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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Alexey Navalny thought he'd be in jail by now.

Russia’s presidential election is Sunday and the opposition leader, along with many other observers, expected he'd spend it behind bars.

But the Kremlin’s most troublesome opponent, known for his investigations exposing officials’ alleged corrupt wealth and who is backed by a grassroots movement he has brought onto the streets against President Vladimir Putin in unusually large numbers in the past year, will likely be free -- and apparently out of the way when Russian voters go to the polls.

In February, he was charged—- as often happens —- for holding an unauthorized protest. Surprisingly, though, he was not immediately given the standard 30-day sentence, leaving him free but uncertain about when he may be jailed again.

Not that being locked up would be new for Navalny, who says he has spent 60 days incarcerated in the past year. A volunteer at his headquarters checks the websites of Moscow’s courts every day to make sure authorities have not scheduled a surprise hearing.

“It’s useless to analyze it,” Navalny said in an interview with ABC News at the Moscow office of his organization, the Anti-Corruption Fund. “Everyone thought I was going to be arrested last week, but I was not. No one understands why. Maybe I will be arrested tomorrow. Maybe the police will be waiting for me after this interview.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Navalny had not been arrested again.

Navalny may be a free man, but he has been removed from the presidential race. For a year he ran what he called a presidential campaign, touring Russia’s regions and building up a movement of tens of thousands of volunteers around calls for free elections and condemning corruption.

But in January he was barred from the ballot over a fraud conviction from 2013, a charge he says is trumped up. The European Court of Human Rights ruled, too, that the judgment was arbitrary.

Navalny’s exclusion reflects a broader feature of the controls being applied to Sunday's election. Russia’s election is a strange beast: If you were to watch only on television, it would seem to have the usual trappings of any campaign season -- candidates, campaign ads, rallies and television debates.

In reality, though, the election activity all occurs around a strange void -— an absence of actual competition.

In most elections, journalists closely watch the polls, looking for last-minute swings, tightenings in the race. In Russia, there is little point. The day before the vote, the polls would look the same as they did during the first week -- with Putin dominating with a looming 60-point lead.

After 18 years in power and accumulating control of Russia’s media, institutions and political scene, Putin has effectively cleared the field of serious opponents. There are seven other candidates, but none believe they are running to win.

Putin is also genuinely popular among Russians, undergirded by a media that unstintingly backs his line. Two December polls by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent national pollster, found that 81 percent of adults approve of Putin, and 60 percent would would vote for him.

His nearest competitors were around 7 percent. There is virtually no doubt he will be elected on Sunday -- and serve a new term that runs through 2024.

A much more concerning number for authorities, however, is how many of those supporters will bother to vote on Sunday. With the vote effectively a referendum on Putin’s popularity, officials have become focused on ensuring a maximum show of support.

“The Kremlin has identified its main opponent in the 2018 presidential elections —- a low turnout,” Andrey Pertsev, a political commentator wrote in an article for the Carnegie Center.

The figure being circulated by officials in Russian media is a 70 percent turnout. The problem is, the certainty of Putin’s win is suppressing the number of Russians, even his supporters, who feel they need to vote for him.

The Levada Center’s independent poll in December showed only 28 percent of people definitely intended to vote. By contrast, a poll conducted in March by the state pollster, VTsIOM, showed that number at a healthy 74 percent.

The Levada Center has been banned from polling closer to the election and dubbed a "foreign agent." That means there are no non-government polls voters can rely on.

To make sure that 70 percent is realized, authorities have therefore mounted an unprecedented effort to make the voting itself more entertaining. Authorities have been told to make election day like a “holiday,” the independent RBC newspaper reported.

The result is, as in Soviet times when free food was offered around polling stations, there will be concerts and competitions for Sunday's vote: voters can win iPhones by taking selfies at voting stations; and the airline Utair has dropped its ticket prices to $8 for the election weekend so people can fly home to vote.

Putin himself has shown little interest in campaigning, appearing mostly only in brief made-for-TV events. At a triumphal closing rally in Crimea, Putin spoke for just two minutes.

The president has staged one large public meeting in Moscow before a crowd of 100,000. But many of those in attendance had been ordered to attend by their employers, or were paid. The event was a good example of the paradox of this election -— many of those forced to attend still supported Putin, but saw little reason to rally for him.

