BBC 2024-02-20 10:31:21


Alexei Navalny’s body to be held for two weeks for ‘chemical analysis’, family told

The family of Alexei Navalny, the Putin critic who died in a Russian prison, have reportedly been told his body will not be released for two weeks.

His mother was informed it was being held for “chemical analysis”, a representative for Navalny said.

There has been no confirmation of the whereabouts of the body from Russian authorities, while efforts to locate it have been repeatedly shut down.

The wife of the late Russian opposition leader has accused them of hiding it.

In a video on Monday vowing to continue his work to fight for a “free Russia”, Yulia Navalnaya directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of killing her husband. She also alleged his body was being kept until traces of poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok had disappeared.

On Tuesday, Putin’s spokesperson said the suggestion that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok was unfounded.

He survived an attempt to kill him using the nerve agent in 2020.

Her voice sometimes shaking with grief and anger, Ms Navalnaya asked viewers to stand alongside her and “share the fury and hate for those who dared to kill our future”.

Navalny’s death in prison was announced on Friday. The authorities at the Siberian penal colony where he was being held said he had never regained consciousness after he collapsed following a walk.

His mother and lawyer travelled to the remote colony as soon as news of his death broke.

Attempts to locate the body have repeatedly been shut down by the prison mortuary and local authorities.

On Monday, the Kremlin said an investigation into Navalny’s death was ongoing and that there were “no results” as of yet.

Later, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said that investigators had told Navalny’s mother Lyudmila they would not hand over the body for two weeks while they conducted a “chemical analysis”.

In her video message, filmed in a style recognisably similar to those her late husband used to make, Ms Navalnaya said she believed Navalny had been poisoned.

“They are hiding his body – not showing or giving it to his mother – and they lie. Waiting for the traces of Putin’s latest Novichok to disappear,” she said.

Navalny, who was the Russian opposition’s most significant leader for the last decade, had been serving a 19-year sentence on charges many viewed as politically motivated.

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Western leaders have put the blame for Navalny’s death squarely on President Putin.

Responding to questions from reporters on Monday, President Joe Biden said: “The fact of the matter is: Putin is responsible, whether he ordered it or he is responsible for the circumstances he put that man in.”

During a press conference on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he Navalny had been “slowly murdered in a Russian jail by Putin’s regime”.

Both the EU and the US have said they are considering new sanctions on Russia following Navalny’s death.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, has also said he expects Britain and the rest of the G7 group of rich nations to impose fresh sanctions on any Russians involved in the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said comments by Western politicians in regards to Navalny’s death were “arrogant” and “unacceptable”.

Russian prison authorities said at the weekend that Navalny had suffered “sudden death syndrome”.

US calls for temporary Gaza ceasefire in UN text

The US has proposed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council which calls for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

It has also warned Israel against invading the overcrowded city of Rafah.

The US has previously avoided the word “ceasefire” during UN votes on the war, but President Joe Biden has made similar comments.

However, the US plans to veto another draft resolution – from Algeria – which calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

More than a million displaced Palestinians, who represent about half of Gaza’s population, are crammed into Rafah after being forced to seek shelter there.

The southern city, which borders Egypt, was home to only 250,000 people before the war.

Many of the displaced are living in makeshift shelters or tents in squalid conditions, with scarce access to safe drinking water or food.

The UN has issued its own warning that a planned Israeli offensive in the city could lead to a “slaughter”.

Israel launched its operations in Gaza following an attack by Hamas gunmen on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 others taken hostage.

The Israeli military campaign has killed 29,000 people in the Palestinian territory, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there.

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Washington has come under immense international pressure to use its leverage to rein in Israel’s devastating operations, having spent much of the war emphasising its ally’s right to self-defence.

While it has vowed to block the Algerian draft, its rival text does register opposition to Israel’s plans.

Talks will begin on the US draft this week, but it is not clear when or if the proposal might be put to a vote. Any resolutions that are passed at the UN are not legally binding.

It is the first time the US has called for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza at the UN, having vetoed previous resolutions using the word.

The US draft also states that a major ground offensive in Rafah would result in more harm to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighbouring countries – a reference to Egypt.

It also says such a move would have serious implications for regional peace and security.

