Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh
Baku said on Monday it had seized dozens more settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after proclaiming victory in the battle for the enclave’s strategically positioned second-largest city. (AP)
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Updated 10 November 2020

Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh

YEREVAN: Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed on a deal with Russia to end weeks of fierce clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, after a string of Azerbaijani victories in its fight to retake the disputed region.
The announcement of a full cease-fire from 1:00 am Tuesday (2100 GMT) sparked outrage in Armenia, with angry protesters storming the government headquarters in Yerevan where they ransacked offices and broke windows.
Crowds also seized control of parliament, calling from inside the chamber for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan after he announced the “painful” deal to the end the fighting.
“I have signed a statement with the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan on the termination of the Karabakh war,” Pashinyan said, calling the move “unspeakably painful for me personally and for our people.”
“I have taken this decision as a result of an in-depth analysis of the military situation,” he added.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said Pashinyan had been left with no choice but to sign the “historic agreement.”
“An iron hand forced him to sign this document,” Aliyev said in televised remarks. “This is essentially a capitulation.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that both Armenia and Azerbaijan had agreed to “a total cease-fire” that would create the conditions for a long-term settlement of the conflict.
He said the two sides would hold on to areas under their control and that Russian peacekeepers would be deployed along frontlines and to secure a corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenian territory.
Russian news agencies quoted the defense ministry as saying 1,960 peacekeepers would be deployed with 90 armored vehicles.
Aliyev said Armenia had agreed to a timetable to withdraw its forces from large parts of the region and that Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey would be involved in implementing the cease-fire.
The deal would end six weeks of fierce clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region of Azerbaijan that broke away from Baku’s control during a bitter war in the 1990s.
The conflict — which has simmered for decades despite international efforts to reach a peace deal — erupted into fresh fighting in late September.
More than 1,300 people have been confirmed killed, including dozens of civilians, but the actual death toll is believed to be significantly higher.
Azerbaijani forces made steady gains over the weeks of fighting, sweeping across the southern flank of Nagorno-Karabakh and eventually into the region’s heartland.
A turning point came on Sunday when Aliyev announced that his forces had captured Shusha, the region’s strategically vital second-largest town.
Shusha sits on cliffs overlooking Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert and on the main road to Armenia, which backs the separatists.
Armenia insisted earlier on Monday that fighting for the town was continuing but a local separatist official admitted that Shusha was “completely out of our control.”
The cease-fire deal came just hours after Azerbaijan admitted to accidentally shooting down a Russian military helicopter flying in Armenia.
Moscow’s defense ministry said two crew members were killed when the Mi-24 helicopter was hit close to the border with Azerbaijan. A third crew member was injured and evacuated.
Azerbaijan quickly apologized and blamed the incident on the “tense situation in the region and increased combat readiness” of its forces.
The helicopter was shot down near the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan between Armenia and Turkey, far from Nagorno-Karabakh.
Russia has a military pact with Armenia and a base in the country, but had insisted it would not get involved in the conflict with Azerbaijan unless Armenian territory itself came under threat.
Karabakh declared independence nearly 30 years ago but the declaration has not been recognized internationally, even by Armenia, and it remains a part of Azerbaijan under international law.
Repeated attempts at cease-fires brokered by France, Russia and the United States — who together lead the “Minsk Group” that has sought for years to end the conflict — repeatedly failed over the last few weeks.
Azerbaijan has been pushing for Turkey’s involvement in a settlement and the new deal came after Putin spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday.
Anger had already been mounting in Armenia ahead of the agreement, with 17 opposition parties on Monday calling on Pashinyan and the rest of his government to immediately resign.
The parties said in a statement that Armenia’s leaders bore “the entire responsibility for the situation” in Karabakh.
“The authorities have lost their moral and political basis to represent the people,” they said.


Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
Updated 46 min 30 sec ago

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,820 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,312,181 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 88,726.


Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade
Updated 47 min 41 sec ago

