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SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty ImagesBy CLARK BENTSON, ABC News

(UR, Iraq) -- Pope Francis gathered members of the prominent faiths in Iraq at Ur, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, for an inter-religious convocation meant to promote unity among Iraqi's diverse religious communities.

"This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the births of our religions," the pope told those gathered Saturday in front of the 6,000-year-old ruins.

"Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor our father Abraham," the pope said.

Once an important trading city of 60,000, the pope chose this archaeological site along the Euphrates River to share his message of reconciliation.

He thanked the Muslims communities' efforts to help rebuild Christian places of worship when Islamic State forces swept through the north of country in 2014. ISIS vowed to establish the headquarters of the caliphate in Iraq and bring their campaign to Rome. They even threatened to execute the pope.

"When terrorism invaded, it wantonly destroyed part of its magnificent religious heritage, he said. "I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together."

Before arriving in Ur, Pope Francis paid a courtesy call to the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a cleric revered by the Shia community.

Ayatollah Sistani, 90, is a reclusive figure who rarely receives international visitors. The visit was part of the Vatican's efforts to build a dialogue with the Shias and is an extension of St. John Paul II's policy of outreach to the other main religions.

Iraqi television carried live programming of the pontiff's arrival at to the ayatollah's home in the holy city of Najaf.

After the 45-minute meeting, the Vatican issued a statement saying the pontiff used the opportunity to thank the Shia cleric for speaking up "in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted," and for affirming the "importance of the unity of the Iraqi people."

Demonstrating the importance of this expression of unity, Pope Francis continued onto Ur for a meeting of reconciliation where verses from the Quran and the Bible were recited. He also heard testimonies from Iraqis, including two friends of different religions who built a small business together.

"We don't want war and violence and hatred; we want that all people in our country work together and be friends," 19-year-old Dawood Ara, a Christian, told the pope.

Shias, Sunnis, Jews, Yazidis and even a member of the small Sabean Mandean community were invited to attend the event, though it is not clear if all were able to attend.

"Injustice has afflicted all Iraqis," Rafah Husein Baher, a Sabean Mandean told the pontiff. "Innocent blood was shed from all Iraqis."

But, she added, "Your visit is a triumph of virtue, much appreciated by Iraqis."

Pope Francis will visit the devastated Christian communities of the north of Iraq Sunday, where he will again use his visit to call for reconciliation.

"There will be no peace without sharing and acceptance," he told the Ur audience. "There will be no peace unless peoples extend a hand to other peoples. There will be no peace as long as we see others as them and not us."

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Franco Origlia/Getty ImagesBy CLARK BENTSON, ABC News

(BAGHDAD) -- The pope brought his message of peace, reconciliation and tolerance to Iraq on the first day of his papal visit to this predominantly Muslim country.

The pope's jet touched down at Baghdad's airport with the event carried live on Iraqi television. The pope was met by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi at a small red carpet ceremony. He was greeted by a military band and two children in traditional dress who presented him with flowers, then he quickly departed to the fortified Green Zone for a meeting with officials.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to make this long-awaited Apostolic Visit to the Republic of Iraq and cradle of civilization,” the pope told his hosts.

Increasing violence, including occasional rocket attacks into the Green Zone and a double suicide attack in a Baghdad market in January, raised questions of whether the country was secure enough for such a high-profile visit.

Iraqi President Barham Salih thanked the pope for his determination to go ahead with the visit despite the obstacles of COVID-19 and sectarian violence.

“Overcoming all these circumstances actually doubles the value of your visit in the eyes of Iraqis,” he said.

It was Pope Francis himself who insisted on making the visit to show solidarity with Iraqis, even if most will only see him during live television coverage of events.

Hundreds of Iraqis ignored pleas not to congregate and lined the notorious Airport Road, the location for numerous terror assaults during the American invasion of the country, to catch a glimpse of the pope’s motorcade.

In an address to Iraqi’s top leadership, the pope spoke of the pain from sectarian violence and years of civil war that has left Iraq deeply splintered. He urged all Iraqis to come together and offered his help to bridge religious divides.

“I come as a pilgrim of peace,” he told the Iraqi dignitaries assembled in the Great Hall of the Presidential Palace.

“May the clash of arms be silenced,” he said. “May their spread be curbed here and everywhere. May partisan interests cease.”

The four-day papal visit also comes as Iraq has seen a surge of COVID cases. The Vatican planners insist they have taken all possible precautions to prevent the visit from becoming a super-spreader event. Large crowds are discouraged and social distancing and mask wearing are required.

The pontiff has been outspoken on the social and economic impact of the pandemic and on the need for a fair and equal distribution of vaccines to developing nations.

“My visit is taking place at a time when the world as a whole is trying to emerge from the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Francis said. “The crisis calls for concerted efforts by all to take necessary steps, including an equitable distribution of vaccines for everyone.”

“But this is not enough,” he continued. “This crisis is above all a summons to rethink our styles of life and the meaning of our existence. It has to do with coming out this time of trial better than we were before.”

The pope, who is foregoing the usual open-air pope mobile for this visit, traveled by armored car to Our Lady of Salvation church in the Karrada district in central Baghdad to pay his respects at the site of suicide bombing terrorist attack. Stopping at a memorial for the 48 victims, Francis called it a “hallowed place” where Christian martyrs “paid the ultimate price of their fidelity.”

“Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings,” the pope told the Catholic clergy present.

The choice of Iraq, the first papal trip in 15 months, is a significant effort on behalf of the Vatican to demonstrate support and encouragement for the persecuted Christian community. But the visit is also an outreach to all of the religious communities in the country to work together after decades of violence. The pope on Saturday meets with leaders of multiple religions at an interfaith ceremony at the birthplace of Abraham.

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ABC By KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK ) -- Duchess Meghan is speaking out about the freedom she feels since she and Prince Harry stepped away from the royal family last year.

In a newly-released clip of Meghan and Harry's highly-anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey, airing this Sunday, Winfrey reveale.d that she asked Meghan for an interview just before her 2018 wedding to Harry, but that Meghan politely declined, saying it wasn't the right time.

Meghan responded that she wasn’t even allowed to have that conversation with Winfrey on her own, and that other people from the royals' communications team had to be with her during the call.