The draft resolution calls for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, echoing remarks by President Joe Biden in his conversations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

Mr Netanyahu has so far resisted international pressure to reconsider the plan – vowing to rescue remaining hostages and defeat Hamas throughout Gaza.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz has warned the manoeuvre will be launched unless Hamas frees all its hostages by 10 March. The date marks the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.

The Arab group of nations says the Security Council cannot turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the international community demanding a ceasefire.

Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine ‘shot dead’

The body of a man who was shot dead in Spain is believed to be that of a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine last year.

In August, Maxim Kuzminov flew a helicopter into Ukrainian territory, where he handed himself in.

Spanish police have not publicly confirmed the identity of the man, who was killed near Alicante last week.

However, Ukrainian intelligence confirmed Mr Kuzminov’s death on Monday.

A spokesperson told the Ukrainian outlet Ukrayinska Pravda: “We confirm the fact of his death… He decided to move to Spain rather than remain here.

“What we know is that he invited his ex-spouse to join him and then he was found shot to death.”

Spanish authorities told the BBC that the victim may have been living under a false identity.

According to Spanish news agency Efe, Mr Kuzminov’s body was found near a property in the town of Villajoyosa on Spain’s eastern coast alongside documentation matching his nationality, but with a different name.

A burnt-out car apparently used by the attackers was found near the scene of the crime, the intelligence agency’s press service told the outlet.

Mr Kuzminov reportedly contacted the Ukrainian secret service to inform them of his decision to defect sometime last year.

“Operation Synytsia” eventually saw him fly his Mi-8 helicopter over the border and land it in eastern Ukraine on 9 August.

Two other people on board, who had been unaware of Mr Kuzminov’s plans, were shot dead when they started running back towards the border after the helicopter landed. Mr Kuzminov, who was also shot in the leg, blamed Russian forces for the killings.

During a news conference in September, Mr Kuzminov said he switched sides because he opposed Russia’s war on Ukraine.

He also said that Ukraine promised him $500,000 (£397,000) in state payments, new documents and protection for his family.

Ukrainian authorities said they had offered Mr Kuzminov the opportunity to stay in Ukraine.

The secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, said: “He would definitely have been protected here. And I don’t think that they have behaved as disgracefully here as they did in Spain,” he said.

There has been no official comment from Russian authorities, although on Tuesday, Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said: “That traitor and criminal was a moral corpse.”

A few months after Mr Kuzminov defected, Russian state TV showed a man said to be a Russian intelligence officer saying: “I don’t think he’ll live long enough to face trial.”

Mysterious musical instrument disappearances

From a 17th-Century Italian violin stolen from Japan to Drake’s lost Blackberry in Mexico, here are musical lost and found mysteries that rival Sir Paul McCartney’s.
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In musical happy endings, last week, Sir Paul McCartney was reunited with his bass guitar that was stolen 51 years ago in London. The instrument, which McCartney purchased in 1961, was subsequently nabbed from a band van in 1972. Now, thanks to the Lost Bass search project, the Beatle has been reunited with the bass, which had been until recently stashed in a Sussex attic. Both McCartney and Höfner, the instrument manufacturer, authenticated the found item upon its rediscovery, and a spokesperson for McCartney told BBC News he was “incredibly grateful” for the return of his lost guitar. 

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But McCartney certainly isn’t the only musician to lose a valuable piece of his kit – in fact, he’s not even the only Beatle. And for non-Beatles-level musical acts, the loss of an instrument – or worse, an entire kit – can be devastating. The BBC previously reported on the theft of rock band Cemetery Sun’s entire kit and van, as well as trio Noisy’s stolen kit reappearing with individual instruments and pieces of gear up for auction online weeks later.

Bassist Grant Emerson of Americana band Delta Rae recalls having around $10,000 (£7,937) of musical instruments stolen: “We played at the Bitter End in New York City and parked our van down the street. When we came back to the van, the back door had been broken into, and all of our guitars were gone, plus a pedal board and a piece of the drummer’s equipment. Probably four to five pieces of gear were stolen. It was a really terrible drive back to North Carolina.” He notes that for most bands, the only recourse is fundraising: “You just rely on your fans. You ask for help and donations, which isn’t easy.” And he urges all musicians to “photograph the serial number of every instrument and piece of gear you own”.

