Russian strike on base brings Ukraine war close to NATO’s border

Russian strike on base brings Ukraine war close to NATO’s border
An injured serviceman is transported by medical workers, following an attack on the Yavoriv military base, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at a hospital in Novoyavorivsk, Ukraine, March 13, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 March 2022

Russian strike on base brings Ukraine war close to NATO’s border

Russian strike on base brings Ukraine war close to NATO’s border
  • Facility is less than 25 km from Polish border, is one of Ukraine’s biggest and largest in western part of country
  • Mayor of another city in western Ukraine said Russian troops also continued to hit its airport

LVIV: Russian missiles hit a large Ukrainian base near the border with NATO member Poland on Sunday, killing 35 people and wounding 134, a local official said, in an escalation of the war to the west of the country as intense fighting was reported elsewhere.
Russia’s defense ministry said the air strike had destroyed a large amount of weapons supplied by foreign nations that were being stored at the sprawling training facility, and that it had killed “up to 180 foreign mercenaries.”
Reuters could not independently verify the casualties reported by either side.
The attack on the Yavoriv International Center for Peacekeeping and Security, a base just 15 miles (25 km) from the Polish border that has previously hosted NATO military instructors, brought the conflict to the doorstep of the Western defense alliance.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister had warned on Saturday that convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine could be considered legitimate targets.
Britain said the incident marked a “significant escalation” of the conflict. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said any attack on NATO territory would trigger a full response by the alliance.
Regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said Russian planes fired around 30 rockets at the Yavoriv facility, adding that some were intercepted. At least 35 people were killed and 134 wounded, he said.
Russian defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said Russia had used high-precision, long-range weapons to strike Yavoriv and a separate facility in the village of Starichi.
“As a result of the strike, up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large amount of foreign weapons were destroyed,” he told a briefing.
The 360-square km (140-square mile) facility is one of Ukraine’s biggest and is the largest in the western part of the country, which has so far been spared the worst of the fighting.
Ukraine, whose aspirations to join NATO are a major irritant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, held most of its drills with Western countries at the base before the invasion. The last major exercises were in September.
In the weeks before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, the Ukrainian military trained there, but according to Ukrainian media all foreign instructors left in mid-February, leaving behind equipment.
“The dining room and dormitory were destroyed. So were the barracks,” said Col. Leonid Benzalo, an officer in the Ukrainian medical reserve who was thrown across the room by one of the blasts. “The most important thing is we’re still alive,” he told Reuters after treating the wounded there.
While Western nations have sought to isolate Putin by imposing harsh economic sanctions and have been supplying Ukraine with weapons, the United States and its allies are concerned to avoid NATO being drawn into the conflict.
“There are no NATO personnel in Ukraine,” the NATO official said, when asked if anyone from the alliance was at the base.
Stockpiling food
Heavy fighting was reported on multiple fronts.
Air raid sirens wailed once again across the capital Kyiv and authorities said they were stockpiling two weeks worth of essential food items for the 2 million people who have not yet fled from Russian forces attempting to encircle the city.
Ukraine reported renewed air strikes on an airport in the west and heavy shelling on Chernihiv northeast of the capital.
Interior Ministry official Vadym Denyenko said Ukrainian forces were counterattacking in the eastern Kharkiv region and around the southern town of Mykolayiv. Reuters was not able to verify those statements.
An American journalist was shot and killed by Russian forces in the town of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, and another journalist was wounded, the regional police chief said.
Despite the violence, both sides gave their most upbeat assessment yet of the prospects for progress at bilateral talks that have been held periodically since the start of the invasion.
“Russia is already beginning to talk constructively,” Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a video posted online. “I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days.”
A Russian delegate to talks with Ukraine, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by RIA news agency as saying they had made significant progress and it was possible the delegations could soon reach draft agreements.
Neither side said what these would cover. Three rounds of talks between the two sides in Belarus, most recently last Monday, had focused mainly on humanitarian issues.
But there were contradictory statements on the timing of new discussions. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told national television “talks are continuing right now.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied this, saying talks were planned for Monday via video link.
Seeking to up the ante on the increasingly sanctions-hit Russian economy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a Twitter post, called on US software firms Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. and German business software group SAP to halt support services in Russia.

