France urges EU sanctions against Mali

France urges EU sanctions against Mali
Malians hold a photograph with an image of Col. Assimi Goita, leader of Mali’s military junta, and Russia’s flag during a pro-Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) demonstration in Bamako, Mali, May 28, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 January 2022

France urges EU sanctions against Mali

France urges EU sanctions against Mali
  • French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian noted how Bamako had called for help from Russian Wagner mercenaries on top of the ‘unacceptable’ slipping of the election schedule
  • Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since a coup led by Col. Assimi Goita, in August 2020, ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

PARIS: France is to press the European Union to agree sanctions against Mali after its military-dominated leadership shelved a timetable for elections, the French foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Jean-Yves Le Drian told AFP in an interview that Mali risked being “suffocated” unless the military junta of the West African country lived up to its responsibilities and stopped seeking to “fool” the country’s partners.

Le Drian, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said that the EU measures would be in line with the unprecedented sanctions agreed with West African economic bloc ECOWAS which Paris has strongly supported.

“We are going to propose to apply these sanctions at a European level, both those against Malian leaders but also the economic and financial measures,” Le Drian said.

He added that the issue would be discussed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in the French city of Brest from Thursday, adding that Mali was now a “European issue.”

France is moving to draw down forces deployed in Mali and the region to fight an extremist insurgency in favor of a multinational force called Takuba including troops from EU states.

As well as closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, Mali’s regional neighbors also cut off financial aid and froze the country’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States.

The move followed a proposal by Mali’s interim government last month to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections, despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold elections in February.

“The junta is trying to fool all of its partners,” said Le Drian, noting how Bamako had called for help from Russian Wagner mercenaries as well as the “unacceptable” slipping of the election schedule.

“It is now up to the junta to take responsibility. Otherwise it runs the risk of seeing this country being suffocated.”

With France already seeking to tighten the vice on the military rulers, flag-carrier Air France said Wednesday that in line with official decisions it was suspending flights to and from Mali until further notice.

Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since a coup led by Col. Assimi Goita in August 2020 against the country’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Under threat of sanctions, Goita had promised to hold presidential and legislative elections and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.

But he staged a de-facto second coup in May 2021, forcing out an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable to restore democracy, while declaring himself interim president.

President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday the “unprecedented sanctions” by ECOWAS were a sign of “deep condemnation of the behavior of the military junta” in Mali and its “absolute failure” to respect its commitments.

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
Updated 12 sec ago

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
  • Putin: Russia will respond to NATO moves in Finland, Sweden
  • NATO brands Russia most ‘significant and direct threat’

MADRID/KYIV: Russia pressed on with its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Thursday after NATO branded Moscow the biggest “direct threat” to Western security and agreed plans to modernize Kyiv’s beleaguered armed forces.
Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate residents from the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, the focus of Russia’s attacks where about 15,000 people remained under relentless shelling.
“Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up,” regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.
“Absolutely everything is being shelled.”
In the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces were fighting back with artillery strikes of their own, Oleskiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in a video posted online.
At a summit on Wednesday dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical upheaval it has caused, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join and pledged a seven-fold increase from 2023 in combat forces on high alert along its eastern flank.
In reaction, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the US-led military alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.
US President Joe Biden announced more land, sea and air force deployments across Europe from Spain in the west to Romania and Poland bordering Ukraine.
These included a permanent army headquarters with accompanying battalion in Poland — the first full-time US deployment on NATO’s eastern fringes.
“President Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and has created the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.
“NATO has responded with strength and unity,” he said.
Britain said it would provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, including air defense systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles and new electronic warfare equipment.

