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Putin wins 88% of votes in election where opposition was banned, early results show

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Putin wins 88% of votes in election where opposition was banned, early results show

Vladimir Putin is cruising to victory in Russia’s presidential election, cementing his rule for another six years amid his invasion of Ukraine and brutal suppression of dissent.

Early results on Sunday showed the Russian president on track to be re-elected with a record 88 per cent of the vote and turnout of more than 70 per cent, according to the Russian electoral commission with 25 per cent of returns counted.

The outcome — which included totals from five Ukrainian regions occupied by Russia — was a foregone conclusion after the Kremlin outlawed all criticism of Putin or the war and blocked any opposition candidates from running.

As the results came in, Putin thanked volunteers and spoke to reporters at his campaign headquarters near the Kremlin. “All the plans we have created to develop Russia will certainly be carried out and their goals achieved,” he said. “We have come up with grandiose plans and will do everything to carry them out.”

Appearing eager to send a message to the west, Putin exuded confidence that Russia would win the war and said the high turnout showed that he enjoyed overwhelming public support to wage it.

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The main challenges of his next six-year term, Putin said, were “achieving the goals of the special operation [in Ukraine] and strengthening our defence capacity and armed forces.”

Putin mused about a potential Russian military conflict with Nato, which he said would be “one step away from a third world war” after France’s Emmanuel Macron speculated on sending troops to Ukraine.

“Everything is possible in the modern world [ . . . ] I don’t think anyone’s really interested in that,” he said.

Putin also suggested he was more legitimate than Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has postponed elections originally scheduled for later this year under martial law. “We will think about who to hold talks with” on ending the war, he said. “We are for peace negotiations, but not because the enemy is running out of ammunition.”

Ahead of Putin’s comments, Zelenskyy wrote on X: “The Russian dictator is simulating another election. Everyone in the world understands that this figure . . . has simply become addicted to power and is doing everything he can to rule forever . . . There is no legitimacy in this imitation of elections and there cannot be.”

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The longest-serving ruler since Joseph Stalin, Putin has solidified his grip on power despite western efforts to impose harsh economic sanctions on Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s army has regained the initiative against outmanned and outgunned Ukrainian forces while the Russian economy has rebounded thanks to a wartime surge in defence spending and economic lifelines from countries such as China.

Voters at a polling station in St Petersburg at noon on Sunday. Alexei Navalny’s supporters called on people to arrive en masse at midday and vote against Vladimir Putin © AP

Putin’s repression of domestic dissent since the invasion has left him with no challengers after Alexei Navalny, his most prominent opponent, died in a remote Arctic prison colony last month. Navalny’s family and supporters have been forced into exile and have blamed Putin for his death, an allegation the Kremlin denies.

Asked about Navalny on Sunday night, Putin — who had studiously avoided saying his name in public for more than a decade — dismissed claims Russia had murdered him.

“As concerns Mr Navalny. Yes, he left this life, it is a tragic event. But there have been other instances where incarcerated people left this earth. Hasn’t that happened in the US? It has, and more than once,” Putin said.

Putin added that he had agreed to an informal proposal to release Navalny in a prisoner exchange not long before he died. “A few days before Navalny left this life I was told that there was an idea to swap him for people in prison in western countries. The person who said that [ . . .] didn’t finish his phrase before I said, I agree.

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“But unfortunately, what happened happened. I agreed under one condition: we swap him, and he doesn’t come back. But such is life.”

From exile or prison, opposition leaders had urged supporters to go to the polls en masse at noon on Sunday in Navalny’s memory and vote against Putin. Hundreds of people followed the call, according to footage posted on social media.

“My wife, my friend and I came to the polling station around twelve,” said Danil, a corporate lawyer who lives in a northern Moscow neighbourhood. He said that a “visible line” of people of all ages started forming at noon.

“I expected problems, that the authorities would close the station at noon. But except for the line, there was nothing extraordinary,” Danil said.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, stands in a queue outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin on Sunday
Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, holding flowers as she stands in a queue outside the Russian Embassy in Berlin on the final day of the election © Annegret Hilse/Reuters

Vera, a young woman in Moscow, said she came to vote at midday to show her opposition to Putin, and “that I do not support everything that is happening in the country”.

