipal corporation regarding the safety of the temple.
The families of those killed have demanded action against the temple trust.
UK to join Indo-Pacific trade bloc in biggest trade deal since Brexit
The UK is set to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – known as CPTPP – in what the government says is its biggest trade deal since Brexit.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific – namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The partnership sees the countries open up their markets to one another, reducing trade barriers and tariffs, with the hope of bolstering the economies of its members.
When it joins, the UK will become the first European country to enter the agreement, and the government claims it will lead to a £1.8bn boost to the economy “in the long run”.
The deal has been praised by a number of business groups, including the CBI, Standard Chartered and Pernod Ricard.
But other trade experts have warned it will not make up for the economic hit caused by leaving the trade bloc of the European Union.
Zero tariffs for cheese, cars, chocolate and gin
The UK began negotiations to join the bloc in September 2021 when Boris Johnson was in Downing Street.
The signatory countries of the CPTPP are home to 500 million people and the government claims after the UK joins, it will be worth 15% of global GDP.
Number 10 said as a result of becoming a member, more than 99% of goods exported from the UK to the list of countries would be eligible for zero tariffs, including cheese, cars, chocolate, machinery, gin and whisky.
And it said the services industry would benefit too, with “reduced red tape and greater access to growing Pacific markets”.
Commenting on the announcement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the agreement “puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies”.
He added: “We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms.
“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”
The final administrative and legal steps will now take place, before the UK formally signs up in 2023.
‘EU should be priority’
The announcement was welcomed by the interim director general of business group the CBI, Matthew Fell, who called it “a real milestone for the UK and for British industry”.
He added: “Not only does the agreement provide greater access to a group of fast growth economies representing 14% of global GDP and over 500 million consumers, but membership reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world.
“CPTPP countries and business need to work together to future-proof the rules-based trading system and stimulate growth with a focus on digital, services and resilient supply chains.”
However, while the Institute of Directors it was “vital the UK signs trade deals to restore our international reputation since Brexit”, it said “complete reorientation” to the Indo-Pacific would not solve “the very real problem that businesses currently face – namely that they have many more trade related challenges than they did six years ago”.
They added: “From our surveys, directors have told us that the EU-UK relationship is a priority issue the government needs to address in order to support business.
“UK companies still rely on the long established links they have with EU markets, which are directly on our doorstep and with whom they have closer historical ties.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy will open up important opportunities for UK businesses, but the government must not forfeit the significance of our relationship with the EU in order to do so.”
Donald Trump faces criminal charges over alleged hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels
Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges arising from an alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress.
A grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump over possible offences related to a $130,000 (£105,000) payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
It was allegedly made in exchange for Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
He is the first former US president to face criminal charges in court, even as he makes a bid to retake the White House in 2024.
Trump, a Republican, said he was “completely innocent” and called the indictment “political persecution”, with his lawyers saying they will “vigorously fight” it.
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The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation centred on accusations of money paid to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whom Trump allegedly feared would go public with claims they had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
Trump, 76, has denied having affairs with either woman.
His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he co-ordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, and also to McDougal.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 related to the payments and served more than a year in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Cohen acted at Trump’s direction.
Trump said: “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable – indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant election interference.”
“Never before in our nation’s history has this been done.”
He added: “I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden.”
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Trump was expected to surrender to authorities next week.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation by district attorney Alvin Bragg.
His office has spent nearly five years investigating Trump and the grand jury has been hearing its evidence since January.
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On Twitter, one of Trump’s sons, Eric, wrote: “This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”
Amid speculation in recent weeks that the former American leader was due to be indicted, Trump urged his supporters to protest against the authorities if he was detained.
He published a long statement describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said, before criticising a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.
Other ongoing cases Trump faces include a Georgia election interference probe and two federal investigations into his role in the 6 January 2001 insurrection at the US Capitol.
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