A Rio de Janeiro police officer confessed to killing Greece’s ambassador to Brazil, Kyriakos Amiridis, police said Friday. The officer, Sergio Moreira, was having an affair with the ambassador’s wife, Françoise. Police have arrested the ambassador’s wife of 15 years, a Brazilian national and mother of their 10-year-old daughter. The ambassador had been missing since Monday. On Thursday, police found his charred body in a burnt-out rental car under an overpass in Rio de Janeiro. Moreira told police he killed Amiridis in the ambassador’s home in Nova Iguaçu, a city just north of Rio, and later set the car and body on fire under the overpass. Police also arrested Moreira’s cousin, who allegedly served as a lookout in exchange for $25,000. Amiridis has served as the Greek ambassador since earlier this year. He previously was a consul in Rio de Janeiro from 2001 until 2004. He has been a consul to the Netherlands and ambassador to Libya. Brazilian President Michel Temer sent his condolences in a letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday.
—Russian President Vladimir Putin said he won’t expel U.S. diplomats despite being urged to do so by his Foreign Ministry as a retaliation for a similar move Thursday by the United States. More here
—A Rio de Janeiro police officer confessed to killing Greece’s ambassador to Brazil. The officer was having an affair with the ambassador’s wife. More here
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Greek Ambassador to Brazil Allegedly Murdered by Wife's Lover
N.C. Court Temporarily Blocks Laws Stripping Governor's Power
Two weeks after Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly passed laws stripping incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of some of his powers, and less than 36 hours before he is sworn in, a state judge has put one law on hold, pending further review. Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens ruled that a law that overhauled the state board of elections, combining it with the state ethics board and reducing the governor’s appointment powers, was a potential threat to elections. The law was passed during a surprise special session that some observers labeled a “legislative coup,” and which was an attempt to undermine Cooper’s power as he took over from Governor Pat McCrory, the Republican he defeated in November. On Wednesday, the state board of education, which is controlled by Republicans and also subject to reform, announced it would sue the state legislature as well.
UPDATE: Trump Lauds Putin's Decision Not to Expel U.S. Diplomats
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he won’t retaliate against the U.S. decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats despite a recommendation that he do so by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. According to RT, the state-run broadcaster, Putin said President Obama’s actions Thursday were “a provocation aimed at further undermining Russia-U.S. relations.” He added Russia “reserved the right to retaliate, [but] will not stoop to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy.” In response, President-elect Trump tweeted:
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
Our original post at 6:57 a.m.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has moved to expel 35 U.S. diplomats—31 from Moscow and four from St. Petersburg—a day after the United States announced a similar move, along with sanctions and other steps in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. Such retaliatory expulsions are a hallmark of relations between Washington and Moscow, and have occurred at regular intervals since the Cold War. This latest step comes amid what is perhaps the lowest point in ties between the two countries in recent years. They have clashes over the civil war in Syria, where Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. some rebel groups; over Russia’s invasion in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimea, and, more recently, over what U.S. intelligence agencies have said is Russia’s hacking of computers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and others in an attempt to influence the results of the U.S. election. The steps announced against Russia Thursday were the first publicly unveiled by President Obama since reports of the hacking emerged. For more on the steps taken by the U.S., go here.
U.K. Chides Kerry's Remarks on Israel
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman has called “not appropriate” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s description of Israel’s coalition government as the “most right wing” in the country’s history. Kerry, in a speech Wednesday, defended the U.S. abstention from a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and said Israel’s continued building of settlements imperiled the two-state solution. The remarks were condemned by the Israeli government, but supported on the Israeli left and in European capitals. Although the U.K. voted to approve the UN resolution (unlike the U.S., which abstained), May’s spokesman said: “We do not … believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.” The U.S. State Department said it was “surprised” by the remarks, given that they reflected longstanding U.K. policy. Reuters adds that “by openly criticizing Kerry, who will leave office in just weeks, May moves British policy closer to Trump than its other European allies such as Germany and France.”
Syrian Truce Appears to Hold Despite Reported Clashes
The ceasefire in Syria that went into effect at midnight Friday appears to be holding despite some clashes. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, said there were clashes in Maharda town as well as near Hama. There were no reports of any deaths, SOHR said. As we reported Thursday, Turkey and Russia announced the ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebels, and said they would, along with Iran, act as guarantors of the truce. The warring factions in the more than five-year civil war are expected to meet next month in the Kazakh capital, Almaty, for talks on a resolution to the conflict. The agreement excludes groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (the group now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), but also, YPG, the Kurdish rebel group, which Turkey regards as a terrorist organization. It does, however, include Islamist groups Russia has previously described as terrorists. It’s unclear whether the ceasefire will pave the way for a political settlement; previous attempts at one have failed. For more on terms of the deal, go here.