New XFL league reveals teams and logos

XFL Football Commissioner Oliver Luck talks to reporters before introducing former NFL football quarterback Jim Zorn as the head coach for Seattle's XFL football team, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Seattle. The team will begin play in 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The XFL officially announced team names and unveiled its logos Wednesday ahead of the league’s expected inaugural season in 2020.

Here’s the complete list of nicknames after the cities were selected in December:

1. Dallas Renegades

2. D.C. Defenders

3. Houston Roughnecks

4. Los Angeles Wildcats

5. New York Guardians

6. Seattle Dragons

7. St. Louis BattleHawks

8. Tampa Bay Vipers

Vince McMahon is making his second attempt to build a successful professional football league after the original XFL lasted a single season in 2001.

The new XFL is less based on gimmicks and more focused on a fast, simple product that can become a developmental proving ground for NFL hopefuls while still filling the void left by college football and the NFL in late winter and early spring.

McMahon, who’s best known as the chairman of WWE, is also taking more of a backseat role in the lead-up to the league’s revival. He’s allowed Commissioner Oliver Luck, a former NFL quarterback and NCAA executive, to handle most of the front-facing duties.

“Oliver and I share the same vision and passion for reimagining the game of football,” McMahon said in a June 2018 statement. “His experience as both an athlete and executive will ensure the long-term success of the XFL.”

Meanwhile, the XFL kicked off its recruitment last week by signing quarterback Landry Jones, a former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, to its first player contract.

“We’re excited to welcome Landry to the XFL as our first player and first quarterback,” Luck said. “He’s an accomplished athlete with outstanding college credentials and pro experience, and his heart and desire to play football epitomizes the type of individual we want in the XFL.”

The XFL is scheduled to hold its player draft in October, with head coaches selecting quarterbacks first before filling out the rest of their rosters. Further details will be released at a later date.

Play is set to begin Feb. 8, 2020—one week after Super Bowl LIV concludes the NFL season.

Hundreds of demonstrators in Hong Kong are getting protest tattoos

An umbrella. A bauhinia flower. A bleeding eye.

These icons have taken on new significance in the Hong Kong protests — and now, a number of demonstrators are getting them inked onto their bodies.

The pro-democracy movement, which is heading towards its 12th consecutive weekend, has inspired a wave of protest art. Posters, banners and flyers have offered protesters a way to spread their message, appeal to international audiences and satirize the embattled government and police force.

Tattoos are the next step, illustrating the demonstrators’ creativity and dogged commitment to the movement. While last weekend’s protests were largely peaceful, violence over the past two months has escalated on both sides.

One local tattoo artist, who asked not to be named for fear of backlash, offered free Hong Kong-themed tattoos throughout July. Designs included the bauhinia flower featured on the territory’s emblem and flag, and two cleverly arranged Chinese characters that mean either “Hong Kong” or “add oil” — a local rallying cry — depending on which direction they’re facing.

The tattooist estimates that about 100 people took up his offer. Some, he said, were simply attracted by the free tattoo, but others got inked as a symbol of their dedication to the movement. One client told him he wanted to commemorate the event, and pass the story on to his children.

Another image that has gained notoriety among demonstrators is that of a bloody eye or eye patch, which spread rapidly after a female protester’s eye was badly injured on August 11. Protesters claim she was shot with a projectile by police, and the incident sparked huge outrage. The next day, thousands occupied the city’s international airport wearing eye patches and holding posters and signs depicting the injury. Police say they are still investigating the incident.

The image has also inspired tattoos. One striking design, posted on Instagram by Hong Kong-based tattoo artist Rich Phipson, shows an eye, drawn in thick black lines, a drop of blood falling from the pupil.

Tattoo artist Zada Lam is quickly becoming known for his geometric designs of bauhinia flowers and umbrellas, which first became a significant protest symbol during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The pro-democracy “Umbrella Revolution” was the largest protest movement Hong Kong had seen at the time, and shut down parts of the city for months.

Umbrellas have continued as a protest staple in recent months, often acting as shields against tear gas and riot police.

Yellow umbrellas have become particularly ubiquitous with the pro-democracy movement, appearing on posters, social media and public mosaics of Post-It notes, nicknamed Lennon walls.

Lam estimates that over 100 people have been tattooed with his protest-themed designs, which he also offered for free in the months of June and July.

“Some of the clients are getting (the tattoos) for the same reason I offered them — they want to memorialize this moment and everything they witnessed,” Lam said in a phone interview. “This tattoo can help them remember the Hong Kong of today, the things that have happened. They want to express how much they love Hong Kong, love this place.”

Protesters have chosen a range of other designs, from Chinese script tattoos reading “Never give up” to tattoos of the protective hard hats worn at protests. One 21-year-old, Rachel Lam, even got a tattoo of a girl in a gas mask with tear gas floating around her — a reference to the copious amounts of the gas fired by police this summer.

A tattoo of a gas mask and tear gas in Hong Kong.