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade
  • Farmers stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage
  • The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers blocked a massive expressway on the edges of New Delhi on Saturday to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws they say will devastate their income.
Farmers stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.
Thousands of them have hunkered down outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to voice their anger against three laws passed by Parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the laws are necessary to modernize agriculture but farmers say they will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers’ Front, said the blockade would last five hours. “It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do?” said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.
The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon run into problems.
For 100 days, Karnal Singh, has lived inside the back of a trailer along a vast stretch of arterial highway that connects India’s north with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now, the city is bracing for scorching summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
But Singh, like many other farmers, is unfazed and plans to stay until the laws are completely withdrawn.
“We are not going anywhere and will fight till the end,” Singh, 60, said on Friday, as he sat cross-legged inside a makeshift shelter in the back of his truck.
The mood at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was boisterous on Friday, with many farmers settling into their surroundings for the long haul.
Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers thronged both sides of the highway and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, fitted with water coolers in preparation for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also being installed in some trailers.
Farmers say the protests will spread across the country soon. The government, however, is hoping many of them will return home once India’s major harvesting season begins at the end of the month.
Karanbir Singh dismissed such concerns. He said their community, including friends and neighbors back in the villages, would tend to farms while he and others carried on with the protests.
“We’ll help each other to make sure no farm goes unharvested,” Singh said.
But not all farmers are against the laws. Pawan Kumar, a fruit and vegetable grower and ardent Modi supporter, said he was ready to give them a chance.
“If they (the laws) turn out to not benefit us, then we will protest again,” he said. “We will jam roads, and make that protest even bigger. Then more common people, even workers, will join. But if they turn out to be beneficial for us, we will keep them.”
Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed to end the stalemate. The farmers have rejected an offer from the government to put the laws on hold for 18 months, saying they want a complete repeal.
The legislation is not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops — a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.
Farmers also fear that the legislation signals the government is moving away from a system in which an overwhelming majority of farmers sell only to government-sanctioned marketplaces. They worry this will leave them at the mercy of corporations that will have no legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price anymore.


Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action
Updated 06 March 2021

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action
  • Myanmar has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1
  • More than 50 protesters have been killed, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener tells UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar called on the UN Security Council to take action against the ruling junta after the killings of protesters who have continued to defy security forces at demonstrations against last month’s coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?” Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told a closed meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on Friday, according to a copy of her remarks seen by Reuters.
“It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”
A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.
The army says it has been restrained in stopping the protests, but has said it will not allow them to threaten stability.
On Saturday, in the southern town of Dawei, protesters chanted “Democracy is our cause” and “The revolution must prevail.” Protesters were also gathering in the biggest city, Yangon.
People have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands at times, vowing to continue action in a country that spent nearly half a century under military rule until democratic reforms in 2011 that were cut short by the coup.
“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
At least one man was killed by security forces in protests on Friday. An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his teenage nephew were also stabbed to death by military supporters, local media reported.

Outrage
The killing of protesters has drawn international outrage.
“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, has called for a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions.
But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered anytime soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, which have veto powers.
“All parties should exercise utmost calm and restraint,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said, according to remarks released after the UN meeting. “We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar.”
The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
That plan is rejected by protesters and by a group representing lawmakers elected at the last election that has begun to issue statements in the name of a rival civilian administration.
On Friday, it listed four demands — the end of the junta, the release of the detainees, democracy and the abolition of the 2008 constitution which left significant political representation and control in the hands of the military.
Instead, it said Myanmar should have a federal constitution — an appeal to the ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands which have chafed under domination of the Bamar majority both under the military and Suu Kyi’s party.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the ethnic armed groups engaged in long-running wars.
During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.


American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’
Updated 06 March 2021

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’

American Airlines says 737 MAX experienced ‘mechanical issue’
  • The 737 MAX was Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until it was grounded over a faulty flight handling system

NEW YORK: An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet flying to Newark, New Jersey from Miami landed safely on Friday after pilots shut down an engine during the flight, the US air safety regulator said.
The MAX returned to skies in the United States late last year after it was grounded worldwide in March 2019 following two deadly crashes.
In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said “pilots reported shutting down an engine in flight” but the plane was able to taxi to its gate on its own power, and the agency will investigate the incident.
American Airlines confirmed to AFP that the issue was related to an engine oil pressure issue and not the faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, which was implicated in the crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
“All customers deplaned normally, with no reported injuries to passengers or crew,” American Airlines said.
The 737 MAX was a big hit with airlines, becoming Boeing’s fastest-selling aircraft until its grounding, which forced the manufacturer to revamp MCAS and implement new pilot training protocols.
The grounding plunged the American aviation giant into crisis, which was exacerbated by the global downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and airlines canceled hundreds of orders for the plane.


Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
Updated 06 March 2021

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight

Senate Democrats strike US jobless aid deal, relief bill OK in sight
  • Joe Biden's overall bill is aimed at battling the killer pandemic
  • It also aims to nurse the staggered economy back to health
WASHINGTON: Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal late Friday over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.
The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
The Senate next faced votes on a pile of amendments that were likely to last overnight, mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes.
More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments.
The day’s lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities.
Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate that leaves his party without a vote to spare. With Democrats also clinging to a mere 10-vote House edge, the party needs his vote but can’t tilt too far center without losing progressive support.
Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs.
Biden noted Friday’s jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That’s still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.”
The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them.
“You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.
But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.
The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
As the day began, Democrats asserted they’d reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October.
That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.
But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and by 9 p.m. had not been formally gaveled to a close, as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations.
Republicans say the overall relief bill is a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing.
“Our country is already set for a roaring recovery,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in part citing an unexpectedly strong report on job creation. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”
Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
Friday’s gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn’t the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the chamber’s clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states.
In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals.