US sending Ukraine more weapons, dozens evacuated from steelworks

US sending Ukraine more weapons, dozens evacuated from steelworks
Dozens of civilians were evacuated from Mariupol’s besieged steelworks, the last pocket of resistance against Russian troops in the port city. (File/AFP)
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Updated 07 May 2022

US sending Ukraine more weapons, dozens evacuated from steelworks

US sending Ukraine more weapons, dozens evacuated from steelworks
  • Friday’s new batch brings the total value of US weaponry sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began to $3.8 billion

ZAPORIZHZHIA: US President Joe Biden announced another package of military assistance for Ukraine, as dozens of civilians were evacuated from Mariupol’s besieged steelworks, the last pocket of resistance against Russian troops in the port city.
Worth $150 million, the latest security assistance would include artillery munitions and radars, Biden said, as the country braces for fresh bombardment by Moscow’s forces ahead of May 9, the day Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II.
A senior US official said the aid included counter-artillery radars used for detecting the source of enemy fire as well as electronic jamming equipment.
Friday’s new batch brings the total value of US weaponry sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began to $3.8 billion.
The president urged Congress to further approve a huge $33 billion package, including $20 billion in military aid, “to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”
The Pentagon meanwhile denied reports it helped Ukrainian forces sink the Russian warship Moskva in the Black Sea last month.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US had “no prior knowledge” of the plan to strike the ship, which sank leaving a still-unclear number of Russian sailors dead or missing.
While providing Ukraine with military aid, the United States has sought to limit knowledge of the full extent of its assistance to avoid provoking Russia into a broader conflict beyond Ukraine.
Biden, other G7 leaders, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky are to meet virtually on Sunday to discuss Western support for Kyiv.

On Friday Zelensky said “diplomatic options” were also under way to rescue Ukrainian soldiers from the Mariupol steelworks, as civilian evacuations continued.
The Russian defense ministry said 50 people were evacuated from the site, including 11 children.
It added they were handed over to the UN and Red Cross, which are assisting in the operation, and that the “humanitarian operation” would continue on Saturday.
About 200 civilians, including children, are estimated to still be trapped in the Soviet-era tunnels and bunkers beneath the sprawling Azovstal factory, along with a group of Ukrainian soldiers making their last stand.
Russia announced a daytime cease-fire at the plant for three days starting Thursday but the Ukrainian army said Russian “assault operations” had continued by ground and by air.
Ukraine’s Azov battalion, leading the defense at Azovstal, said one Ukrainian fighter had been killed and six wounded when Russian forces opened fire during an attempt to evacuate people by car.
Azov battalion leader Andriy Biletsky wrote on Telegram that the situation at the plant was critical.
“The shelling does not stop. Every minute of waiting is costing the lives of civilians, soldiers, and the wounded.”

Ten weeks into a war that has killed thousands, destroyed cities and uprooted more than 13 million people, defeating the resistance at Azovstal and taking full control of strategically located Mariupol would be a major win for Moscow.
It would also be a symbolic success ahead of May 9, when Russia marks the anniversary of its 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.
Ukrainian officials believe Moscow is planning a May 9 military parade in Mariupol, though the Kremlin has denied any such plans.
Officials have also said they expect the anniversary will coincide with an escalation of the war throughout the country.
“In the coming days, there is a high probability of rocket fire in all regions of Ukraine,” mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko said in a statement on social media.
“Be careful and follow the rules of security in wartime.”
The eastern city of Odessa will also impose a longer curfew on May 8-9, its mayor said, as will Poltava in the country’s center.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that the G7 meeting will come a day before “Victory Day” and the leaders will demonstrate “unity in our collective response.”
“While (Russian President Vladimir Putin) expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv, that’s obviously not what’s going to happen,” Psaki said.