A tattoo of a gas mask and tear gas in Hong Kong. Credit: Cattoys.tattoo/Instagram

“This tattoo represents the dream that I had, which I will never forget,” Lam told CNN in an Instagram message, adding that she has been hit with tear gas at recent protests.

Tattoos have long been taboo in Hong Kong, as they were closely associated with organized crime groups known as triads. However, in recent years perceptions shifted as tattoos became more popular.

There’s a growing number of tattoo artists in the city, and a distinctly whimsical local style has emerged.

The protest-themed tattoos act as public statements of dedication and belief — particularly striking in a time when most demonstrators are trying to conceal their identities.

Many wear face masks and goggles to obscure their faces at protests, and are wary of being identified by cameras or by other tracking methods. This fear of being caught has ramped up as authorities have cracked down and made hundreds of arrests — but the permanence of the tattoos will forever connect protesters with the movement.

Watch: A quiet sanctuary in sleepless Hong Kong

Zada Lam said that aside from offering people a way to express their beliefs, the protest tattoos are a reminder of community, and of the hundreds of thousands who have marched all throughout the summer.

“You can remember how many people stood together. I think it’s a positive thing, to make people realize — you’re not alone. Everyone’s beside you, everyone’s supporting everybody. This is what my clients and I think,” he said.

Young students and teenagers have become the face of the movement — they are often on the front lines at protests, and are figureheads in political parties like Demosisto. Many of those getting protest tattoos appear to be young — but the artists spoken to by CNN also report having clients from other demographics and corners of society, a sign of how widespread support for the movement is.

Some clients are well into middle age — in their 40s and 50s — according to Zada Lam. Some even work for Hong Kong’s government, which protesters accuse of inaction and bullheadedness. These government employees feel less able than young people to be on the front lines, so they take a stance by getting tattoos, he said.

On Lam’s Instagram page, the tattooist shares anonymous messages from Hong Kong protesters in captions next to defiant tattoos.

One such message reads, “Hong Kongers, keep on going and strive hard!” Another reads, “Everyone, don’t give up on your dreams and goals.”

Disneyland honors woman’s free admission pass from 1985

(CNN) — A lot of things have changed at Disneyland since 1985.

For starters, Captain Jack Sparrow is now the star of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and you can buy and drink alcohol inside Oga’s Cantina.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Canadian woman Tamia Richardson’s love for Disney.

In August 2019, the park honored visitor Richardson’s free entry pass from 1985. Although decades have passed since Richardson received the pass, she was allowed in without so much as a surcharge.

Tamia Richardson, center, enjoys her trip to Disneyland in August 2019.

Tamia Richardson, center, enjoys her trip to Disneyland in August 2019.

Disneyland Resort

Richardson, who lives in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park, Alberta, was planning a girls’ trip to Disneyland with her mother, aunt, and daughters Mia and Maren when she found the coupon.

The mom of two first visited Disneyland in 1985 when she was 14 years old. That was also the year that Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, celebrated its 30th birthday.

“As part of the 30th Anniversary, Disneyland featured the Gift Giver Extraordinaire, which gave out prizes to every 30th guest,” a Disney spokesperson explains to CNN Travel. “Tamia won a pass to use for a return visit. She kept the pass for 30 years and used it today for admission.”

“Disney’s big in our family,” says Kent Richardson, Tamia’s husband, who has been keeping the home fires warm back in Canada. “They’re having the time of their lives.”

Richardson's first visit to the park was in 1985.

Richardson’s first visit to the park was in 1985.

Disneyland Resort

Still, not every old pass or ticket that you find buried in the attic will necessarily be honored at the House of Mouse.

Passes that are confirmed not to be copies and that do not have expiration dates will be accepted for entrance into Disney parks, while “A B C D E” tickets (used for admission to individual rides or attractions) are not good for general admittance.

In the past, some Disney staffers have reportedly used a “Book of Life” if they needed to verify a particular pass.

Hong Kong protests for 11th consecutive weekend

Protesters hold signs as part of a pro-democracy march in Victoria Park on August 18, 2019. Protesters hold signs as part of a pro-democracy march in Victoria Park on August 18, 2019. Joshua Berlinger/CNN

Thousands of protesters have streamed into Victoria Park ahead of today’s rally, which is expected to start at 2:30 p.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET). Many are here despite the humidity and heavy rain.

The majority of the crowd are dressed in black, the color scheme that has become a signature of the pro-democracy movement.

What happens after the initial rally is unclear. Police denied organizers permission to march from the park through the city to central Hong Kong, a common route that’s often used during big demonstrations.

Previous attempts by police to deny organizers permission to march have failed to prevent demonstrators from following pre-planned routes.

Organizers called the decision to deny the march “unreasonable.”

The Civil and Human Rights Front (CHRF)’s Bonnie Leung said the group expects a huge turnout and is urging protesters to gather nonviolently.