The attempt to inject novelty into the election has also been applied to the candidates. Ksenia Sobchak, a celebrity journalist, former reality TV star, and daughter of Putin’s political mentor, is running on a Western-orientated protest platform.

The Communist Party put forward a new candidate for the first time since 1996, Pavel Grudinin, a billionaire owner of a former Soviet collective strawberry farm.

Most observers -- often even their supporters -- believe the Kremlin has allowed these candidates onto the ballot. Critics refer to them as “spoilers,” meant to give the illusion of competition while making all alternatives to Putin look hopeless.

That was the effect most spectators took from the pre-election debates hosted by state TV, which Putin avoided. Sobchak, the celebrity journalist, tossed a glass of water over Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist candidate, after he called her a "whore."

“I am horrified to think what the viewers watching at home must think of the level of political culture here,” said the moderator, Vladimir Solovyov, one of Putin's favored interviewers, known for his slavish portraits of the Russian leader.

Even while seeking to boost turnout, though, the Kremlin has kept a close hand on things. Grudinin, the Communist candidate, proved to be surprisingly popular, at one point reaching 15 percent.

Stories then appeared in pro-Kremlin media that he had foreign bank accounts, grounds for barring a candidate. Grudinin denied the reports but it appeared to dent him and the possibility of disqualification now also hangs over him.

In this context, Navalny, barred from the vote, has called for people to boycott the election.

“It’s not an election,” Navalny said.

The aim is to target the turnout and highlight what Navalny argues is a “myth” of Putin’s popularity. Navalny argues that, in reality, Putin's support is brittle and largely passive, protected by creating the impression there is no alternative.

“It is the classic situation of an authoritarian country,” he said. "Where an authoritarian leader gets 85 percent of the vote by using propaganda and scaring people. People do not see other politicians. Putin chooses dummy candidates, about which people say: ‘Of course, we have a load of clowns and there is great Putin who has been sitting for 18 years, let him stay on.’”

There are suspicions that authorities may turn to cruder measures to boost turnout. In previous elections, including last year’s parliamentary, Putin and his party’s numbers were allegedly padded by vote rigging -- carousel voting where supporters are bussed around to vote several times, or hundreds of votes are simply added to final tallies at polling stations.

Navalny’s organization and other liberal parties, including Sobchak’s, have been mobilizing volunteers as election monitors. His group claims they will have 40,000 monitors across Russia.

Large-scale fraud in 2011 parliamentary elections prompted mass demonstrations against Putin. The situation is very different this time: observers say any fraud will focus on turnout figures, rather than suppressing that of other candidates.

Navalny told ABC News his group currently had no plan to hold streets protests.

Other opposition figures have criticized Navalny’s boycott, saying in the final accounting it will be impossible to know who stayed away from conviction and not apathy. Supporters of Sobchak, who is polling around 2 percent according to VTsIOM, argue that a strong showing for opposition candidates in the election could help push the Kremlin into selecting more liberal voices down the line, including perhaps her.

The election is "like a very big focus group" for the Kremlin, Leonid Preobrazhensky, 25, a media producer, at a Sobchak rally this week. "The only people who will have real data about this election is the Kremlin. Maybe they will look at the data and realize they have to change something."

Navalny rejects the idea Sobchak is influencing the Kremlin, calling her "Putin's marionette" in this election. He said he does not believe government polls showing voters are unaware of the boycott.

"If no one knew about the boycott, they wouldn’t fight that much with us," Navalny said.

Police have raided Navalny’s organization’s offices in some cities ahead of the rally; some of Navalny's monitors have been detained in the days before the election.

The mobilization of election monitors is unusual, reflecting Navalny’s appeal in a certain section of young, well-educated Russians.

But in reality, Russia’s youth are actually Putin’s strongest supporters. A Levada Center poll in December found 86 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds approved of Putin, higher than among the general population.

“Contrary to Western fantasies, Russians under the age of 25 are among the most conservative and pro-Putin groups in society,” Ivan Kravtsev and Gleb Pavlovsky, two political scientists, wrote for the European Council of Foreign Relations last month.

