Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory

Update Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory
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Russia’s Putin says Donbass volunteers fighting for Motherland. (AFP)
Update Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory
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Russia’s Putin says Donbass volunteers fighting for Motherland. (AFP)
Update Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory
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Russia’s Putin says Donbass volunteers fighting for Motherland. (AFP)
Update Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory
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Russia’s Putin says Donbass volunteers fighting for Motherland. (AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2022

Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory

Ukrainians report fierce fighting as Russia marks Soviet WW2 victory
  • Putin marked the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in WWII by telling armed forces they were fighting for their country
  • Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting was underway in the country’s east

KYIV/ZAPORIZHZHIA: Russian forces stormed the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s strategic port of Mariupol on Monday and stepped up missile strikes elsewhere, Ukrainian officials said, as President Vladimir Putin oversaw a parade of military firepower in Moscow.
Putin marked the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two by telling his armed forces they were fighting for their country. But he did not say how much longer their assault on Ukraine, now in its 11th week, would last or how it would end.
Azovstal, a vast complex of building and underground tunnels, is the last holdout for Ukrainian troops in Mariupol, whose capture would link Russian-seized areas in southern and eastern Ukraine and cut Ukraine off from the Azov Sea.
Putin has already declared victory in Mariupol but control of the steel plant would be a symbolic achievement on the 75th day of a war that has cost many Russian lives and isolated its economy, but failed to capture any major city.
Putin had told his defense minister not to storm Azovstal to avoid loss of Russian lives but Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Monday Russian forces backed by tanks and artillery were conducting “storming operations.”
Moscow has denied previous Ukrainian allegations of storming the complex, where civilians have also been sheltering.
Ukrainian officials said heavy fighting was underway in the country’s east, while four high-precision Onyx missiles fired from the Russian-controlled Crimea peninsula had struck the Odesa area in southwestern Ukraine. The governor of Mykolaiv, also in the southwest, said overnight strikes were very heavy.

TV hacked 
Just before the troops and tanks paraded in Moscow’s Red Square, Russian satellite television menus were altered to show viewers in the Russian capital messages condemning the war in Ukraine.
“The TV and the authorities are lying. No to war,” screenshots obtained by Reuters showed before they disappeared.
Russian forces have devastated villages, towns and cities and driven nearly six million Ukrainians to flee since they invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In his address, Putin said Russia’s “special military operation” was a purely defensive and unavoidable measure against plans for a NATO-backed invasion of lands he said were historically Russia’s, including Crimea.
“Russia preventively rebuffed the aggressor,” he said, offering no evidence for what he called open preparations to attack Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbas region.
In 2014, Russian-backed separatists seized parts of Donbas in eastern Ukraine and Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine the same year. Moscow then massed troops around Ukraine last year ahead of an all-out invasion that Kyiv and its Western allies say was entirely unprovoked.
“NATO countries were not going to attack Russia. Ukraine did not plan to attack Crimea,” Ukrainian senior presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said after Putin’s comments.
Putin made no reference to the bloody battle for Mariupol, where one of the Ukrainian defenders holed up in the ruins of the Azovstal plant earlier pleaded with the international community to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar said.

“Stay in the shelters”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Russian forces were now trying to advance in eastern Ukraine, where the situation was “difficult,” but had moved back from the city of Kharkiv, where a local official reported heavy Russian shelling.
President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the deaths of dozens of people in the Russian bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. “About 60 people were killed, civilians, who simply hid at the school, sheltering from shelling,” he said.
There was no response from Moscow, which says it does not target civilians.
Three more civilians were killed in Kharkiv and three in the Luhansk region, its governor Serhiy Gaidai said. It was not immediately possible to verify the reports.
“Today we do not know what to expect from the enemy, what terrible thing they might do, so please go out onto the street as little as possible, stay in the shelters,” he said on Monday.
Zelensky said his country would win against Russia and would not cede any territory.
“There is no invader who can rule over our free people. Sooner or later we will win,” he said in his nightly address.
Putin casts the war as a battle against dangerous “Nazi“-inspired nationalists in Ukraine — an allegation Kyiv and its allies say is nonsense — and links it to the challenge the Soviet Union faced when Adolf Hitler invaded in 1941.
“All plans are being fulfilled. A result will be achieved — on that account there is no doubt,” Putin was quoted as saying after the parade.
Britain’s Defense Minister Ben Wallace said Putin and his inner circle of generals were mirroring the fascism and tyranny of Nazi Germany and were hijacking the proud history of their forebears.

