Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady

Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady
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US first lady Jill Biden hugs Olena Zelenska outside a public school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (Reuters)
Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady
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US first lady Jill Biden meets with Olena Zelenska in a public school in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, May 8, 2022. (Reuters)
Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady
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First ladies Jill Biden and Olena Zelenska join a group of children at School 6 in making tissue-paper bears to give as Mother's Day gifts in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, Sunday, May 8, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 08 May 2022

Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady

Jill Biden pays surprise visit to Ukraine, meets first lady
  • Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine
  • The school where they met has been turned into transitional housing for Ukrainian migrants from elsewhere in the country

UZHHOROD, Ukraine: Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with first lady Olena Zelenska to show US support for the embattled nation as Russia presses its punishing war in the eastern regions.
Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week-old conflict with Russia.
“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” the US first lady told Zelenska. “I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop and this war has been brutal and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Biden spent about two hours in Ukraine, traveling by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod, about a 10-minute drive from a Slovakian village that she toured on the border.
Zelenska thanked Biden for her “courageous act” and said, “We understand what it takes for the US first lady to come here during a war when military actions are taking place every day, where the air sirens are happening every day — even today.”
The two first ladies came together in a small classroom, sitting across a table from one another and greeting each other in front of reporters before they met in private. Zelenska and her children have been at an undisclosed location for their safety.
The school where they met has been turned into transitional housing for Ukrainian migrants from elsewhere in the country.
The visit allowed Biden to conduct the kind of personal diplomacy that her husband would like to be doing himself.
President Joe Biden said during his visit to Poland in March that he was disappointed he could not visit Ukraine to see conditions “firsthand” but that he was not allowed, likely due to security reasons. The White House said as recently as last week that the president “would love to visit” but there were no plans for him to do so at this time.
The meeting came about after the two first ladies exchanged correspondence in recent weeks, according to US officials who declined to provide further details because they were not authorized to discuss the ladies’ private communications.
As she arrived at the school, Biden, who was wearing a Mother’s Day corsage that was a gift from her husband, embraced Zelenska and presented her with a bouquet.
After their private meeting, the two joined a group of children who live at the school in making tissue-paper bears to give as Mother’s Day gifts.
Biden’s visit follows recent stops in the war-torn country by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.
Her visit was limited to western Ukraine; Russia is concentrating its military power in eastern Ukraine, and she was not in harm’s way. On the same day as Biden’s visit, a Russian bomb flattened a school in eastern Ukraine that had been sheltering about 90 people in its basement, with dozens feared dead.
Earlier, in the Slovakian border village of Vysne Nemecke, she toured its border processing facility, surveying operations set up by the United Nations and other relief organizations to assist Ukrainians seeking refuge. Biden attended a religious service in a tent set up as a chapel, where a priest intoned, “We pray for the people of Ukraine.”
And before that, in Kosice, Biden met and offered support to Ukrainian mothers in Slovakia who have been displaced by Russia’s war. She assured them that the “hearts of the American people” are behind them.
At a bus station in the city that is now a 24-hour refugee processing center, Biden found herself in an extended conversation with a Ukrainian woman who said she struggles to explain the war to her three children because she cannot understand it herself.
“I cannot explain because I don’t know myself and I’m a teacher,” Victorie Kutocha, who had her arms around her 7-year-old daughter, Yulie, told Biden.
At one point, Kutocha asked, “Why?” seeming to seek an explanation for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24.
’It’s so hard to understand,” the first lady replied.
The 24-hour facility is one of six refugee centers in Slovakia, providing an average of 300 to 350 people daily with food, showers, clothing, emergency on-site accommodations and other services, according to information provided by the White House.
Biden also dropped in at a Slovakian public school that has taken in displaced students.
Slovakian and Ukrainian moms were brought together at the school for a Mother’s Day event while their children made crafts to give them as gifts.
Biden went from table to table meeting the mothers and kids. She told some of the women that she wanted to come and ” say the hearts of the American people are with the mothers of Ukraine.”
“I just wanted to come and show you our support,” she said before departing for Vysne Nemecke.
In recent weeks border crossings are averaging less than 2,000 per day, down from over 10,000 per day immediately after Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, and a large portion of that flow is daily cross border traffic.
Biden is on a four-day visit to Eastern Europe to highlight US support for Ukrainian refugees and for the allied countries such as Romania and Slovakia that are providing a safe haven for them.
She spent Friday and Saturday in Romania, visiting with US troops and meeting with Ukrainian refugee mothers and children.
With her trip, the American first lady followed the path of prior sitting first ladies who also traveled to war or conflict zones.
Eleanor Roosevelt visited servicemen abroad during World War II to help boost troop morale. Pat Nixon joined President Richard Nixon on his 1969 trip to South Vietnam, becoming the first first lady to visit a combat zone, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. She flew 18 miles from Saigon in an open helicopter, accompanied by US Secret Service agents.
Hillary Clinton visited a combat zone, stopping in Bosnia in 1996. Four years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and during the US-led war in Afghanistan, Laura Bush went to Kabul in 2005 and Melania Trump accompanied President Donald Trump to Iraq in December 2018.


Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
Updated 17 min 7 sec ago

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
  • Two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy
  • No damage was caused

ATHENS: A Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown against the Iranian embassy in Athens on Sunday, Athens News Agency reported.
According to Greek police, at around 1:00 am local time (2200 GMT on Saturday), two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy where it exploded.
No damage was caused.
On Saturday afternoon, around 200 people gathered at Syntagma Square in downtown Athens to denounce Iran’s crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s notorious morality police.
Iranian women cut their hair in a gesture of solidarity with Amini, brandishing placards reading “say her name!.”


Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague
Updated 37 min 3 sec ago

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague
  • Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century

THE HAGUE: Alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga will go on trial in The Hague on Thursday, one of the last key suspects in the 1994 ethnic slaughter that devastated the small central African nation.
Kabuga’s trial will open at 0800 GMT before a UN tribunal, where he has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacres 28 years ago of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Prosecutors and the defense are expected to make their opening statements on Thursday and Friday, with evidence in the case to start the following Wednesday.
Kabuga’s lawyers entered a not guilty plea to the charges at a first appearance in 2020.
Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, prosecutors say the octogenarian allegedly helped set up hate media that urged ethnic Hutus to “kill Tutsi cockroaches” and funded militia groups in 1994.
Now in his mid-80s, Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century.
He was then transferred to the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, set up to complete the work of the now defunct Rwanda war crimes tribunal.
Said to be in fragile health, Kabuga in August appeared before the judges in a wheelchair — and it was not known whether he’ll be in court on Thursday as judges are permitting him to attend the hearings via a video link.
Kabuga was originally scheduled to appear in court in Arusha, where the other arm of the IRMCT — also referred at as the MICT — resides, but judges had ruled he would remain in The Hague “until otherwise decided.”
In June, the judges denied a defense objection, ruling Kabuga was indeed fit to stand trial.

The UN says 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in 1994 in a 100-day rampage that shocked the world.
An ally of Rwanda’s then-ruling party, Kabuga allegedly helped create the Interahamwe Hutu militia group and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
The radio station also identified the hiding places of Tutsis where they were later killed, prosecutors said in the indictment.
More than 50 witnesses are expected to appear for the prosecution, which said they needed about 40 hours to wrap up their case.
Prosecutors said Kabuga controlled and encouraged RTLM’s content and defended the station when the minister of information criticized the broadcasts.
Kabuga is also accused of “distributing machetes” to genocidal groups, and ordering them to kill Tutsis.
Later fleeing Rwanda, Kabuga spent years on the run using a succession of false passports.
Investigators say he was helped by a network of former Rwandan allies to evade justice.
Following his arrest in a small apartment near Paris, his lawyers argued that Kabuga, whose age is now given as 87 on the indictment, should face trial in France for health reasons.
But France’s top court ruled he should be moved to UN custody, in line with an arrest warrant issued in 1997.
Kabuga is one of the last top wanted suspects for the Rwandan genocide to face justice.
Others, including the man seen as the architect of the genocide, Augustin Bizimana, and former presidential guard commander Protais Mpiranya have both died.
Victims of the genocide have called for a swift trial for Kabuga saying “if he dies before facing justice, he would have died under the presumption of innocence.”


Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears

Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears
Updated 25 September 2022

Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears

Philippines evacuates coasts, cancels sea trips as Super Typhoon Noru nears
  • Packing sustained winds of 185 to 205 kph, the super typhoon is expected to hit the northern island of Luzon Sunday afternoon

MANILA: Philippine authorities started evacuating people from coastal areas on Sunday and hundreds were unable to travel by sea as the main island Luzon, including Manila, braces for a category 3 typhoon that continues to strengthen, officials said.
Typhoon Noru, locally named Karding, became a super typhoon “after a period of explosive intensification,” with sustained winds increasing to 185 km (115 miles) per hour from 120 kph on Saturday evening, the disaster agency said in an advisory.
It will continue intensifying and may make landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening with 185 to 205 kph (115 to 127 mph) of sustained winds, it said.
“I asked our mayors to comply with strict preemptive evacuations,” Helen Tan, governor of Quezon province, told DZRH radio station. Fishermen in coastal communities were barred from heading to sea, she said.
Noru, the 11th tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, will bring heavy to torrential rains over the capital region and nearby provinces on Sunday afternoon.
“Hopefully, this typhoon moves fast, although it brings strong winds,” said disaster agency spokesperson Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro. Authorities are on alert for landslides, flooding and destructive winds, he said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said more than 1,200 passengers and 28 vessels were stranded in ports south of the capital.
Noru was moving westward and likely to emerge over the South China Sea by late Sunday or early Monday.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, sees an average of 20 tropical storms a year. 

 


Far-right eyes historic victory as Italy votes

Far-right eyes historic victory as Italy votes
Updated 25 September 2022

Far-right eyes historic victory as Italy votes

Far-right eyes historic victory as Italy votes
  • The Brothers of Italy party, led by one-time Mussolini supporter Giorgia Meloni, is leading polls
  • She looks set to take office in a coalition with the far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia parties

ROME: Italians vote Sunday in an election expected to usher in the country’s first government led by the far-right since World War II, bringing euroskeptic populists to the heart of Europe.
The Brothers of Italy party, led by one-time Mussolini supporter Giorgia Meloni, is leading polls and looks set to take office in a coalition with the far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia parties.
Meloni, 45, who has campaigned on a motto of “God, country and family,” is hoping to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
Polls open at 0500 GMT and close at 2100 GMT. Many voters are expected to pick Meloni, “the novelty, the only leader the Italians have not yet tried,” Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy told AFP.
Brussels and the markets are watching closely, amid concern that Italy — a founding member of the European Union — may be the latest member to veer hard right less than two weeks after the far-right outperformed in elections in Sweden.
If she wins, Meloni will face challenges from rampant inflation to an energy crisis as winter approaches, linked to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, rebounded after the pandemic but is saddled with a whopping debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Meloni has dedicated her campaign to trying to prove she is ready despite her party never before being in power.
Brothers of Italy, which has roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini, pocketed just four percent of the vote during the last elections in 2018.
Meloni has moderated her views over the years, notably abandoning her calls for Italy to leave the EU’s single currency.
However, she insists her country must stand up for its national interests, backing Hungary in its rule of law battles with Brussels.
Her coalition wants to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the almost 200 billion euros Italy is set to receive should take into account the energy crisis aggravated by the Ukraine war.
But “Italy cannot afford to be deprived of these sums,” political sociologist Marc Lazar told AFP, which means Meloni actually has “very limited room for maneuver.”
The funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called snap elections in July after his national unity coalition collapsed.
Despite her euroskepticism, Meloni strongly supports the EU’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, although her allies are another matter.
Berlusconi, the billionaire former premier who has long been friends with Vladimir Putin, faced an outcry this week after suggesting the Russian president was “pushed” into war by his entourage.