The week in 19 photos

Police take shooting suspect Maurice Hill into custody after a nearly eight-hour standoff ended in Philadelphia on Thursday, August 15. Six police officers were wounded in the standoff, which began when police attempted to serve a narcotics warrant on a row house. Elizabeth Robertson/AP

Girls cover their faces as they ride on swings in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, August 11. It was the first day of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang breaks down in tears Saturday, August 10, while speaking at a gun-safety forum in Des Moines, Iowa. Yang became emotional when discussing gun violence with a woman who said she lost her daughter to a stray bullet. Charlie Neibergall/AP
A soldier carries an infant to safety while a flooded area of Sangli, India, is evacuated on Sunday, August 11. Heavy monsoon rains caused devastating landslides and floods that left more than 150 people dead in India, according to local government reports. Stringer/Reuters
A couple of male penguins face the sunlight as the one on the right incubates an egg at the Berlin Zoo on Tuesday, August 13. The same-sex couple was handed an abandoned egg by zookeepers, and the two followed their instinct and adopted it as their own. Omer Messinger/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
From left, specialists Glenn Carell, John O’Hara and Robert Nelson gather at a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, August 14. The Dow fell 800 points on Wednesday, which is the worst day of 2019 so far. Richard Drew/AP
A boy poses in front of the Iowa State Fair’s famous butter cow on Friday, August 9. Since 1911, the fair has had a cow sculpted out of butter. Each year, much of the butter is recycled. It can be reused for up to 10 years. Mark Peterson/Redux for CNN

This aerial photo, taken on Saturday, August 10, shows people partying at the annual Street Parade in Zurich, Switzerland. It has been billed as the world’s largest celebration of electronic and techno music. Alexandra Wey/AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a reception for hospice workers Monday, August 12, at No. 10 Downing Street in London. At center is his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds. Never in living memory has a UK Prime Minister had an unmarried partner while in office. Downing Street/Handout/Reuters
An American flag flies near the Statue of Liberty on Wednesday, August 14. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, revised the words to the statue’s iconic poem during an interview with NPR published on Tuesday. When NPR’s Rachel Martin asked him if the words “give me your tired, give me your poor” are part of the American ethos, Cuccinelli said they are. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he said, tweaking the famous poem from Emma Lazarus. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A relative of a detained man looks out as police leave their home in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday, August 9. More than 1,000 South African service members have been deployed to Cape Town to support police in their efforts to prevent and combat crime. Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Medics look after a protester who received a facial injury during clashes between protesters and police in Hong Kong on Sunday, August 11. Many protesters are now wearing eyepatches in reference to the woman’s injury. Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

A goat rides next to a boy on their way to a livestock market in Hebron, West Bank, on Friday, August 9. Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

Performers use their cell phones as they wait to take part in the closing ceremony of the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, August 11. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Newborn white lions rest in a basket after drinking milk at an animal sanctuary in La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, France, on Sunday, August 11. LOU BENOIST/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

An iceberg floats near a cemetery in Kulusuk, Greenland, on Thursday, August 15. Greenland’s ice sheet usually melts during the summer, but the melt season typically begins around the end of May. This year, it began at the start. Felipe Dana/AP
US Sen. Kamala Harris, center, rides her campaign bus in Iowa on Friday, August 9. She was among the many presidential candidates who attended the Iowa State Fair this past week. Maddie McGarvey/The New York Times/Redux
People in Gaza City sit and take pictures by the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday, August 13. See last week in 23 photos Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Artificial gills for humans could become a reality

Written by Ana Rosado, CNN

Breathing underwater, without the help of voluminous equipment, seems as unrealistic as flying overseas must have before the first non-stop transatlantic flight.

Designer Jun Kamei’s interest in the designs found in nature has led him to create Amphibio, a 3D-printed accessory that works as a gill and may one day provide humans with an alternative way to breathe underwater.

Artificial gills for humans could become a reality

Royal College of Art graduate Kamei, in partnership with RCA-IIS Tokyo Design Lab, was inspired to create a lightweight underwater respiratory device because of predicted rises in sea levels.

“I was looking at how the future of our urban environment will change with global warming, and got deeply interested by figures of water level rise,” said Kamei.

Inspired by the gills of water-diving insects, Amphibio is a two-part 3D-printed garment consisting of a vest and a mask made of a “superhydrophobic” (or extremely water-repellent) material. Simply put, the porous garment extracts oxygen from surrounding water and dissipates carbon dioxide.

Visual prototype of the gill garment, designed by Jun Kamei.

Visual prototype of the gill garment, designed by Jun Kamei. Credit: Jun Kamei

Amphibio is currently just a working prototype, tested at small scale in an aquarium. The next step is to prove that it can be used by humans, though Kamei believes that this will require a gill with a surface of 32 square meters (344 square feet).

Rendered future vision of how Amphibio is used.

Rendered future vision of how Amphibio is used. Credit: Rendering by Kathryn Strudwick

“The difficulty is our large oxygen consumption. We humans consume too much. Although you have oxygen dissolved in the water, the rate it needs to be drawn through the gill is huge, and this makes the gill wide in surface area,” said Kamei, adding that the material can be improved to allow for faster gas exchange.

Even though Kamei’s initial inspiration was a dystopian future where big cities are heavily flooded, he also envisages Amphibio being used for leisure purposes.