In response to Winfrey's question of "What is right about this time?" for an interview, Meghan responds, "Well, so many things."

“We’re on the other side of a lot of life experience and also that we have the ability to make our own choices in a way that I couldn’t have said yes to you then. That wasn’t my choice to make," said Meghan. "So, as an adult who lived a really independent life, to then go into this construct that is different than what I think people imagine it to be, it's really liberating to have the right and the privilege in some ways to be able to say yes, I'm ready to talk."

“To be able to just make a choice on your own and just be able to speak for yourself," added Meghan, who gave up her acting career when she wed Harry.

Winfrey was a guest at Harry and Meghan's wedding, and the couple now lives near her in the Santa Barbara area of California.

Their two-hour, primetime interview, airing Sunday on CBS, has put Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, back in the glare of the public spotlight.

This week, as clips of the interview were released, the Times of London reported Tuesday that Meghan faced a bullying complaint from a close adviser at Kensington Palace.

Buckingham Palace then announced it plans to open an investigation into allegations of bullying made against the duchess, allegations that Meghan has strongly denied.

Harry and Meghan will not take part in the palace's investigation, but senior aides are expected to be questioned.

"Buckingham Palace has opened a can of worms by saying they don’t tolerate bullying," said ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson. "I think this must go much wider than Meghan herself because it will involve other members of the royal family and also other seniors member of staff."

"I think to actually focus all attention on Meghan is particularly unfair. It seems to me that in a hierarchal situation like a palace, where staff can’t really answer back, there are bound to be situations like this," he said. "I think the palace has really opened something that they probably won’t be able to put back in a box."

In response to the allegations reported in the paper, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told ABC News on Tuesday that they've "addressed these defamatory claims in full" to the Times in a letter, which has not been publicly released. The spokesperson also said Meghan is "saddened" by the news.

"We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet," a Sussex spokesperson wrote in a statement. "It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."

"The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma," the spokesperson added. "She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."

Meghan has not yet directly responded to the statement from Buckingham Palace announcing the investigation.

Harry and Meghan are also facing pressure to delay the airing of their interview with Winfrey because of the hospitalization of Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip. The 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth has been hospitalized in London since Feb. 17 and underwent a procedure this week to treat a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.

ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie explained that Harry and Meghan waited to do a sit-down interview with Winfrey until the conclusion of Meghan's privacy case with Associated Newspapers' Ltd., publisher of The Mail on Sunday, a U.K. tabloid.

A judge in the U.K. ruled last month that the Mail on Sunday invaded Meghan's privacy by publishing large parts of the personal letter she sent to her now-estranged father Thomas Markle before her wedding to Harry. On Friday, the judge ruled that Associated Newspapers' Ltd. needs to publish an official notice laying out what happened in their legal battle with Meghan.

"It wasn't until they won that case, or proved their point, that they were able to confirm with Oprah [Winfrey] that they finally wanted to set the record straight," said Scobie. "From what I hear, they're very looking forward to having their story finally out there."

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Samir Hussein/ Samir Hussein/WireImageBy ROSA SANCHEZ andd ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Britain's Prince Philip has been transferred back to a private hospital in London after undergoing a "successful procedure" for a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.

The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh was transferred to King Edward VII’s Hospital on Friday morning. He is expected to remain hospitalized "for continuing treatment for a number of days," the palace said in a statement.

Philip, who will turn 100 in June, was initially transported by car from Windsor, England, to King Edward VII's Hospital on Feb. 17 for what Buckingham Palace described as a "precautionary measure" after the duke reported feeling unwell.

The duke was then transferred to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in east London on Monday. Buckingham Palace said at the time "doctors will continue to treat him for an infection, as well as undertake testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition."

Two days later, Buckingham Palace confirmed Philip had undergone a "successful procedure" for a pre-existing heart condition. Philip's hospitalization is not COVID-19-related, a royal source told ABC News.

Both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip received COVID-19 vaccinations earlier this year.

Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, said Wednesday that the family is keeping its "fingers crossed" for Philip's recovery. The duchess is married to Prince Charles, the oldest son of Philip and Queen Elizabeth.

“We heard today that he’s slightly improving. So that’s very good news," Camilla said during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in London. "We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

King Edward VII’s Hospital, where Philip is now recovering, is located closer to Windsor Castle, the royals' residence in the English county of Berkshire, outside London. St. Bartholomew's Hospital is a larger facility that specializes in cardiovascular treatment, according to the hospital's website.

While Philip is hospitalized in London, Queen Elizabeth remains at Windsor Castle, where the couple has been staying for most of the coronavirus pandemic. Queen Elizabeth has recently taken in two new puppies, ABC News has learned.

The queen and Philip celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November.

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danielvfung/iStockBy BRITT CLENNETT, ABC News

(BEIJING) -- Beijing is poised to block any remaining avenues for the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, leaving the opposition with no way to attain elected office in the Chinese territory.

China's decision-makers are expected to grant Beijing vetoing powers over selecting Hong Kong lawmakers as part of a wide-reaching campaign to wipe out pro-democracy politicians and make sure that only pro-Beijing loyalists have any real power in the city.

The major changes to Hong Kong's electoral system were confirmed at China's annual meeting of parliament, the National People's Congress, which began on Friday.

The proposed reform will be rubber-stamped at the end of the week-long meeting and attended by thousands of delegates in the capital.

Speaking on Friday morning, NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui said the system needs to be upgraded "to provide institutional guarantees and the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong."

"The National People's Congress is the supreme organ of state power. It will improve the Hong Kong SAR system consistent with the constitution," Wang said.

Willy Lam, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that although full details of the plan are yet to be announced, it looks as though a "vetting committee" will be set up to screen politicians.

"Would-be candidates, people who want to be elected to the legislature or the electoral college which selects chief executives, would have to be vetted before they can be allowed to apply," Lam said.

Other proposed plans in the pipeline to reform the electoral system include scrapping the right for district councilors to vote in chief executive elections or occupy seats in the legislature.

That would effectively shut out the opposition camp, which won more than 80% of the vote in the 2019 local elections.

"I'm afraid there may be no more place for the opposition," Lam said. "But of course Hong Kong still has a well-established civil society, even though they have to be extremely cautious because they may be detained or arrested for speaking out against the government."

