Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week

Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week
NATO leaders and delegates take part in a session during a NATO Summit conference in Bucharest, Romania on April 3, 2008. (AP file photo)
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Updated 10 May 2022

Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week

Crucial NATO decisions expected in Finland, Sweden this week
  • Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years
  • Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II

STOCKHOLM: To join or not to join? The NATO question is coming to a head this week in Finland and Sweden where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered the long-held belief that remaining outside the military alliance was the best way to avoid trouble with their giant neighbor.
If Finland’s president and the governing Social Democrats in both countries come out in favor of accession in the next few days, NATO could soon add two members right on Russia’s doorstep.
That would be a historic development for the two Nordic countries: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II.
NATO membership was never seriously considered in Stockholm and Helsinki until Russian forces attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24. Virtually overnight, the conversation in both capitals shifted from “Why should we join?” to “How long does it take?”
Along with hard-nosed Ukrainian resistance and wide-ranging Western sanctions, it’s one of the most significant ways in which the invasion appears to have backfired on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If Finland and Sweden join the alliance, Russia would find itself completely surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.
“There is no going back to the status quo before the invasion,” said Heli Hautala, a Finnish diplomat previously posted to Moscow and a research fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, the Western leader who appeared to have the best rapport with Putin before the Ukraine war, is expected to announce his stance on NATO membership on Thursday. The governing Social Democratic parties in both countries are set to present their positions this weekend.
If their answer is “yes,” there would be robust majorities in both parliaments for NATO membership, paving the way for formal application procedures to begin right away.
The Finnish Social Democrats led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin are likely to join other parties in Finland in endorsing a NATO application. The situation in Sweden isn’t as clear.
The Swedish Social Democrats have always been staunchly committed to nonalignment, but party leader and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has said there’s a clear “before and after Feb. 24.”
The party’s women’s faction, led by Climate and Environment Minister Annika Strandhall, has come out against NATO membership.
“We believe that our interests are best served by being militarily nonaligned,” Strandhall told Swedish broadcaster TV4. “Traditionally, Sweden has been a strong voice for peace and disarmament.”
Neither Finland nor Sweden is planning a referendum, fearing it could become a prime target of Russian interference.
Sweden and Finland have sought — and received — assurances of support from the US and other NATO members in the application period should they seek membership.
Both countries feel they would be vulnerable in the interim, before they’re covered by the alliance’s one-for-all, all-for-one security guarantees.
The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if the Swedes and Finns decide to join NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said last month it would force Moscow to strengthen its military presence in the Baltic region.
However, analysts say military action against the Nordic countries appears unlikely, given how bogged down Russian forces are in Ukraine.
Many of the Russian troops stationed near the 1,300-kilometer (830-mile) border with Finland were sent to Ukraine and have suffered “significant losses” there, Hautala said.
She said potential Russian countermeasures could include moving weapons systems closer to Finland, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, economic countermoves and steering migration toward the Russian-Finnish border, similar to what happened on Poland’s frontier with Belarus last year.
There are signs that Russia already has increased its focus on Sweden and Finland, with several airspace violations by Russian military aircraft reported in recent weeks and an apparent campaign in Moscow with posters depicting famous Swedes as Nazi sympathizers. Putin used similar tactics against Ukraine’s leaders before launching what the Kremlin called its “special military operation.”
After remaining firmly against membership for decades, public opinion in both countries shifted rapidly this year. Polls show more than 70 percent of Finns and about 50 percent of Swedes now favor joining.
The shocking scenes playing out in Ukraine made Finns draw the conclusion that “this could happen to us,” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
During the Cold War, Finland stayed away from NATO to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, while Sweden already had a tradition of neutrality dating to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. But both countries built up robust conscription-based armed forces to counter any Soviet threat. Sweden even had a nuclear weapons program but scrapped it in the 1960s.
The threat of a conflict flared up in October 1981 when a Soviet submarine ran aground off the coast of southwestern Sweden. Eventually the sub was tugged back out to sea, ending a tense standoff between Swedish forces and a Soviet rescue fleet.
As Russia’s military power declined in the 1990s, Finland kept its guard high, while Sweden, considering a conflict with Russia increasingly unlikely, downsized its military and shifted its focus from territorial defense toward peacekeeping missions in faraway conflict zones.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 prompted the Swedes to reassess the security situation. They reintroduced conscription and started rebuilding defensive capabilities, including on the strategically important Baltic Sea island of Gotland.
Defense analysts say Finland and Sweden have modern and competent armed forces that would significantly boost NATO’s capabilities in Northern Europe. Finnish and Swedish forces train so often with NATO that they are essentially interoperable.
Adding new members typically takes months, because those decisions need to be ratified by all 30 NATO members. But in the case of Finland and Sweden, the accession process could be done “in a couple of weeks,” according to a NATO official who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified because no application has been made by the two countries.
“These are not normal times,” he said.