Lost or stolen instruments over the years have kept musicians and fans alike searching for guitars, violins, and even an entire brass band. Here are a few more musical mysteries – some of which remain unsolved to this day. 

Eric Dahl, the musician who purchased BB King’s stolen guitar from a Los Angeles pawn shop, returned it to King without compensation (Credit: Getty Images)

BB King

The famous blues legend was known for riffs on his legendary guitar, a Gibson he named Lucille – in fact, King had multiple performance guitars named Lucille over the course of his career. The name was inspired by a lover’s quarrel King witnessed in 1949 (the woman arguing was named Lucille, and she left quite an impression on King). When this particular Lucille guitar was stolen, it was eventually found in a Las Vegas pawn shop by Eric Dahl, a fellow musician who mistakenly purchased the guitar and later returned it to King. Dahl offered it without compensation and went on to write a book about King and his many guitars. The Gibson also ended up being one of the last instruments King played before his death in 2015, and it was subsequently sold at his estate auction for $280,000 (£222,286) in 2019. 

Eric Clapton

Clapton’s Gibson Les Paul guitar, named Beano, was stolen soon after his studio album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton was released in 1966. Unlike King, Clapton hasn’t been so lucky as to be reunited with his lost guitar – yet. But singer-songwriter Joe Bonamassa has claimed he knows where it is: In 2016, Bonamassa gave an interview in which he said the guitar was in a private US collection, which spurred a 2018 petition to encourage Bonamassa to reveal more details. On their YouTube channel, music aficionados Baxter and Jonathan of North Carolina-based Casino Guitars joked that they imagine a “guitar illuminati” trading in lost and rare instruments might not be pleased with what Bonamassa has already shared so far – and pondered whether he has a responsibility to help Clapton retrieve the stolen item if he does, in fact, know where it is. 

Takiko Omura

A violin made in 1675 by Nicolo Amati in Italy was stolen in 2005 from the home of Japanese violinist Takiko Omura, who had purchased the instrument in the United States many decades earlier. The violin, which was priced at nearly £300,000 ($377,895) in 2005 when it was taken, was reportedly found in 2020 in Parma, Italy, in the raid of a home of a suspected drug trafficker. Authorities in Italy and Japan worked together to return the instrument to its rightful owner. 

Stooges Brass Brand

It’s difficult enough to find one lost guitar, let alone an entire brass band. In 2022, a famous local New Orleans “second line” brass band had all their equipment stolen from their van during the worst possible time for them – two weeks before New Orleans Jazz Fest. Nearly $12,000 (£9,526) in musical instruments, including cymbals, drum sets, keyboards and amps, were stolen when the band’s van disappeared from outside the home of a band member. The theft threatened to derail the Stooges’ festival appearance that year, but the band is back on its feet, with a scheduled appearance on 28 April at this year’s Jazz Fest.

Min Kym

As the BBC has previously reported, the violin prodigy Min Kym’s Stradivarius was stolen in 2010 from a Pret a Manger restaurant. This was no ordinary violinist and no ordinary violin: At just seven years old, Kym had earned a slot at the prestigious Purcell School of Music in the UK, and at age 11, she won first prize at the Premier Mozart International Competition. When presented with the opportunity to own a rare 1696 Stradivarius, “Kym remortgaged her flat and bought the violin for £450,000 ($580,000). If this seems like an astronomical amount of money, it was in fact a steal in Stradivarius terms: the violin’s actual worth was closer to £1.2m ($1.5m) and these instruments are so precious that their value only ever goes up,” reads the 2017 article about the crime. Although the stolen violin was eventually recovered three years later, it was not returned to Kym, and her memoir, Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung, tells the story of coping with a musical instrument being lost and found and then lost again.

George Harrison

Sir Paul wasn’t even the only Beatle whose beloved instrument was absconded with: George Harrison’s 1965 Rickenbacker guitar was allegedly stolen in 1966. Rickenbacker CEO John Hall told Reverb that the guitar’s mystery has been so longstanding because “no one knows the exact serial number of the original guitar.” The Rickenbacker team were, however, able to narrow the list down to five potential guitars based on shipment dates. 