Beijing's crackdown in Hong Kong has intensified since it imposed a national security law last summer, which it said was necessary to restore peace after mass protests in 2019.

"There's been a change in the way Beijing wants to run Hong Kong. Before this, at least a small space was offered to members of the opposition to give their opinions on various major policies -- even though in most cases their opinions came to nothing [and] they were not powerful enough to influence policy, but there was a room for them to voice their different views," Lam said.

Former democrat lawmaker Fernando Cheung told ABC News that the proposed changes are "an effort to further tighten the system so that only those who are blessed by Beijing would stand a chance to run for public offices."

"It's a great leap backwards for Hong Kong's democracy," Cheung said.

The move goes against the agreements drawn up before Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997. In Hong Kong's mini-constitution, Beijing vowed that "one person, one vote" would be the ultimate goal.

"It's a blatant violation of the Basic Law, given that it has promised Hong Kong people that we should move toward universal suffrage, in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress," Cheung said.

The latest directives from Beijing come as 47 pro-democracy leaders faced court on charges of subversion for holding an unofficial primary vote last year. After a grueling four days of hearings, 15 were granted bail late Thursday night.

It leaves dozens of Hong Kong's pro-democracy leaders either in prison or in exile.

Political scientist Lam said the verdict is meant to send "a clear message that the opposition should keep silent, should not show defiance."

"It is a very tough warning to the opposition to follow Beijing's instructions, otherwise they too might fall into some kind of trouble," he continued.

However, there are growing signs that China's intensifying crackdown is having a negative impact on Hong Kong's status as a global financial hub.

The Washington-based Heritage Foundation recently dropped Hong Kong from its Index of Economic Freedom. The city had topped the list for more than two decades before it was dethroned by Singapore last year.

Editors said that developments in Hong Kong and Macau show "unambiguously" that policies are ultimately controlled by Beijing.

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KeithBinns/iStockBy ALEEM AGHA and GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- The killing of three female journalists and one doctor this week have once again thrown the issue of violence against women in Afghanistan into sharp focus, even as peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government continue.

ISIS in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for an attack on Tuesday in the city of Jalalabad, which saw journalists Mursal Waheedi, Saadia Sadat and Shahnaz Raufi, of the Enikas television station, shot dead. Then, on Thursday morning, a female gynecologist, Dr. Sadaf Elyas, was killed in another attack.

According to Attaullah Khogianai, the spokesperson for the governor of Jalalabad, Elyas was on her way to the central hospital in Jalalabad when a sticky bomb was attached to the three-wheeler rickshaw she was riding in. The bomb exploded, and she was killed on the spot, the spokesperson said.

While most of the recent attacks on women have been claimed by ISIS, the Afghan government has accused the Taliban of being behind the spate of killings. The militant group has denied responsibility.

Part of the reason the Afghan government is blaming the Taliban is because people linked to the group were recently found guilty of killing various government employees, and one suspect detained in connection to the killings is a known member of the Taliban, an official said.

Now, the government will likely face criticism for failing to protect its citizens at a crucial time in the country's history, when attacks by the Taliban are constant despite the historic withdrawal agreement the militant group reached with the U.S. and despite the group's continued negotiations with the government.

Some believe the killing of the four female professionals in a country as conservative as Afghanistan, is an attempt by extremists to create a climate of fear in a nation which has long struggled with incorporating the rights of women into public society. Hard-won gains could now be at risk, rights groups have repeatedly warned.

"These attacks are meant to intimidate; they are intended to make reporters cower; the culprits hope to stifle freedom of speech in a nation where the media has flourished during the past 20 years," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul tweeted. "This cannot be tolerated."

The killings of Waheedi, Sadat and Raufi also highlight another ongoing problem: the targeted killing of journalists.

In 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists said that Afghanistan was the most dangerous country in the world for media workers.

Shaharzad Akbar, the chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, reacted to the news of the killings on Twitter, saying that the "Afghan media community has suffered too much" and "Afghan women have been targeted and killed too often."

"Afghan women are again anxious about an uncertain future," Akbar wrote. "To reach peace, fundamental human rights for all should be recognized & preserved. Any [political] process should include women's voices, concerns & aspirations & benefit from their expertise & experience."

She added that recognizing equality "is key to lasting peace" in the country.

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ABCBy KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A new clip of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, speaking out to Oprah Winfrey was released Wednesday night, just hours after Buckingham Palace announced it plans to open an investigation into allegations of bullying made against the duchess.

"I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time we should still just be silent if there's an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us," Meghan tells Winfrey in the promo for Winfrey's primetime interview with Meghan and Prince Harry. "If that comes with the risk of losing things, there's a lot that's been lost already."

Meghan's use of the words "the firm" in her conversation with Winfrey seems to show just how personal things have become one year after Harry and Meghan stepped away from their roles as senior, working members of the royal family. The firm is the term used to refer to the family, not the institution, of the monarchy.

Buckingham Palace, which represents Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, announced Wednesday it plans to open an investigation into allegations of bullying made against Duchess Meghan, a move that one royal expert called "incredibly unprecedented."

"It's a shocker, really," ABC News royal contributor Robert Jobson said Thursday on Good Morning America. "The fact that they’ve now opened this investigation is also a bit of a worry for the royal family going forward."

"It’s going to open a can of worms," he said. "If there are other people out there who want to complain, not only about Meghan but other members of the royal family, that’s something that could well unravel."

Buckingham Palace's announcement came one day after The Times of London reported Tuesday that Meghan faced a bullying complaint from a close adviser at Kensington Palace.

The Times reported the complaint was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf, the Sussexes' communications secretary at the time, in a move that was reportedly intended to protect staffers after they allegedly became pressured by Meghan, who wed Prince Harry in May 2018.

According to the Times of London report, the complaint claimed that she "drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member."

In several alleged incidents after Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding, unnamed sources told the newspaper that staff members "would on occasion be reduced to tears." One aide allegedly told a colleague, "I can't stop shaking," while in anticipation of a confrontation with Meghan, according to the report.

According to the Times report, two unnamed senior staff members also claimed that they were allegedly bullied by the duchess and another aide claimed it felt "more like emotional cruelty and manipulation."