A straight-speaking Roman raised by a single mum in a working-class neighborhood, Meloni rails against what she calls “LGBT lobbies,” “woke ideology” and “the violence of Islam.”
She has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on Italy’s shores each year, a position she shares with Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking charity rescue ships when he was interior minister in 2019.
The center-left Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Enrico Letta, says Meloni is a danger to democracy.
It also claims her government would pose a serious risk to hard-won rights such as abortion and will ignore global warming, despite Italy being on the front line of the climate emergency.
On the economy, Meloni’s coalition pledges to cut taxes while increasing social spending, regardless of the cost. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they want the EU’s rules on public spending amended.
The last opinion polls two weeks before election day suggested one in four voters were backing Meloni.
However, around 20 percent of voters remain undecided, and there are signs she may end up with a smaller majority in parliament than expected.
In particular, support appears to be growing for the populist Five Star Movement in the poor south.
The next government is unlikely to take office before the second half of October, and despite pledges from Meloni and Salvini to serve five years, history suggests they may struggle.
Italian politics are notoriously unstable. The country has had 67 governments since 1946.


China, India call for negotiated way out of Ukraine war

China, India call for negotiated way out of Ukraine war
Updated 25 September 2022

China, India call for negotiated way out of Ukraine war

China, India call for negotiated way out of Ukraine war
  • India, unlike China, has a warm relationship with the United States but it has historic ties with Russia, its traditional defense supplier
  • China’s reaction to Russia is being closely watched for clues on its approach to Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing claims as its territory

UNITED NATIONS, United States: China and India on Saturday called at the United Nations for a negotiated end to the Ukraine war, stopping short of robust support for traditional ally Russia.
After a week of pressure at the United Nations General Assembly, Russia’s foreign minister took the General Assembly rostrum to deliver a fiery rebuke to Western nations for what he termed a “grotesque” campaign against Russians.
But no major nation has rallied behind Russia, including China, which just days before the February invasion of Ukraine had vowed an “unbreakable” bond with President Vladimir Putin.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on both Russia and Ukraine to “keep the crisis from spilling over” and from affecting developing countries.
“China supports all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. The pressing priority is to facilitate talks for peace,” Wang said.
“The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture.”
During his visit to the United Nations, Wang met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in their first talks since the war began.
Earlier this month Putin acknowledged Chinese “concerns” about Ukraine during a meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping.

US officials have been heartened by what they see as China’s lack of concrete backing for the war and say that Beijing has declined requests to send military equipment, forcing Russia to rely on North Korea and Iran as its own supplies dwindle.
China’s reaction to Russia is being closely watched for clues on its approach to Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing claims as its territory.
Wang held firm that China would take “forceful steps” against any interference, insisting that efforts to prevent “reunification” with Taiwan would be “crushed by the wheels of history.”
India, unlike China, has a warm relationship with the United States but it has historic ties with Russia, its traditional defense supplier.
“As the Ukraine conflict continues to rage, we are often asked whose side we are on,” said India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“Our answer, each time, is straight and honest — India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there,” he said.
“We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference declined to answer whether there has been any pressure from China. In his speech, he sought to cast blame squarely on the West.
“The official Russophobia in the West is unprecedented. Now the scope is grotesque,” Lavrov told the General Assembly.
“They are not shying away from declaring the intent to inflict not only military defeat on our country but also to destroy and fracture Russia.”
The United States, he said, since the end of the Cold War has acted as if it is “an envoy of God on Earth, with the sacred right to act with impunity wherever and whenever they want,” Lavrov said.
He also blasted the European Union as an “authoritarian, harsh, dictatorial entity” and said the bloc’s leadership forced one member state’s leader — Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades — to cancel a planned meeting with him.
Lavrov criticized the West for not engaging with Russia, saying, “we have never stepped away from maintaining contact.”
Western powers are looking at further sanctions after Putin called up reservists and made a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons, and have vowed not to recognize results of referendums on Russian annexation being held in occupied territories.
They have welcomed Lavrov’s isolation, noting how he only showed up at a Security Council session on Thursday to deliver remarks and not to listen to others.
Russia enjoyed one rare voice of support Saturday at the General Assembly. Mali’s interim Prime Minister Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, appointed by coup leaders, hailed the “exemplary and fruitful cooperation” with Moscow.
The junta has welcomed Russia’s Wagner Group security firm, despite Western allegations of rights abuses, as France pulled out troops who had been struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency.