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Iran’s national football team prepares to face England in their opening World Cup match later – but do so as protests over the death of Mahsa Amini continue in cities across the country.

The unrest following the death of the 22-year-old woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police has grown into one of the biggest challenges to the ruling clerics for decades.

The crackdown on the protests has been violent, with at least 362 people killed including 56 children, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Since Miss Amini’s death, Iranian celebrities and sports stars have been among those voicing their support for the protests.

Earlier this month, a group of current and former Iranian sportspeople announced they had no choice but to turn on their own country and demand that Iran be withdrawn from the World Cup.

And defender Ehsan Hajsafi became the first member of Iran’s national team to speak out from the World Cup in Doha in apparent support of anti-government protests at home

“They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” the AEK Athens player told a news conference.

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“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy. We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

There have been nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. Protest in Iran's capital Tehran on Friday pictured.
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There have been nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini

Former wrestling world junior champion and national team coach Sardar Pashaei said: “We contacted FIFA and we said enough is enough.

“We believe that Iran is killing protesters.

“They should be banned until we have a democratic country like any other country in the world.”

Former karate champion Mahdi Jafargholizadeh, who says he was tortured by state authorities in 2004 before later escaping while in Germany, highlighted the main reason why he believes there has not been more worldwide attention on Iran.

“Football is the best way to share our voices,” he said.

“There is absolutely no internet connection between inside and outside of Iran, so how could people hear us?”

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‘Are you OK representing Iran?’

Read more:
UK sanctions Iran’s morality police following death of Mahsa Amini
Senior Iran official first to publicly criticise hijab crackdown

Sardar Azmoun, star forward for the Iranian national football team and among those named in the squad playing in Qatar, has spoken out despite pressure from the government.

“At worst I’ll be dismissed from the national team,” he posted on Instagram.

“No problem. I’d sacrifice that for one hair on the heads of Iranian women. This story will not be deleted. They can do whatever they want. Shame on you for killing so easily; long live Iranian women.”

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Secret footage smuggled out of Iran

Iranian football legend Ali Daei has also been vocal in his support for the protests.

The former player and manager posted on Instagram: “My homeland Iran means: my family, my father and mother, my daughters and fellow countrymen are my brothers and sisters, I will surely stay with them forever.

“Instead of repression, violence and arresting the Iranian people, solve their problems.”

Former Iranian team captain Ali Karimi has been speaking out to his 14 million Instagram followers.

He posted on the platform: “Hoping for the rebirth of our homeland Iran.”

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Strikes on energy mean Ukraine is facing its toughest 125-day wintertime in post-Soviet history, energy boss Maksym Timchenko says

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Strikes on energy mean Ukraine is facing its toughest 125-day wintertime in post-Soviet history, energy boss Maksym Timchenko says

This winter will be the toughest in Ukraine’s history as an independent state as Russia targets power and water supplies, worsening the impact of the war, an energy boss has said.

But Maksym Timchenko told Sky News that Moscow will fail to turn out the lights for too long with its missile strikes because of his country’s ability to repair the damage quickly.

The chief executive of DTEK, the largest private Ukrainian energy firm, predicted that people will endure the next 125 days of wintertime “as brave Ukrainians” despite the threat of new Russian attacks against the energy grid.

“We will survive and we will win,” he said.

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Maksym Timchenko, DTEK chief executive

Workers from DTEK as well as Ukrenergo, the national electricity company, have mobilised – at great personal risk – to repair power stations, substations and other parts of the network that have been targeted by Russian airstrikes since October in a new energy frontline.

“This has the same importance for Ukrainian victories as the military frontline,” Mr Timchenko said.

Four of his employees have so far been killed on duty since Russia launched its full-scale war in February. Three died in rocket strikes and the fourth was killed by a mine.

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“I’m so grateful to our people… who work in this industry,” he said. “These are real heroes and will stay in the history of Ukraine forever.”

With Russia thought already to have bombed more than a third of Ukraine’s energy system, the boss of DTEK predicted the coming months would be the harshest since at least 1991 when Ukraine gained its independence from the then Soviet Union.

“I can say with full confidence [it] will be the most difficult winter because we have never seen such destruction, such behaviour of our enemy, and we never lived under such conditions – constant rocket attacks and destruction and damage and explosions,” he said.

Equally, “I have full confidence that we will cope”.

Electricity & Drones
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Engineers are working constantly to repair Ukraine’s power network

READ MORE: Ukraine war latest – Putin spy chief meets CIA over nuclear threat

Mr Timchenko said all six of his company’s thermal power stations had been hit, some of them several times, but they were all back up and running.

“In this fight, you learn a lot: how to restore power supply; how to restore the system; what creative technical solutions can be found so that we bring back our power stations,” he said.

“I have a strong belief that there is no chance that a complete blackout can continue for a long time so that people cannot live.”

But he appealed to the international community for more electrical transformers to assist with efforts to reconnect the grid. “Today, equipment is more important than money for us.”

Electricity & Drones
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Vasyl Timoshchuk is one of the electrical engineers risking his life to repair Ukraine’s infrastructure

A major attack on 23 November knocked power out across much of the country for tens of millions of people. Even many homes in the capital Kyiv were without electricity and water for at least 48 hours – the worst impact of Russia’s new tactic so far.