"I was shocked by what I heard," Valentine Low, the Times' royal correspondent who broke the story about the allegations, told GMA. "I knew that she was difficult. I didn't know how difficult. I didn't know how bad it was."

Low, who said his reporting uncovered an "intensely difficult working environment," said he was also surprised by the palace's decision to investigate the bullying accusations.

"To come out with a statement like that, less than 24 hours after The Times newspaper published these allegations, I mean, it's extraordinary," he said. "[I've] never known anything like it and it shows how concerned the palace is about its own reputation."

Buckingham Palace said in its statement Wednesday its human resources team will "look into the circumstances outlined in the article."

"We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex," the palace said in the statement. "Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned."

"The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace," according to the statement.

In response to the allegations reported in the paper, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told ABC News on Tuesday that they've "addressed these defamatory claims in full" in a "detailed letter" to the Times, which has not been publicly released. The spokesperson also said Meghan is "saddened" by the news.

"We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet," a Sussex spokesperson wrote in a statement. "It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."

"The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma," the spokesperson added. "She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."

Duchess Meghan has not yet directly responded to the statement from Buckingham Palace announcing the investigation.

Harry described the environment that he and Meghan left in the U.K. as "toxic" in an interview with The Late Late Show host James Corden that aired last week.

"There was a really difficult environment, as I think a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health," said Harry, who has recently waged legal battles with some British tabloids. "I was like, 'This is toxic,' so I did what any husband and any father would do, which is like, I need to get my family out of here."

In a clip of Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey released on Monday, Winfrey, who lives near the couple in California, says to them, "You’ve said some pretty shocking things here."

In another clip, Winfrey says there was "no subject that was off limits" in the interview and asks Meghan if she was “silent or silenced." In the same clip, Winfrey later interjects to say, "Almost unsurvivable -- sounds like there was a breaking point."

The Winfrey interview, set to air as a two-hour primetime special, is Harry's and Meghan's first joint interview about their decision to transition out of their working roles in the royal family.

Buckingham Palace confirmed last month that Harry and Meghan will not return as working members of the royal family.

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ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty ImagesBy CLARK BENTSON, ABC News

(VATICAN CITY) -- When the pontiff touches down in Baghdad on Friday, it will be the culmination of a Vatican trip decades in the planning.

Pope Francis will be the first pope to ever visit this area of great biblical importance -- home to ancient civilizations. His trip is happening despite escalating violence, rising COVID cases and international concerns.

Questions about the timing of trip were raised repeatedly at a recent Vatican press conference. But it was the pope himself who addressed these concerns on Wednesday before his departure.

"The Iraqi people are waiting for us," the pope said. "They awaited St. John Paul II who was not permitted to go. One cannot disappoint a people for a second time."

St. John Paul II had tried without success to undertake this same trip to only be blocked by concerns of safety and political instability.

A resurgence in violent attacks has again forced the Vatican to address whether the pope's visit is safe. Iran-backed militias have twice since the beginning of the year sent rockets into bases housing American and coalition forces. President Joe Biden ordered a retaliatory strike against a suspected insurgent bases in Syria after the first attack.

In a second assault, militants launched 10 rockets at the Al Asad airbase just days before the pope's departure. The U.S. has reserved the right to respond at a time of its own choosing.

A twin suicide attack at central Baghdad market in early January stunned Iraqis after months of calm. The bombs killed 32 civilians and injured over 100. Demonstrations against the November government killings of protesters continue almost daily across the country. The unrest forced the previous prime minister to step down.

Despite the uptick in violence, the Vatican is confident the trip can move forward. It has said that Iraqi forces will be responsible for the safety of the pontiff, not international forces.

The church says the visit, which will last from March 5 to March 8, is to show support to the people of Iraq after years of violence. When the Islamic State swept through the north of the country in 2014 promising to establish its caliphate in Mosul, it nearly decimated the small Christian community that had survived under the Saddam Hussein regime. ISIS destroyed most of the churches and other Christian symbols before it was forced out and all but destroyed by coalition forces. The pope will pray for peace at the ruins of these churches in Mosul and hold a mass in the restored cathedral in Qaraqosh.

The pope wants to use this trip not only to support the Christian Iraqis, but to reach out to all the religious communities in Iraq. In Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, who is a prophet important to Christians, Muslims and Jews, the pope will hold an interfaith meeting that will include readings from the Quran. Members of all the main religious segments have been invited.

One of his most important visits will be with the head of the Shia community in Iraq, the revered Grand Ayatollah Sayyid al-Sistani, at his home in the holy city of Najaf. The 90-year-old cleric is rarely seen in public but his influence was instrumental in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

The pope and his entourage will not have the usual large crowds attending ceremonies; Iraqi television channels will be covering all papal events live. The Vatican says it is organizing the trip with COVID mitigation efforts in mind. Most events will be before a small number of people with masks and social distancing is required. Every journalist accompanying the pope was vaccinated. The only large event, a mass at the stadium in Erbil, will be invitation only using only a fraction of the available seats.

Despite the risks, Francis is determined to make the visit in person.

"They will see that the pope is there, in their country," he said.

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yorkfoto/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR and KARSON YIU, ABC News

(LONDON) -- At least 38 protesters were killed by authorities in Myanmar on Wednesday, marking the bloodiest day since the military seized power in an apparent coup last month, according to the United Nations' special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener.

Demonstrations have been taking place in cities across the Southeast Asian country since its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were detained by the military on Feb. 1. The protest movement has been growing and the military junta, which calls itself the State Administration Council, has become increasingly violent in its response as weeks of internet shutdowns, threats and mass arrests have not stopped thousands of people from voicing their opposition.

Schraner Burgener said she believes the junta is "very surprised" by the protests against the coup.

"Today, we have young people who lived in freedom for 10 years. They have social media and they are well organized and very determined," Schraner Burgener told reporters in New York City on Wednesday. "They don't want to go back in a dictatorship and in isolation."

Police and security forces in Myanmar are now using live ammunition on protesters. Since Feb. 1, more than 50 people have been killed there and over 1,200 others -- some of whom remain unaccounted for -- have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, mostly without any form of due process, according to Schraner Burgener.