Proof Obama was better for the stock market than Trump

President Donald Trump has repeatedly pointed to the stock market as one of the best ways to measure his administration’s policies.

During Trump’s presidency, the S&P 500 has gained 25% from inauguration day through August 14. How does that stack up to stock performance at the same point in other modern presidencies? (646 trading days, to be exact).

Stocks were stronger under Barack Obama and far weaker under George W. Bush.

S&P 500 performance under Trump compares more closely to stocks under Bill Clinton (they were up 29% at this point in his presidency) or stocks under Ronald Reagan (they were up 21% at this point in his first term).

CNN Business updates this tracker periodically.

S&P 500 in the first 646 trading days of each presidency

Ronald Reagan

+21%

George H.W. Bush

+35%

Bill Clinton

+29%

George W. Bush

-25%

Barack Obama

+39%

Donald Trump

+25%

Ronald Reagan

Diana Walker/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Ronald Reagan

President Ronald Reagan’s first four years in the White House weren’t particularly lucrative for Wall Street.

Crushed by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker’s war on inflation, the economy stumbled into a brief recession in July 1981. Unemployment spiked to nearly 11%.

But Volcker’s rate hikes and Reagan’s corporate tax cuts eventually broke the back of inflation, setting the stage for rapid economic growth. Under Reagan, America drastically ramped up defense spending in a successful bid to bring down the Soviet Union.

Despite the strong economy, Wall Street suffered its worst day ever under Reagan. The Dow plunged an astonishing 22.6% on Black Monday — equaling about 5,500 points today.

Nonetheless, the S&P 500 posted five separate years of double-digit growth on the Gipper’s watch, including a 26% spike in 1985.

1st term

+30%

Jan. 20, 1981 – Jan. 20, 1985

2nd term

+67%

Jan. 20, 1985 – Jan. 20, 1989

George H.W. Bush

Ron Edmonds/AP Photo

George H.W. Bush

The economy and stock market surged in President George H. W. Bush’s first year in office. The S&P 500 climbed 27% in 1989.

But then the savings-and-loan crisis and Gulf War struck. Oil prices more than doubled after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Growth slowed, and the American economy slipped into a mild recession in July 1990.

While the recession ended in March 1991, the recovery was choppy. Two years later, unemployment remained around 7%. The sluggish economy led to Bush’s defeat in 1992.

1st term

+51%

Jan. 20, 1989 – Jan. 20, 1993

Bill Clinton

Reuters

Bill Clinton

The roaring 1990s were very kind to Wall Street.

Stocks spiked — the S&P 500 increased 210% under President Bill Clinton — as investors celebrated the rise of the Internet and brisk economic growth. Clinton presided over two of the S&P 500’s top 10 years: 1995 and 1997.

GDP topped 4% in five of Clinton’s eight years in the White House. Inflation remained stable. Unemployment dipped below 4%. And the United States enjoyed the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth in modern history.

The era was punctuated by the dotcom boom, which amounted to the creation of an entirely new industry. The Nasdaq spiked sevenfold between 1993 and its peak in early 2000. The mania created vast amounts of wealth — much of which would disappear as the bubble inevitably popped.

1st term

+79%

Jan. 20, 1993 – Jan. 20, 1997

2nd term

+73%

Jan. 20, 1997 – Jan. 20, 2001

George W. Bush

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

George W. Bush

Investors who bet that a businessman in the White House would translate into strong returns were badly disappointed during President George W. Bush’s presidency.

The S&P 500 declined 40% under Bush, the worst among modern administrations.

Bush inherited the dotcom bust, which spawned the 2001 recession. The downturn was deepened by the 9/11 terror attacks.

Growth gathered steam in 2004 and 2005, fueled in part by low interest rates and the housing boom. But that bubble also popped in spectacular fashion, ushering in the Great Recession and the scariest financial crisis in a generation.

In the final quarter of Bush’s tenure, GDP plummeted at an 8.4% annual rate. Unemployment began rising rapidly. The S&P 500 plummeted 38% in 2008, its worst year since the Great Depression.

1st term

-12%

Jan. 20, 2001 – Jan. 20, 2005

2nd term

-31%

Jan. 20, 2005 – Jan. 20, 2009

Barack Obama

Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters

Barack Obama

The Wall Street meltdown continued during the first few months of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The financial and auto industries teetered on the brink of collapse before government bailouts saved them both. Unemployment would peak at 10% in 2009, doubling in barely a year.

The stock market bottomed out in March 2009, but then the economy slowly healed, beginning what would eventually become the longest bull market in American history.

Digging out of the depths of the Great Recession was a long and slow process, though. Annual GDP growth never topped 3% in the Obama era.

Hoping to juice the economy, the Fed kept pumping easy money into the system. The unprecedented experiment helped send stocks soaring — the S&P 500 nearly tripled during the Obama era — but also contributed to wealth inequality and populism.

1st term

+85%

Jan. 20, 2009 – Jan. 20, 2013

2nd term

+53%

Jan. 20, 2013 – Jan. 20, 2017

Donald Trump

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s upset victory initially fueled a breathtaking rally in the stock market.