Harrison also had his ’57 Les Paul, Lucy – which was formerly owned by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Rick Derringer, and Eric Clapton – stolen. It was nabbed from Harrison’s home during a burglary in 1973 and then sold to a Los Angeles music store who, in turn, sold it to Mexican musician Miguel Ochoa, who declined to sell it back to Harrison at full price. Instead, Ochoa negotiated a trade with Harrison: Harrison got Lucy back, and Ochoa would get a 1958 Les Paul Standard and a Fender Precision bass. 

Drake

In his 2009 song Say What’s Real, produced by Kanye West, Drake revealed that he lost some of his best lyrics in Mexico: “Lost some of my hottest verses down in Cabo/So if you find a Blackberry with the side scroll,” he raps, followed by an expletive-laden line that finishes the rhyme. For his genre of music, that Blackberry was his instrument, which he used to pen his songs. While it doesn’t sound like it’s ever been returned, Drake has probably upgraded his tech.

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The Silk Road city most tourists miss

Once an important oasis welcomed by weary travellers – and equally feared for its reputation for ruthless slave trading – Khiva is undeservedly overshadowed by Bukhara and Samarkand.
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In the small town of Khiva in Uzbekistan, bounded by the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts, all roads lead to a walled fortress known as Itchan Kala. That’s because everything that’s worth seeing and experiencing in Khiva is contained within the walls of this citadel. It’s home to more than 60 cultural sites, medieval mosques and opulent palaces, as well as numerous museums, souvenir shops and craft studios.

The Itchan Kala is where I was headed bright and early one autumn morning. Entering from the Ota Darwza, or the West Gate, located close to the ticket counter, I could see the street shops slowly coming to life: the chugirma vendor was fluffing up his collection of sheepskin fur hats used by locals to keep their heads warm in the bitter winters; the woman selling traditional ikat-print chapans (long coats) lured me with a striking black-and-white jacket; the master woodcarver was sitting on his chair, head bent over what looked like an intricately chiselled cheeseboard; the carpet weaver briefly looked up from the loom to smile at me before bending her head back to study the pattern.

But the roads were strangely empty. Where were all the tourists?

Along with Bukhara and Samarkand, Khiva – locally pronounced “Heevah” – forms Uzbekistan’s troika of Silk Road cities. But only the two former have become popular among tourists, due to their proximity to the capital city of Tashkent. Just a mention of those names is enough to evoke images of a time when these cities were at the heart of the influential network of trading routes stretching from China all the way to Rome and Venice. For much of those 1,500 years, roughly from 130 BCE until 1453 CE, this central Asian region saw the exchange of not just silks and spices, but all kinds of ideas and philosophies.

Khiva was once an important stop for merchants and traders on the Silk Road (Credit: Tuul & Bruno Morandi/Getty Images)

There is archaeological evidence to show that Khiva has existed since the 6th Century CE. It became a significant trading post on the Silk Road and rose to even more prominence within the region in the 1600s when it became the capital of the Khanate (kingdom of the Khan rulers).

At its peak, Khiva was a welcoming oasis for weary travellers, who were undeterred by Khiva’s fearsome reputation for slave trading. Having already crossed the Kyzulkum desert on their way from Bukhara, these merchants and traders halted in Khiva for rest and refreshment and to load up their caravans with essential supplies before heading off into the vast stretch of unforgiving desert towards Persia. In its Silk Road Programme, Unesco describes Khiva as a “centre of education, science and culture, and served as a cradle of civilisations spanning millennia”.

Click play to learn about the prehistoric origins of the Silk Road

Given this history, I was surprised by how modern-day Khiva seems to get only a fraction of the tourists who throng Samarkand and Bukhara. But I wasn’t complaining, happy to have these magnificent sites mostly to myself.

Before the Itchan Kala became a Unesco World Heritage site in 1990, the government relocated residents outside the fortress walls in order to preserve and restore the monuments that had fallen in disrepair. Today, the Itchan Kala is an enchanting city inside a city and a living museum that has been extensively restored as an open-air showcase of regional history.

Behzad Larry, CEO of Voygr Expeditions, a company specialising in responsible travel to central Asia, describes Khiva as a “living relic amidst the desert expanse” and “[an] ancient city that beckons travellers to step back in time”. He explained that the self-contained design of Itchan Kala offers visitors a chance for a more intimate exploration of its landmarks as well as meaningful interactions with the local community.