Since failing to take Kyiv early on in the war, Russia has refocused its offensive on the south and east of Ukraine.
Taking full control of Mariupol would allow Moscow to create a land bridge between the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and separatist, pro-Russian regions in the east.
In those regions, separatists said they had removed Ukrainian and English language traffic signs for Mariupol and replaced them with Russian ones.
Locals want to see proof that “Russia has come back here forever,” said Denis Pushilin, head of the breakaway region of Donetsk.
In neighboring Lugansk, Ukrainian officials said on Friday that Russian forces had almost encircled Severodonetsk — the easternmost city still held by Kyiv — and are trying to storm it.
Kherson in the south remains the only significant city Russia has managed to capture since the war began.
A senior official from the Russian parliament visiting the city on Friday also emphasised that Russia would remain in southern Ukraine “forever.”
“There should be no doubt about this. There will be no return to the past,” Andrey Turchak said.

On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its first declaration on Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24.
It backed Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s efforts to find a “peaceful solution” to the war but stopped short of supporting a mediation effort led by him.
Russia then vetoed a resolution condemning the invasion and asking Moscow to move its army back to Russian soil.
Ukraine’s Western allies have supported Kyiv with financial and military assistance, and have slapped unprecedented sanctions on Russia.
As European countries have sought to clamp down on Russian assets overseas, Italian authorities impounded a mega yacht as speculation swirled it might even belong to the Russian president.
“Scheherazade,” worth an estimated $700 million, has been the subject of a probe into its ownership by Italy’s financial police, which has helped “establish significant economic and business links” between the ship’s owner and “eminent people in the Russian government.”
Researchers at the anti-corruption foundation of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny have linked the yacht to Putin.
But the European Commission’s proposal that all 27 EU members gradually ban Russian oil imports — a move that would have been its toughest yet — was dealt a blow on Friday when Hungary said it crossed a red line and should be sent back.


US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
Updated 16 May 2022

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
  • Kahane Chai was designated a terrorist organization in 1997
  • Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago also removed from list

WASHINGTON: The United States will remove a Jewish extremist group linked to late rabbi Meir Kahane as well as a Palestinian militant group from a terror blacklist after years without violence, an official said Sunday.
The State Department designated Kahane Chai as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, three years after its supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
The group was founded by Kahane, a US-born rabbi and former Israeli MP who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The State Department informed Congress it will withdraw the designation, which was contested in court by the group, as Kahane Chai “has not been linked to a terrorist attack since 2005,” an official said.


ALSO READ:  Preachers of Hate: Meir Kahane


The official said the State Department was also delisting the Mujahidin Shoura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago.
Revoking the designations “ensures our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and does not reflect any change in policy toward the past activities of any of these the organizations,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the lack of attacks by Kahane Chai group, the late rabbi remains a hero for some on the extreme right of Israeli politics, including member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir who has advocated annexing the West Bank and hung a portrait of Goldstein in his home.
Designation as a foreign terrorist organization severely limits activities in the United States, including criminalizing financial support.
The State Department said it was still keeping the two groups on the less potent Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, which helps support law enforcement activities.
 


In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
Updated 16 May 2022

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
  • Most of those inside the church were senior citizens of Taiwanese descent, says official
  • The violence came a day after  a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York

LAGUNA WOODS, California: One person was killed and four others were critically wounded in a shooting Sunday afternoon at a Presbyterian church in a suburban Southern California community where the majority of residents are seniors, officials said. 

Police said churchgoers managed to subdue the gunman and hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord.

Police responded to the incident that unfolded at about 1:30 p.m. local time (2039 GMT) at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods and arrested an unidentified suspect in his 60s, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told a news conference.
“That group of churchgoers displayed ... exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” he said.
A fifth injured person suffered minor injuries, officials said. All the victims were adults.
It wasn’t immediately clear where inside the church the shooting happened.
About 30 people witnessed the violence, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokesperson. The majority of those inside the church are believed to be of Taiwanese descent, Braun said.
Investigators were looking at many factors, including whether the bloodshed could be a hate crime and whether the gunman was known to the church community, she said.
More details were expected from a sheriff’s department news conference scheduled for 5 p.m.
Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the scene. The FBI was also sending agents to the scene to assist the sheriff.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80 percent of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation.
“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the tweet said.
The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.”
“All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said US Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

