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Russian soldier ‘accidentally sets off’ grenade in barracks – killing three troops

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Three Russian soldiers have reportedly been killed and 16 more injured after one of their own accidentally set off a grenade in their barracks.

Emergency services told local news outlet Interfax that a sergeant, possibly a senior sergeant, “accidentally” detonated the grenade in the barracks’ sleeping quarters in the early hours of Saturday (January 14), causing the platoon’s ammunition to explode.

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The explosion reportedly started a fire covering about 450 square metres, which firefighters were able to extinguish in roughly four hours.

All of those killed and injured were draftees, according to the Telegraph channel Baza, and the disaster happened during an ill-fated attempt by the sergeant “gain authority over his subordinates”.

Eight more people are missing following the blast, while the soldier who detonated the bomb is understood to have survived and is now recovering in hospital, local news outlet Interfax reported.

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Outside of the army barracks, 15 civilians have been evacuated from neighboring buildings, but no local residents were injured.

Meanwhile the military unit, located in a former cultural centre near Tonenkoye Farm in the Belgorod region of Russia – across the Russia-Ukraine border from Kharkiv – suffered severe damage.

The identity of the commander has not been revealed, but Baza stated that he came from the Sverdlovsk region.

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A criminal case has reportedly been opened, according to Telegram channel 112.

This isn’t the first time violence towards more junior Russian troops at the hands of commanders has been reported – and often it isn’t accidental.

Captured members of Vladimir Putin’s controversial Wagner group, made up of convicted criminals turned soldiers, have spoken out after members of their crew were publicly executed by higher-ups.

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“Those who disobey are eliminated – and it’s done publicly,” one reportedly told Ukrainian captors earlier this week.

The Wagner group, run by Kremlin boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin, is made up of convicted murderers, rapists and drug dealers sent to fight on the front line.

While it was supposed to be Putin’s most dangerous secret weapon in his invasion of Ukraine, they haven’t always been the vicious fighters Putin might have hoped.

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The crooks-turned-troops have reportedly taken heavy casualties during their assault on the mining town of Soledar, and not just from Ukraine, but from their own ranks too.

“There are squadrons of liquidators… shelling began,” the former inmate reportedly added of one particular execution.

“One of the prisoners laid down and didn’t cover his own men.

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“The shelling stopped, he went back, and the boss shouted: ‘Why didn’t you go forward?’

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Foreign

US will act on China after balloon downing – Biden

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President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday he would not hesitate to defend United State interests against China after he ordered the downing of a suspected surveillance balloon but, delivering his State of the Union address, kept the door open to cooperation.

In the annual speech to assembled lawmakers, many of whom have pressed for a hard line on China, Biden called for US investment in the military, technology and alliances to take on the country widely viewed as the chief US competitor.

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“I’m committed to working with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said.

“But make no mistake about it — as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he said to applause.

Biden said that “winning the competition” with China should unite Americans.

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“I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America stronger — investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future that China intends to be dominating.”

But Biden steered clear of hawkish language as he mentioned by name his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, whom he met at length in November in Indonesia.

Biden said he told Xi that “we seek competition, not conflict.”

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China was one of the few foreign policy issues mentioned by Biden in a more than one-hour speech that comes as he prepares for a likely run for a second term.

He also promised long-term support for Ukraine but made no mention of Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, North Korea or this week’s devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

– Pentagon says China rejected talks –

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A US fighter jet on Saturday shot down what the Pentagon called a Chinese surveillance balloon after it crossed into the Atlantic Ocean, with the military saying it waited until a point when the debris could not hurt people on the ground.

The episode led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to Beijing aimed at reducing tensions as he accused China of violating US sovereignty.

Blinken said that he sought to maintain communication with China. But at the Pentagon, a spokesman said that China rebuffed a request to speak.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a secure call with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe immediately after the shootdown, Brigadier General Pat Ryder said.

“Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,” Ryder said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

China says the balloon was an errant weather observation aircraft with no military purpose. But Washington has described it as a sophisticated high-altitude spying vehicle which reportedly traversed over several top-secret military sites.

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Austin and Wei met in Cambodia in November as Washington and Beijing sought to lower the temperature after a visit to Taiwan by then-speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that enraged China.

General Glen VanHerck, head of the US Northern Command, said a naval ship would map the debris field left by the balloon, which is expected to measure about 1,500 by 1,500 meters (yards) in the Atlantic.

The balloon itself was up to 200 feet (60 meters) tall and carried a payload weighing several thousand pounds that were roughly the size of a regional jet aircraft, he said.

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VanHerck said the balloon debris would be carefully studied.

“I don’t know where the debris is going to go for a final analysis, but I will tell you that certainly, the intel community along with the law enforcement community that works this under counterintelligence will take a good look at it,” he said.

AFP

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Mother dies after giving birth under earthquake rubble in Syria

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By Francesca Iwambe

A pregnant woman who was trapped under the earthquake rubble in Syria has been delivered of her baby.

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In a video on Tuesday, a man was seen bringing the baby out while another man threw a dusty blanket in the direction of the baby.

Sadly, the mother of the child has reportedly lost her life.

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Google To Release ChatGPT-Like Bot Named Bard

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Google said Monday it will release a conversational chatbot named Bard, setting up an artificial intelligence showdown with Microsoft which has invested billions in the creators of ChatGPT, a language app that convincingly mimics human writing.

ChatGPT, created by San Francisco company OpenAI, has caused a sensation for its ability to write essays, poems or programming code on demand within seconds, sparking widespread fears of cheating or of entire professions becoming obsolete.

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Microsoft announced last month that it was backing OpenAI and has begun to integrate ChatGPT features into its Teams platform, with expectations that it will adapt the app to its Office suite and Bing search engine.

The potential inclusion in Bing turned the focus on Google and speculation that the company’s world-dominating search engine could face unprecedented competition from an AI-powered rival.

Media reports said the overnight success of ChatGPT was designated a “code red” threat at Google with founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page — who left several years ago — pulled back in to brainstorm ideas and fast-track a response.

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The pressure to act was heightened by the poor earnings posted last week by Google-parent Alphabet, which fell short of investor expectations. The company last month announced that it was laying off 12,000 people as it put more emphasis on AI projects.

Google’s announcement came on the eve of an AI-related launch event by Microsoft, further that the two tech giants will do battle over the technology, also known as generative AI.

“Generative AI is a game changer and much like the rise of the internet sank the networking giants that came before (AOL, CompuServe etc.) it has the potential to change the competitive dynamic for search and information,” said independent tech analyst Rob Enderle.

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“Google still largely lives off the fact their search engine is the most widely used, this could change that relegating them to history,” he added.

‘High-quality responses’
In his blog post on Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google’s Bard conversational AI was to go out for testing with a plan to make it more widely available to the public “in the coming weeks.”

Google’s Bard is based on LaMDA, the firm’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications system, and has been in development for several years.

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“Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models,” Pichai said, referring to the technology behind ChatGPT-like AI.

“It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses,” he added.

Before the emergence of ChatGPT, which was released in late November, Google had been reluctant to launch its own language-based AI fearing the reputational risk of releasing technology that wasn’t ready.

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Pichai insisted that responses churned out by Bard would “meet a high bar for quality, safety and groundedness in real world information.”

And much like ChatGPT, Bard would also use a limited version of its base language model in order to reduce computing power and reach a wider audience.

Crucially for its looming duel with Microsoft, Google also said that users would soon see AI-powered features in its search engine.

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New-style responses would “distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats,” Pichai said.

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