France stops foreign legionnaires heading toward Ukraine

France stops foreign legionnaires heading toward Ukraine
Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion march on the Champs-Elysees avenue during the Bastille Day parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 March 2022

France stops foreign legionnaires heading toward Ukraine

France stops foreign legionnaires heading toward Ukraine
  • Nine in the group, of 14, were on leave but not authorized to travel abroad when they were stopped in Paris — the others were absent without leave or considered missing
  • The Foreign Legion has reported 25 desertions by Ukrainian-born soldiers, with around a dozen of them believed to be planning to help the fight against the Russian army

PARIS: The French army has prevented 14 Ukrainian members of the Foreign Legion from traveling east with the possible intention of joining the fighting in their homeland, their commander said Wednesday.
Nine in the group were on leave but not authorized to travel abroad when they were stopped Tuesday in Paris. The others were absent without leave or considered missing, Legion commander Alain Lardet told AFP.
They were arrested on a coach headed for Poland neighboring Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion for the past week.
The Foreign Legion, an elite corps comprising around 9,500 soldiers, is the only French army unit in which foreign nationals can enlist.
They qualify for French nationality after several years of service, or sooner if they distinguish themselves in battle.
It was not immediately clear whether the 14 were planning to join the fighting in Ukraine, or simply help their families who had fled Ukraine, the military command said. No weapons or other unauthorized equipment was found on them.
But some of the civilian passengers on the bus were carrying gear that led the authorities to believe that they were planning to join the fighting.
The Foreign Legion has reported 25 desertions by Ukrainian-born soldiers, with around a dozen of them believed to be planning to help the fight against the Russian army.
The Legion has “cut them loose,” Lardet said. “They are fighting for a cause that it is not my role to judge.”
The Foreign Legion counts 710 soldiers of Ukrainian origin of whom 210 have been naturalized, and 450 Russian-born troops.
While there has been “no tension between the communities” since Russia invaded its neighbor, Ukrainians in the Foreign Legion have been “very worried for their families,” Lardet said.
They can apply for an exceptional two-week leave to travel to one of Ukraine’s neighboring countries to assist their families fleeing the war, but are not authorized to cross into Ukraine itself, he said.
On Tuesday, 25 such permits were granted, with several more expected Wednesday, but none of the Ukrainians arrested on Tuesday were in possession of such a document.
The nine who had regular leave for France only are unlikely to be punished because they had not been told properly that there was now a legal way to join their families, the commander said.
But the five others will be ordered into military detention for an unspecified number of days, having committed “a serious violation of the Legion members’ code of honor,” he said.


Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens
Updated 27 sec ago

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens

Desperate Sri Lankans flee country by sea as crisis worsens
  • Island nation is struggling with acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines
  • Navy has arrested some 450 people trying to travel abroad illegally this year

COLOMBO: Hundreds of Sri Lankans have tried to leave the country illegally so far this year, the navy said on Monday, as it foiled another such attempt over the weekend amid the country’s worst economic turmoil in decades.

Sri Lanka has lacked the foreign currency to buy all it needs from abroad, and has faced extreme shortages of basic necessities including fuel, food, and lately also medicines. Inflation has skyrocketed in recent months and is now running at 40 percent.

The country of 22 million people last month defaulted on its multimillion-dollar foreign debt, and is struggling to secure new shipments of fuel as it uses its last supply of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running.

In search of better opportunities and as the country inches closer to the brink of collapse, a rising number of Sri Lankans have chosen to partake in illegal migration.

Navy spokesman Capt. Indika De Silva said that 54 people are currently in custody, following a raid conducted on Sunday in Batticaloa district in the country’s east coast.

“This year, the number of migrants has increased manifold due to various reasons such as the present economic stress and the smugglers trying to exploit (the situation) by attracting innocent people toward greener pastures,” De Silva told Arab News.

“We have apprehended some 450 people this year, including this batch, which is double the number arrested the whole of last year.”

Over the years, Sri Lankans have illegally traveled to Australia and other nations for economic and political reasons, but the number increased in recent months as the worsening crisis appears to have also emboldened human traffickers.

“With recent economic hardships, illegal smugglers pitched the business again to get large payments by taking people on this journey. People are also willing to take the risk,” Colombo-based human rights activist, Muheed Jeeran, told Arab News.

