By Benet Koleka LAZARAT Albania (Reuters) - The smoke from burning marijuana plants billowed from a dozen houses on Day Five of Albania's most serious move yet against a southern village, armed to the teeth, that has churned out weed on an industrial scale for more than 15 years. Lazarat has long blighted Albania’s efforts to shed the image of a Balkan badlands since it threw off communism in 1991. With the fruits of its labor turning up in Italy, Greece and, last year, Germany, Albania has come under increasing pressure from the European Union to crack down on drug producers long considered untouchable, out of reach of the law thanks to a web of corrupt connections to the police and politicians. Albania hopes to get approval later this month from each of the EU’s 28 member states to become an official candidate for inclusion in the group. Crime and corruption are sure to be top of the list of issues that must be resolved before it can join. Under the command of a new government sworn in September, police moved into Lazarat on Sunday after coming under fire while spying on the crops planted all along the hillsides the day before. They approached from the south side of the sprawling community, drawing fire from heavy machinegun rounds and anti-tank grenades. [ID:nL5N0OX5VW] The village of some 5,000 people lives off the proceeds from the marijuana business. Aerial pictures suggest some 60 hectares were cultivated in Lazarat last November with 300,000 plants capable of yielding 500 tonnes of cannabis, or half the total production in Albania. “This time we’ll put an end to this; law and God are on our side,” a commander of a police special forces unit told his men as a Reuters reporter looked on. The commander declined to be named. Moving slowly through the village, hundreds of police officers are ripping up crops and setting fire to them, filling the streets with the acrid smell of burning weed. The interior ministry has advised people to stay indoors during the operation, and police now occupy about 40 percent of the village. Residents follow the drama live on television; some have taken to burning their own marijuana crops to destroy evidence. Summing up their five-day operation, police said they have destroyed 80,000 plants and saplings of weed and 12.8 metric tonnes of cannabis, found two drug-processing laboratories and seized weapons and bullets. Thirteen people have been arrested for planting cannabis and firing weapons at the police. Eighty houses have been searched. Despite long exchanges of gunfire, there have been no serious casualties so far - four lightly wounded, including two shepherds hit by stray bullets. ECONOMIC IMPACT “What did I do wrong? I just wanted five plants like everyone else,” said Lumturi Koli, a 42-year-old widower, as police on Thursday destroyed her crop of considerably more than five plants. “I should have been first to plant them because I have to care for my children,” she said. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, which has recommended Albania for candidate status, welcomed what it said was a successful police operation. “It clearly shows Albania's determination in fighting drugs and organized crime,” it said in a statement. “Clearly, Albania's fight against drugs needs to be further intensified... Swift and effective follow-up by the prosecution and the courts is essential.” In bullet proof vests and helmets, police scaled a hill to take a vantage point over the village. Gunmen hold the north, firing automatic weapons and the odd rocket-propelled grenade. “They want to dislodge us from that position, but it won’t happen, no way,” said one of the Special Forces officers. “All these houses were full of dry weed and plants,” he said. “Full, full,” he said, in English. Pots to grow saplings were piled up. One of the units guarded what police say is the biggest drugs laboratory in the village. Its owner has been linked to an incident in 2004 when a reconnaissance helicopter sent by the Italian police was shot at. The owner says the building is a stable for his cows, but a Reuters reporter saw no evidence any cows had ever lived there. Wires ran from wooden pillars, used to dry cannabis leaves, police say. Four powerful lamps hung from the ceiling. The village streets were quiet on Thursday, bar the odd inquisitive driver. “This is all political,” said one, driving away. In the nearby village of Dervican, a man whose house bore bullet marks from the exchange of fire debated with a local builder the impact of the police crackdown on this poor southern region. “The economy will feel the impact all over,” said the builder. “They employed a thousand people a day, and supported many more.” (Editing by Matt Robinson and Sonya Hepinstall)
- Reuters Videos
The crash, on State Route 115 near El Centro, California, involved a sport utility vehicle carrying 27 people and a truck hauling gravel, officials at El Centro Regional Medical Center told a news briefing.Some 14 people died at the scene while another person died at the El Centro Regional Medical Center, the director of the hospital's emergency room, Judy Cruz, said in the briefing, posted on Facebook.
- The Independent
John Brennan says ‘there are so few Republicans in Congress who value truth, honesty, and integrity’
The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions to punish Russia for what it described as Moscow's attempt to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent last year, in President Joe Biden's most direct challenge yet to the Kremlin. The sanctions against seven senior Russian officials, among them the head of its FSB security service, and on 14 entities marked a sharp departure from former President Donald Trump's reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The Independent
5,000 National Guard troops remain in DC amid QAnon frenzy that Trump will be inaugurated again this week
QAnon followers believe that on 4 March, which was once the inauguration date of US presidents, Donald Trump will become president again
- Associated Press
Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels Wednesday warned that the U.S. sanctions imposed the previous day on two of their military leaders would only prolong the conflict in the impoverished Arab country. President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday slapped sanctions on two Houthi leaders, citing their alleged roles in cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping vessels in the Red Sea. Rebel leaders Monsour al-Saadi and Ahmed al-Hamzi were responsible for attacks “impacting Yemeni civilians, bordering nations, and commercial vessels in international waters,” the departments of State and Treasury said.