His pro-business agenda of tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending carried the Dow from 18,332 on Election Day above 21,000 by March 2017.

Trump’s signature legislative achievement – the tax overhaul – sent the market boom into overdrive. The Dow eventually surged above 26,000. Economic growth accelerated above 4% in mid-2018. Corporate profits spiked. And the unemployment rate plunged below 4%.

Since then, markets have been in for a choppier ride, largely due to jitters over international trade — but overall, the upward trend remains intact.

Cumulatively, the S&P 500 is up 25% from Trump’s inauguration to the market close on August 14, 2019.

Current term

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Russia is tightening its grip on Africa, but Moscow doesn’t want to admit it

Central African Republic (CNN) There’s nothing secret about Russia’s presence in the Central African Republic. The streets are plastered with propaganda posters proclaiming “Russia: hand in hand with your army!” A local radio station churns out Russian ballads and language lessons. New recruits to the army are being trained in Russian, using Russian weapons.

But the Russian campaign in this war-torn country is anything but straightforward, drawing on a mix of guns-for-hire and clever PR to increase Moscow’s influence, outmaneuver its rivals and re-assert itself as a major player in the region.

Posters across Bangui are reminiscent of old Soviet propaganda. The posters read: “Central African Republic is hand in hand with Russia” and “talk a little, work a lot.” – Credit: Sebastian Shukla/CNN

A months-long CNN investigation has established that this ambitious drive into the heart of Africa is being sponsored by Yevgeny Prigozhin — an oligarch so close to the Kremlin that he is known as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef.” He was sanctioned by the US for funding the Internet Research Agency that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Prigozhin’s conglomerate includes a company called Lobaye Invest that funds the radio station in the Central African Republic (CAR). It also finances the training of army recruits in the CAR by some 250 Russian mercenaries, with more on the way. The dividend for Lobaye Invest: generous concessions to explore for diamonds and gold in a country rich in mineral wealth.

Prigozhin is no stranger to the world of mercenaries, or private military contractors (PMCs) as they are known in Russia. He’s thought to be the driving force behind Wagner, a secretive contractor whose soldiers of fortune played a role in Syria and eastern Ukraine. One of his veteran accomplices heads the company.

Russian mercenaries creep into Africa 6:08

Our road to the CAR starts with a witness thousands of miles away in a drab Soviet-era apartment.

A Russian mercenary sits in the gloom, chain-smoking and preparing to talk for the first time about his life in a secret army that officially doesn’t exist.

He has fought in Chechnya against separatist rebels and in Syria to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

He asked for his identity to be concealed, afraid of reprisals for speaking about the shadowy force that is helping to extend Russian power and influence in unstable areas of the world.

He was paid, he says, by Wagner.

Members of a Wagner mercenary unit, whose faces have been blurred, operating in the Syrian desert. – Credit: Obtained by CNN

“It’s just a fighting unit that will do anything that Putin says,” he adds.

It is a charge the Kremlin denies. In June, Putin said of military contractors in Syria: “These people risk their lives and by and large this is also a contribution in fighting terrorism … but this is not the Russian state, not the Russian army.”

But analysts say it’s inconceivable that Wagner would exist without Putin’s approval. Indeed, its training camp in Molkino in southern Russia is attached to a Russian special forces base, guarded by regular soldiers who do not welcome visitors.

Prigozhin has previously denied being connected to Wagner. Neither he nor anyone from his companies would talk to CNN, but after mixed fortunes in Ukraine and Syria the oligarch appears to have turned his attention to Africa, with various subsidiaries at work in Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

In the CAR, the mercenaries’ headquarters are on the grounds of a now dilapidated former presidential palace at Berengo, a two-hour drive from the capital Bangui.

In 2017, the UN Security Council approved a Russian training mission, but other governments did not expect Prigozhin’s men to fill the void. Not surprisingly, the trainers covered their faces and refused to speak to us.

The one man who is interviewed is Valery Zakharov, a cheerful and florid former military intelligence officer who spent time in Chechnya in the 1990s and is now in charge of the training.

He views his role simply, telling CNN: “Russia is returning to Africa.”

“We were present in many countries during the time of the Soviet Union, and Russia is coming back to the same position. We still have connections and we are trying to re-establish them,” he said.

Zakharov describes the instructors as “reservists.” But neither he nor anyone else could explain who sent them and who pays them. And his own role in the country is somewhat unclear.

Zakharov told CNN he works as a security adviser for the Central African Republic’s President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

“He pays me a salary, therefore, I work for him,” Zakharov said.

He added that he had never met Prigozhin and insisted Wagner did not operate in the CAR.

“Let’s be clear again what we mean by Wagner — if we mean the composer?” he joked. “Legally it does not exist and therefore we are going to consider that it does not exist. As regards the Central African Republic at the current time, there is no PMC (Private Military Contractor) Wagner.”

Prigozhin’s

complex network

of companies

Vladimir

V. Putin

Ties to Putin’s

inner circle

Yevgeny V.

