Ukraine seeks ‘ruinous’ sanctions on Russia as Europe frets about energy

Ukraine seeks ‘ruinous’ sanctions on Russia as Europe frets about energy
Ukrainian soldiers inspect a destroyed house in Bucha, Kyiv region, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2022

Ukraine seeks ‘ruinous’ sanctions on Russia as Europe frets about energy

Ukraine seeks ‘ruinous’ sanctions on Russia as Europe frets about energy
  • Washington announced new measures including sanctions on Putin’s two adult daughters and major bank
  • European Union failed to approve a new round of sanctions including on Russian coal on Wednesday

LVIV: Ukraine wants sanctions crippling enough to force Russia to end its war after accusing some countries of putting economic wellbeing above punishment for civilian killings that the West condemns as war crimes.
The democratic world must stop buying Russian oil and completely block Russian banks from the international finance system, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video address early on Thursday.
“Some politicians are still unable to decide how to limit the flow of petrodollars and oil euros to Russia so as not to put their own economies at risk,” Zelensky said.
Washington announced new measures including sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s two adult daughters and a major bank. However, the European Union failed to approve a new round of sanctions including on Russian coal on Wednesday. Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said the package could be passed on Thursday or Friday.
Speaking at a NATO meeting, Borrell also said the EU will discuss an embargo on Russian oil, which he said he hoped would come soon.
After grisly images of dead civilians in the streets of Bucha, a town northeast of Kyiv recaptured from Russian invaders, sparked international condemnation, Zelensky said Kremlin forces were trying to cover up evidence of atrocities.
“We have information that the Russian military has changed its tactics and is trying to remove people who have been killed from streets and basements ... this is just an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more,” Zelensky said, but did not provide evidence.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians and says images of bodies in Bucha were staged to justify more sanctions against Moscow and derail peace talks.
Russia’s six-week-long invasion has forced over 4 million to flee abroad, killed or injured thousands, left a quarter of the population homeless, turned cities into rubble and set off Western restrictions targeting Russian elites and the economy.
Washington’s new steps on Wednesday included sanctions top state-run lender Sberbank and Alfa Bank, Russia’s fourth-largest financial institution.
It also banned Americans from investing in Russia and called for Russia to be expelled from the Group of 20 major economies forum, saying it will boycott G20 meetings where Russian officials will show up.
An EU source said the European coal ban would be approved on Thursday but would not take effect until August, a month later than previously proposed after pressure from Germany, EU’s top importer of Russian coal.
Britain also froze Sberbank’s assets, and said it would ban imports of Russian coal, but not until the end of the year.
The United Nations General Assembly will vote on Thursday on suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

Call for more action 
But Ukraine says its allies must go further to stop Moscow’s war machine by ending all energy imports from Russia and blocking supplies of technology and materials used for weapons production.
“Sanctions against Russia must be ruinous enough for us to end this terrible war,” the head of Ukraine’s presidential office Andriy Yermak said late on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s foreign minister called NATO allies to send more planes, air defense systems, missiles and military vehicles.
“I think the deal that Ukraine is offering is fair. You give us weapons, we sacrifice our lives, and the war is contained in Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba told reporters at the NATO meeting.
Breaking ranks with the rest of the EU, Hungary said it was prepared to meet a Russian demand to pay roubles for its gas, in what Ukraine described as an “unfriendly act.”
The rift highlights the continent’s reliance on Russian gas and oil that has held it back from a tougher response on the Kremlin as Russia accounts for some 40 percent of the EU’s natural gas consumption and a third of its oil imports.

Besieged city 
Western policymakers have denounced the killings in Bucha as war crimes, and Ukrainian officials say a mass grave by a church there contained between 150 and 300 bodies.
Russia says it is engaged in a “special military operation” designed to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine, which Kiyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext for its invasion.
Russia continues to prepare for an attack to gain full control over the eastern breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the besieged southern port of Mariupol, where tens of thousands are trapped, according to the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Many in the eastern town of Derhachi, just north of Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and near the border with Russia, have decided to leave while they can.
Buildings have been badly damaged by Russian artillery. Kharkiv itself has been hammered by air and rocket strikes from the start.
Mykola, a father of two in Derhachi who declined to give his surname, said he could hear the thud of bombardments every night, and had been hunkering down with his family in the corridor of their home.
“(We’ll go) wherever there are no explosions, where the children won’t have to hear them,” he said, hugging his young son and struggling to hold back the tears.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said 167 children have so far been killed in the war, with 297 wounded.