’Fighting everywhere’
As the 30 national NATO leaders were meeting in Madrid, Russian forces intensified attacks in Ukraine, including missile strikes and shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region close to front lines and the Black Sea.
The mayor of Mykolaiv city said a Russian missile had killed at least five people in a residential building there, while Moscow said its forces had hit what it called a training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
There was relentless fighting around the hilltop city of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle as they try to capture the industrialized eastern Donbas region on behalf of separatist proxies. Donbas comprises Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
A video clip aired on Russia’s RIA state news agency showed former US soldier Alexander Drueke, who was captured while fighting for Ukrainian forces.
“My combat experience here was that one mission on that one day,” said Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, referring to the day he was captured outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. “I didn’t fire a shot. I would hope that would play a factor in whatever sentence I do or don’t receive.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky once again told NATO that Ukrainian forces needed more weapons and money, and faster, to erode Russia’s huge edge in artillery and missile firepower, and said Moscow’s ambitions did not stop at Ukraine.
The Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 has destroyed cities, killed thousands and sent millions fleeing. Russia says it is pursuing a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

The top US intelligence official Avril Haines said on Wednesday the most likely near term scenario is a grinding conflict in which Moscow makes only incremental gains, but no breakthrough on its goal of taking most of Ukraine.

Full solidarity
In a nod to the precipitous deterioration in relations with Russia since the invasion, a NATO communique called Russia the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” having previously classified it as a “strategic partner.”
NATO issued a new Strategic Concept document, its first since 2010, that said a “strong independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”
To that end, NATO agreed a long-term financial and military aid package to modernize Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era military.
“We stand in full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the communique said.
Stoltenberg said NATO had agreed to put 300,000 troops on high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 now, under a new force model to protect an area stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas.
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance marks one of the most momentous shifts in European security in decades as Helsinki and Stockholm drop a tradition of neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion.

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
Updated 30 June 2022

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

R&B superstar R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case
  • Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage
  • Kelly was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard, says his lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean
  • District Judge Ann Donnelly: “The horrors your victims endured. No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”