Prigozhin

Internet

Research

Agency

(IRA)

Evro Polis

Registered

in Syria

Under US

treasury

sanctions

Accused by US of backing IRA and influencing the 2016 Presidential Election

Parent company

for a group of

companies

Listed as

50% owned by

Prigozhin

Russia

Shares email /

domain name

w. Concord

Part of /

subsidiary of

Evgeny Khodotov

has run both

companies

Dmitry V. Utkin is head of Wagner.

A man of the same name was listed

as Director General

of Concord

Lobaye

Invest

Part of /

subsidiary of

Notorious

group of

mercenaries

SEWA

Security

Services

Prigozhin’s

complex network

of companies

Vladimir V. Putin

Ties to Putin’s

inner circle

Yevgeny V.

Prigozhin

Internet

Research

Agency (IRA)

Evro Polis

Registered

in Syria

Accused by US of backing IRA and influencing the 2016 Presidential Election

Under US treasury

sanctions

Parent company

for a group of

companies

Listed as

50% owned by

Prigozhin

Russia

Shares email /

domain name with

Concord

Part of /

subsidiary of

Evgeny Khodotov has

run both companies

Dmitry V. Utkin is head of Wagner. A man of the same name was listed as Director General of Concord

Lobaye

Invest

Part of /

subsidiary of

SEWA

Security

Services

Notorious

group of

mercenaries

Prigozhin’s complex

network of companies

Yevgeny V.

Prigozhin

Ties to Putin’s

inner circle

Vladimir V. Putin

Listed as 50%

owned by Prigozhin

Shares email / domain name with Concord

Parent company

for a group of

companies

Registered

in Russia

Part of /

subsidiary of

Evgeny Khodotov has

run both companies

Accused by US

of backing Internet

Research Agency (IRA)

Owned or controlled

by Prigozhin

Lobaye

Invest

Internet

Research

Agency

Evro

Polis

Dmitry V. Utkin is head of Wagner. A man of the same name was listed as Director General of Concord

Part of /

subsidiary of

Accused by US of

influencing the 2016

Presidential Election

Under US

treasury sanctions

SEWA

Security

Services

Notorious group

of mercenaries

Prigozhin’s complex

network of companies

Yevgeny V.

Prigozhin

Ties to Putin’s

inner circle

Vladimir

V. Putin

Listed as 50%

owned by Prigozhin

Shares email / domain name with Concord

Parent company

for a group of

companies

Registered

in Russia

Part of /

subsidiary of

Evgeny Khodotov has

run both companies

Accused by US

of backing Internet

Research Agency (IRA)

Owned or controlled

by Prigozhin

Lobaye

Invest

Dmitry V. Utkin is head of Wagner. A man of the same name was listed as Director General of Concord

Internet

Research

Agency

Evro

Polis

Part of /

subsidiary of

Accused by US of

influencing the 2016

Presidential Election

Under US

treasury sanctions

SEWA

Security

Services

Notorious group

of mercenaries

But CNN has obtained documents showing Zakharov has been paid by a Prigozhin company, M-Finans, at least once, in July 2018.

He lives at the headquarters of Lobaye Invest, in a walled compound outside the capital, Bangui. A solitary Russian flag flutters nearby; an ammunition box with Cyrillic script sits atop the wall.

Zakharov’s employer, President Touadera, told CNN there was no link between the support Russia provided in military training and “other sectors.”

But CNN obtained documents showing that Lobaye Invest had won exploration rights at seven sites to look for diamonds and gold.

English translation “Awarding of a semi-mechanized artisanal permit of exploitation for gold and diamond to the company Lobaye Invest Sarlu.”

English translation “Situated in the zone of Yawa, in the underprefecture of Boda, for a period of 3 years, renewable.”

And a trip to a mining site near Yawa — an arduous two-day journey from Bangui — suggested a close connection between the mercenaries and minerals.

A teenage villager there named Rodriguez told CNN the Russians started arriving 18 months ago, the same time the military trainers began to arrive. And he said the Russians had come from Berengo, the mercenaries’ headquarters.

The only people digging through sand and stone for a precious fragment during our visit were local youths. Rodriguez explained that hundreds of people in the area now work for the Russians. Anything they find, he said, must be handed to the Russians’ local agents.

Young men work at a goldmine in Yawa.

After leaving Yawa, we saw a 4×4 vehicle with no license plate and four men inside, an unusual sight in that area. The car drove off when we approached, and three of the four men hid their faces from our camera.

The car appeared again close to our base in a nearby town, and again left hurriedly when we spotted it.

The local police chief told us he had questioned the men and confirmed they were Russian.

From photographs of the one man we did see, we were able to identify him as a translator with a Prigozhin firm.

With the help of the London-based Dossier Center, run by exiled Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, we established the man had been in contact with one of Prigozhin’s senior executives who had been indicted in the US for his part in running the Internet Research Agency.

As CNN prepared to publish this report, a site linked to Prigozhin released a 15-minute propaganda video about our trip to the CAR, featuring surreptitiously filmed video of the team at our hotel and false accusations that we bribed locals to say bad things about Russians.