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors
Updated 10 sec ago

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors
  • ECOWAS had imposed sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso after their rulers plunged them into authoritian rule

ACCRA, Ghana: West African leaders attending a regional summit Sunday lifted sanctions against three neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule.
The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, although those countries remain suspended from the regional bloc, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.
The three nations’ suspension from ECOWAS will remain in effect until elections are held, he told reporters, adding that regional leaders urge development partners to resume assistance to them.
In lifting the sanctions, leaders attending the summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, accepted a transition road map by Malian authorities who proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024.
ECOWAS sanctioned Mali severely in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.
The military leaders in Guinea and Burkina Faso have also proposed varying transition periods eventually leading to polls. It remains unclear when elections will be held there.
The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.
Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January coup. Burkina Faso authorities said Saturday that Kabore, who has been under house arrest, is now a free man.
The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.
Some leaders who spoke at Accra’s one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.
“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”
In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Brou.
In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country’s northern Seno province last month.

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire
Updated 04 July 2022

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire

Video shows US police kill Black man in hail of gunfire
  • Police claimed the victim had earlier fired at them when they were chasing him over a traffic violation
  • Akron mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community

AKRON, Ohio: A Black man was unarmed when Akron police chased him on foot and killed him in a hail of gunfire, but officers believed he had shot at them earlier from a vehicle and feared he was preparing to fire again, authorities said Sunday at a news conference.
Akron police released video of the shooting of Jayland Walker, 25, who was killed June 27 in a pursuit that had started with an attempted traffic stop. The mayor called the shooting “heartbreaking” while asking for patience from the community.
It’s not clear how many shots were fired by the eight officers involved in the shooting, but Walker sustained more than 60 wounds. An attorney for Walker’s family said officers kept firing even after he was on the ground.
Officers attempted to stop Walker’s car early in the morning for unspecified traffic and equipment violations, but less than a minute into a pursuit, the sound of a shot was heard from the car, and a transportation department camera captured what appeared to be a muzzle flash coming from the vehicle, Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett said. That changed the nature of the case from “a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue,” he said.
Police body camera videos of the nighttime confrontation show the minutes that followed. Several shouting officers with guns drawn approach the slowing car on foot, as it rolls up over a curb and onto a sidewalk. A person wearing a ski mask exits the passenger door and runs toward a parking lot. Police chase him for about 10 seconds before officers fire from multiple directions, in a burst of shots that lasts 6 or 7 seconds.
At least one officer had tried first to use a stun gun, but that was unsuccessful, police said.
Mylett said Walker’s actions are hard to distinguish on the video in real time, but a still photo seems to show him “going down to his waist area” and another appears to show him turning toward an officer. He said a third picture “captures a forward motion of his arm.”
The officers were separated at the scene afterward, and each one indicated a belief that Walker had been moving into a firing position, Mylett said.
The footage released by police ends with the officers’ gunfire and doesn’t show what happened in the moments after.
Mylett said an officer firing at someone has to be “ready to explain why they did what they did, they need to be able to articulate what specific threats they were facing ... and they need to be held to account.” But he said he is withholding judgment on their actions until they give their statements, and he said the union president has told him that all are “fully cooperating” with the investigation.
Police said more than 60 wounds were found on Walker’s body but further investigation is needed to determine exactly how many rounds the officers fired and how many times Walker was hit. Officers provided aid, and one can be heard saying he still had a pulse, but he was pronounced dead, Mylett said.
A handgun, a loaded magazine and an apparent wedding ring were found on the seat of the car. A casing consistent with the weapon was later found in the area where officers believed a shot had come from the vehicle.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost vowed a “complete, fair and expert investigation” and cautioned that “body-worn camera footage is just one view of the whole picture.”
The officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave, which is standard practice in such cases.
Demonstrators marched peacefully through the city and gathered in front of the Akron justice center after the video was released. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement that Walker’s death wasn’t self-defense, but “was murder. Point blank.”
Walker’s family is calling for accountability but also for peace, their lawyers said. One of the attorneys, Bobby DiCello, called the burst of police gunfire excessive and unreasonable, and said police handcuffed Walker before trying to provide first aid.
“How it got to this with a pursuit is beyond me,” DiCello said.
He said Walker’s family doesn’t know why he fled from police. Walker was grieving the recent death of his fiancee, but his family had no indication of concern beyond that, and he wasn’t a criminal, DiCello said.
“I hope we remember that as Jayland ran across that parking lot, he was unarmed,” DiCello said.
He said he doesn’t know whether the gold ring found near the gun in the car belonged to Walker.