Abroad, even longer lines formed in cities with large Russian émigré populations including Dubai, Almaty and Berlin, where Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya queued to vote.

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One of the longest lines was recorded in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, which is home to one of the largest Russian communities.

Elena, a podcast editor, said she had travelled from neighbouring Georgia, which does not have a Russian embassy, with more than a dozen friends. “I understand my vote won’t change anything, but I think it’s an important event to observe and to see how many of us are there,” she said.

In London, the queue outside the Russian embassy that formed towards noon was nearly 2km long. Alina, 25, a student from the Siberian city of Kogalym, said she had come to the polling station because “we have very few rights in our country. We must exercise the ones we have left”.

Russian police detained more than 65 people on Sunday including for writing “No to war!” on a ballot, wearing a T-shirt with Navalny’s name on it, or trying to slip a photo of him into the ballot box, according to independent rights monitor OVD-Info.

In the first two days of the election, dozens were arrested across Russia for setting voting booths on fire, or throwing Molotov cocktails at polling stations.

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Some officials tried to explain away the protests. Authorities in Novosibirsk, Siberia’s largest city, claimed the noon queues had been caused by repair works.

Independent election monitor Golos, whose co-chair Grigory Melkonyants was jailed last year, said authorities had also coerced public sector employees into voting early or pushed them to vote online.

The three lawmakers who were allowed on the ballot alongside Putin support the war and have avoided criticising the president.

Additional reporting by Daria Mosolova in London

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Meta shares fall as it predicts higher expenditure on AI

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Meta shares fall as it predicts higher expenditure on AI

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Meta’s revenues jumped by more than a quarter in the first three months of the year, beating expectations, but its forecasts left Wall Street underwhelmed and the shares fell 10 per cent in after-hours trading on Wednesday.

Revenues at the social media group rose 27 per cent to $36.5bn, just above analyst expectations of a rise to $36.2bn.

Meta said it had raised the high end of its full-year capital expenditure guidance from $37bn to $40bn in order to “continue to accelerate our infrastructure investments to support our artificial intelligence (AI) roadmap”. It added that it expected capital expenditures to “continue to increase next year”.

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It said it anticipated current quarter revenues in the range of $36.5bn-$39bn, versus consensus estimates of $38.3bn.

Prior to the announcement, Meta’s stock had risen more than 40 per cent this year, having been in record territory since a bumper fourth-quarter earnings announcement in February during which it announced its first dividend and signalled a strong recovery from a recent advertising slump. 

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been attempting to keep investors happy and cut costs while investing in the artificial intelligence race, its longer-term metaverse ambitions and the costly technology and infrastructure required to support both.

This month Meta released a new version of its AI model, Llama 3, which it said had vastly improved capabilities, including the ability to reason. The company also unveiled a new generation of its AI custom-made chips.  

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With federal fraud trial looming, George Santos drops out of New York House race

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With federal fraud trial looming, George Santos drops out of New York House race

Former Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has dropped his bid to return to the U.S. House.

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Alex Brandon/AP


Former Republican Rep. George Santos of New York has dropped his bid to return to the U.S. House.

Alex Brandon/AP

Another chapter in the scandal-plagued career of New York Republican George Santos sputtered to an end this week as he abandoned his independent bid for a U.S. House seat on Long Island.

“I don’t want to split the ticket and be responsible for handing the house to Dems,” Santos wrote in a social media post. “Staying in this race all but guarantees a victory for the Dems.”

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Santos won his election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District in the 2022 midterms. He was part of a red wave in New York that helped give Republicans a razor-thin majority.

But his personal and professional narratives quickly unraveled.

It turned out Santos, who was initially supported by many of New York’s most prominent GOP leaders, lied about his family’s religion, his education and his business experience.

Santos even claimed falsely to have been a competitive college volleyball player.

