World rings in New Year under COVID-19 cloud

Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
Beam lights are seen projected from the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel on the eve of New Year 2022, in Singapore. (AFP)
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Beam lights are seen projected from the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel on the eve of New Year 2022, in Singapore. (AFP)
Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House during the fireworks show on January 1, 2022. (AFP)
A man leads his camel past women wading in the sea during the last sunset of 2021 on the eve of New Year 2022, in Karachi. (AFP)
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A man leads his camel past women wading in the sea during the last sunset of 2021 on the eve of New Year 2022, in Karachi. (AFP)
This picture taken with a fisheye lens shows people awaiting the New Year's Eve fireworks show below Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (AFP)
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This picture taken with a fisheye lens shows people awaiting the New Year's Eve fireworks show below Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (AFP)
A woman scribbles the date
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A woman scribbles the date "2022" in the sand along a beach in Gaza City before the last sunset of the year, on December 31. (AFP)
A man rides a horse past the date
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A man rides a horse past the date "2022" scribbled in the sand along a beach in Gaza City before the last sunset of the year. (AFP)
Men stand by a giant sign erected by the Gaza City Municipality reading
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Men stand by a giant sign erected by the Gaza City Municipality reading "2022" in Gaza City. (AFP)
A man swings a homemade fireworks sparkler after sunset during the last night of the year in Gaza City. (AFP)
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A man swings a homemade fireworks sparkler after sunset during the last night of the year in Gaza City. (AFP)
New Year's Eve fireworks erupt over the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, Thailand. (AFP)
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New Year's Eve fireworks erupt over the Chao Praya River in Bangkok, Thailand. (AFP)
Shrine staff prepare for New Year prayers at Kanda Myojin Shrinein Tokyo. (AFP)
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Shrine staff prepare for New Year prayers at Kanda Myojin Shrinein Tokyo. (AFP)
Men dressed as Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus or Father Christmas) ride in a jet skis by a boat in the Shatt al-Arab waterway as they deliver gifts to children in Iraq's southern city of Basra. (AFP)
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Men dressed as Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus or Father Christmas) ride in a jet skis by a boat in the Shatt al-Arab waterway as they deliver gifts to children in Iraq's southern city of Basra. (AFP)
A picture taken on December 31, 2021 shows fireworks erupting in front of Ain Dubai as part of the New Year's festivities in Dubai. (AFP)
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A picture taken on December 31, 2021 shows fireworks erupting in front of Ain Dubai as part of the New Year's festivities in Dubai. (AFP)
New Year's Eve fireworks lighting the landmark Burj Khalifa tower at midnight in Dubai. (AFP)
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New Year's Eve fireworks lighting the landmark Burj Khalifa tower at midnight in Dubai. (AFP)
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Updated 01 January 2022

World rings in New Year under COVID-19 cloud

New Year's Eve fireworks lighting the landmark Burj Khalifa tower at midnight in Dubai. (AFP)
  • 2021 started with hope, as life-saving vaccines rolled out to around 60 percent of the world’s population
  • As the year drew to a close, the emergence of the omicron variant pushed the number of daily new COVID-19 cases past one million for the first time

PARIS: Sorrow for the dead and dying, fear of more infections to come and hopes for an end to the coronavirus pandemic were — again — the bittersweet cocktail with which the world said good riddance to 2021 and ushered in 2022.
New Year’s Eve, which used to be celebrated globally with a free-spirited wildness, felt instead like a case of deja vu, with the fast-spreading omicron variant again filling hospitals.
“We just need enjoyment,” said Karen Page, 53, who was among the fed-up revelers venturing out in London. “We have just been in so long.”
The mostly muted New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world ushered in the fourth calendar year framed by the global pandemic. More than 285 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide since late 2019 and more than 5 million have died.
In Paris, officials canceled the fireworks amid surging infections and reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing outdoors, an obligation followed by the majority of people who milled about on the Champs-Elysées as the final hours of 2021 ticked away.
In Berlin, police urged people not to gather near the Brandenburg Gate, where a concert was staged without a live audience. In Madrid, authorities allowed only 7,000 people into the city’s Puerta del Sol downtown square, a venue traditionally hosting some 20,000 revelers.
In the United States, officials took a mixed approach to the year-end revelry: nixing the audience at a countdown concert in Los Angeles, scaling it back in New York yet going full speed ahead in Las Vegas, where as many as 300,000 people were expected to shrug off gusty winds and turn up for a fireworks show on the strip.