Three dead, 3 critically wounded in shooting at Denmark mall

Three dead, 3 critically wounded in shooting at Denmark mall
Updated 04 July 2022

Three dead, 3 critically wounded in shooting at Denmark mall

Three dead, 3 critically wounded in shooting at Denmark mall
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Danish police say three people were killed and three others are in critical condition after a shooting rampage Sunday at a shopping mall in Copenhagen.
Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen said the three victims were a man in his 40s and “two young people.
A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters, adding there was no indication that anyone else was involved in the attack, though police were still investigating.
Gun violence is relatively rare in Denmark.
Thomassen said it was too early to speculate on the motive for the shooting, which happened in the late afternoon at Field’s, one of the biggest shopping malls in Scandinavia and located on the outskirts of the Danish capital. When the shots rang out, some people hid in shops while others fled in a panicked stampede, witnesses said.
“It is pure terror. This is awful,” said Hans Christian Stoltz, a 53-year-old IT consultant, who was bringing his daughters to see Harry Styles perform at a concert scheduled for Sunday night near the mall. “You might wonder how a person can do this to another human being, but it’s beyond … beyond anything that’s possible.”
Thomassen gave no specific casualty count beyond saying several people were dead and several wounded. He said the suspect was an “ethnic Dane,” a phrase typically used to mean someone is white.
Danish broadcaster TV2 published a grainy photo of the alleged gunman, a man wearing knee-length shorts and a tank top and holding what appeared to be a rifle in his right hand.
“He seemed very violent and angry,” eyewitness Mahdi Al-Wazni told TV2. “He spoke to me and said it (the rifle) isn’t real as I was filming him. He seemed very proud of what he was doing.”
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the Scandinavian country had been hit by a “cruel attack.”

An ambulance and armed police are seen during the evacuation of people at the Fields shopping center in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 3, 2022 after Danish media reported a shooting. (AFP)

“It is incomprehensible. Heartbreaking. Pointless,” she said. “Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second.”
Images from the scene showed people running out of the mall, and TV2 posted a photo of a man being put on a stretcher. After the shooting, an enormous contingent of heavily armed police officers patrolled the area, with several fire department vehicles also parked outside the mall.
Laurits Hermansen told Danish broadcaster DR that he was in a clothing store at the shopping center with his family when he heard “three, four bangs. Really loud bangs. It sounded like the shots were being fired just next to the store.”
The shopping center is on the outskirts of Copenhagen just across from a subway station for a line that connects the city center with the international airport. A major highway also runs adjacent to the mall.
Organizers called off the Harry Styles concert, which had been scheduled at the nearby Royal Arena, by order of police.
On Snapchat, Styles wrote: “My team and I pray for everyone involved in the Copenhagen shopping mall shooting. I am shocked. Love H.”

People embrace outside Fields shopping center, after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site, in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 3, 2022. (Reuters) 

The royal palace said a reception with Crown Prince Frederik connected to the Tour de France cycling race had been canceled. The first three stages of the race were held in Denmark this year. The reception was due to be held on the royal yacht that is moored in Soenderborg, the town where the third stage ended.
In a joint statement, Queen Margrethe, her son Crown Prince Frederik and his wife, Crown Princess Mary, said: “We do not yet know the full extent of the tragedy, but it is already clear that more people have lost their lives and that even more have been injured.”
“The situation calls for unity and care,” they said in a statement.
The shooting came a week after a mass shooting in neighboring Norway, where police said a Norwegian man of Iranian origin opened fire during a LGBTQ festival, killing two and wounding more than 20.
Though the number of victims in Copenhagen on Sunday was unclear, it appeared to be the worst gun attack in Denmark since February 2015, when a 22-year-old man was killed in a shootout with police after going on a shooting spree in the capital that left two people dead and five police officers wounded.