“Violent and inhuman”
Russia’s invasion has sent more than 2.5 million people fleeing across Ukraine’s borders and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged cities.
“It is terrifying how violent and inhuman it is,” Olga, a refugee from Kyiv, told Reuters after crossing into Romania.
Ukraine’s human rights monitor said Russia used phosphorous bombs in an overnight attack on the town of Popasna in the eastern Luhansk region, calling it a “war crime.” She shared a photograph purporting to show the alleged attack, but did not say if Ukraine had concrete evidence. Reuters could not immediately verify any of the reports.
Phosphorus munitions can be used legally in war to provide light, create smokescreens or burn buildings. But its use in populated areas has been a persistent source of controversy.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian troops were trying to surround Ukrainian forces as they advance from the port of Mariupol in the south and the second city Kharkiv in the north, the British Defense Ministry said.
The city council in Mariupol said in a statement that 2,187 residents had been killed since the start of the invasion. Reuters was not able to verify that toll.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has suffered some of the heaviest bombardment. Videos from one resident, Teimur Aliev, showed bombed buildings lining streets, burned-out cars riddled with shrapnel holes and debris strewn around.
“We will stitch up the wounds and the pain of our country and our city. We are ready to build it and we are ready to renew it when the war is over. We’re not going anywhere,” said Aliev, a 23-year-old musician.
In Chernihiv, around 150 km (100 miles) northeast of Kyiv, firefighters rescued residents from a burning building after heavy shelling, video from Ukraine’s emergency service — and verified by Reuters — showed.
Moscow denies targeting civilians. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on national television that more than 140,000 people had been evacuated from conflict zones, but that a humanitarian convoy had been unable to reach Mariupol due to shelling.
The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “deNazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.


Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
Updated 10 sec ago

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
  • Indonesia-UAE trade pact erases majority of existing tariffs
  • Wide-ranging pact is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have said they are hopeful of increasing the country’s exports to the Middle East after the signing of a new wide-ranging economic pact with the UAE.

Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulfikli Hasan and UAE Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq Al-Marri signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in Abu Dhabi on Friday, after talks aimed at eliminating tariffs and boosting investment between the two countries were launched last September.

Bilateral trade volume reached almost $4 billion in 2021, according to data from Indonesia’s Trade Ministry, showcasing an increase of nearly 38 percent from the previous year, when it was worth $2.9 billion. The agreement is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country and the UAE’s first with a Southeast Asian nation.

The new pact is expected to boost Indonesian exports to the UAE by 54 percent, or about $844 million, over the next 10 years after the deal comes into force, as the pact erases about 94 percent of existing tariffs. Indonesia’s main exports to the UAE include jewelry, palm oil, and motorized vehicles.

“This agreement will be Indonesia’s entryway to the UAE, which is a hub to increase exports to non-traditional export destinations in the Gulf, Middle East,” Hasan said in a statement issued on Friday.

The pact also includes chapters on tourism, intellectual property rights, and mutual recognition of each country’s halal certification.

Full text of the deal was not immediately published, and the agreement still needs to be ratified by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, which could take several months. Indonesia has signed similar deals with Australia in 2019 and South Korea in 2020.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who witnessed the signing with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan as part of the former’s visit to Abu Dhabi, also expressed appreciation of the two countries’ improving relations.

“Amid the challenging situation that we face now, we continue to work together to boost relations between our two countries,” Widodo said, as quoted in a statement issued by his office on Friday.

Diana Dewi, chairwoman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chapter in Jakarta, said the new deal could be helpful for Indonesian business players.

“This agreement will be an entry point for Indonesian businesses to increase exports to the UAE,” Dewi told Arab News.

“UAE is also a hub to enter the European market,” she added.

The wide-ranging agreement could bring new prospects for Indonesia, Bhima Yudhistira, president of the Jakarta-based Center of Economic and Law Studies, told Arab News.

“(The) UAE is an important export hub to the Middle East and North Africa. The UAE’s developments in the automotive sector are quite prospective and would require spare parts and components from Indonesia,” Yudhistira said.