NEW YORK: Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans, including some who were just children, in a systematic scheme that went on for decades.
Through tears and anger, several of Kelly’s accusers told a court in New York City, and the singer himself, that he had misled and preyed upon them.
“You made me do things that broke my spirit. I literally wished I would die because of how low you made me feel,” said one unnamed survivor, directly addressing Kelly, who kept his hands folded and his eyes downcast.
“Do you remember that?” she asked.
Kelly, 55, didn’t give a statement and showed no reaction on hearing his penalty, which also included a $100,000 fine. He has denied wrongdoing, and he plans to appeal his conviction.
The Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling songwriter was found guilty last year of racketeering and sex trafficking at a trial that gave voice to accusers who had previously wondered if their stories were being ignored because they were Black women.
Victims “are no longer the preyed-on individuals we once were,” another one of his accusers said at the sentencing.
“There wasn’t a day in my life, up until this moment, that I actually believed that the judicial system would come through for Black and brown girls,” she added outside court.
A third woman, sobbing and sniffling as she addressed the court, also said Kelly’s conviction renewed her faith in the legal system.
The woman said Kelly victimized her after she went to a concert when she was 17.
“I was afraid, naive and didn’t know how to handle the situation,” she said, so she didn’t speak up at the time.
“Silence,” she said, “is a very lonely place.”
Kelly’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said he was “devastated” by the sentence and saddened by what he had heard.
“He’s a human being. He feels what other people are feeling. But that doesn’t mean that he can accept responsibility in the way that the government would like him to and other people would like him to. Because he disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him,” she said.
The sentence caps a slow-motion fall for Kelly, who is known for work including the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly” and the cult classic “Trapped in the Closet,” a multipart tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
He was adored by legions of fans and sold millions of albums even after allegations about his abuse of young girls began circulating publicly in the 1990s. He beat child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, when a jury acquitted him.
Widespread outrage over Kelly’s sexual misconduct didn’t emerge until the #MeToo reckoning, reaching a crescendo after the release of the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”
“I hope this sentencing serves as its own testimony that it doesn’t matter how powerful, rich or famous your abuser may be or how small they make you feel — justice only hears the truth,” Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said Wednesday.
A Brooklyn federal court jury convicted the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, after hearing that he used his entourage of managers and aides to meet girls and keep them obedient, an operation that prosecutors said amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Several accusers testified that Kelly subjected them to perverse and sadistic whims when they were underage.
The accusers alleged they were ordered to sign nondisclosure forms and were subjected to threats and punishments such as violent spankings if they broke what one referred to as “Rob’s rules.”
Some said they believed the videotapes he shot of them having sex would be used against them if they exposed what was happening.
According to testimony, Kelly gave several accusers herpes without disclosing he had an STD, coerced a teenage boy to join him for sex with a naked girl who emerged from underneath a boxing ring in his garage, and shot a shaming video that showed one victim smearing feces on her face as punishment for breaking his rules.
“The horrors your victims endured,” US District Judge Ann Donnelly said as she sentenced him. “No price was too high to pay for your happiness.”
Lizzette Martinez was a 17-year-old aspiring singer when she met Kelly at a Florida mall. She was promised mentorship but quickly ended up “a sex slave,” she said Wednesday outside court.
Asked whether Kelly’s 30-year sentence was sufficient punishment, she paused before answering.
“I, personally, don’t think it’s enough,” she said, “but I’m pleased with it.”
At the trial, evidence also was presented about a fraudulent marriage scheme hatched to protect Kelly after he feared he had impregnated R&B phenom Aaliyah in 1994 when she was just 15. Witnesses said they were married in matching jogging suits using a license falsely listing her age as 18; he was 27 at the time.
Aaliyah worked with Kelly, who wrote and produced her 1994 debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” She died in a plane crash in 2001 at age 22.
Kelly didn’t testify at his trial, but his then-lawyers portrayed his accusers as girlfriends and groupies who weren’t forced to do anything against their will and stayed with him because they enjoyed the perks of his lifestyle.
His current lawyers had argued he should get no more than 10 years in prison because he had a traumatic childhood “involving severe, prolonged childhood sexual abuse, poverty, and violence.”
As an adult with “literacy deficiencies,” the star was “repeatedly defrauded and financially abused, often by the people he paid to protect him,” his lawyers said.
The Associated Press does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted or abused, unless they come forward publicly, as Martinez has. Several women who spoke at Kelly’s sentencing were identified only by first names or pseudonyms.
Kelly has been jailed without bail since in 2019. He still faces child pornography and obstruction-of-justice charges in Chicago, where a trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 15.

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe
Updated 30 June 2022

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe

Webb telescope: NASA to reveal deepest image ever taken of Universe
  • The James Webb Space Telescope will explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars

WASHINGTON: NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Wednesday the agency will reveal the “deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken” on July 12, thanks to the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope.
“If you think about that, this is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” Nelson said during a press briefing at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operations center for the $10 billion observatory that was launched in December last year and is now orbiting the Sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth.
A wonder of engineering, Webb is able to gaze further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on infrared, allowing it to peer through dust and gas.
“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own,” added Nelson, speaking via phone while isolating with Covid.
“It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And of course, it’s going to answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to see deeper back in time to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago.
Because the Universe is expanding, light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it was emitted in, to longer infrared wavelengths — which Webb is equipped to detect at an unprecedented resolution.
At present, the earliest cosmological observations date to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s capacities, astronomers believe they will easily break the record.

In more good news, NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy revealed that, thanks to an efficient launch by NASA’s partner Arianespace, the telescope could stay operational for 20 years, double the lifespan that was originally envisaged.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history, and time, but we will go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.
NASA also intends to share Webb’s first spectroscopy of a faraway planet, known as an exoplanet, on July 12, said NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.
Spectroscopy is a tool to analyze the chemical and molecular composition of distant objects and a planetary spectrum can help characterize its atmosphere and other properties such as whether it has water and what its ground is like.
“Right from the beginning, we’ll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder as we’re looking out there, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.
Nestor Espinoza, as STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies carried out using existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.
“It’s like being in a room that is very dark and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said, of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”