In May 2023, while facing a House ethics probe, Santos was arrested on federal fraud charges that accuse him of bilking political donors. Santos has pleaded not guilty. The Justice Department eventually expanded the criminal counts against Santos to 23 charges.

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“Santos is charged with stealing people’s identities and making charges on his own donors’ credit cards without their authorization,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in an October 2023 statement.

Santos’s trial on Long Island is expected to get underway in September. His former campaign treasurer has already pleaded guilty in the case.

Ousted from Congress, Santos tried for a comeback

In December 2023, with his scandals and legal troubles deepening and political allies abandoning him, Santos was expelled from Congress in a 311-114 vote. Many Republicans joined the effort to purge him from office.

In the months since, Santos has emerged as a far-right gadfly and influencer, firing political salvos at Democrats and at moderate Republicans.

Santos initially said he would run in the Republican primary in New York’s 1st Congressional District but later shifted to run as an independent.

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In his social media post announcing that he’s abandoned his campaign, Santos again blasted the “abysmal” voting record of Rep. Nick LaLota, the Republican who currently holds the seat.

LaLota played a key role in the bipartisan effort to force Santos from office.

John Avlon, who is running in the 1st Congressional District’s Democratic primary, expressed his disappointment at the end of the three-way race: “Gotta say: I was really looking forward to the debates.”

Since Santos’s numerous lies were revealed, he has become a political pariah in New York City. But Santos’ post suggested that even now his political career may not yet be over:

“It’s only goodbye for now, I’ll be back.”

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Boeing burns through $4bn in first quarter after door plug blowout

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Boeing burns through $4bn in first quarter after door plug blowout

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Boeing burnt through almost $4bn of cash in the first quarter, reflecting slower 737 Max production and compensation to customers as the US plane maker grappled with the aftermath of the mid-air accident in January.

The $3.9bn of free cash outflow is slightly lower than the $4bn-4.5bn the company had warned in March, but compares with an outflow of $786mn for the same period last year. Boeing reported a $355mn net loss in the first quarter.

The company’s financial results “reflect the immediate actions we’ve taken to slow down 737 production to drive improvements in quality”, said chief executive Dave Calhoun.

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There has been a 500 per cent increase in reports to Boeing’s internal safety hotline compared with last year.

The company is working to improve processes including training, inspection and how “travelled work” where jets that move through the production line with problems addressed later in the assembly process, is handled in the 737 factory in Renton, Washington. Boeing also is attempting to stabilise its supply chain.

“Near term, yes, we are in a tough moment,” said Calhoun in a letter to staff on Wednesday. “Lower deliveries can be difficult for our customers and our financials. But safety and quality must and will come above all else.”

The plane maker is building fewer than 38 Maxes per month, reducing deliveries that are necessary to bring in cash in order to improve the quality of its manufacturing following the mid-air blowout of a door plug on an Alaska Airlines flight.

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Boeing faces investigations by aviation regulators and the US Justice Department. Though no one was killed, the explosive loss of cabin pressure injured some on board and recalled the two fatal crashes that led to the worldwide grounding of the Max for nearly two years.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board found that four bolts meant to fasten the panel to the fuselage were missing.

A US Federal Aviation Administration audit of Boeing found “multiple instances” where it allegedly failed to meet manufacturing and quality control requirements. Regulators have given the company until the end of May to submit a plan to improve.

Boeing said on Wednesday it was “implementing a comprehensive action plan” to address the audit’s findings.

The company did not issue any financial guidance for the year on Wednesday. It initially declined to issue guidance in January, with Calhoun saying “now is not the time”.

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The 737’s troubles have led to a shake-up in Boeing leadership. Calhoun said last month he would step down as Boeing chief executive at the end of the year, with the chair of the board Larry Kellner leaving after the annual meeting in May. Stan Deal, head of Boeing’s commercial plane division, departed immediately.

Boeing shares rose 3.6 per cent in pre-market trading after closing on Tuesday at $169.28.

Baird analyst Peter Arment said the stock represented “a buying opportunity”. “The kitchen sink quarter was not bad as feared, with progress expected on production, deliveries and [free cash flow] in the coming quarters coupled with a management change,” he said.

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