Eyeing Russia, US defense chief heads to Black Sea region

Eyeing Russia, US defense chief heads to Black Sea region
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
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Updated 18 October 2021

Eyeing Russia, US defense chief heads to Black Sea region

Eyeing Russia, US defense chief heads to Black Sea region
  • Russia has occupied Ukraine’s Crimea and has troops stationed in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin headed to the Black Sea region Sunday aiming to shore up alliances with countries pressured by Russia and show gratitude for their contributions to the two-decade war in Afghanistan.

Austin will visit Georgia, Romania and Ukraine before taking part in the in-person defense ministers summit at NATO in Brussels on Oct. 21-22.

“We are reassuring and reinforcing the sovereignty of countries that are on the front lines of Russian aggression,” a senior US defense official told reporters ahead of the trip.

All three countries are in the NATO orbit — Romania a full member and Georgia and Ukraine partner states.

All three also sit on the rim of the Black Sea, where Russia has sought to expand its own influence and prevent expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the US-European alliance.

Russia has occupied Ukraine’s Crimea and has troops stationed in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And Kiev is battling pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east, in a conflict that has cost 13,000 lives.

In June, Russian forces menaced Dutch and British warships as they sailed near Crimea.

Austin will also extend thanks to its partners for their contributions, and significant losses, as part of coalition forces in Afghanistan over two decades, before the hasty US exit this year that ceded the country to the Taliban.

“We are going to be showing recognition and appreciation for the sacrifices and the commitments of our partners and allies,” the official said. In Georgia, Austin will meet with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Minister of Defense Juansher Burchuladze, with a key aim to keep up defense cooperation as a three-year US Army training program expires this year.

Georgia hopes Austin’s visit will help advance its case for becoming a full NATO member.

It will be “another clear message from the US in support of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, its stable and democratic development, and for the country’s Euro-Atlantic goals” Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said Wednesday.

“We expect that meetings will be focused on further deepening our cooperation, regional security issues, and the process of Georgia’s NATO integration,” he said.

In Ukraine, Austin will have talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Minister of Defense Andriy Taran, both of whom visited Washington at the beginning of September to press their case for NATO membership with President Joe Biden.

And in Romania, he will see President Klaus Iohannis and Minister of National Defense Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca, amid a fresh political crisis in the country.

In all three, the US wants to expand defense support but also sees problems of democratic development and corruption.

In Georgia, tens of thousands of protesters were out in the streets this week over the arrest of ex-president and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili and over allegations of fraud in recent elections.

Ukraine is under heavy pressure from the West, which provides the country extensive aid, to halt rampant graft.

“It is our belief that strengthening democratic institutions creates greater resilience against Russian influence and external manipulation,” the US official said.

“Our bilateral assistance is actually very much focused on the specific aspects of institutional reform that are necessary for NATO. And that applies to both Georgia and to Ukraine.”

Austin will end the week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where ties with the US, frayed by the previous administration of Donald Trump, took a fresh hit last month when Washington unexpectedly announced a new pact with Australia and Britain focused on China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US official said Austin would reinforce US commitment to the pact and press for military adaptation to address future threats.

“NATO needs to keep building its credible deterrence capabilities for its deterrence and defense mission,” the official said.


Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
Updated 2 min 25 sec ago

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
  • Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted some countries to urge their citizens to leave as soon as possible

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday urged Tigrayan rebels to surrender, claiming government forces were nearing victory just one week after he vowed to lead military operations at
the front.
“The youth of Tigray is perishing like leaves. Knowing it is defeated, it is being led by one who does not have a clear vision or plan,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in comments aired on state media.
“It should surrender today to the Ethiopian National Defence Force, to the special forces, to the militias and to the people.”
Tuesday’s footage was the latest in a series of clips showing Abiy, in uniform with soldiers, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar.
The area has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group tries to seize control of a critical highway that supplies the capital Addis Ababa.
On Sunday state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated to the west, in Amhara region.
“The enemy has been defeated. We scored an unthinkable victory with the eastern command in one day ... Now in the west we will repeat this victory,” he said.
The announcement last week that Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, would head to the battlefield came after the TPLF claimed to control Shewa Robit, a town just 220 km (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.
Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted the US, France, the UK and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, though Abiy’s government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure.
A TPLF spokesman on Monday dismissed Abiy’s deployment as a “circus” involving “farcical war games.”
War broke out between the two sides in November 2020, with Abiy sending troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, are trying to broker a ceasefire, though there has been little evident progress so far.


‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
Updated 30 November 2021

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
  • Around 7,000 people evacuated to Britain
  • Refugee describes ‘horrific’ airport scenes

LONDON: Prince William has told Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Britain that they were welcome in the country and praised their bravery after risking their lives working alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The prince visited families housed in a hotel for refugees evacuated from Kabul this year.

He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved at short notice: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn't be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”

The hotel, which is unnamed for security reasons, hosts around 175 refugees who are waiting on the government to find them long-term accommodation.

The prince was met with applause by the refugees on his arrival.

One Afghan, Hussain Saeedi Samangan, told the Daily Mail that he and his family’s escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their UK quarantine hotel, but said they felt very welcome in Yorkshire and were optimistic of a “bright, exciting future” in Britain.

Samangan added that he never believed Kabul would fall to the Taliban.

“It took everyone by surprise. You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we were lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had a smoother path to get here.”

Asked by the prince whether he thought this generation of the Taliban would be different, he replied: “No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn't trust them.”

Another Afghan, 33-year-old Kabul airport firefighter Haroom Shahab, told the royal that he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 meters in order to get on a plane to the UK.

He described “horrific” scenes with thousands of people hurtling toward the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.

“They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,” he said. “We were trying to get out of the country because our lives have been torn to shreds. When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.”

Shahab said he hoped to take up his old profession once again and become a firefighter in the UK.

Britain evacuated around 7,000 people from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August and September this year. 

The government has pledged to continue to bring those who worked alongside British or NATO forces during the 20-year occupation into the UK from Afghanistan.


Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
Updated 30 November 2021

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
  • Passenger told that nobody else had spoken up because they were “scared because he is Muslim”
  • British Transport Police: We are aware of a social media video showing a hate incident on-board the District line

LONDON: Police are investigating video footage that emerged of a Muslim man being subjected to Islamophobic abuse on the London Underground.

The man was reciting verses from the Qur’an on Saturday when he was told by another passenger that “this is a Christian country” and his prayers were disrespecting him and others on the train.

Police are now investigating the incident, which was caught on camera, after the footage surfaced online. In the clip, no other passengers expressed any dissatisfaction with the man’s prayers.

The aggressor said: “You're not going to do it (recite the Qur’an) on public transport where I am sitting. You don't even have the decency to ask me if you can do it.”

The Muslim passenger replied: “I don’t need your permission.”

And the furious commuter then told him: “You need my permission to invade my privacy in my space.” 

The Muslim passenger responded: “You are over there and I’m over here,” to the man, who is seen sitting opposite him on the small carriage.

The man behind the camera was then told: “You have no respect for other people.” 

When the man, who was shouting, was told that nobody else on the train had a problem with his recital, the man said that the reason that nobody else was telling him to stop was that they were “too scared because you are a Muslim.”

Writing later on social media, the Muslim passenger said: “This passenger opposite me had an issue with me reading the Quran in a public space. Nobody seemed bothered but him to be frank.

“I told him to move if he was that pressed or to shut up, but he did neither. He just wanted me stop reading the Quran because he believes ‘we shouldn't be allowed to read our prayers on TfL.’”

He added: “I ignored him and continued my recitation, yet he went out of his way to follow me off the train and complain to London Underground.”

A British Transport Police spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of a video posted on social media showing a hate incident on-board a District line Tube between Mile End and Monument stations. Officers are actively investigating this incident.”


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 30 November 2021

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • First genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by Daesh, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.