Sunday was previously the deadliest day in Myanmar since the bloodless coup. Authorities confronted peaceful protesters in several locations across Myanmar and fired live rounds into the crowds, killing at least 18 people and wounding over 30 others, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which cited "credible information" that it had received.

Despite the escalation, the United States did not announce any new actions against Myanmar's military on Wednesday.

"We are appalled and repulsed to see the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance," U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing at the White House, using Myanmar's former name under British colonial rule. "We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people and to promote accountability for the military's actions that have led to the loss of life of so many people in Burma."

Price said U.S. sanctions against Myanmar's military have a "significant impact" on its "ability to wield power and influence," but that the junta has virtually ignored them as well as financial penalties from Canada and the United Kingdom. Other "policy measures" are being evaluated, both unilaterally from the U.S. and with allies and partners in the region, according to Price.

"We are not going to do anything that worsens the suffering, the humanitarian suffering of the Burmese people," he told reporters in Washington, D.C.

Schraner Burgener said she has had conversations in recent weeks with the deputy commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Vice-Senior Gen. Soe Win, to warn him that the military will likely face strong measures from some countries as well as isolation in retaliation for the coup.

"The answer was: 'We are used to sanctions, and we survived,'" she told reporters in New York City. "When I also warned they will go in an isolation, the answer was: 'We have to learn to walk with only few friends.'"

The military previously ruled Myanmar for nearly 50 years before appearing to slowly transition to democratic rule a decade ago and holding its first general elections in years in 2015, which was a landslide victory for the NLD. Suu Kyi had spent 15 years under house arrest while leading the struggle for democracy against the Burmese junta and was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her "nonviolent" efforts.

Suu Kyi is understood to have had a tentative shared power agreement with the military since she was named state counsellor in 2016, offering the government a veneer of democratic legitimacy as they embarked on a decade of reforms. The role of state counsellor, akin to a prime minister or a head of government, was created because Myanmar's 2008 constitution barred Suu Kyi from becoming president, since her late husband and children are foreign citizens.

The Nov. 8 general election was meant to be a referendum on Suu Kyi’s popular civilian government but her party expanded their seats in Parliament, securing a clear majority and threatening the military's tight hold on power. The constitution guarantees the military 25% of seats in Parliament and control of several key ministries.

The new civilian-led government was supposed to convene for the first time on Feb. 1 but power was instead handed over to Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forces, who is already under U.S. sanctions for his role in the military's atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority. An order signed by the acting president granted full authority to Hlaing to run the country and declared a state of emergency that will last for at least one year, citing widespread voter fraud in the November election.

Hlaing’s office said in a statement that the military would hold a "free and fair general election" after the state of emergency ends. Voter rolls will be checked and the nation's election commission, which last week rejected the military's allegations of voter fraud, will be "re-established," according to the statement.

Suu Kyi is still revered in Myanmar despite losing some of her international luster for her refusal to condemn the human rights against the Rohingyas. She has not been seen in public since she was ousted and is believed to be under house arrest at her residence in Myanmar's capital, Naypyidaw.

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Samir Hussein/ Samir Hussein/WireImageBy ROSA SANCHEZ and ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Britain's Prince Philip had a "successful procedure" at a London hospital on Wednesday for a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.

The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh "will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days," the palace said in a statement Thursday.

Philip was transferred to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in east London on Monday from King Edward VII Hospital in central London, where he was admitted on Feb. 17 for treatment of an infection. Buckingham Palace had said that "doctors will continue to treat him for an infection, as well as undertake testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition."

"The Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week," the palace said in a statement Monday.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital is located further away from Windsor Castle, a royal residence in the English county of Berkshire where Philip had been staying with his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, but is a larger facility that specializes in cardiovascular treatment, according to the hospital's website.

While Philip is hospitalized in London, Queen Elizabeth remains at Windsor Castle, where the couple have been staying for most of the coronavirus pandemic. They celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November.

Philip, who will turn 100 in June, was initially taken by car from Windsor to King Edward VII Hospital in London for what Buckingham Palace described as a "precautionary measure" after the duke reported feeling unwell. His illness is not COVID-19-related, a royal source told ABC News.

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plefevre/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A Japanese billionaire is searching for eight members of the public to join him on a mission to orbit around the moon.

Yusaku Maezawa, who made headlines in 2018 when he was unveiled as SpaceX's first private passenger to commission a trip around the moon, released a new video Tuesday to share updates on his pending mission.

"I’m inviting you to join me on this mission, eight of you from all around the world," Maezawa said in the video.

He said the mission is now scheduled to take place in 2023 on a Starship spacecraft that is currently being developed by Elon Musk's private space-faring firm SpaceX.

"I will pay for the entire journey," Maezawa said. "Ten to 12 of us will be on board, and I hope that together we can make it a fun trip."

Maezawa initially said his plan was to bring artists from around the world into space with him, but said Tuesday that this plan has "evolved."

"I began to wonder ... what do I mean by artists?" he said. "The more I though about it, the more ambiguous it became."

"I began to think that maybe every single person who is doing something creative could be called an artist," he added.

Now, Maezawa said the mission is open to anyone who has the goal of going into space "to help other people and greater society in some way."

In addition, Maezawa said the crew members must be "willing and able to support other crew members who share similar aspirations."

"If that sounds like you, please join me," he said.

Musk also shared a message in the video, saying that the mission is significant because "it will be the first private spaceflight, first commercial spaceflight with humans beyond Earth orbit."

He went on, "This has never occurred before and we’re going to go past the moon, so it will actually end up being further. This mission, we expect people will go further than any human has ever gone from planet Earth. Maezawa is also providing places on the ship for artists and others to join, so he wants this to be something that is exciting and inspiring for the whole world."

Finally, Musk said he is "highly confident" that the Starship spacecraft will have reached orbit "many times" before 2023, and "that it will be safe enough for human transport by 2023."

Those who want to join the mission can pre-register for the application process on the dearMoon mission’s website. Pre-registration must be submitted by March 14. Then there is a screening, assignment and interview process -- though further details for how the crew will be selected were not disclosed.

The final interview round and medical checkup for the crew is expected to happen in late May 2021.

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ABC News/Frame Grab via Getty ImagesBy ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Just days ahead of their highly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are firing back at a report in a U.K. newspaper that claims Meghan bullied royal staffers at Kensington palace before she and Prince Harry decided to step down from their royal roles last year.

"Let's just call this what it is -- a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation," a Sussex spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

On Tuesday, Meghan came under fire after a story published in The Times of London reported that she faced a bullying complaint from a close adviser at Kensington Palace.

The Times reported that the complaint was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf, the Sussexes' communications secretary at the time, in a move that was intended to protect staffers after they allegedly became pressured by Meghan.

According to the Times of London report, the complaint claimed that she "drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member."

In several alleged incidents taking place after Prince Harry and Meghan's wedding, un-named sources told the newspaper that staff members "would on occasion be reduced to tears." One aide allegedly told a colleague, "I can't stop shaking," while in anticipation of a confrontation with Meghan, according to the report.

According to the Times report, two un-named senior staff members also claimed that they were allegedly bullied by the duchess and another aide claimed it felt "more like emotional cruelty and manipulation."

In response to the allegations reported in the paper, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told ABC News that they've "addressed these defamatory claims in full" in a "detailed letter" to the Times. The spokesperson also said Meghan is "saddened" by the news.

"We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet," a Sussex spokesperson wrote in a statement. "It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."

"The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma," the spokesperson added. "She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."

Harry and Meghan's interview with Winfrey is slated to air March 7 as a two-hour prime-time special.

In clips released earlier this week by CBS, the couple opens up to Winfrey about royal life before stepping down last year.

In one of the clips, Winfrey says there was "no subject that was off limits" and asks Meghan if she was "silent or silenced."

Meghan remains silent as Winfrey interjects, "Almost unsurvivable -- sounds like there was a breaking point."

Harry shared a similar sentiment in an interview that aired last week with The Late Late Show host James Corden, saying he and Meghan left a "toxic" media environment in the U.K.

"There was a really difficult environment, as I think a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like, and it was destroying my mental health," said Harry, who has recently waged legal battles with some British tabloids. "I was like, 'This is toxic,' so I did what any husband and any father would do, which is like, I need to get my family out of here."

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macky_ch/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(MOSCOW) -- Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny has been sent to a prison known as unusually harsh and feared as place where prisoners are subjected to intense psychological pressure, according to former inmates and prisoner rights campaigners.

Last month, Navalny was sentenced to serve over two and a half years in a penal colony for allegedly violating his parole for a 2014 fraud conviction that has been widely denounced internationally as politically motivated. He was arrested after he returned to Russia following his near fatal poisoning with a nerve agent.

Navalny was moved last week from a Moscow detention center to a prison colony, and officially, authorities have still not said where he is. However, Russian state media reported Monday that Navalny is now in a prison in the Vladimirskaya region, about 60 miles east of Moscow.

The United States and the European Union on Tuesday imposed new sanctions against several senior Russian officials, including the head of Russia's prison service and its prosecutor general, over Navalny’s poisoning and jailing. The Biden administration also said it was limiting some forms of cooperation with Russia's space industry.

The prison where Navalny has been sent, Penal Colony No. 2 in the village of Pokrov, is “a breaking camp,” Pyotr Kuryanov, a lawyer with the NGO Fund for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights, told ABC News.

Former inmates at the prison said that while they do not expect Navalny would face beatings or physical torture at the prison, because he is a high-profile prisoner, they believe he will be subjected to pressure and isolation that would amount to “psychological torture."

“No one will beat or torture him,” said Vladimir Pereverzin, who spent two years in the prison 10 years ago. “But they will psychologically break him.”

Pereverzin was a former manager at the oil company Yukos, which was owned by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oligarch who was jailed for more than a decade on fraud charges that most observers believe were retribution for trying to politically challenge President Vladimir Putin. Pereverzin was sentenced to seven years on embezzlement charges, as part of the case against Yukos and Khodorkovsky.

Russia’s penal colonies, though improved, are still set up along the lines of Gulag camps created in the 1930s. The prison consists of barracks that house several dozen inmates sleeping in rows of bunks together, and it is surrounded by high walls topped with razor-wire.

Prisoners work long labor shifts, often sewing clothes, and conditions are reportedly grim. But Penal Colony No. 2, former inmates and campaigners said, is distinguished by the exhausting level of control and discipline to which inmates are reportedly subjected.

From outside “it seems like all the rest of the camps,” Kuryanov said. “But inside this camp, there is an unbearable atmosphere created artificially by the administration staff, so that it has to be lived in day after day, month after month, year after year.”

In practice, former inmates alleged, that means inmates are subjected to near constant checks and forced to continually follow trivial rules invented by the administration, leaving them in continual fear of punishment. Infractions can include a missing button or failing to say hello.

Ordinary new inmates reportedly go through a grim induction, beaten by guards and inmates working for the administration, according to several accounts by former inmates published online. Almost every moment of a prisoner's time is accounted for, and guards allegedly often make them take part in repetitive pointless exercises intended to break them them down, such as being made to repeat their names and crimes over and over or being forced to stand for hours with their heads lowered, Dmitry Dyomushkin, a nationalist activist who spent time in the camp, told Russian media.

“There, even flies don’t fly without asking,” Dyomushkin told radio station Echo of Moscow.

In the penal colonies, discipline is usually maintained by prisoners themselves, either by inmates collaborating with the guards or by criminal gang leaders. Colonies that are run by prisoners working with the authorities are known as “Red Zones” in Russian criminal slang.

At Penal Colony. No. 2, there is a strong set-up between the administration and collaborating prisoners, those with experience there alleged, that allows the warden to dominate a prisoner entirely.

“It’s the reddest of the red,” Maria Eismont, a lawyer for an activist who was sentenced there in 2019, told Open Media, an opposition news site. “There, everything is done to isolate political prisoners,” she said, alleging that other inmates were forbidden from talking to her client.

Dyomoshkin said he faced similar tactics, spending months without speaking to anyone, despite being kept in the crowded barracks.

Guards would also often reportedly make life unbearable for inmates by turning other prisoners against them. Guards would tell some inmates that other inmates were responsible for collective privileges being taken away, former inmates said.

Pereverzin said that while he was in prison, the pressure became so bad, he used a razor to cut gashes on his stomach to force guards to move him to a different barracks.