Many of them who are headed to Australia were unaware that the government down under has been turning back unauthorized boat arrivals.

“Unfortunately, these vulnerable people don’t know that the Australian government will return them in those boats with their new laws in place,” he added.

“The ultimate winners are human smugglers.”


British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’
Updated 54 min 5 sec ago

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’

British Muslim leader claims community fears ‘attack at any time’
  • 35 percent of UK Islamic centers experience at least 1 religiously motivated attack a year: New study

LONDON: British Muslims fear “an attack at any time,” a leading member of the community has claimed, as new research revealed an increase in anti-Muslim hate crime.

Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, in London, which was the target of a fatal terrorist attack in 2017, said the number of cases of Islamophobia in the UK was on the rise.

One person died and several others were injured when a van was driven into pedestrians just yards from the north London mosque on June 19, five years ago.

“Our community still feels the fear and intimidation, and they expect an attack at any time. What happened was not a one off. The situation is even worse than it was five years ago. Islamophobia is on the rise, and no one can deny that,” Kozbar added.

His comments came as a new study found that many mosques throughout Britain had experienced attacks in the last three years.

The report, conducted by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (MEND), analyzed data from more than 100 UK mosques which revealed that 35 percent of Islamic centers faced at least one anti-Muslim attack every year.

Kozbar said: “We don’t even have a definition of Islamophobia yet. We don’t have laws or legislation to protect the community yet. So, we hope the government will take action.”

The MEND study found that theft and vandalism were the most common crimes affecting Muslim institutions.

The latest data reflected other recent statistics showing a wider anti-Muslim trend In England and Wales, where 76,884 racially and religiously aggravated offences were recorded in 2021, up 15 percent from 66,742 in 2020.

MEND regional manager, Nayeem Haque, told Sky News that the figures were “indicative of a wider trend of Islamophobia,” in Britain.

He said: “We believe the Islamophobic narrative being peddled in wider society is to blame for the rise in attacks we’ve seen in the Muslim community.”

Haque pointed out that there was now more anxiety among Muslims about visiting a place of worship.

“But overwhelmingly our community is resilient, and we want to show this message of resilience and that this won’t impact our faith,” he added.


G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’
Updated 2 min 54 sec ago

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’

G7: We will stand with Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global economic fallout such as soaring energy and food prices has dominated this year’s summit

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany: Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies on Monday pledged to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” by cranking up sanctions on Russia and backing security commitments for Kyiv in a post-war settlement.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global economic fallout such as soaring energy and food prices has dominated this year’s summit of the leaders of Germany, the United States, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Britain.
“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” said the statement.
The statement was issued on the second day of the summit taking place at a castle in the Bavarian Alps, shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed G7 leaders on the war via video link.
In that address, which was not broadcast to the public, Zelensky asked for anti-aircraft defense systems, more sanctions on Russia and security guarantees, a European official said. He also said he wanted Russia’s war in Ukraine ended by the end of the year before the winter sets in.
The G7 leaders said they would continue to coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine’s urgent military needs and were ready to work with interested countries and institutions on sustained security commitments.
It was up to Ukraine to decide on a future peace settlement, free from external pressure or influence, they said, but they stood ready to support an international reconstruction plan, drawn up and implemented by Ukraine in coordination with partners.
This year’s G7 host, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said last week the country needed a “Marshall Plan,” like the US program that rebuilt Europe after World War Two.
“We welcome the Presidency’s initiative to convene with Ukraine an international high-level experts conference, to make progress on a comprehensive reconstruction plan,” the statement read.
The G7 leaders were ready to grant, or had already pledged or provided up to $29.5 billion in 2022 to help Ukraine close its financing gap, the statement said. Between 2014 and 2021, the group had already provided more than $60 billion of support.
The leaders were committed to cranking up the economic pressure on Russian “President (Vladimir) Putin’s regime and its enablers in Belarus, depriving Russia of the economic means to persist in its war of aggression against Ukraine.”
They would also impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for war crimes, exercising “illegitimate authority” in Ukraine or helping Russian efforts that they said increased global food insecurity.
Russia denies committing war crimes in what it calls a special military operation, aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and removing dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say this is a baseless excuse for a war of aggression.