Ukraine cuts ties with Syria after it recognizes separatist republics

Ukraine cuts ties with Syria after it recognizes separatist republics
Updated 29 June 2022

Ukraine cuts ties with Syria after it recognizes separatist republics

Ukraine cuts ties with Syria after it recognizes separatist republics
  • Syria became the first state other than Russia to recognize the two separatist republics

KYIV: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday announced the end of diplomatic ties between Kyiv and Damascus after Moscow ally Syria recognized the independence of eastern Ukraine’s two separatist republics.
The breakaway states of Donetsk and Lugansk, whose independence Moscow recognized in February, are situated in the Donbas region at the center of Russia’s invasion and have escaped Kyiv’s control since 2014.
Syria provoked Ukraine’s ire after becoming the first state other than Russia to recognize the two separatist republics earlier on Wednesday.
“There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria,” Zelensky said in a video posted on Telegram, adding that the sanctions pressure against Syria “will be even greater.”
Zelensky described Syria’s move as a “worthless story.”
This is not the first time that the Syrian government, which since 2015 has been heavily backed by Russia in its own civil war, has supported Moscow’s recognition of breakaway states.
In 2018, Syria recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent from the former Soviet state of Georgia, prompting Tbilisi to cut diplomatic ties.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are internationally recognized as part of Georgia, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but Russia and a handful of other countries recognize their independence.

WHO wants vaccine efficacy data in monkeypox fight

WHO wants vaccine efficacy data in monkeypox fight
Updated 30 June 2022

WHO wants vaccine efficacy data in monkeypox fight

WHO wants vaccine efficacy data in monkeypox fight
  • The UN health agency decided that monkeypox did not meet the threshold of a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Wednesday appealed for vigilance to ensure monkeypox does not spread among more vulnerable groups, such as children.
Fighting the virus requires “intense” efforts, said the WHO, calling for broad data collection and sharing on how well vaccines work against the virus.
Experts have detected a surge of monkeypox cases since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in western Europe.
“I am concerned about sustained transmission because it would suggest that the virus is establishing itself and it could move into high-risk groups including children, the immunocompromised and pregnant women,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
“We are starting to see this, with several children already infected.”
There are two cases aged under 18 in Britain.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan called for “very careful studies of the vaccine in different population groups... so that we get data that’s broadly applicable, and also to ensure that children, pregnant women and the immunosuppressed are considered for inclusion in these trials.”
As of June 22 this year, 3,413 laboratory-confirmed monkeypox cases and one death have been reported to the WHO, from 50 countries.
The countries with three-figure case numbers are Britain (793), Germany (521), Spain (520), Portugal (317), France (277), Canada (210), the Netherlands (167) and the United States (142).
The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO.
Last week the UN health agency convened an emergency committee of experts to decide if monkeypox constitutes a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the highest alarm that the WHO can sound.
But a majority found the situation had not yet crossed that threshold.
Nonetheless, “they acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread requires intense response efforts,” Tedros said.

The WHO chief called for equitable access to counter-measures like vaccines and antivirals and the systematic collection of clinical data to inform future recommendations.
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said that countries with stockpiles of vaccines, led by the United States, had shown willingness to share them.
However, the vaccines have largely only been licensed for use against monkeypox’s far more severe relative smallpox, which is also caused by an orthopoxvirus and which is the only disease successfully eradicated through vaccination.
“It’s really important as we encourage the sharing of these products that we also collect the necessary clinical efficacy data,” said Ryan.He said the chief intervention in controlling monkeypox should be reducing transmission through education and taking steps to avoid infection, and then targeted use of available vaccines and antivirals.
Currently, vaccines are in short supply and are broadly limited to health workers exposed to higher risk while tracing contacts of cases, said Ryan.
He said some countries were beginning to consider offering vaccines to individuals “engaged in high-risk activities or at particular risk of being exposed.”