The Dossier Center funded an investigation last year by three Russian journalists into the activities of Russian mercenaries and specifically Wagner in the CAR.

CNN spotted a vehicle with no license plates tracking our team’s movements. Upon approaching the vehicle, three of the men traveling within tried to hide their faces. Police later confirmed they were Russian. – Credit: CNN

The three men were ambushed and killed on their way to a huge gold mine in a remote and volatile part of the country. No one has yet been charged in their murder. The country’s justice minister told us that investigations were continuing.

Both the US and France, the CAR’s former colonial master, have expressed concern at Russian activities in this part of Africa.

The new head of US Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend, describes the mercenaries at Berengo as “quasi-military” and closely linked to the Kremlin.

“They are using them to train some of the local armed forces,” Townsend told a US congressional hearing in April. “Some of that could be benign. Some of that is probably less than benign.”

However, the US is reducing its troop presence on the continent while Russia deploys a unique hybrid of the Kremlin’s clout and an oligarch’s pursuit of profit to spread its influence.

Moscow now has some 20 military agreements with African countries. And where the opportunity arises, Prigozhin provides the mercenaries and funding to deepen Russia’s presence and in return wins access to unexploited riches.

Model dumps Versace in T-shirt controversy as Donatella apologizes

Written by Matthew Robinson, CNN

A leading Chinese brand ambassador has quit Versace, claiming that one of the brand’s T-shirts broke Beijing’s “one China” policy.
Yang Mi, an actress and singer, issued a statement announcing the termination of her contract with the luxury fashion house in response to a design which appeared to list Hong Kong and Macau as countries, rather than cities.

Both are classed as special administrative regions of China, which have semi-autonomous governments from the mainland.

The company, and designer Donatella Versace, have both since apologized for the “unfortunate” error.

Yang’s announcement was posted Sunday on the official account of her studio, Jiaxing Xingguang, on Weibo, China’s largest social media platform.
Chinese social media users criticized a Versace T-shirt which appears to list Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries.

Chinese social media users criticized a Versace T-shirt which appears to list Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries. Credit: WEIBO

“China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are sacred and inviolable at all times,” the statement said.

“As a company of the People’s Republic of China and Yang Mi as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China, we are deeply offended.

“It is the duty of all Chinese citizens to uphold the “One China” principle and adamantly safeguard national unification,” said the statement, as translated by Chinese state-run newspaper, the China Daily.
Versace issued an official apology in response to the incident and announced that the shirt is no longer for sale. “The Company apologizes for the design of its product and a recall of the T-shirt has been implemented in July,” the brand wrote on Twitter.
Donatella Versace also apologized. “I am deeply sorry for the unfortunate recent error that was made by our company and that is currently being discussed on various social media channels,” she wrote on Instagram.

“Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s national sovereignty, and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it might have caused.”

Related video: Donatella Versace, fashion icon.

The issue of Chinese sovereignty has reached fever pitch in recent months in the wake of widespread anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy demonstrators there have protested over an extradition bill introduced by the territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, which critics feared would have allowed authorities to transfer dissidents in Hong Kong for prosecution in mainland China.
Following widespread discontent, Lam announced that the bill was “dead,” but protests have continued as citizens fear the growing influence of Chinese authorities in Hong Kong.
Most recently, China clamped down on Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s leading airline, banning staff who have supported or participated in the protests. This sparked a three-day sit-in protest at Hong Kong’s international airport, with protesters chanting pro-democracy slogans and handing out pamphlets to arriving travelers.
This is the 10th straight weekend of sometimes violent protests throughout the financial hub.

Top image: Yang Mi (right), pictured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.

For 23 years, he’s brought crosses after massacres. This was his hardest week yet

Greg Zanis removes a cross from the bed of his pickup truck in Dayton, Ohio. “I’m uniting America in a unique way — United States Strong,” he said. “We’re not letting this define us.”

Dayton, Ohio (CNN) — When Greg Zanis travels to the sites of mass shootings, he brings a handmade cross for each victim, but he also carries a few extra to hand out as gifts.

Not this time.

“They were trying to buy them from me in El Paso, but I need them here,” the Crosses for Losses founder said as he turned his full-size Nissan pickup, its bed packed with nine crosses, onto Fifth Street in Dayton.

This marked the first time Zanis had to drive from one shooting location directly to another. After a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and another shooter took nine more lives several hours later in Dayton, Zanis began a journey of roughly 3,500 miles.

CNN joined the 68-year-old Wednesday near the Indiana border on the last leg of his trip. He’d already driven 1,500 miles from his home in Aurora, Illinois, to El Paso, then another 1,600 miles to Dayton, despite collapsing Monday in South Texas’ 101-degree heat.

On the 3,500-mile trip, Zanis sleeps in his truck from midnight to daybreak. He brings his own food: sandwiches with no mayo made of “whatever’s in the refrigerator,” Mandarin oranges and Craisins, crackers, canned lentils and cream of chicken soup. “I’ve eaten everything I’ve brought with me,” he said. “I’ve brought two coolers, and I’m out of food.”