Death toll from a massive landslide in India rises to 37

Death toll from a massive landslide in India rises to 37
Updated 03 July 2022

Death toll from a massive landslide in India rises to 37

Death toll from a massive landslide in India rises to 37
  • A wall of mud and rock swamped a camp housing railway construction workers and members of the Territorial Army in remote Manipur state in the northeast after heavy rain early on Thursday

GUWAHATI, India: The death toll from a massive landslide in India hit 37 on Sunday, authorities said, as rescue teams battled teeming rain to search for 25 others still missing three days later.

A wall of mud and rock swamped a camp housing railway construction workers and members of the Territorial Army in remote Manipur state in the northeast after heavy rain early on Thursday.

Emergency teams rescued 18 survivors within the first few hours of the incident.

But army spokesperson Angom Bobin Singh said Sunday that 28 people were still missing before an announcement later that three more bodies had been retrieved.

The fourth day of search operations was ongoing “despite adverse weather conditions” because of “heavy rains and fresh landslides,” Singh said.

The remote northeast has generally poor road and railway infrastructure but India in the last few years has pushed ambitious infrastructure projects to match a Chinese buildup across the border.

The picturesque region — with mountains and dense forests — has been pummeled by heavy rainfall in recent weeks, triggering landslides and floods.

Dozens were killed in the area after flooding last month, with relentless rains causing landslides and inundating homes.

Experts say climate change is increasing the number of extreme weather events around the world, with damming, deforestation and development projects in India exacerbating the human toll.


Floodwaters in Bangladesh take heavy toll on children’s education

Floodwaters in Bangladesh take heavy toll on children’s education
Updated 03 July 2022

Floodwaters in Bangladesh take heavy toll on children’s education

Floodwaters in Bangladesh take heavy toll on children’s education
  • Deadly floods in Bangladesh had killed dozens of people and stranded millions of others
  • Thousands of schools in worst-hit Sylhet region were impacted by deluge

DHAKA: Last month’s flooding in northeastern Bangladesh has dealt a heavy blow to the country’s education sector as authorities estimate that it has kept hundreds of thousands of children out of school.

Millions of people were displaced, and dozens of others killed when heavy floods triggered by monsoon rains hit northeast Bangladesh in June. The South Asian nation witnessed intense rainfall that continued for days, causing the worst deluge that the country had seen in more than a century.

In the worst-hit Sylhet region, thousands of schools and colleges were forced to remain shut weeks after the devastating floods, leaving hundreds and thousands of students out of classes as authorities began assessing the extent of the damages.

Over 3,000 primary schools — more than half of the total in Sylhet — sustained damages during the floods, Dr. Nasima Begum, deputy director at the department of primary education in the region, told Arab News. Around 1.8 million children were enrolled in the primary schools, she added.

“Since more than half of the schools were affected by flood water, it is anticipated that the children of these areas were also affected,” Begum said.

“We have yet to complete the loss assessment because the floods have not completely receded in many areas,” she said. “We have plans to provide new books and education materials to the children when classes resume.”

Mohammed Nazrul Hakim, executive engineer at Sylhet’s education engineering department, told Arab News that buildings damaged in the floods are in dire need of repairs.

“The ground floors of the affected institutions have become unusable due to the floods. Students can’t have classes there without repair works being done,” Hakim said.

As hundreds of high schools and colleges in the region had also been damaged during the disaster, around 150,000 secondary students also had their final exams, initially scheduled to take place in June, postponed.

“More than 600 high schools and colleges were affected due to this flood,” Prof. Abdul Mannan Khan, director of Sylhet’s department of secondary and higher education, told Arab News.

Classes are expected to resume on July 19, but for most of the affected students, the “floodwater damaged many of their books and education materials,” Khan added.

When the unprecedented floods hit villages across northeast Bangladesh, most people only had enough time to save themselves and their loved ones.

“Saving our lives was the only concern during the flood,” 16-year-old Abdur Rahman Sohag told Arab News.

“It happened so quickly that I couldn’t manage to save any of my books.”

Sohag was among tens of thousands who were scheduled to take their final exams last month. But as the situation worsened and the final exams had to be postponed, a new date has yet to be announced.

Like Sohag, 16-year-old Sanjida Zahan Chowdhury also lost her textbooks in the floods, which had submerged her home in the Sunamganj district.

“Within half an hour at midnight, we found ourselves in around 1.5 meters of high flood water inside our home,” Chowdhury told Arab News, adding that she and her family had to wait eight hours before they were evacuated.

“Many of my books and notes were washed away. How can I sit for the exam without my books?”