"There's nothing good there," Pereverzin said. "You completely feel your helplessness."

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Marilyn Nieves/iStockBy ZOE MAGEE and KATIE KINDELAN, ABC News

A U.K. judge on Tuesday denied a request by the publisher of the Mail on Sunday to appeal his ruling that the tabloid invaded the privacy of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, by publishing portions of a letter she wrote to her father.

The judge, High Court Justice Mark Warby, did acknowledge though that Associated Newspapers' Ltd., the publisher of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, could still attempt an appeal in the Court of Appeal, according to the U.K. Press Association (PA) reporter in court.

Warby ruled last month that the Mail on Sunday invaded Meghan's privacy by publishing large parts of the personal letter she sent to her now-estranged father Thomas Markle before her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry.

The judge also ordered Associated Newspapers' Ltd. on Tuesday to make an "interim payment" of nearly $630,000 of Meghan's legal costs within two weeks. Meghan's legal team claimed in court that her legal costs for the lawsuit, which she filed in fall of 2019, have exceeded $2 million, according to the PA reporter in court.

Another hearing will be held in late April or early May to consider possible further "financial remedies" and to consider Meghan's claim under the Data Protection Act.

Meghan's lawyers also sought an order requiring Associated Newspapers' Ltd. to publish a statement about the duchess' legal victory on the front page of The Mail On Sunday and the homepage of MailOnline "to act as a deterrent to future infringers," according to court documents.

Meghan's 2018 handwritten letter to her father, which addressed the breakdown in their relationship, was reproduced by Associated Newspapers in five articles in February 2019.

Meghan sued Associated Newspapers for alleged copyright infringement, misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act.

Meghan, who now lives in California with Harry and their son Archie, did not issue a statement after today's ruling. The duchess, who is expecting her second child, said after the court's ruling last month that she hopes her case "creates legal precedent."

“After two long years of pursuing litigation, I am grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanizing practices. These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they’ve been going on for far too long without consequence. For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep," Meghan said in her statement. “The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news. What The Mail on Sunday and its partner publications do is the opposite."

"We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency, and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain," she said. "But for today, with this comprehensive win on both privacy and copyright, we have all won. We now know, and hope it creates legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years."

“I share this victory with each of you—because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better," Meghan concluded her statement. "I particularly want to thank my husband, mom, and legal team, and especially Jenny Afia for her unrelenting support throughout this process.”

Here is what to know about Meghan's nearly two-year legal battle with Associated Newspapers' Ltd.

Why is the Duchess of Sussex suing Associated Newspapers?


Meghan sued Associated Newspapers, the parent company of The Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over five articles published in February 2019 that included excerpts from a private letter she sent to her now-estranged father, Thomas Markle. The duchess is seeking damages from the newspaper for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

The letter, which is the focal point of the court case, describes the break down in relations between father and daughter.

In the run-up to the 2018 royal wedding Thomas Markle had been the subject of immense tabloid interest, which reached a pinnacle when the Daily Mail revealed just days before the wedding that, in an attempt to revamp his image, Thomas Markle had staged paparazzi photos of himself preparing for his daughter's big day.

Thomas Markle was then hospitalized and had to undergo surgery, which prevented him from traveling to his daughter's wedding.

Relations between the two became strained and Thomas Markle gave several interviews to the media, which we now know greatly upset his daughter. The letter lays out Meghan's take on these events.

According to the duchess' legal team, the Mail on Sunday breached copyright by publishing the private letter as it legally belongs to the duchess, the author of the letter.

Her lawyers also argue that the Mail on Sunday breached privacy and data protection laws and that they cherry-picked portions of the letter to manipulate readers.

The letter was published by the Mail on Sunday in February 2019. In it, the duchess describes her sadness at the deterioration of her relationship with her father, asks why he spoke to the media and said he has broken her heart "into a million pieces."

Thomas Markle claims he agreed to the letter being published to set the record straight after a friend of the duchess mentioned the letter in an interview with People magazine.

Five friends, described as "an essential part of Meghan's inner circle," spoke anonymously to People, according to the magazine, saying they wanted to "stand up against the global bullying we are seeing and speak the truth about our friend."

They added, "Meg has silently sat back and endured the lies and untruths ... It's wrong to put anyone under this level of emotional trauma, let alone when they're pregnant."

One of these five friends referenced the letter Meghan had written to her father, saying, "After the wedding she wrote him a letter. She's like, 'Dad, I'm so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimizing me through the media so we can repair our relationship.'"

Thomas Markle in turn said he felt compelled to publish the letter to defend his reputation -- asserting it was not the conciliatory missive described by this friend in People.

The upcoming trial must determine whether the Mail on Sunday infringed Duchess Meghan's rights when it published the letter.

Prince Harry announces lawsuit blasting 'disturbing pattern' by British tabloid media


Prince Harry announced the lawsuit in a statement criticizing the media during his tour of southern Africa in October 2019.

He wrote, "My wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences -- a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son."

"This particular legal action hinges on one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behavior by British tabloid media," he added. "The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question. In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year."

I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces

"My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person," wrote Harry, whose mother, Princess Diana, died in a paparazzi-involved car crash in 1997. "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

After the statement was released to the public, his law firm, Schillings, laid out their case.

"We have initiated legal proceedings against the Mail on Sunday, and its parent company Associated Newspapers, over the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband," the law firm wrote. "Given the refusal of Associated Newspapers to resolve this issue satisfactorily, we have issued proceedings to redress this breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and the aforementioned media agenda."

What has happened so far?


There have now been five pretrial hearings.

The first hearing, known as a strike-out hearing, was held in April to determine which of the duchess's claims could proceed to a trial against Associated Newspapers. In this hearing, lawyers for the Mail on Sunday successfully argued that certain parts of the duchess' claims should be removed.

Warby -- the judge who is presiding over the case -- agreed to take out complaints that the paper acted dishonestly, deliberately stirred up conflict between the duchess and her father, and pursued an agenda of publishing offensive or intrusive articles about the duchess.

"I do not consider the allegations in question go to the 'heart' of the case, which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August in 2018."

These five articles were published in the Mail on Sunday in February 2019 and reproduced parts of her handwritten letter she sent to her father.