 


Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
Updated 16 May 2022

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
  • Hassan Sheikh Mohamud served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017,
  • Mohamud succeeds Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose mandate expired in February 2021

MOGADISHU, Somalia: A former Somali president voted out of power in 2017 has been returned to the nation’s top office after defeating the incumbent leader in a protracted contest decided by legislators in a third round of voting late Sunday.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017, won the contest in the capital, Mogadishu, amid a security lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent deadly militant attacks.
The first round of voting was contested by 36 aspirants, four of whom proceeded to the second round. With no candidate winning at least two-thirds of the 328 ballots, voting then went into a third round where a simple majority was enough to pick the winner.
Members of the upper and lower legislative chambers picked the president in secret balloting inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. Mohamud’s election ended a long-delayed electoral process that had raised political tensions — and heightened insecurity concerns — after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.
Mohamed and Mohamud sat side-by-side Sunday, watching calmly as the ballots were counted. Celebratory gunfire rang out in parts of Mogadishu as it became clear that Mohamud had defeated the man who replaced him.
Mohamed conceded defeat, and Mohamud was immediately sworn in.
The 66-year-old Mohamud is the leader of the Union for Peace and Development party, which commands a majority of seats in both legislative chambers. He also is well-known for his work as a civic leader and education promoter, including for his role as one of the founders of Mogadishu’s SIMAD University.
The Somali government under Mohamed faced a May 17 deadline to hold the vote or risk losing funding from international partners.
Mohamed — who is also known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese — said on Twitter while voting was underway that it was “a great honor to lead” Somalia.
For Mohamed and his supporters, Sunday’s loss will be disappointing after he rose to power in 2017 as a symbol of a Somali diaspora eager to see the country prosper after years of turmoil. Mohamed leaves behind a country even more volatile than he found it, with a reported rift in the security services and the constant drumbeat of Al-Shabab attacks.
Analysts had predicted that Mohamed would face an uphill battle to be reelected. No sitting president has ever been elected to two consecutive terms in this Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans fight intensely for political power. In winning the vote, however, Mohamud overcame the odds as no former president had ever launched a successful return to the office.
A member of the Hawiye clan, one of Somalia’s largest, Mohamud is regarded by some as a statesman with a conciliatory approach. Many Somalis hope Mohamud can unite the country together after years of divisive clan tensions but also take firm charge of a federal government with little control beyond Mogadishu. Mohamud promised during campaigns that his government would be inclusive, acknowledging the mistakes of his previous government that faced multiple corruption allegations and was seen as aloof to the concerns of rival groups.
The new president “will get an opportunity to heal a nation in desperate need of peace and stability,” said Mogadishu resident Khadra Dualeh. “The country doesn’t need celebrations; we did that for Farmaajo. Enough celebration. We need prayer, being sober and planning how to rebuild the country.”
Al-Shabab, which has ties with Al-Qaeda, has made territorial gains against the federal government in recent months, reversing the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.
But Al-Shabab is threatening Mogadishu with repeated assaults on hotels and other public areas. Despite the lockdown, explosions were heard near the airport area as legislators gathered to elect the president.
To discourage extremist violence from disrupting the elections, Somali police put Mogadishu, the scene of regular attacks by the Islamic rebel group Al-Shabab, under a lockdown that started at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Most residents are staying indoors until the lockdown lifts on Monday morning.
The goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in Somalia, a country of about 16 million people, remains elusive largely because of the widespread extremist violence. Authorities had planned a direct election this time but, instead, the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” via lawmakers elected by community leaders — delegates of powerful clans — in each member state.
Despite its persistent insecurity, Somalia has had peaceful changes of leadership every four or so years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having Africa’s first democratically elected president to peacefully step down, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.
Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February 2021, but he stayed in office after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his mandate and that of the federal government, drawing fury from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.
The poll delay triggered an exchange of gunfire in April 2021 between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry over what they saw as the president’s unlawful extension of his mandate.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and Al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have shattered the country which has a long, strategic coastline by the Indian Ocean.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
Updated 15 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
  • Restrictions were imposed on May 9 after peaceful protests turned violent

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday fully lifted a nationwide curfew to mark the Buddhist holiday of Vesak, offering the people a chance to celebrate as the nation weathers its economic and political crisis. 