President Joe Biden noted the losses and uncertainty caused by the pandemic but said: “We’re persevering. We’re recovering.”
“Back to work. Back to school. Back to joy,” Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “That’s how we made it through this year. And how we’ll embrace the next. Together.”
In New York, officials allowed just 15,000 people — vaccinated and masked — inside the perimeter around Times Square, a sliver of the 1 million that typically squeeze in to watch the famed ball drop. Outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, defending the event, said people need to see that New York is open for business.
Yet by Thursday, rapper LL Cool J had dropped out of the New York telecast after a positive COVID-19 test and restaurant owners battered by staffing shortages and omicron cancelations throughout the holiday season struggled to stay open.
“I’m really scared for our industry,” said New York restaurateur David Rabin, who watched reservations and party bookings disappear this month. “No one made any money in December. The fact they may have a good night tonight, it has no impact.”
Airlines also struggled as the year came to a close, canceling thousands of flights after the virus struck flight crews and other personnel and amid bad weather.
The pandemic game-changer of 2021 — vaccinations — continued apace. Pakistan said it had fully vaccinated 70 million of its 220 million people this year and Britain said it met its goal of offering a vaccine booster shot to all adults by Friday.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin mourned the dead, praised Russians for their strength in difficult times and soberly warned that the pandemic “isn’t retreating yet.” Russia’s virus task force has reported 308,860 COVID-19 deaths but its state statistics agency says the death toll has been more than double that.
“I would like to express words of sincere support to all those who lost their dear ones,” Putin said in a televised address broadcast just before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
Elsewhere, the venue that many chose for New Year’s celebrations was the same place they became overly familiarly with during lockdowns: their homes.

Pope Francis also canceled his New Year’s Eve tradition of visiting the life-sized manger set up in St. Peter’s Square, again to avoid a crowd. In an unusual move for Francis, the 85-year-old pontiff donned a surgical mask for a Vespers service of prayer and hymns Friday evening as he sat in an armchair. But he also delivered a homily standing and unmasked.
“A sense of being lost has grown in the world during the pandemic,’’ Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Basilica.
France, Britain, Portugal and Australia were among countries that set new records for COVID-19 infections as 2021 gave way to 2022.
In London, the normal fireworks display, which would have attracted tens of thousands of people to the city center and the banks of the Thames, was replaced by a light and drones show broadcast on television. Location details about the spectacle were kept secret in advance to avoid crowds gathering.
“The last two years have been so difficult for so many people, so many have suffered and there is a point when we need to start coming together finally,” said Mira Lluk, 22, a special needs teacher.
France’s unprecedented 232,200 new cases Friday marked its third day running above the 200,000 mark. The UK was close behind, with 189,846 new cases, also a record. In London, officials said as many as 1 in 15 people were infected with the virus in the week before Christmas. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the UK rose 68 percent in the last week, to the highest levels since February.

 

