Gordon Brown calls for Afghanistan donor conference

Gordon Brown calls for Afghanistan donor conference
Former UK PMs John Major, left, Tony Blair, 2nd left, Gordon Brown, 3rd left, and David Cameron during Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Whitehall, London, England, Nov. 14, 2021. (Getty Images)
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Updated 12 January 2022

Gordon Brown calls for Afghanistan donor conference

Gordon Brown calls for Afghanistan donor conference
  • Ex-UK PM: ‘We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine’
  • ‘The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect’

LONDON: Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called on Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to help organize an aid conference to raise $4.5 billion for Afghanistan, warning that tens of millions of Afghans face starvation if funds are not raised.

“We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine,” Brown said, adding that Britain should lead on restarting aid to the Taliban-controlled country.

In an opinion piece for The Guardian, he wrote that cash has been available to support Afghans but donor countries fear retribution following strict US sanctions that were applied on the Taliban regime. 

Brown said those sanctions could and should be relaxed if the Taliban demonstrates progress on women’s rights.

The UN on Tuesday launched a call for $4.5 billion in aid for 2022, the largest appeal in the organization’s history.

The US has committed $308 million, which are expected to be sent through various independent humanitarian groups.

Brown said this is insufficient, adding: “The 35-country, American-led coalition that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still put up only a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarians to stop children dying this winter.”

He said he had written to Truss and Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission president, calling for them to host a donor conference “in January or at the latest in February” to allow the urgently needed aid to be sent.

The UN has detailed how the Afghan economy has totally destabilized since US-led forces left the country last summer, with a 40 percent contraction mooted by experts. 

International aid was plugged almost instantly once the Taliban took power amid US sanctions.

“The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect,” Brown wrote, adding that the UN “forecasts that if we do not act, 97 percent of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line.”

He outlined how roughly 90 percent of the country’s health clinics “do not have the funds to keep themselves open.”

UK aid to Afghanistan, which was increased to £286 million ($391 million) in August, has been central to healthcare provision.

“Aid workers now find children huddled together under threadbare blankets in temporary camps and hovels or lying wrapped in their mothers’ burqas outside hospitals waiting for treatment that is now simply not available,” Brown said.


Russia ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine — Ifax

Russia ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine — Ifax
Updated 49 min 27 sec ago

Russia ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine — Ifax

Russia ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine — Ifax
  • Russia will discuss the possibility of holding a prisoner exchange with Ukraine once prisoners who surrendered have been convicted

Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.
Russia will discuss the possibility of holding a prisoner exchange with Ukraine once prisoners who surrendered have been convicted, Rudenko also said. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be put on trial for war crimes.
He added it was premature to establish a Russian military base in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine’s Kherson region.


Philippine court orders compensation for victims of 1993 mining disaster

Philippine court orders compensation for victims of 1993 mining disaster
Updated 25 May 2022

Philippine court orders compensation for victims of 1993 mining disaster

Philippine court orders compensation for victims of 1993 mining disaster
  • Incident made mining a highly contentious issue in a country with vast underdeveloped mineral reserves

MANILA: A Philippine court has ordered a mining company to pay damages to 30 people for negligence in a 1993 dam burst that was one of the country’s worst mining disasters, a verdict cheered on Wednesday by environmentalists and the industry.
The case was filed in 2001 by residents in the island province of Marinduque, who sought compensation after a typhoon caused Marcopper Mining Corp’s Maguila-guila dam to burst, submerging nearby communities and destroying property, crops and livelihoods.
The court in Marinduque ruled the plaintiffs must be paid 300,000 pesos ($5,734) each, plus a share of 1 million pesos for exemplary damages, according to the May 16 decision, which was made available to media this week.
The incident made mining a highly contentious issue in a country with vast underdeveloped mineral reserves. The Philippines is currently the biggest nickel ore supplier to top metals buyer China.
Marcopper, which folded after the incident, had denied liability and negligence in its maintenance and operations of the dam, according to the court decision. It was not immediately clear who would pay the compensation.
Marcopper’s parent company, Placer Dome, was acquired by Canada-based Barrick Gold Corp. in 2006, which absorbed its workforce and projects. Barrick did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the ruling.
Activists and industry groups said the incident underlines the importance of compliance by mining firms.
“The decision sends an encouraging signal to communities gravely affected by mining,” said the Alyansa Tigil Mina (Stop Mining Alliance) group.
Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Wilfredo Moncano said the decision “serves as a reminder to all mining companies to strictly comply with environment laws and regulations.”
The industry lobby group, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, said the incident has been “a constant reminder to miners all over the world that the safety of all stakeholders in host mining communities is paramount.”


