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Russia to expel two German diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Russia said Thursday it was expelling two German diplomats, in a tit-for-tat move after Berlin ejected two Russians over the killing of a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park.

Russia to expel two German diplomats in tit-for-tat move
Khangoshvili was shot in Kleiner Tiergarten park in August. Photo: DPA

“As a retaliatory measure, the Russian side has decided to declare two employees of the German embassy in Russia 'persona non grata',” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, giving them seven days to leave the country.

The Ministry made the announcement after summoning German Ambassador Geza Andreas von Geyr and issuing a formal diplomatic protest over the “groundless” expulsion of Russia's Berlin-based diplomats.

However, Germany's Foreign Ministry said the move was “unjustified” and warned that Berlin could yet take “further action” in the escalating row.

Moscow's move “sends the wrong signal and is unjustified,” said a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Shot in Berlin park

Germany expelled the Russians last week after prosecutors said Moscow could be behind the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian national.

Khangoshvili was shot twice in the head at close range in Kleiner Tiergarten park in August, allegedly by a Russian man who was arrested shortly afterwards.

The case has been compared with the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain last year with a Soviet-era nerve agent, which plunged relations between London and Moscow into a deep freeze.

German federal prosecutors, who handle intelligence cases, have said they have “factual evidence” to suggest that the killing was carried out on behalf of the state agencies of Russia or Chechnya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Paris on Monday, described Khangoshvili as a “fighter, very cruel and bloody” who has fought with separatists against Russian's forces in the Caucasus and also been involved in bombing attacks on the Moscow metro.

“Ninety-eight people were killed by him,” Putin said.

He said Moscow was ready to help Germany in the investigation.

The Russian foreign ministry has called Germany's accusations against Moscow “groundless and hostile”.

The suspect in the killing was said to be riding a bicycle and was seen by witnesses afterwards throwing the bike and a stone-laden bag with a gun into a river.

German police also recovered a wig he was alleged to have used.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany had acted “because we have not seen Russia supporting us in clearing up this murder”.

German police named the alleged killer as Vadim S. and the investigative website Bellingcat said the suspect was 54-year-old Vadim Krasikov, who grew up in Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union before moving to Siberia.

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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