France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine
Updated 20 sec ago

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

PARIS: Hours after talking with Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a “brutal attack” on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.
Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.
He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”
“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us,” Macron said in a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Allied landing in Nazi-occupied southern France during World War II.
Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”
Earlier Friday, Macron spoke more than an hour with Putin to urge Russia to accept Ukraine’s conditions to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit Europe’s largest nuclear plant. There are growing international concerns about security at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and at the heart of the war.
The leaders also discussed efforts to get grain and other food commodities out of Russia. EU sanctions aimed at ending the war make exceptions for food.
It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.


FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
Updated 16 min 38 sec ago

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound
  • The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month

DUBAI: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Pfizer Inc. to test the effects of an additional course of its antiviral Paxlovid among people who experience a rebound in COVID-19 after treatment, the regulator said on Friday.
The drugmaker must produce initial results of a randomized controlled trial of a second course of the antiviral by Sept. 30 next year, the FDA told Pfizer in a letter dated Aug. 5.
The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month.
Pfizer is “working with the FDA to finalize a protocol to study patients who may be in need of retreatment,” and will provide details when available, a company spokesperson said.


Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported
Updated 20 min 58 sec ago

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

Al-Shabab gunmen attack hotel in Somali capital, casualties reported

MOGADISHU: Al-Shabab fighters attacked a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu in a hail of gunfire and explosions on Friday, with casualties reported, security sources and witnesses said.

The assault on the Hayat Hotel triggered a fierce gunfight between security forces and gunmen from the jihadist group who are still holed up inside the building, security official Abdukadir Hassan told AFP.

The Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group, which has been waging a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s fragile central government for about 15 years, claimed responsibility.

Ambulance officials gave an injury toll of three, while witnesses at the scene at an intersection known as KM4 reported another two had been wounded.

“A huge blast went off a few minutes before the gunmen forced their way into the hotel,” Hassan said.

“We don’t have the details so far but there are casualties, and the security forces are now engaging with the enemy who are holed up inside the building,” he added.

Somali police spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan later told reporters that the initial blast was caused by a suicide bomber who attacked the hotel with several other gunmen.

The assailants “are now being engaged by the police forces, they will be neutralized very soon,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if security forces had taken back control of the hotel and if the attack was over.

Witnesses said a second blast occurred outside the hotel just a few minutes after the first, inflicting casualties on rescuers and members of the security forces and civilians who rushed to the scene after the first explosion.

“The area is cordoned off now and there is exchange of gunfire between the security forces and the gunmen,” said one witness, Mohamed Salad.

The militants claimed the attack in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

“A group of Al-Shabab attackers forcibly entered Hotel Hayat in Mogadishu, the fighters are carrying out random shooting inside the hotel,” the group said in a brief statement on a pro-Shabab website.

The Hayat is a popular spot in Mogadishu in an area where several other hotels are located, and it is frequented by government officials and civilians.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that its forces had killed 13 Al-Shabab fighters in an air strike in the central-southern part of the country as the Islamist militants were attacking Somali forces.

The US has carried out several air raids on the militants in strikes in recent weeks.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered the reestablishment of a US troop presence in Somalia to help local authorities combat Al-Shabab, reversing a decision by his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw most US forces.

In recent weeks, Al-Shabab fighters have also waged attacks on the Somalia-Ethiopia border, raising concerns about a possible new strategy by the Islamist militants.

Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said last month that ending Al-Shabab’s insurgency required more than a military approach, but that his government would negotiate with the group only when the time is right.

Al-Shabab fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force, but the group still controls swathes of countryside.

It continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets, with hotels a quite frequent target.

Earlier this month, Somalia’s new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced the appointment of the group’s former deputy leader and spokesman, Muktar Robow, as religion minister.

Robow, 53, publicly defected from Al-Shabab in August 2017, with the US government at one point offering a $5-million bounty for his capture.

The Horn of Africa nation has been mired in chaos since the fall of the military regime of President Siad Barre in 1991.

His ouster was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabab.

The deadliest attack in Somalia occurred in October 2017 when a truck packed with explosives blew up in a bustling commercial district of Mogadishu, killing 512 people.


Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
Updated 19 August 2022

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages

Daesh militant gets life in US prison over killing of American hostages
  • The victims' relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing
  • Elsheikh was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller

VIRGINIA, US: A US federal judge on Friday sentenced a member of a Deash cell known as “The Beatles” to life in prison for involvement in a hostage-taking plot that led to the killings of American journalists and aid workers in Syria.
Families and friends of the four Americans killed and of other hostages previously detained by the militant group looked on as District Court Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, to life without parole, calling his behavior “horrific, barbaric, brutal and of course criminal.”
A jury in April concluded the former British citizen was part of an Daesh cell, nicknamed “The Beatles” for their English accents, that beheaded American hostages in areas of the Middle East controlled by the militant group. He was found guilty on four counts of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy after a two-week trial.
The victims’ relatives and friends sat in the front rows of the courtroom and were visibly shaken during the course of the hearing as tears rolled down their eyes and they consoled each other. Elsheikh was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.
At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Daesh ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.
Its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014, before he was killed in a raid by US special forces in Syria in 2019 as the group’s rule collapsed.
Elsheikh, who was born in Sudan and raised in London, was accused of conspiring to kill four American hostages: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.
Foley and Sotloff, both journalists, and Kassig, an aid worker, were killed in videotaped beheadings. Mueller was raped repeatedly by Al-Baghdadi before her death in Syria, US officials have said.
The deaths of Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were confirmed in 2014; Mueller’s death was confirmed in early 2015.
Elsheikh appeared in the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday wearing a gray jumpsuit, a facemask and glasses. Family and friends of his victims were asked to make statements in front of the judge.
“Hatred completely overtook your humanity,” Foley’s mother, Diane said, later breaking down in tears. “I pity you. I pray your time in prison will give you a time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.
The head of the London police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Richard Smith, said in a statement the victims’ families “have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court.”
The charges against Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was withdrawn in 2018, carried a potential death sentence, but US prosecutors had previously advised British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors argued that a life sentence was needed to prevent Elsheikh from causing future harm and to set a precedent that such crimes will get strict punishment.
“The Beatles were genuine psychopaths,” First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh argued in court on Friday during the hearing, adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking member of the Daesh to ever be convicted in a US Court.
Another cell member, Alexanda Kotey, was sentenced to life in prison by a US judge earlier this year. Kotey was held in Iraq by the US military before being flown to the United States to face trial. He pleaded guilty last September to the murders of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and Mueller.
A third member of the group, Mohammed Emwazi, died in a US-British missile strike in Syria in 2015.
Some former hostages, released by the cell after protracted negotiations, testified during trials about the torture they endured. Family members of those killed also testified.


In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution
Updated 19 August 2022

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution

In Philippines’ Muslim south, women unite to escape destitution
  • Bangsamoro poverty rate at 63% caused by decades of conflict
  • 500 cooperatives raise scarce funds from farming, weaving, crafts

MANILA: Equipped with sewing machines, simple agricultural tools, and a will to contribute to the community, women in Bangsamoro have been joining together to lift from poverty one of the poorest regions of the southern Philippines, where armed conflict has for decades hampered development.

Bangsamoro is the only Muslim-majority territory in the predominantly Christian Philippines. After four decades of separatist struggle, which took the lives of over 150,000 Filipino citizens, the region since 2014 has been the centerpiece of a peace process, under which fighters agreed to turn over their firearms in exchange for self-administration.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was formed in 2019 and its transition to autonomy will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

Part of the process is development — long overdue in the region that is home to some 4.7 million people, where the poverty incidence rate is 63 percent, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

The empowerment of women is recognized as key in uplifting the community and one of the initiatives undertaken for economic empowerment is through cooperatives.

They allow women to organize for joint activities such as agriculture, weaving, and other crafts. Some of their products are sold on the market to keep their organizations running, while they retain a portion.

For Raga Tarotawan, 64, who heads the Women Sector Agricultural Cooperative in South Barira municipality in the BARMM province of Maguindanao, participation supports her family, but also allows her to give back to her community.

“We want to be productive to show that we can also contribute something to the community,” she said. “We don’t have a job but still we want to show we can still be productive.”

Tarotawan’s cooperative was established in 2019, and has since gained over 1,000 members, who grow fruits, vegetables and chilies.

There are about 500 women’s organizations like this in BARMM, according to Bangsamoro Transition Authority data, and there used to be many more but authorities say there are challenges in making them sustainable as many fail when external funding runs out.

“Because of the conflict, they developed a culture of dependency,” Dr. Susana Salvador Anayatin, member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, told Arab News. “They are not really sustainable.”

The matter of keeping women’s business initiatives afloat is what has come to the attention of foreign donors.

Among them is a new program by the French government to help streamline their operations.

“It’s a project with a level of financing of EUR530,000 ($533,325),” Michele Boccoz, the French ambassador to the Philippines, said. “We’re looking at these areas where we can bring some experience and some expertise.”

She recognized the potential of women’s cooperatives for post-conflict community development.

“If women are empowered and they have economic power they can create resources, then they would immediately focus on their families,” Boccoz told Arab News.

“You have all these decommissioned combatants and if you really want to make the peace process a success, you have to anchor them, give them the capacity to build their lives, to have good jobs, to be able to raise their kids, to be able to develop their businesses, and to be active citizens participating in society.”