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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia expelled 23 British diplomats on Saturday in a tit-for-tat response to the U.K.’s expulsion of 23 Russian embassy staff over the nerve-agent attack in England last week.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it had summoned U.K. ambassador Laurie Bristow to inform him that the 23 diplomats were now "persona non grata" and had a week to leave. The ministry said it was also closing the British consulate in Saint Petersburg and withdrawing the right of the British Council, a body that promotes British culture and language, to operate in Russia.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was taking the measures in response to what it called the U.K.’s “provocative actions and unfounded accusations” over the poisoning case.

The expulsion marks the latest turn in a confrontation between Russia and the U.K. following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern English town of Salisbury. The U.K. has accused Russia of bearing responsibility for the attack, which British officials say involved a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed secretly by Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May has also cut off high-level contacts with Russia and has been trying to build support among the U.K.’s allies for potential fresh sanctions to punish Russia.

Russia has denied the U.K.'s allegations, accusing Britain of using the incident in a campaign to smear Moscow. Russian officials have increasingly begun suggesting the attack could have been staged by Britain itself. On Saturday, Russia’s envoy to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Alexander Shigulin alleged to the news agency Interfax the "most likely" source of the nerve agent was Britain or the United States. He did not offer evidence for that assertion.

U.K. officials have said a nerve agent from Russia’s so-called Novichok program was used to target Skripal. First revealed by a Russian whistleblower in the early 1990s, the Novichoks were part of a secret Russian effort to develop a new generation of more powerful and harder to detect nerve agents.

Russia has now denied that any program under the name Novichok ever existed, despite the evidence presented two decades ago by the Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who revealed its existence after becoming concerned it violated Russia’s commitments to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russian officials had previously said that Russia had destroyed the Novichok weapons when it had dismantled its chemical arsenal, which was completed last year.

The chairman of the U.K. parliament’s foreign affairs committee said that Russia’s decision to expel the U.K. diplomats was “hardly surprising.”

“This is really absolutely symbolic and typical of a Russian Federation that has used lying and propaganda as a means of warfare and is now repeating its style,” Conservative party Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat said on BBC Radio 4.

“It’s a great shame for the Russian people that they’re closing the British Council, which has done an awful lot to educate Russian people in English language and help them get jobs and opportunities around the world,” he added.

On Friday, the U.K.’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin personally for the attack, telling an audience, “We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the second World War.”

The Skripals remain in a critical condition following the attack that also poisoned a British police officer. The officer is reportedly now in stable condition.

Sergey Skripal worked as a spy for Britain’s MI6 agency while serving in Russian military intelligence in the late 1990s. He was arrested and convicted of treason by Russia, but was pardoned and exchanged in a spy swap in 2010, after which he lived the U.K. The case has drawn obvious parallels with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a dissident former Russian intelligence officer who was killed with a radioactive poison in London in 2006. A British public inquiry found Putin had “probably” ordered that assassination.

Meanwhile, U.K. police have also opened a murder investigation in the death of another Russian exile living in Britain. Nikolai Glushkov was found dead at his home this week. Police said Glushkov died as a result of a “compression of the neck,” suggesting he may have been strangled.

Glushkov was an associate of oligarch and Putin foe Boris Berezovsky, who was also found dead in 2013, apparently having hung himself, though a coroner recorded an open verdict. Glushkov was granted political asylum in London after he was released from prison in Russia in 2004, where he had been jailed over fraud charges.

London’s Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command has said there is no suggestion that Glushkov’s death is connected to the poisoning attack, but that they are investigating because “of associations Mr Glushkov is believed to have had.” Detectives are keeping an "open mind" about the death, police said.

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Subscribe To This Feed, Georgia) -- A malfunctioning ski lift in the country of Georgia has left at least 11 people injured.

The terrifying video of the incident at the Gudauri resort showed the lift rapidly moving backward while people seated in the lift's chairs were loudly urged to jump off to safety. As a result, a pile of broken and twisted chairs was created at the bottom, with new chairs adding to the destruction when they crashed into it at an alarming speed.

“Three of us were on a ski lift when it stopped. Two minutes later, the ski lift began hurtling us backwards toward the bottom at a high speed, double the normal,” Yuri Leontiev, a snowboarder from the Belorussian capital Minsk, told ABC News. “We had to jump from the ski lift onto the mountain as our chair sped backwards toward the meat grinder at the bottom of the ski lift. It was like a nightmare.”

The 32-year-old, who was there with friends, said they jumped and, once on the ground, took video of other people jumping to safety. He added that the lift chairs crashed at the bottom of the hill, tossing the people still in them into the air.

Nino Mamaladze, a health official, said 11 people were injured, with an estimated eight people being taken to the hospital. All are in a stable condition, with none having suffered critical or life-threatening injuries.

The Mountain Resorts Development Co., a part of the Georgian Ministry of Economy, posted on its Facebook page Friday that the malfunction was a result of a problem with the rope. They said they immediately contacted the rope manufacturer in order to discover the specific cause of the incident.

The Gudauri ski resort is 7,200 feet above sea level on the southern face of the Greater Caucus Mountain Range in Georgia.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Jonathan Alpeyrie was on his third trip to war-torn Syria in April 2013, when he became one of the first Western journalists to be abducted while covering the crisis.

The French-born war photographer was on his way to cover clashes between Syrian army troops and the rebels when he was pulled out of his Jeep, handcuffed and taken hostage by Syrian rebels.
Alpeyrie, 38, has covered 13 wars in more than 35 countries including Iraq, Ukraine and Venezuela. He spoke to ABC News' "Nightline" about covering wars around the world, being captured in Syria and his career-defining images.

A Syrian rebel is looking of a window during government shelling on their position.
During his 81 days of captivity, Alpeyrie spent his time imitating the behavior of his kidnappers as a survival tactic.

"When you are a captive, [everyday life] is an uphill struggle where every morning you wake up and you are being reminded that you're in that situation," he said. "You're at a very low point."
Praying and cooking with his torturers helped him connect with them and, he said, some of them even took pity on him.

"You behave differently depending on the people you're spending time with," he said. "With the younger ones, I spent a lot of time manipulating them in order to get different things -- from extra food to going to the bathroom one extra time."

Finally, a powerful businessman who was close to the Bashar al-Assad regime paid his ransom, a whopping $500,000, in exchange for removing his name from an American and European Union list of Assad loyalists whose assets were frozen and who were not allowed to travel abroad. The businessman's name returned to the list when Alpeyrie walked free.

It took a few months for him to recover from the post-traumatic stress of the life-changing experience and become active and responsive to people. The best fix came, Alpeyrie said, when Ukraine plunged into war in 2014.

"It was like a salvation because I needed to go back to war," he said. "That was for me a very, very soothing experience."

Growing up in a family of veterans, who had fought in the two World Wars as well as in Indochina, influenced Alpeyrie's career path greatly. The other motivator, he said, was a quest to be at the frontlines of history.

Alpeyrie got his big break covering the conflict in East Africa, where he took the iconic picture of a female fighter in Kenya that he calls a "very interesting version of feminism."

In stark contrast to a pool of men, the fighter, part of the Oromo Liberation Front rebel group Alpeyrie had embedded with, was photographed as she crossed the Kenyan border.

The woman had been assigned to him for a month to cook, do laundry and take care of him. But, he said, "these women were known to be hardcore fighters."

Spending his 20s in the Horn of Africa instead of the then-big wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was a conscious choice, Alpeyrie said, "to set your mark, to separate yourself from the herd and then go back within the herd, which is what happened."

Looking back at some of his career-defining photographs, Alpeyrie said he is more interested in capturing the everyday routines of soldiers.

"As a photographer, it's interesting to not only show people getting killed or fighting, it's also interesting to see more regular stuff, every day shows more humanity of these guys," he said.

When the Syrian crisis was not on the international media's radar, Alpeyrie was there, capturing the daily cycle of lives being interrupted by shelling and people dying, followed by community funerals.

"It's a tough war," he said. "And, they were quite nice to have me there to show basically the rest of the world that regular people were being killed on a daily basis."

Alpeyrie believes that he is able to continue working in war zones after witnessing years of pain, suffering and death because of his ability to separate work from emotions. He said that he finds being in the thick of action quite exciting.

"Most of the guys who do what we do actually feel the same way," he said.
Three days before he was kidnapped, Alpeyrie took a picture of a Free Syrian Army rebel while his unit of nearly five or six men were being sniped at by government forces. He estimated that none of those men had survived.

Despite his success, Alpeyrie said that it has never been harder to be a war photographer especially because the money that media outlets are willing to pay for photographers has declined. He also cautioned young, budding conflict photographers that there's no romanticism in facing bullets. Many sacrifices have to be made.