But it also offers new challenges for Southeast Asia’s largest economy, he added.

“It’s a challenge to break through the UAE market with regards to the quality and product competition because the UAE market is a high-income group.”
 


Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season
Updated 02 July 2022

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season
  • More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby
  • The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece

ATHENS: Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.
More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.
A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.
“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.
“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”
The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.
Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.
Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.
In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.


With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
Updated 02 July 2022

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
  • From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch
  • Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks

NICE, France: Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19.
French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks but stopped short of renewing restrictions that would scare visitors away or revive antigovernment protests.
From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch, while some worry that required prevention measures may be needed.
Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized per day, according to government data. Infections are also rising across Europe and the United States, but France has an exceptionally high proportion of people in the hospital, according to Our World in Data estimates.
French government spokesperson Olivia Gregoire has said there are no plans to reintroduce national regulations that limit or set conditions for gathering indoors and other activities.
“The French people are sick of restrictions,” she said Wednesday on channel BFMTV. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.”
France’s parliamentary elections last month resulted in President Emmanuel Macron losing his majority in the national legislature, while parties on the far right and the far left that had protested his government’s earlier vaccine and mask rules gained seats.
After the prime minister this week recommended that people resume wearing masks on public transportation, commuter Raphaelle Vertaldi said, “We need to deal with the virus, but we can’t stop living because of it.”
Vertaldi, who was boarding a train in Boussy-Saint-Antoine south of Paris, said she opposed mandatory mask use but would cover her mouth and nose again, if the government requires it.
Hassani Mohammed, a postal worker in Paris, didn’t wait for the government to decide. He masks up before his daily commute. With his wife recovering from surgery and two children at home, he does not want to risk contracting the coronavirus a third time.
“I realized that the pandemic does not belong to the past,” Mohammed said.
Masks have been contentious in France. Early in the pandemic, the French government suggested masks weren’t helpful. It ultimately introduced some of Europe’s toughest restrictions, including an indoors and outside mask mandate that lasted more than a year, along with strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled Tuesday that the French government failed to sufficiently stock up on surgical masks at the start of the pandemic and to prevent the virus from spreading. The administrative court in Paris also ruled that the government was wrong to suggest early on that that masks did not protect people from becoming infected.
The government lifted most virus rules by April, and foreign tourists have returned by land, sea and air to French Mediterranean beaches, restaurants and bars.
In the meantime, French hospitals are struggling with long-running staff and funding shortages. Local officials are contemplating new measures, including an indoor mask mandate in some cities, but nothing that would curb economic activity.
French tourism professionals expect a booming summer season despite the virus, with numbers that may even surpass pre-pandemic levels as Americans benefit from the weaker euro and others rediscover foreign travel after more than two years of a more circumscribed existence.
On the French Riviera, a slow economic recovery began last summer. But with attendance at gatherings still capped, social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place a year ago, most visitors to the area were French.
A tour guide and electric bicycle taxi driver in Nice described her joy at seeing foreign visitors again. During France’s repeated lockdowns, she transported essential workers, and took people to hospitals, to care for elderly relatives or for PCR tests.
Now, passengers on her bike from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy or beyond reach for the hand disinfectant taped to the barrier between the passenger and driver’s seats. She said she still diligently disinfects the bike before each ride, “like it’s 2020.”
A retired couple from the UK visited France this week on their first trip abroad since pandemic travel restrictions were lifted. They started with a cruise down the River Rhône – face masks were mandatory on the ship — and ended with a few days on the Mediterranean.
“It’s been delightful from start to finish,” said Ros Runcie, who was in Nice with her husband, Gordon. “Everyone is so pleased to see you, everyone is really polite and nice to visitors.”
Sue Baker, who was traveling with her husband, Phil, and the Runcies, observed: “It feels very much like pre-2020.”
Asked about the possible return of French mask rules, Phil Baker said, “Masks are a bit uncomfortable, especially in the heat.”
But his wife added, “If it means we can still go on a holiday, we’ll put them back on without hesitation.”


UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 02 July 2022

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.