South African police search bar for clues after 21 teens die

South African police search bar for clues after 21 teens die
Updated 27 June 2022

South African police search bar for clues after 21 teens die

South African police search bar for clues after 21 teens die
  • The fatalities bore no visible signs of injury, sparking initial speculation among local officials and politicians
  • Many of the victims are thought to have been students celebrating the end of their high-school exams

EAST LONDON, South Africa: South African police were on Monday combing a township tavern where 21 teenagers mysteriously died as survivors described a battle to escape the jam-packed premises and one reported a suffocating smell.
Most of the victims, some as young as 13 years, were found dead inside a popular bar in the southern city of East London.
Seventeen were died inside the bar, while four died in hospital.
Thirty-one others were hospitalized with symptoms including backache, tight chests, vomiting and headache, official said.
Most were discharged on Sunday, leaving two in hospital, they said.
The fatalities bore no visible signs of injury, sparking initial speculation among local officials and politicians that this was a case of under-age drinking that went tragically wrong.
But new details emerged Monday as survivors spoke of a strong and suffocating smell in the jam-packed double-story building.
Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who was hired by the bar to promote an alcohol brand, said she was still “confused” but felt lucky to be alive.
She said she struggled to escape through a door gridlocked with people.
“We tried moving through the crowd, shouting ‘please let us through,’ and others were shouting ‘we are dying, guys,’ and ‘we are suffocating’ and ‘there are people who can’t breathe’,” she said.
“I passed out at that moment. I was running out of breath and there was a strong smell of some type of spray on in the air. We thought it was pepper spray,” she said.
She later regained her consciousnesses after someone sprayed water on her.
“I got up and realized that there were bodies lying around. I saw people being poured water, but those people did not even move,” she said in a phone interview.
“I could have died.”
Special investigators from Pretoria have been rushed to the scene.
“The detectives will be resuming their work at the crime scene today,” regional police spokesman Thembinkosi Kinana said.
Many of the victims are thought to have been students celebrating the end of their high-school exams, officials said.
Autopsies are being conducted to see if the deaths could be linked to poisoning.
“Post-mortems (were) completed by last night and the bodies will be released to their families today,” said Yonela Dekeda, provincial spokeswoman for the health department.
Forensic analysis will be conducted this week.
“Samples were taken and were on first flight today to Cape Town, where the tests will be conducted,” said Unathi Binqose, a government official on safety.
Drinking in South Africa is permitted for over-18s.
But in township taverns which are often located cheek-by-jowl with family homes, safety regulations and drinking-age laws are not always enforced.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is among those who have voiced concern.
The teenagers reportedly “gathered at a venue which, on the face of it, should be off-limits to persons under the age of 18,” he said.
A resident DJ, who was also celebrating his birthday on the night, spoke of a rush of revellers who forced their way into an already packed venue.
“We tried to close the door but people kept pushing. The bouncers could not handle the crowd that was pushing from outside the entrance door. There were so many people,” the DJ said.
He turned off the music to try discourage revellers, but to no avail.
The crowd was just “unruly and could not be managed,” he said, adding he was “traumatized.”
In a tweet, African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his thoughts and prayers “during this time of unspeakable grief and sorrow.”


NATO to massively increase high-readinees forces to 300,000

NATO to massively increase high-readinees forces to 300,000
NATO’s quick reaction force, the NATO response force, so far has some 40,000 troops. (AFP)
Updated 27 June 2022

NATO to massively increase high-readinees forces to 300,000

NATO to massively increase high-readinees forces to 300,000
  • NATO’s quick reaction force, the NATO response force, so far has some 40,000 troops

MADRID: NATO will increase the number of its forces at high readiness massively to over 300,000, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.
“We will transform the NATO response force and increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000,” he told reporters ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid later this week in Madrid.
NATO’s quick reaction force, the NATO response force, so far has some 40,000 troops.
At the Madrid summit, NATO will also change its language on Russia that in the alliance’s last strategy from 2010 was still described as a strategic partner.
“That will not be the case in the strategic concept that we will agree in Madrid,” Stoltenberg said.
“I expect that allies will state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security, to our values, to the rules-based international order.”