In the Itchan Kala is a life-size street statue of two men chatting with a samovar bubbling away at their feet (Credit: Charukesi Ramadurai)

“Khiva exudes an unmistakable aura of antiquity that sets it apart from its more renowned Silk Road counterparts like Bukhara and Samarkand, where the old harmoniously coexists with the new,” he added. Having visited both Bukhara and Samarkand, where the monuments are scattered around what are now modern cities bustling with traffic, I could see what he meant.

Although locals don’t live within the fortress, they come here every day to their studios, shops, restaurants and teahouses to work. As I walked through Khiva’s narrow lanes, I discovered an embarrassment of riches: a teal-tiled palace here, a multi-pillared mosque there; a life-size street statue of two men chatting merrily with the samovar bubbling away at their feet; a carpet-weaving workshop next to a ceramic studio. In a museum inside the Kunya-Ark citadel, exhibits explained how concepts like algebra and algorithm have roots in this part of the world, and particularly in the work of Khiva-born mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi.

I feel like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through the labyrinth of tiny lanes that suddenly open into wide squares, and coming across craftsmen and traders selling their wares

Anita Sethi Ramakrishna, an Indian who has been living in Tashkent for the past few years and has travelled extensively through Uzbekistan, told me that exploring Khiva makes her feel like a small child. “I feel like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through the labyrinth of tiny lanes that suddenly open into wide squares, and coming across craftsmen and traders selling their wares.”

Although locals don’t live within the fortress, they come here every day to work (Credit: Charukesi Ramadurai)

I got it. Despite the city’s sprawl of 26 hectares, the touristic heart of Itchan Kala was compact and easily navigable on foot. And each time I thought I had been on the same road before, I found myself turning a different corner and coming across a new monument or mausoleum. Or an unfinished minaret like the squat Kalta Minor, bedecked with glazed majolica tiles in stunning shades of teal and turquoise.

My absolute favourite was the Tosh Hauli, or stone palace, built by Allakuli Khan in the mid-1830s and tucked away in a corner towards the northern gate. The tiles in the rooms and courtyards of the harem area where the Khan lived with his four wives and 40 concubines, had some of the most exquisite colours and patterns found anywhere in the Itchan Kala, drawing me back again and again for closer inspection.

The Kunya-Ark citadel, which is other major palace complex here, dates to the 12th Century and contains a throne room, a mint, stables and a beautiful summer mosque with blue wall tiles and a brown, orange and gold ceiling. I visited the Ark late in the evening and climbed up the steep and narrow steps of the watchtower in search of Khiva’s famed desert sunset.

“Dusk is my favourite time in Khiva,” Larry had told me, “because as the sun sets gradually, the city walls unveil a final gift: a panoramic view of the ancient skyline, bathed in a golden hue.” Having huffed and puffed my way to the top, I was treated to a 360-degree view of not just the monuments within the Itchan Kala, but also the town that lay beyond its walls. The desert sunset was indeed spectacular, a bold palette of pinks and oranges tinged with gold.

Khiva’s madrasahs have been repurposed into craft workshops and souvenir markets (Credit: Charukesi Ramadurai)

While most of the old monuments inside the Itchan Kala have been restored to their former glory, the former madrasahs (Islamic schools) have been repurposed into craft workshops or souvenir markets. Whenever I stopped to look, admire or just take photos, I noticed no irritation among the vendors; there was no hard-sell, no aggression. Everything somehow seemed slower here, everyone calmer. I found myself mentally discarding the must-see list I had made earlier, and I surrendered myself to serendipity.

As Sethi Ramakrishna said, “There is no pressure here like in the larger towns – you can take your time and sit down to sip an Uzbek lemon tea, and see the vendors making their sales and young couples having a photoshoot. And wonder how the caravans of yore found their way to this beautiful place on the Silk route.”

I followed her lead and settled down for some people-watching at an al fresco choyxona (teahouse) just opposite Kalta Minor. The Silk Road itself may be a thing of the past, its relevance wiped away by the advent of more convenient sea routes. But sitting here in a corner of Khiva, I knew for sure that its legacy lives on.

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