The curfew was imposed on May 9 after once-peaceful protests turned violent, killing at least nine people and injuring hundreds others. The violence was followed with Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning from his premiership, leaving his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to rule on as president. 

For over a month, protesters have crowded the streets demanding the president’s resignation, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.  

Buildings across the Buddhist-majority country were flying the multi-colored Buddhist flags on Sunday, while residents visited temples clad in all white to celebrate the day that commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

The government announced it was lifting the curfew for Vesak without saying when or whether it would be reimposed. Sri Lankans also got to enjoy the day without power cuts. 

“This Vesak, we are able to see the traditional almsgiving centers, pandals (bamboo stages), Vesak lanterns and oil lamps illuminations that will boost the spiritual morale of the people,” the Rev. Udawela Kolitha Thera, deputy chief of the Walukarama Temple in Colombo, told Arab News. 

Sri Lanka has been unable to celebrate Vesak properly in the last couple of years due to the pandemic and, in 2019, the Easter Sunday attacks, which also dampened celebrations.

Though events planned for this year have been scaled down due to political instability and the deepening economic crisis, worshippers still welcomed the chance of a respite. 

“We are really excited to celebrate Vesak this year with added enthusiasm,” Colombo-based Kelum Bandara, who works at a leading publishing house in the capital, told Arab News. 

“We will celebrate in a low-key form because of the current economic crisis and the ongoing protests against the government.”

“Sri Lanka was enveloped in spiritual fervor as the island nation celebrated yet another Vesak,” Colombo-based journalist Chaminda Perera told Arab News. 

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was premier five times previously and never completed a full term, made his first Cabinet appointments on Saturday — all members of Rajapaksas’ party. 

The new appointments have failed to appease Sri Lankan protesters who want the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, removed from the nation’s politics.  

The ruling family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling of the economy, as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Opposition parties have refused to join any new government unless the president steps down first.


Malaysia FM holds talks with counterpart from Myanmar shadow government

Malaysia FM holds talks with counterpart from Myanmar shadow government
Updated 15 May 2022

Malaysia FM holds talks with counterpart from Myanmar shadow government

Malaysia FM holds talks with counterpart from Myanmar shadow government
  • Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry in a statement, however, denounced reports of engagements in Washington between the US State Department and NUG officials

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah met his counterpart from Myanmar’s National Unity Government, a shadow administration outlawed by the ruling military junta, in the group’s first open engagement with a Southeast Asian country.

The meeting, disclosed by Saifuddin in a Twitter post, was held on the sidelines of a two-day summit in Washington between the US and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which excluded Myanmar’s leader over a military coup last year.

Myanmar has repeatedly called on countries not to engage with the shadow administration, and other military opponents that the junta has labeled as “terrorists.”

In his Twitter post, Saifuddin said Malaysia “stands ready to work toward restoring peace and democracy in Myanmar” during an informal meeting with Zin Mar Aung, foreign minister of the shadow administration.

“We took the opportunity to exchange views on latest developments in Myanmar, where Minister Zin shared insights as well as challenges faced by NUG, including humanitarian assistance, technical training and education for the Myanmar refugees,” he said.

Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry in a statement, however, denounced reports of engagements in Washington between the US State Department and NUG officials, and said it had sent protest notes to all ASEAN countries and the US asking them to refrain from talking to the opposition government.

The ministry also said it rejected a paragraph contained in a 28-page joint statement released by the US and ASEAN, which had called for the timely implementation of a five-point peace plan agreed to by Myanmar.

The ministry said the language used in the paragraph suggested interference in Myanmar’s domestic affairs and included references to matters within its sovereign jurisdiction, “including unacceptable proposals that go beyond the Five Point Consensus.”