Read more: Striking satellite image reveals extent of Ukraine’s power shortage after Russian missile strikes

However, Mr Timchenko said despite the damage, it had been possible to retrieve power supplies. “Now we start this countdown of the winter season – 125 days – and trust me, we will get through these 125 days as brave Ukrainians,” he said.

In one home on the outskirts of Kyiv, a couple in their 70s said they would never give up no matter how long they must go without electricity and running water.

Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov
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Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov

Liubov Sudakova and Volodymyr Sudakov are lucky because they have a log stove that keeps the house warm when the power is out. They have also stocked up on food – potatoes and other vegetables – grown in their garden.

“We just need the bombs to stop falling,” said Liubov. “When bombs were flying in the summer… I was in my garden and heard this ‘woosh’ and later boom. So that was scary.”

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Pele: Brazil football legend back in hospital as he fights cancer

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Pele: Brazil football legend back in hospital as he fights cancer

Brazilian football legend Pele is back in hospital, according to his daughter.

But in an Instagram post, Kely Nascimento also said there was “no emergency”, as he continues to fight colon cancer.

She said he had been admitted so that doctors could regulate his medication.

She wrote: “Lots of alarm in the media today concerning my dad’s health. He is in the hospital regulating medication.

“There is no emergency or new dire prediction. I will be there for New Years and promise to post some pictures.”

Pele's daughter said her father was 'recovering well and within normal range'. Pic: Instagram/Kely Nascimento
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Pele and his daughter in September 2021. Pic: Instagram/Kely Nascimento

The football star had a tumour removed from his colon in September 2021 and has since been in and out of hospital for treatment on a regular basis.

ESPN is reporting the 82-year-old had been admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo with “general swelling” and was having cardiac issues.

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And medics were concerned that chemotherapy treatment was not having the expected results.

Pele is to have further tests for a more in-depth assessment of his health issues, it added.

His manager and the hospital did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pele is arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

He burst on to the global scene as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup, helping Brazil to the first of their record five successes.

Pele celebrates after scoring at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Pic: Reuters/Action Images/Sporting Pictures
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Pele celebrates after scoring at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Pic: Reuters/Action Images/Sporting Pictures

Injury affected Pele’s contribution to the 1962 and 1966 finals, but he led Brazil to a third triumph, this time in Mexico in 1970 as part of what is widely regarded as the greatest international team of all time.

Brazil‘s leading scorer, with 77 goals in 92 matches for his country, he embodied the idea of football as “the beautiful game”, one played with skill, speed and imagination.

There is much dispute over the number of goals overall he scored during his career, which Guinness World Records puts at 1,279.

However, critics believe that figure is too high, boosted by hundreds scored in friendlies and practice matches.

Including those, he scored at almost a goal a game throughout his 22-year career.

Others put his total at 757 goals, although his main club, Santos, says his tally was closer to 1,000.

In 2013, he was awarded the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur (award of honour) in recognition of his career and achievements.

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Man arrested over mass drowning of migrants in English Channel fighting extradition to France

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Man arrested over mass drowning of migrants in English Channel fighting extradition to France

An alleged ringleader of a people smuggling gang, accused of sending more than 30 migrants to their deaths in the English Channel, is fighting extradition to France.

Harem Abwbaker, a UK asylum seeker, is said to have charged the migrants $3,200 (£2,680) each for the trip in November last year.

Appearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the 32-year-old was accused of putting them in a badly-designed boat with inadequate navigation or life-saving equipment.

When the boat deflated and sank in darkness two hours after leaving France – and all but two on board drowned – he allegedly offered their relatives money to keep quiet.

French authorities outline allegations

Two migrants survived and identified Abwbaker as the ‘right-hand man’ of the gang’s leader, according to an extradition warrant issued by the French authorities.

The document also claims he personally helped the migrants on to the boat and electronic data showed his mobile phone was at the launch site on the French coast.

The warrant states the migrants were powerless to respond to an emergency, and “had no chance of facing any event at sea,” Prosecutor Michael McHardy told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker. Pic: National Crime Agency
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Harem Abwbaker was arrested in Cheltenham. Pic: National Crime Agency

Suspect wants to prove ‘innocence’

Abwbaker, a Kurd, was arrested in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday morning. In court he gave his address as the town’s Ramada Hotel.

He sat in the dock in jeans and a grey sweatshirt, scratching his beard during the 30-minute hearing.

Asked if he agreed to be extradited, he said through an interpreter: “If I return now, how can I come back once I’ve proved my innocence? What you’re talking about is my life and my freedom.”

Judge Paul Goldspring said: “It’s clear he’s not consenting.”

Read more:
French government will investigate worst-ever Channel migrant disaster

It’s previously been reported that 27 bodies were recovered the day after the boat sank and four migrants were still missing.

According to the extradition warrant, the French Navy recovered 25 bodies.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
Image:
The remains of the boat which capsized in the English Channel in November 2021

Abwbaker did not ask for bail and was remanded in custody ahead of an extradition hearing in April. He will appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on 29 December.

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