Ukraine’s Zelensky says will only talk directly to Russia’s Putin

Ukraine’s Zelensky says will only talk directly to Russia’s Putin
Updated 25 May 2022

Ukraine’s Zelensky says will only talk directly to Russia’s Putin

Ukraine’s Zelensky says will only talk directly to Russia’s Putin
  • Zelensky: Moscow should withdraw its troops back to the lines in place before Russia began its invasion

DAVOS: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that he was only willing to talk directly to Vladimir Putin and not via intermediators.
He added that if the Russian President “understands reality” there was the possibility of finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict.
Zelensky, speaking to an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, also said that Ukraine would fight until it recovered all of its territory.
The Ukrainian President said that Moscow should withdraw its troops back to the lines in place before Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24.
“That might be a first step toward talks,” he said, adding that Russia has been playing for time in its talks with Ukraine.


Pakistan’s capital Islamabad blockaded ahead of opposition protest

Pakistan’s capital Islamabad blockaded ahead of opposition protest
Updated 25 May 2022

Pakistan’s capital Islamabad blockaded ahead of opposition protest

Pakistan’s capital Islamabad blockaded ahead of opposition protest
  • Ousted prime minister Imran Khan plans to lead thousands of people to the capital in a showdown with his rivals

ISLAMABAD: All roads leading into Pakistan’s capital Islamabad were blocked on Wednesday ahead of a major protest planned by ousted prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters.
Since being removed from power through a no-confidence vote last month, Khan has heaped pressure on the country’s fragile new coalition government by staging mass rallies across the country.
The international cricket star-turned-politician plans on Wednesday to lead tens of thousands of people from his power base in the northwestern city of Peshawar to the capital demanding fresh elections — in a center-piece showdown with his rivals.
The coalition government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has pledged to stop Khan’s supporters from pouring into the city, calling the rally an attempt to “divide the nation and promote chaos.”
“Nobody should be allowed to besiege the capital and dictate his terms,” interior minister Rana Sanaullah said on Tuesday.
Entry and exit points on key highways that lead to the capital were blocked by police around the nearest main cities of Peshawar, Lahore, and Multan.
Islamabad police on Wednesday published a traffic plan showing a complete blockade of the city and a heavy security presence.
On Tuesday, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) accused police of arresting and detaining hundreds of its supporters in overnight raids.
Police sources in Lahore who asked not to be named said more than 200 supporters were detained on public order offenses.
The government and police have said that protesters had been planning to join the march with weapons.
One police officer was shot dead during the raids, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif said.
But a defiant Khan told reporters in Peshawar he would lead the largest march in Pakistan’s history.
“I don’t consider it politics but jihad,” Khan said, referring to a term used by Muslims to describe a struggle.
In 2018, Khan was voted in by an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country’s two major parties.
The popular former sports star — who enjoyed the backing of the country’s powerful military — had promised to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism but is believed to have fallen out with Pakistan’s generals.
He was brought down in part by his failure to rectify the country’s dire economic situation, including its crippling debt, shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring inflation.


Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
Updated 25 May 2022

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities

Russia seeks to put stranglehold on twin Ukrainian cities
  • More than 6.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war of aggression
  • EU’s von der Leyen says Moscow weaponizing food

More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.

 

KYIV/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine: Russian forces sought to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin eastern cities straddling a river as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region where it has focused its attacks.
Russia is attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’ two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.
Russian forces took control of three towns in the Donetsk region including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. All the remaining strength of the Russian army is now concentrated on this region,” Zelensky said in a late Tuesday address. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment out-of-hours.
The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.
“The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two cities are among the last territory held by Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.
Reuters could not immediately verify the information.
In a sign of Ukrainian success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, re-opened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless bombardment.
The re-opening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces largely out of artillery range of the northern city, as they did from the capital, Kyiv, in March.

WORLD WAR THREE?
Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.
More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble.
The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using food as a weapon.
Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking in Davos, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War III.
“The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday lambasted President Vladimir Putin, casting the Kremlin chief as a doomed madman who was butchering the people of both Ukraine and Russia.
“This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeals court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. “This war was built on lies.”
Underlining the global tensions unleashed by the war, major US ally Japan scrambled jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes neared its airspace as US President Joe Biden visited Tokyo.
Meanwhile, in a decision that could push Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to pay US bondholders.
Russia had been allowed to keep paying interest and principal and avert default on its government debt.
Russian lawmakers gave the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a government online portal showed. 
On Monday, Starbucks Corp. became the latest Western brand to announce it was pulling out of Russia, following a similar decision by McDonald’s. The hamburger chain’s trademark “Golden Arches” were lowered near Moscow on Monday.

DRAWN OUT CONFLICT
Senior Russian officials suggested in comments on Tuesday the war, which Russia calls a “special operation,” may be drawn-out.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia would fight as long as necessary to eradicate “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for the war that the West calls baseless.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately advancing slowly to avoid civilian casualties.
Zelensky dismissed such statements as “absolutely unreal.”
In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when the authorities asked them to make way on Tuesday.
“Everyone is crazily scared, because there is still shelling,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived in a metro train for most of the war.
Russian shelling continued in the city and wider area, regional governor Oleh Sinehubov said.
The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.
Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor now operating outside the city, said the dead were being found in the rubble.
About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in debris in a basement of one high-rise building, he said. Residents had refused to collect them and Russian authorities had abandoned the site.