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Alexei Navalny appears in court as anti-corruption network is forced to shutter

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared at a court hearing via video link for the first time since ending his hunger strike, as a top ally announced Navalny's anti-corruption network would be forced to close amid an effort by Russian prosecutors to label it as "extremist."

Why it matters: The Kremlin's crackdown on the country's most prominent Putin critic is intensifying.

Driving the news: "I was taken to a bathhouse yesterday ... there was a mirror there. I looked at myself — I am just a horrible skeleton," Navalny said in court, one week after ending a hunger strike that he launched to protest a lack of medical treatment by prison authorities.

  • The appeal hearing was related to a defamation sentence he received in January for allegedly insulting a World War II veteran. Navalny is currently jailed for violating his parole while recovering in Germany from an assassination attempt, and has condemned both cases as politically motivated.
  • A gaunt-looking Navalny continued to crack jokes in court, as he is known to do, and asked to see his wife, Yulia. "I haven’t weighed this much since the seventh grade," he told her.
  • Turning his attention to the judge, Navalny accused the Kremlin of turning "Russians into slaves" and called President Vladimir Putin a "naked king," before having his appeal summarily rejected, according to The Guardian.

The big picture: Hours earlier, a top official with Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation announced that its regional offices would be dismantled, after a petition by prosecutors to label the network as "extremist" raised the possibility of terrorism charges against its members.

  • Amnesty International has said that an extremist designation for Navalny's political and anti-corruption groups would represent "one of the most serious blows for the rights to freedom of expression and association in Russia’s post-Soviet history.”
  • “The networks of Navalny’s headquarters doesn’t exist anymore, but there are dozens of strong and tough regional politicians, thousands of his supporters, there are strong and independent political organizations which will work on investigations and elections, public campaigns and rallies. You will help them, and they will succeed,” Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram, per AP.

Meanwhile, state media reported that a new criminal case had been opened against Navalny, Volkov, and Anti-Corruption Foundation director Ivan Zhdanov in connection with the extremist designation.

Massive California blaze levels town, threatens others as it burns out of control

The small Sierra town of Greenville, Calif., was heavily damaged on Wednesday night into early Thursday as the Dixie Fire surged northward amid high winds, extremely dry air and hot temperatures.

The big picture: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze and the sixth-largest wildfire in state history, razed houses and businesses as it ripped through Greenville and surrounding areas in Plumas County.

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Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine "remains durable" with 93% efficacy through 6 months

Moderna said Thursday that its coronavirus vaccine was 93% effective against COVID-19 through six months after receiving the second dose.

Why it matters: The number shows that efficacy "remains durable" through that time, and hardly wanes from the 94.5% efficacy Moderna reported last November. But the clinical trial, which started in July 2020, was conducted before the Delta variant became the common strain in the U.S.

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U.S. women's soccer team beats Australia, wins Olympic bronze

The U.S. women's soccer team won the bronze medal on Thursday after beating ninth-ranked Australia 4-3.

Why it matters: Thursday's victory marks the U.S. team's first bronze in Olympic history, handing the team a medal after it failed to earn one during the Rio Games in 2016.

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Top Democratic operatives mapped out how to defend Kamala Harris at high-powered dinner

A group of the Democratic Party's most influential women met for dinner at a home in the nation’s capital last month to game out how to defend Vice President Kamala Harris and her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, against a torrent of bad press.

Why it matters: It's telling that so early in the Biden-Harris administration, such powerful operatives felt compelled to try to right the vice president's ship.

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In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 13 highlights

Day 13 of the Tokyo Olympic Games saw Team USA's men's basketball team beat Australia 97-78 on Thursday to advance to the gold medal game.

The big picture: Kevin Durant led the charge with 23 points to help the U.S. secure a final spot against either France or Slovenia on Saturday local time. Elsewhere, the U.S. added to its gold medals count, with shot putter Ryan Crouser and teenage canoeist Nevin Harrison both winning their events.

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Judge to Capitol rioter: Insurrection is "not patriotism"

A federal judge sentencing a Michigan man in D.C. Wednesday over his role in the U.S. Capitol riot dismissed any notion that he's a political prisoner.

Driving the news: U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that she wasn't sentencing Karl Dresch, of Calumet, "because he is a supporter" of former President Trump, noting that "millions of people" had voted for him "and did not heed his call to descend on the nation's Capitol," per the Detroit News.

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2 wildfires ravage Northern California homes as thousands evacuate

Two massive California wildfires have triggered new mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of people and destroyed homes and businesses in the state's north overnight.

Details: The Dixie Fire, California's biggest blaze, razed houses and businesses as it ripped through the Greenville area of Plumas County Wednesday night, per AP. The rapidly spreading River Fire burned "multiple" homes as it tore through Placer and Nevada counties, KOVR notes. Mandatory evacuation orders were in effect for both fires.

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Landlords mount legal challenge to Biden administration's new eviction moratorium

A group of landlords and real-estate companies issued a legal challenge on Wednesday night in a D.C. district court to the Biden administration's new national eviction moratorium.

Driving the news: The Alabama and Georgia Associations of Realtors' emergency motion argues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's order Tuesday barring evictions for most of the U.S. through Oct. 3 exceeds the CDC's powers, according to a statement from the National Association of Realtors.

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