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach welcomed a small crowd of a few thousand for 16 minutes of fireworks. Rio’s New Year’s bash usually brings more than 2 million people to Copacabana beach. In 2020 there was no celebration due to the pandemic. This year there was music on loudspeakers, but no live concerts like in previous editions.
Yet boisterous New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked off in the Serbian capital of Belgrade where, unlike elsewhere in Europe, mass gatherings were allowed despite fears of the omicron variant. One medical expert predicted that Serbia will see thousands of new COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
At Expo 2020, the sprawling world’s fair outside Dubai, 26-year-old tourist Lujain Orfi prepared to throw caution to the wind on New Year’s Eve — her first time ever outside Saudi Arabia, where she lives in the holy city of Medina.
“If you don’t celebrate, life will pass you by,” she said. “I’m healthy and took two (vaccine) doses. We just have to enjoy.”
Australia went ahead with its celebrations despite reporting a record 32,000 new cases. Thousands of fireworks lit up the sky over Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House at midnight. Yet the crowds were far smaller than in pre-pandemic years.
In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.
“A numbness has set in, and we are no longer overly afraid,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take for granted that it won’t happen to me.”
South Korean authorities closed many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise.
In India, millions of people rang in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in New Delhi, Mumbai and other large cities.
In mainland China, the Shanghai government canceled an annual light show along the Huangpu River that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December.
In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 remain missing.
Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, and then the typhoon blew away her temporary wooden shack in Cebu city. She will welcome the new year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a ramshackle tent in a clearing where hundreds of other families erected small tents from debris, rice sacks and tarpaulins.
Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we won’t get sick.”


Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
Updated 18 May 2022

Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

Smoke rises from the Duvha coal-based power station owned by state power utility Eskom, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
  • Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said

NEW DELHI: A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55 percent since 2000.
That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.
The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.
When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.
Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.
“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.
“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and the chemical pollution, still going up.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, researchers said.
“They are preventable deaths. Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what it attributed to pollution, that the real death toll is likely higher.
The certificates for these deaths don’t say pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues and diabetes that are “tightly correlated” with pollution by numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then put these together with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure response calculations derived by large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. It’s the same way scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.
“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “That’s how we do it.”
Five outside experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press the study follows mainstream scientific thought. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room doctor and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study, said “the American Heart Association determined over a decade ago that exposure to (tiny pollution particles) like that generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal for heart disease and death.”
“While people focus on decreasing their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that the removal of air pollution is an important prescription to improve their heart health,” Salas said.
Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”
In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.
That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reconfirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation is increasing, said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
“This data is a reminder of what is going wrong but also that it is an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.
Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.
“This problem is worst in areas of the world where population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched thin to address a host of challenges including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who wasn’t part of the study.
In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.
Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.
In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.
Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries.
The study authors came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.
“We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is political will.”


Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday
Updated 18 May 2022

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday

Sweden, Finland to submit NATO membership bid Wednesday
  • Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden have been rattled by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine

STOCKHOLM: Finland and Sweden announced they will submit their bids to join NATO together Wednesday, despite Turkey’s threat to block the military alliance’s expansion.
“I’m happy we have taken the same path and we can do it together,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden have been rattled by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their applications will jettison decades of military non-alignment to join the alliance as a defense against feared aggression from Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned NATO’s expansion may trigger a response from Moscow.
But the main obstacle to Finland and Sweden’s membership comes from within the alliance, despite NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg repeatedly insisting the two countries would be welcomed “with open arms.”
Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of acting as a hotbed for terrorist groups and its president insists Ankara will not approve expansion.
Any membership bid must be unanimously approved by NATO’s 30 members.
Niinisto said Tuesday he was “optimistic” Finland and Sweden would be able to secure Turkey’s support.
And in Washington, State Department Spokesman Ned Price likwise expressed confidence that Ankara would not block their entrance into the alliance.
“We are confident that we will be able to preserve the consensus within the alliance of strong support for a potential application of Finland and Sweden,” he said.
Andersson and Niinisto are to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington Thursday to discuss their historic bids.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the bloc offered the bids its “full support” after a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels.
“This will increase the number of member states that are also members of NATO. And this will strengthen and increase the cooperation and the security in Europe,” he said, noting it was “an important geopolitical change.”

After a marathon debate lasting a day and a half, 188 out of 200 Finnish lawmakers voted in favor of NATO membership, a dramatic reversal of Finland’s military non-alignment policy dating back more than 75 years.
“Our security environment has fundamentally changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told parliament at the start of the debate.
“The only country that threatens European security, and is now openly waging a war of aggression, is Russia,” she said.
Finland spent more than a century as part of the Russian empire until it gained independence in 1917. It was then invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939.
According to public opinion polls, more than three-quarters of Finns want to join the alliance, almost three times as many as before the war in Ukraine began on February 24.
Swedish public support has also risen dramatically, but remains at around 50 percent.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde signed the application letter Tuesday.
The turnaround is also dramatic in Sweden, which remained neutral throughout World War II and has stayed out of military alliances for more than 200 years.

Ankara has thrown a spanner in the works with its last-minute objections.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Helsinki and Stockholm of harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
Sweden also suspended arms sales to Turkey in 2019 over Ankara’s military operation in neighboring Syria.
“We will not say ‘yes’ to those who apply sanctions to Turkey to join NATO,” Erdogan said Monday, adding that “neither of the countries has a clear stance against terror organizations.”
Diplomatic sources told AFP that Turkey blocked a NATO declaration Monday in favor of Sweden and Finland’s membership.
Sweden and Finland have sent delegations to Turkey to meet with Turkish officials.
“Sweden is delighted to work with Turkey in NATO and this cooperation can be part of our bilateral relations,” Sweden’s Andersson said, emphasising that Stockholm “is committed to fighting against all types of terrorism.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in New York on Wednesday.
“Our assessment of the sentiment among our NATO allies and within the NATO alliance has not changed,” said Price, the State Department spokesman.


Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival
Updated 17 May 2022

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival
  • Volodymyr Zelensky referred to the power of cinema during World War II, including the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film ‘The Great Dictator’ which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler
  • Zelensky: ‘We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute. Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? Can cinema stay outside of this?’

CANNES, France: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise video address at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday.
“Hundreds of people are dying every day. They won’t get up again after the clapping at the end,” he told the audience, which had reacted with surprise when the pre-recorded message was introduced.
“Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, once again, everything depends on our unity. Can cinema stay outside of this unity?” Zelensky added.
Zelensky referred to the power of cinema during World War II, including the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film “The Great Dictator” which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“Chaplin’s dictator did not destroy the real dictator, but thanks to cinema, thanks to this film, cinema did not stay quiet,” Zelensky said.
“We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute. Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? Can cinema stay outside of this?”
His speech received a standing ovation from the crowd in the southern French resort town’s Palais des Festivals.
The war is a dominant theme for the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, with a special day dedicated to Ukraine’s filmmakers at the industry marketplace.
“Mariupolis 2,” a documentary about the conflict by Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was reportedly killed by Russian forces in Ukraine last month, will get a special screening.
Zelensky similarly addressed the Grammy awards ceremony in Las Vegas last month, telling the crowd: “Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals.”
The opening ceremony in Cannes had introduced the jury and handed an honorary Palme d’Or to actor and peace activist Forest Whitaker.
“The torments of the world, which is bleeding, suffering, burning... they rack my conscience,” French actor and jury president Vincent Lindon said in his speech.


Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
Updated 17 May 2022

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate

Hundreds of Ukrainians defending Azovstal plant surrender to uncertain fate
  • Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks
  • Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal

MARIUPOL, Ukraine: Hundreds of Ukrainian fighters surrendered to an uncertain fate on Tuesday after weeks holed up in the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol’s Azovstal steel works as the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine drew to a close.
Russian forces pummelled Mariupol, a major port on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Crimea, with artillery for weeks. After the urban warfare that followed, the city is a wasteland.
Civilians and Ukrainian fighters had hunkered down in Azovstal, a vast Soviet-era plant founded under Josef Stalin and designed with a maze of bunkers and tunnels to withstand nuclear attack.
Russia’s defense ministry said 265 fighters had surrendered, including 51 who were seriously wounded and would be treated at Novoazovsk in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk region.
Five buses took wounded fighters there early on Tuesday, and in the evening a Reuters witness saw seven more, escorted by armored vehicles. They brought other Azovstal fighters to a newly reopened prison in Olenivka near the regional capital Donetsk.
The occupants were not visibly wounded. One bore a prominent tattoo on his neck featuring a Ukrainian national trident symbol.
Ukraine’s military command had said in the early hours that it was ending the mission to defend the plant, led by the Azov Regiment, which had previously insisted it would not surrender and appealed to Kyiv to organize an extraction.
“Because Mariupol drew in the Russian Federation’s forces for 82 days, the operation to seize the east and south (of Ukraine) was held up. It changed the course of the war,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
It was unclear what would happen to the fighters.
Moscow has depicted the Azov Regiment as one of the main perpetrators of the alleged radical anti-Russian nationalism or even Nazism from which it says it needs to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speakers.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that the fighters who surrendered would be treated “in accordance with international standards.”
ACCUSATIONS
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a video that “an exchange procedure will take place for their return home.”
But Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, said: “Nazi criminals should not be exchanged.”
The TASS news agency said Russian federal investigators would question the soldiers as part of a probe into what Moscow calls “Ukrainian regime crimes.”
And Russian deputy ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: “I didn’t know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered.”
Civilians evacuated earlier had spoken of desperate conditions in the bunkers, and some fighters had endured horrific battle injuries with minimal medical assistance.
The Azov Regiment was formed in 2014 as an extreme right-wing volunteer militia to fight Russian-backed separatists who had taken control of parts of the Donbas — the largely Russian-speaking industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine where Russia says it wants to end Ukrainian rule.
The regiment denies being fascist, racist or neo-Nazi, and Ukraine says it has been reformed away from its radical nationalist origins to be integrated into the National Guard.
Kyiv also denies that Russian speakers have been persecuted in Ukraine, and says the allegation that it has a fascist agenda, repeated daily on Russian media, is a baseless pretext for a Russian war of aggression.
Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office asked the Supreme Court to class the regiment as a “terrorist organization,” Interfax news agency reported, citing the Ministry of Justice website.
Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia’s negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants “animals in human form” and said they should receive the death penalty.
“They do not deserve to live after the monstrous crimes against humanity that they have committed and that are committed continuously against our prisoners,” he said.


Sri Lanka Parliament blocks no-confidence motion against embattled president

Sri Lanka Parliament blocks no-confidence motion against embattled president
Updated 17 May 2022

Sri Lanka Parliament blocks no-confidence motion against embattled president

Sri Lanka Parliament blocks no-confidence motion against embattled president
  • Nationwide protests have been demanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign over worsening economic crisis
  • New PM warns that upcoming months will be ‘most difficult ones of our lives’

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s ruling party on Tuesday blocked a no-confidence motion against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose removal from office has been central to nationwide protests triggered by the worst economic crisis in the country’s history.

The South Asian island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, with the government seeking an economic lifeline from other countries and institutions in order to continue importing basic supplies, medicines and fuel.

Mass protests across the island nation have been demanding Rajapaksa’s ouster for over a month, with demonstrators blaming him for leading the country to bankruptcy. 

Tuesday’s motion, tabled by M.A. Sumanthiran of the opposition Tamil National Alliance party, sought to bypass procedure to censure the president for the crisis. It was defeated by the ruling party with a 119-68 vote.

“Your names have been displayed on the board today. The country now knows who is protecting the president, who does not protect you,” Sumanthiran told parliamentarians after the vote. 

Sri Lankan protesters have been demanding that the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, be removed from the country’s politics.

The family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling the economy, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of essential goods, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.

Tuesday’s outcome appears to have strengthened protesters’ demands for the president to quit.

“We are thoroughly disappointed about the appointment of a prime minister who is another stooge of the Rajapaksa family,” Anuruddha Bandara, an activist behind the #GotaGoHome campaign on social media, told Arab News.

“We will not let this go until the president steps down.”

It is unclear whether the no-confidence motion will be taken up again. 

The parliamentary session on Tuesday was the first since clashes between protesters, government supporters and police left nine dead and hundreds injured last week. It was also the first with new PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, quit in the wake of the deadly confrontations.

On Monday, Wickremesinghe offered a somber assessment of the nation’s dire outlook, saying that about $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide essential items, while the country’s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.

“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day,” he said in a televised speech. “The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives.”