"You have to behave a bit like a monk," he said.
Alpeyrie said it is not his job to judge either side while covering a conflict.

"You're just there to report," he said.

Having witnessed numerous deaths -- Alpeyrie said tank shells had killed people he knew and had spent time with on assignment -- he believes the lens provides a shield from the destruction.

"There is a sense of protection by hiding yourself behind a camera because you know you aren't really being involved in the war," he said. "And, you can go and leave as you wish, usually."

Alpeyrie's book "The Shattered Lens: A War Photographer's True Story of Captivity and Survival in Syria" is now available.

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iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- An Iraqi teenager whose homemade bomb exploded on a London Underground train in 2017 has been convicted of attempted murder. He faces life in jail.

Ahmed Hassan, 18, carried out the attack on Sept. 15, 2017. Thirty people were injured in the blast.

Hassan's improvised device was made from triacetone triperoxide, a volatile and powerful explosive.

The device was packed with knives, bolts and other sharp metal objects. Hassan had packed hundreds of grams of the explosive into a Tupperware container and a vase, concealed inside a shopping bag. It partially detonated, releasing a fireball in the train car that injured dozens of commuters.

CCTV footage shows Hassan leaving the bag on the train two stops before it exploded.

Prosecutor Alison Morgan said it was “a matter of luck that the device did not function as intended.”
Hassan's lawyer told the jury that it was not his intention to kill anyone and Hassan had only wanted attention. Hassan pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted murder.

The jury was told that Hassan had arrived in the U.K. as an unaccompanied child asylum-seeker, traveling to Britain in a truck after spending time in a migrant camp in northern France.

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Allentown Police Department(NEW YORK) -- An Amber Alert was issued in Mexico late Thursday night for Amy Yu, the Pennsylvania 16-year-old missing since March 5.

Police believe she may be with Kevin Esterly, 45, with whom she allegedly had a secretive relationship, according to Allentown police.

In a criminal complaint filed with the department, Esterly's wife said he withdrew $4,000 from her bank account and that his car and personal documents were gone.

Yu and Esterly met at church.

Yu is about 4 feet 11 inches tall and 90 pounds, while Esterly is 5 feet 9 inches tall and 185 pounds, according to police.

Authorities believe they may be driving a 1999 red, two-door Honda Accord with the Pennsylvania plate KLT 0529.

Anyone who sees either of them is asked to call 911, local police or the Allentown Police at 610-437-7751.

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U.S. Air Force(AL QAIM, Iraq) -- An American HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter has crashed in western Iraq on Thursday, and at least some aboard were killed, according to a U.S. official.

The official said the aircraft went down near al Qaim in western Anbar Province.

A separate official told ABC News there were seven people onboard the helicopter. All were U.S. Air Force airmen, ABC News confirmed.

There was no sign of hostile fire, that official said, but it is not being ruled out at this time.

It's believed to be the first fatal helicopter crash in Iraq since the U.S. began fighting ISIS there in 2014.

In a statement, the anti-ISIS coalition, officially known as Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, said, "A U.S. military aircraft has crashed in western Iraq with U.S. service members aboard. Rescue teams are responding to the scene of the downed aircraft at this time. Further details will be released when available. An investigation will be initiated to determine the cause of the incident."

The incident occurs as the U.S. is shifting personnel and resources out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, as the war against ISIS there has wound down in recent months.

Two Americans have lost their lives in Iraq this year due to noncombat-related incidents.

There are approximately 5,262 U.S. service members in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

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iStock / Thinkstock(OTTAWA, Canada) -- President Donald Trump's leaked remarks from a private fundraiser have provoked a rebuke from Canada, disputing the president's claim that the U.S. has a trade deficit with its northern neighbor.

"Canada and the United States have a balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship," Canada's ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement to reporters. "According to their own statistics, the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada."

The Canadian statement comes after audio surfaced of remarks Trump made at a Wednesday fundraiser in St. Louis, obtained by the Washington Post, in which Trump recounted a conversation with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trump joked that he repeatedly disputed Trudeau's assertion that the U.S. does not have a trade deficit with Canada even though he -- Trump -- didn't know whether his claim was true.

“Nice guy, good-looking guy comes in -- ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed," Trump said. "So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid."