A map in Zanis’ truck shows the 1,600-mile route he sketched out from El Paso to Dayton. It’s the first time he’s had to make crosses for back-to-back mass shootings — 20 for El Paso and nine for Dayton. After Zanis left El Paso, the death toll climbed to 22.

“It’s the hardest week I’ve ever had in my life,” he said as he trucked east on Interstate 70. “I go out all the time, but not like this.”

Since 1996, when he found his father-in-law murdered, Zanis has built 26,680 crosses, he said on the drive. He would add nine names to his orange notebook after Dayton, he said.

He estimates 21,000 are shooting victims. He’s also taken his white crosses to the aftermath of tornadoes and wildfires, bus and boat crashes, and to Martha’s Vineyard after JFK Jr. and his relatives died in a plane crash. He took five in February to the Henry Pratt Company after a shooting unfolded in his hometown.

Asked how he staves off sadness, he said he doesn’t.

“I break down. You’re going to see me cry. I don’t mind,” he said. “I hug victims all the time, and I try to be strong, but I’m really not. I’m OK with that. I feel so good afterwards because I’ve done something.”

Zanis writes the name of Monica Brickhouse, a victim in the Dayton shooting, on a cross he constructed in his Aurora workshop. He says he’s spoken to relatives who still have crosses he made 20 years ago. “That’s all they have left, and it means everything to them.”

Though the crosses are already made when he arrives, it takes Zanis more than three hours to prepare them and place them on Fifth Street, as he stops to speak with anyone who approaches. No one is a stranger. There are never handshakes — only hugs.

Zanis is a religious man. He grew up Greek Orthodox and spent many years as a Baptist, though he’s quick to chuckle about his delinquent days “smoking pot and sleeping in the van” in Key West and racing his Pontiac Trans Am in the cross-country Cannonball Run of Burt Reynolds fame.

The shootings, he believes — and he knows the belief is unpopular — are the consequence of a country that forgot God, beginning in 1962 with the US Supreme Court decision to outlaw official prayer in school, he said.

“When you take God out, why should God help us?” he asked. “I think it’s real simple: a second generation of godless people. We don’t have to have a conscience. … You think any of these people were men of any kind of faith who do the shootings? No.”

Samiya Booker, 10, writes on one of the crosses after Zanis unloaded it from his truck. Her sister, Neveah, 11, looks on. Zanis leaves the crosses at the shooting sites for 40 days before returning and presenting them to family members. The number is arbitrary, he said. It just seems like the right amount of time.

On Zanis’ hands and arms, in permanent marker, are travel notes: the names of journalists and victims, along with the address to Ned Peppers Bar, which the Dayton shooter was approaching when a policeman gunned him down. The scrawlings are an old carpenter’s trick, he said, a way to remember measurements.

The victims’ religions, however, don’t matter to Zanis. He scans their obituaries to determine whether he should bring crosses, Stars of David or crescent moons. He’s memorialized Buddhists and atheists, as well. He never pushes Christianity, he said.

“I’ve never been an advocate or a loudmouth because I feel that people will point at me and say, ‘Look, he‘s a religious zealot.’ No, no, no, I’m a workaholic. God didn’t give me one thing he gave everyone else. What do you think that is? Well, he did not give me a lazy bone. Everyone’s got one. I don’t.”

But did he have a message for those gathering as he removed each cross from the truck bed and wrote the names of the victims on each one?

“I don’t want to alienate people,” he said. “I’m here for the victims only.”

Though the victims in Dayton are memorialized with crosses, Zanis is conscious of religion and strives to honor victims appropriately. Gerald Fischman, slain in the 2018 Capital Gazette newsroom shooting, stands out. Zanis wept recalling how Fischman, who was Jewish, wrote the paper’s Christmas editorial and volunteered to work on Christmas so others could take off.

Zanis keeps the names of victims he’s honored in a notebook. “It’s similar to a bomb goes off and leaves a big crater of damage, and, oh my gosh, we fill that in with flowers and candles and teddy bears, and we’re going to make a pile out of it and we’re going to win the dang devil over,” he said.

He spent about three hours accommodating the pack of journalists who rushed to his truck, granting interviews as he placed each cross in front of a growing memorial along Fifth Street.

Without a shred of fanfare or any public pronouncements — but plenty of hugs for anyone who wanted one — Zanis packed up and got back in his truck.

“I’m going home to my own bed,” he told a photographer before abruptly backing out of the parking lot and starting the 330-mile drive home.

Zanis embraces Leah Matthews, 33, of Cincinnati, who, as her shirt says, survived the 2017 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Zanis honored those victims with 58 crosses, which he placed in front of the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Clark County, Nevada, officials declared November 12 “Greg Zanis Day” and presented the carpenter with a key to the Las Vegas Strip.

Zanis writes victims’ names and the cities where they were killed on each cross, along with a Bible verse. He also welcomes others to adorn them with remembrances. After he placed the crosses Wednesday on Dayton’s Fifth Street, mourners put candles in front of each memorial.

Photo editor: Brett Roegiers