Having lost on those claims, the duchess agreed to pay Associated Newspapers' legal fees of approximately $87,000.

Meghan wins right to protect identity of her friends


The second hearing was on July 29 and in it the duchess' legal team called for Warby to legally block Associated Newspapers from publishing the identity of the five friends who gave interviews to People magazine. Their names were revealed to the newspaper in a confidential court document attached to the first hearing and Meghan was worried the identity of her friends would be made public.

In a witness statement sent to the court before the hearing, the duchess argued, "Associated Newspapers, the owner of The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women -- five private citizens -- who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a U.S. media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behavior of Britain's tabloid media.

"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case --that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter."

Her lawyers argued that the friends have a double right to anonymity, firstly as confidential journalistic sources and secondly under their own privacy rights.

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers argued that the identities should be made public, calling them "important potential witnesses on a key issue."

"Reporting these matters without referring to names would be a heavy curtailment of the media's and the defendant's entitlement to report this case and the public's right to know about it," said Antony White, the lawyer representing the paper. "No friend's oral evidence could be fully and properly reported because full reporting might identify her, especially as there has already been media speculation as to their identities."

Warby said in his ruling, "I have concluded that, for the time being at least, the court should grant the claimant the order that she seeks," protecting the anonymity of friends who defended Meghan in the pages of a U.S. magazine."

Warby also added though that concerns about confidentiality "may fade or even evaporate if and when there is a trial at which one or more of the sources gives evidence."

Meghan's legal team is treating the five women as potential witnesses, so they may be named at trial.

Associated Newspapers declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

Court battle over behind-the-scenes book


In the third hearing, held on Sept. 21, Associated Newspapers argued that they should be allowed to include "Finding Freedom" to support their argument that Meghan did not expect the contents of the letter to her father to remain private, even suggesting that she had mentioned it to the Kensington Palace communications team as part of a potential media strategy.

They also argued that Meghan was trying to manipulate the narrative around her to be more positive, and that she gave or enabled "them [the authors of Finding Freedom, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand] to be given a great deal of other information about her personal life, in order to set out her own version of events in a way that is favourable to her."

Meghan's lawyers categorically refute these claims, maintaining that neither the duke nor the duchess collaborated with the authors of the book.

Judge Francesca Kaye ruled in the High Court on Sept. 29th that Associated Newspapers could amend their argument against the duchess and include as evidence "Finding Freedom," a book about her and Prince Harry's departure from official royal duties co-authored by Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie.

Durand is a former producer at ABC News, and Scobie is currently an ABC News royal contributor.

Responding to the ruling, the duchess's legal team issued a strongly worded statement saying they have "no doubt" the newspaper's new defense "will fail."

"We were prepared for this potential outcome given the low threshold to amend a pleading for a privacy and copyright case," the legal team said in the statement, adding that the publishers are using the court case to "exploit The duchess's privacy and the privacy of those around her for profit-motivated clickbait rather than journalism."

"As a reminder, it is The Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers who acted unlawfully and are the ones on trial, not The Duchess of Sussex, although they would like their readers to believe otherwise," they concluded in the statement.

Associated Newspapers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meghan's bid to avoid going to trial


In the fourth hearing, held on Oct. 29th, Warby agreed to Meghan's lawyers' request to postpone the trial.

Meghan's lawyers also laid out in the fourth hearing their application for a Summary Judgement, which is what Warby ruled on in his most recent decision.

In a new tactic for her legal team, Meghan’s lawyers argued that Associated Newspapers’ defense is so weak the case should not even go to trial.

Meghan wins on invasion of privacy


In a judgment released on Feb. 11, the judge ruled that the Mail on Sunday invaded Meghan's privacy by publishing large parts of the personal letter she sent to her father.

Representatives for the Mail on Sunday said in a statement at the time that they were considering appealing the decision.

"We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial," the statement read. "We are carefully considering the judgment’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal."

Judge denies bid to appeal

Judge Warby blocked an appeal on March 2 by the publisher of the Mail on Sunday to overturn a court ruling that the tabloid invaded the privacy of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, by publishing portions of the letter she wrote to her father.

The judge also ordered Associated Newspapers' Ltd. on Tuesday to make an "interim payment" of nearly $630,000 of Meghan's legal costs within two weeks, according to the PA reporter in court.

What's next


Another hearing will be held in late April or early May to consider "financial remedies" that could be granted to Meghan and to consider Meghan's claim under the Data Protection Act.

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Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(TOKYO) -- After a nine-month battle fighting extradition, the American father and son duo accused of aiding former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in his dramatic international escape have arrived in Japan.

Former Green Beret Michael Taylor and his adult son, Peter Taylor, arrived in Tokyo Tuesday morning, their lawyer Paul V. Kelly confirmed to ABC News.

"It is very disappointing that the U.S. has treated a distinguished veteran and his son in this manner," Kelly told ABC News. "This extradition should never have occurred. The hope now is that Japan acts in a reasonable and lawful manner, and that the Taylors are returned home to their family as soon as possible."

The father and son from Massachusetts face criminal charges in Japan, where they are accused of helping smuggle Ghosn out of the country in a box used for audio equipment while Ghosn was awaiting trial for financial crimes. Ghosn's dramatic escape from Japan to Lebanon via private jet made international headlines last year.

In late December 2019, according to court records, Michael Taylor arrived at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Tokyo, where his son had earlier checked into a room, with "large black audio equipment-style cases." Ghosn had separately arrived at the Grand Hyatt at about the same time.

Michael Taylor eventually loaded his luggage onto a private jet which departed for Turkey. On Dec. 31, 2019, Ghosn announced he was in Lebanon.

Court records indicate that the Taylors received more than $1.3 million from Ghosn and his family members.

"The Taylors’ alleged plot to smuggle Ghosn out of Japan was one of the most brazen and well-orchestrated escape acts in recent history, involving a dizzying array of luxury hotel meetups, fake personas, bullet train travel, and the chartering of a private jet," Assistant US Attorney Stephen Hassink said last year.

The former Nissan chairman has denied wrongdoing and said he fled to escape "political persecution," though he faces a litany of financial misconduct charges in Japan. Ghosn currently remains in Lebanon, which does not have an extradition agreement with Japan for its citizens.

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