A Republican source who attended the fundraiser confirmed the authenticity of the Washington Post's account to ABC News, and the president himself tweeted in reaction to the story Thursday morning.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which is a part of the Executive Office of the President, does not support the president's claim, according to its own website.

"U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $627.8 billion in 2016," the USTR's website says. "Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016."

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stood by the president's claim during Thursday's briefing, explaining that the president was actually referring to the U.S. trade deficit with Canada on goods, omitting the large U.S. trade surplus on services.

In the February 2018 Economic Report of the President, the White House argued specifically that it would be misleading to characterize the U.S. trade relationship with a foreign country based only on trade in goods.

"Focusing only on the trade in goods alone ignores the United States’ comparative advantage in services, which rose as a share of U.S. exports to 33.5 percent through 2017:Q3," the economic report says.

The comments amount to the most recent flare-up between the U.S. and Canada as negotiations continue between the two countries and Mexico over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

The president openly dished on the status of those negotiations at the Missouri fundraiser and was similarly unsparing of Mexico in his remarks.

"I tell people openly because the best deal is to terminate it and then make a new deal," Trump said, according to the Washington Post transcript.

"But I don't know that we can make a deal because Mexico is so spoiled with this horrible deal that they've lived with -- from our standpoint, horrible."

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Obtained by ABC News(YAKUTSK, Russia) -- A plane carrying $368 million of precious cargo littered a runway in Russia and the surrounding area with more than 3 tons of gold-silver bars on Thursday after part of the plane ripped off during takeoff, according to Russian media and airport officials.

The plane spilled about a third of its 10-ton load onto the runway and on a nearby car market when it took off at an airport in the city of Yakutsk, an airport official told ABC News.

The head of the airport, Nikolai Mesnikov, told ABC News that the cargo consisted of bars of doré -- an alloy of gold and silver -- that weighed about 44 pounds each.

Images showed the bars strewn across the airport’s runway, and reported that nearby residents scoured the surrounding area for bars. The plane's crew decided to land at a nearby airport. There were no reported injuries.

Mesnikov said Thursday that authorities had recovered 172 bars, or about 7,584 pounds, worth.

The Siberian Times reported that the cargo came from a mine largely owned by Canadian mining firm Kinross Gold. The company said all of the bars had been recovered, local media reported. Kinross Gold did not respond to requests for comment by ABC News.

The airport said in a statement that a flap of the plane’s cargo hatch was torn off during takeoff and that the cause was under investigation.

Yakutsk is located in a mining area for gold and diamonds. The area is one of the poorest places in Russia.

The company said all of the bars have been recovered, according to local media.

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iStock / Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia is preparing retaliatory measures against the U.K. over its decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats, the Kremlin said Thursday, promising they would "not be long in coming."

“They are being formulated in the foreign ministry and in other bodies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing call, adding that president Vladimir Putin will make the final decision.

The U.K. government Wednesday gave the 23 diplomats a week to leave, as part of a broader set of punitive measures directed against Russia over the poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter in southern England last week. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May also announced she was cutting all top-level ties with Russia and that the country’s royal family would skip the soccer World Cup hosted there this summer.

The U.K. has said a military-grade nerve agent was used in the attack, of a type known as a “Novichok,” which is a chemical weapon secretly developed by Russia at the end of the Cold War. May has said the weapon’s origins meant either it had been used with the Kremlin’s knowledge or Russia had lost control of its chemical arsenal.

After Russian officials rejected an ultimatum from May to explain, she called the poisoning an “unlawful use of force.”

Russia has denied any involvement. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, today called the U.K.’s allegations “irresponsible” and suggested that the incident was meant as a “provocation” against Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry today said it was drawing up a response to the U.K. measures. “There will be a response, I assure you,” Lavrov said at the forum, titled “Russia -- Land of Opportunity,” adding that Russia would inform the U.K. first before announcing it.

In previous diplomatic standoffs, Russia insisted it would follow a policy of “mirror” response, expelling the same number or proportion of diplomats. But Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested Wednesday night that Russia might consider different options.

“They will be appropriate, comparable -- I think here there is no need to get hung up on words -- mirror measures absolutely appropriate to the situation,” she said on Russia’s Channel 1.

Russia clashed overnight with the U.K. and United States at the U.N. Security Council. Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, denied the Novichok program had existed, telling the council “no scientific research or development under the title Novichok were carried out.”

He then alleged that the most likely scenario of the attack was a false-flag operation, perhaps done by the U.K. itself to “tarnish” Russia.

“The most probable source of this agent are the countries who have carried out research on these weapons, including Britain,” Nebenzia said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley rejected the Russian arguments, making an unambiguous statement that the United States supports the U.K. after criticism the White House had appeared hesitant about backing the British assessment of the attack.

“Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain,” Haley said. “The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.”

The U.K. has accused Russia of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention by failing to declare the Novichok program. Russia has responded by accusing the U.K. of its own violation by not conducting the dispute through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) and complaining that the U.K. has not yet provided samples of the nerve agent.

The U.K.'s ambassador at the Security Council meeting pointed out that the U.K. has called on the OCPW to take part in the investigation.

The expulsion of the 23 diplomats, 40 percent of Russia’s embassy staff, according to the BBC, is the largest since 1971, when 100 Soviet diplomats and spies were ordered out.

But many Russians have viewed the expulsions as a surprisingly mild retaliation from the U.K.

“We are all in shock how soft the sanctions are,” Sergey Markov, a pro-government analyst who at one time advised the Kremlin, told ABC News. It was, he said, as though May had issued an ultimatum, obey or "we won't give you your tea."

Others have said the Kremlin will be more concerned by May’s comments that the U.K. may seek to take a more aggressive line against wealthy Russian figures allied with Putin. It was unclear from May's speech, however, that substantial actions targeting the assets of businessmen close to Putin were coming.

“I am not sure how committed the British government is to that idea,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Moscow-based Council of Foreign and Defense Policy, who sometimes advises Russia’s government.

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iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle passed another milestone on her road to becoming a member of Britain's royal family after Queen Elizabeth gave her formal consent for Prince Harry to marry her.

The monarch expressed her support in a letter to the Privy Council for "My Most Dearly Beloved Grandson" Prince Harry to marry Rachel Meghan Markle.

The statement read: "My Lords, I declare my Consent to a Contract of Matrimony between My Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle, which consent I am causing to be signified under the Great Seal and to be entered in the Books of the Privy Council."

According to the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013, the first six people in line to the throne must obtain the consent of the Queen before marrying.

The consent was made on March 14. Queen Elizabeth also gave her consent prior to Prince William and Princess Kate's marriage in 2011.

In a statement a week before their wedding, she expressed similar consent for the marriage writing, "Our Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, K.G. and Our Trusty and Well-beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton."

Earlier in the day, Prince Harry attended a Veterans Mental Health Conference, where he said he and Meghan had recently visited the injured veterans and said they were “shocked to the core” hearing their struggles.

"Some of the stories Meghan and I heard when we visited Colchester Garrison a few weeks ago shocked us to our core. But despite meeting these people and others who are in the darkest of places, I am continually surrounded and inspired by amazingly positive outcomes."

Markle, 36, has made private visits to a number of charities as she familiarizes herself with Harry's charitable work and other areas of personal interest to her. Last month, it was revealed that she had made private visits to survivors of one of Britain's recent tragedies, the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people last year.

Once she marries Harry, Markle will join the work of The Royal Foundation, which is the chief charitable vehicle for William, Kate and Harry.

Harry and Markle announced earlier this month their plans for a carriage ride following their wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19. They also plan to invite 2,640 members of the public into the grounds of Windsor Castle to see the wedding carriage procession.

They will be selected from different regions of the U.K., and 100 students from two local schools in Windsor will also be invited, according to a statement from Kensington Palace. The couple will also extend 200 invitations to individuals who take part in charities and organizations where Harry serves as Royal Patron.

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iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The U.K. is investing $67 million in a new chemical defense center at the Porton Down military research center near Salisbury less than two weeks after a nerve agent attack on an ex-Russian double agent in the city.

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Russia needed to “go away and shut up,” and added that the new center would demonstrate to adversaries that efforts to harm the U.K. would be “futile.”

The investment will also increase the number of chemical warfare experts working at the facility, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialists.

Williamson said that thousands of British troops would be offered vaccinations against anthrax – a weaponized bacterial disease that was used in a number of biological terror attacks in the U.S. in 2001.

Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats it has identified as undercover intelligence officers, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday. These individuals have one week to leave the country.

The U.K. is taking a range of other measures in retaliation for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, on March 4.

The government has assessed that the attack, which involved a Soviet-era “Novichok” nerve agent, was carried out by Russia.

The Kremlin has fiercely denied the accusation and accused the U.K. of carrying out a smear campaign against Russia.

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iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Doors to apartments in London's Grenfell Tower could resist fire for half as long as they were intended to, authorities said this week.

London’s Metropolitan Police experts tested a Grenfell Tower apartment front door, designed to resist fire for 30 minutes, and found that it only resisted fire for about 15 minutes, police said in a statement.

The test was part of what the police described as a “comprehensive investigation” into what happened when a huge fire engulfed the 24-story Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017.

The Metropolitan Police said the forensic examination phase is ongoing and they are not able to comment on what impact the test result could have on the criminal investigation.

The fire killed 70 people, according to the Metropolitan Police. A stillborn baby was also recorded as a victim.

The Metropolitan Police has previously said that exterior cladding, fitted to the building, failed all safety tests.

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Xander Heinl/Photothek/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who has been a key U.S. ally in the past, but has disagreed with some of Trump's positions -- was sworn in Wednesday for her fourth term leading the world’s fourth-largest economy.

In a campaign rally in July, Merkel clearly laid out her position toward some of Trump's policies, saying that Germany "could no longer rely on the U.S. to some extent."

Over her time as leader, the Germany-U.S. relationship has changed. The two countries had developed a stronger partnership during the terms of former President Obama, with whom Merkel was said to have a close relationship.

Obama had said that Merkel was likely his "closest international partner." Merkel said at his last presidential visit to Germany that "the parting is hard for me."

Merkel enters her new term with a possible trade war looming. Based on her past, many believe she is unlikely to concede easily to the conditions Trump has laid out on trade tariffs, which could have devastating consequences on the German economy.

The chancellor is expected to push back and collaborate with the European Union, according to Sudha David-Wilp, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"Trade is something that is important to the EU, and they will work together to make sure the U.S. realizes the EU won’t take this lying down," she told ABC News.

"From once being the sought-after, indispensable partner, Germany is now kind of left in the cold and feeling threatened by the U.S.," she said. "It’s definitely a different time than it was two years ago."

During the last U.S. presidential election, Merkel refrained from sharing any thoughts about Donald Trump, but set clear terms for continuing German support in a statement congratulating him on his victory.

At the time, Merkel said close cooperation would be offered on the basis of continued shared values such as "democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position."

While not exactly the "fire and fury" language often used in U.S. politics, many in Germany saw the statement as a lecture on core Western values and a strong rebuke for an incoming U.S. president.

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Subscribe To This Feed -- The United Kingdom has given 23 Russian diplomats identified as intelligence officers one week to leave the U.K., the biggest expulsion in decades in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in early March.

Prime Minister Theresa May also said that the U.K. was looking to implement new powers to its sanctions bill, styled on the Magnitsky Act in the United States, which allowed America to freeze assets and withhold visas of foreign officials thought to be involved in corruption and human rights.

In addition, Russian state assets will be frozen where they threaten U.K. nationals or residents, and all planned high-level contact between the U.K. and Russia is to be suspended, including an invite for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to come to the country.

British officials and the royal family will also not attend the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

A midnight Tuesday deadline set by May for Russia to provide a “credible” explanation for how Sergey Skripal was poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent in Salisbury passed with no response from the Kremlin.

Skripal's daughter, Yulia, was also poisoned in the incident. Both were in critical condition.

May warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if the Kremlin did not cooperate, London would interpret the incident as an “unlawful use of force” by the Russian state against the U.K.

Russia's foreign ministry responded to May's announcement in baroque tones, denouncing it as an "unprecedentedly crude provocation," and promising to retaliate.

"Britain has made the choice of confrontation with Russia," a statement from the ministry read, saying May's sanctions were based on a "false pretext."

Lavrov, speaking ahead of the Prime Minister’s statement, said that the expulsion of diplomats from the U.K. over the Salisbury incident was “unacceptable” and a “provocation”.

The expulsion is the biggest removal of Russian staff since more than 100 Soviet diplomats and spies were booted by former Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government in 1971, plunging U.K.-Soviet relations to an historic low.

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