- The Telegraph
Prince Philip health update: Duke of Edinburgh undergoes successful procedure for pre-existing heart condition
The Duke of Edinburgh has undergone surgery for a pre-existing heart condition and will remain in hospital for several more days, Buckingham Palace has announced. Prince Philip, 99, was transferred from the private King Edward VII hospital to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, a leading cardiac unit, on Monday. The palace said in a statement: “The Duke of Edinburgh yesterday underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. “His Royal Highness will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days.” The Duke was admitted to the King Edward VII in central London on February 16 for "rest and observation" after feeling unwell. It was not an emergency admission and he walked in unaided, with aides revealing they expected him to be released within days and that doctors were simply acting with “an abundance of caution.” But the palace later revealed he was being treated for an infection and would remain in hospital for several more days than expected. The Duke, who in 2011 received treatment for a blocked coronary artery, was subsequently transferred to St Bartholomew’s by ambulance, pictured below.
- Business Insider
A wealthy Florida Keys community received vaccines before the rest of the state. A month later, one resident sent $250,000 to the governor.
The Miami Herald report came amid criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has been accused of playing favorites with vaccine distribution.
Some former political appointees say they were promised lump-sum payouts and are now struggling to pay rent.
During a recent interview on Good Morning America with host Robin Roberts, former First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about how she and her husband, former President Barack Obama, have open communications with their two young-adult daughters. “I always have wanted them to start practicing the power of their voices very early on,” Mrs. Obama shared of Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22.
- NBC News
All federal government agencies have until noon Friday to download the latest software update to block the perpetrator.
- Associated Press
A national panel of vaccine experts in Canada recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to four months to quickly inoculate more people amid a shortage of doses in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed optimism that vaccination timelines could be sped up. The current protocol is an interval of three to four weeks between doses for the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
QAnon influencers are attacking their movement's hyped March 4 event, calling it a false flag conspiracy theory
QAnon planned for March 4 as its next big date. The movement's influencers are already looking forward to the next goal post.
A lawyer for an accused Oath Keeper Capitol rioter says the group's 'quick reaction force' of weapon suppliers was actually just one guy
The Oath Keepers were one of the most prominent far-right militia groups the FBI said was involved in the January 6 Capitol riot.
- The Telegraph
The Duchess of Sussex wore earrings given to her by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, against advice from palace aides, The Telegraph understands. The Duchess, 39, had been given the Butani earrings as an official wedding present from the Saudi Royal Family. When she wore them to a formal dinner in Fiji in October 2018, during a royal tour, the media were told that they were “borrowed” but unusually, declined to offer further information or guidance. The dinner took place three weeks after Mr Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Duchess’s lawyers insisted that at the time of the dinner, she was unaware of speculation that the crown prince was involved in the murder of the journalist. However, a royal source claimed that palace staff had advised the Duchess not to wear the jewellery. “Members of Royal Household staff sometimes advise people on their options,” one said. “But what they choose to do with that advice is a very different matter.”
- The Week
During the campaign for the two Georgia Senate races, Joe Biden repeatedly promised to pass $2,000 stimulus checks if the Democrats won. After they did, the administration argued that $2,000 really meant $1,400 in addition to the $600 that had already gone out in the December rescue package. Whether that is true or not, now Biden is inarguably breaking his promise. Under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats, he has reportedly agreed to cut down the formula under which the checks will be sent out. In the previous packages, the amount started phasing out at $75,000 in income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, and vanished entirely at $100,000 and $200,000 respectively (as of 2019). Now the phase-out will start start in the same place but end at $80,000 for singles and $160,000 for couples. The $1,400 promise clearly implied at least that the checks would go out according to the previous formula used under Trump. But now singles making between $80,000-100,000 and couples making between $160,000-200,000 will get nothing. The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reports that roughly 17 million people who previously got checks now will not. The supposed justification here is that moderates want the aid to be more "targeted." In fact this formula is horribly inaccurate, because the income data the IRS uses is from the year before the pandemic (unless people have already filed their taxes — and by the way, if your income decreased in 2020, you should do that immediately). This formula is therefore doubly wrong — there are no doubt millions of people who have lost jobs and should qualify but won't, and a smaller number that have gotten raises and shouldn't qualify but will. And this change will only save a pitiful $12 billion. The survival checks are one of the most popular government programs in American history. Polls have them at something like 4-1 approval. "Moderation," for Senate Democrats, apparently means breaking their party's promises in the service of unpopular, pointless actions that make their president seem less generous than Donald Trump. More stories from theweek.com7 scathingly funny cartoons about Trump's CPAC appearanceAfter 50 years, a long-lost family photo has made its way back where it belongsThe complicated quagmire of Dr. Seuss
- Business Insider
Dr. Fauci has a stunningly simple way to explain how Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine differs from Pfizer's and Moderna's shots
All three of the COVID-19 shots authorized for use in the US train the body to recognize the coronavirus, but J&J's uses a cold virus instead of mRNA.
- Business Insider
Biden cuts 16 million people off from stimulus checks after striking deal with moderate Senate Democrats, study says
Biden approved phasing out direct payments entirely for individuals making above $80,000 a year and married couples earning more than $160,000.
- Business Insider
The Trumps are trying to sell a Florida home for $49 million after buying it from the former president's sister for $18 million in 2018
Eric Trump tweeted a listing for a home that the family is trying to sell through a limited liability company for more than twice its 2018 value.
- Business Insider
Court docs reveal Saudi wealth fund courted by Hollywood and Wall Street owned planes used in Jamal Khashoggi's killing
A Saudi investment fund courted by Hollywood and Silicon Valley owns two planes used to fly Jamal Khashoggi's killers to and from Istanbul.
Dolphins cut $51 million player after just one season in which he played through a painful hip injury
NFL linebacker Kyle Van Noy revealed details about what he went through in a recovery process with the Miami Dolphins after the team cut him on Tuesday.