New sanctions close 
Moscow has come under increasingly punishing sanctions since its invasion on Feb. 24, with trade heavily impacted and assets seized. A German official said agreement by European Union member states on new measures — expected to include an embargo on Russian oil — was close.
The EU’s foreign policy chief told the Financial Times the bloc should also consider using frozen Russian foreign exchange reserves to help pay for the cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the war.
The Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 230 km (140 miles) northwest of Mariupol, held an all-day curfew on Monday for fear of Russian shelling.
Dozens of people who fled Mariupol and nearby occupied areas had earlier waited to register as evacuees.
“There’s lots of people still in Mariupol who want to leave but can’t,” history teacher Viktoria Andreyeva, 46, said.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy
Updated 7 sec ago

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy
WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
Updated 05 July 2022

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality

Through Makkah Route, Malaysian pilgrims experience ‘warmth’ of Saudi hospitality
  • Malaysia is one of 5 countries included in scheme
  • More than 14,300 pilgrims from the country will perform Hajj this year

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysian pilgrims arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for the flight to Saudi Arabia, they are welcomed by Saudi officials who are helping tens of thousands of people depart for Hajj.
The welcome is a pre-departure glimpse into Saudi hospitality.
Malaysia is among five Muslim majority countries — including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Morocco — where Saudi Arabia opened its Makkah Route initiative.
The program, launched in 2019, is dedicated to Hajj pilgrims, allowing them to fulfill all visa, customs and health requirements at the airport of origin, saving long hours of waiting. Upon arrival, pilgrims can enter the Kingdom without waiting, having already gone through visa and customs processes back home.
Those departing from Kuala Lumpur airport are taken care of by dozens of Saudi immigration officials working round the clock to facilitate their journey.
“We are not even in Saudi yet, but I can already feel the warmth. This is very welcoming,” Ariff Abdullah, who departed on one of the last Hajj flights this week, told Arab News, as he and his wife were getting ready to board their Jeddah-bound flight.
“Today I was joking with the chap at the immigration counter,” Abdullah said. “He even knew a couple of Malay words!”
This year, 14,306 Malaysian pilgrims will take part in Hajj. The number is half the quota Malaysia received in 2019, the last Hajj season before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the total number of pilgrims who will arrive in the Kingdom this year has also been halved.
Hajj was restricted to just 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020, and limited to only 60,000 domestic participants in 2021.
As COVID-19 curbs have been lifted this year, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million foreign and domestic pilgrims, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
Makkah Route officials are helping to streamline their arrival.


“The initiative aims to facilitate the pilgrims’ immigration process at their country of origin, including fingerprinting and finalizing the entry (to Saudi Arabia), and delivery of luggage to their chosen accommodations in a very short time,” Sgt. Maj. Anas Muhammad, who arrived from Jeddah to assist Malaysian pilgrims, told Arab News.
His colleague, Sgt. Kholoud Al-Ahmadi, is “honored to be part of the Makkah Route initiative in Malaysia.”
She said: “I am very glad to be part of this initiative, especially since it’s my first time in Malaysia.”
Combined with other procedures under the Makkah Route, the immigration process from both the Malaysian and Saudi sides takes an average of 10 minutes per pilgrim.
To those who require more assistance, including people with disabilities, the scheme is a welcome relief.
“When we reach Jeddah, we are all cleared and there is no need to wait and queue for immigration there,” said Zainab Binti Awang, a wheelchair user accompanied by her sister.
When they reach the Kingdom, pilgrims are received at the airport and taken to their hotels in Makkah and Madinah. They can focus on their spiritual journeys, as all practical aspects of the pilgrimage are taken care of.
“The Makkah Route is very convenient,” said Johar Yusof, another pilgrim departing from Kuala Lumpur. “There’s no need to go through hassle — I love it.”


Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines
Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines
  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up
Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up
  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.


NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
Updated 05 July 2022

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership
  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.

 

“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.