More than 250 Ukrainian troops surrender as Kyiv orders Mariupol to yield

Russian servicemen watch Ukrainian servicemen board a bus as they are being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine. (AP)
Russian servicemen watch Ukrainian servicemen board a bus as they are being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine. (AP)
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Updated 17 May 2022

More than 250 Ukrainian troops surrender as Kyiv orders Mariupol to yield

More than 250 Ukrainian troops surrender as Kyiv orders Mariupol to yield
  • Buses left the steelworks overnight and five of them arrived in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk
  • Mariupol’s complete capture is Russia’s biggest victory of the war

KYIV/NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine: More than 250 Ukrainian fighters surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol and Kyiv said it had ordered its entire garrison to evacuate, heralding the end of Europe’s bloodiest battle in decades.
Reuters saw buses leave the steelworks overnight and five of them arrive in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said they would be treated for wounds.
In one, marked with the Latin letter ‘Z’ that has become the symbol of Russia’s assault, wounded men were lying on stretchers three bunks high. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the huge steelworks, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters remained inside and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed in advance.
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards.
“The ‘Mariupol’ garrison has fulfilled its combat mission,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement.
“The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel...Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time.”
Russian defense ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant in daylight, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.
Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had “laid down their arms and surrendered,” including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left the plant and efforts were under way to bring out the rest.
The surrender appears to mark the end of the battle of Mariupol, where Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment and siege.
The city now lies in ruins. Its complete capture is Russia’s biggest victory of the war, giving Moscow total control of the coast of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine about the size of Greece.
But it comes as Russia’s campaign has faltered elsewhere, with its troops around the city of Kharkiv in the northeast lately retreating at the fastest pace since they were driven out of the north and the area around the capital Kyiv at the end of March.
Authorities on both sides gave few clues about the ultimate fate of Mariupol’s last defenders. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded Ukrainians once their condition stabilizes, but neither side disclosed terms for any specific deal.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”
The United Nations, which had helped civilians evacuate from Azovstal this month, was not operationally involved in the evacuation, UN spokesperson Saviano Abreu said.

Heavy shelling reported 
Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has captured since its Feb. 24 invasion, giving Moscow a clear-cut victory for the first time in months, during which its campaign in Ukraine has mostly faced military disaster against an underestimated foe.
In a statement on Monday, the Azov Regiment, the Ukrainian unit that had held out in the steelworks, said it had achieved its objective over 82 days of resistance by making it possible to defend the rest of the country.
“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” it said.
The regiment, now part of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, originated as a far-right militia, and Moscow has portrayed defeating its fighters as central to its stated objective of “de-Nazifying” Ukraine.
The United Nations and Red Cross say thousands of civilians died under Russia’s siege of the once prosperous port of 400,000 people, with the true toll uncounted but certain to be Europe’s worst at least since the 1990s wars in Chechnya and the Balkans.
For months, Mariupol’s residents were driven into cellars under perpetual bombardment, with no access to food, fresh water or heat, and bodies littering the streets. Two strikes — on a maternity ward and a theater where hundreds of people were sheltering — became worldwide emblems of Russia’s tactic of devastating population centers.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have been buried in mass graves or makeshift pits in gardens. Ukraine says Moscow sent mobile cremation trucks to erase evidence of civilian deaths, and forcibly deported thousands of residents to Russia.
Moscow denies targeting civilians or deporting them, and says it has taken in refugees. It says it is now restoring normal life to the city, part of the Donbas region it claims on behalf of separatists it has backed since 2014.

Ukraine advances 
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces have been advancing in recent days at their fastest pace for more than a month, driving Russian forces out of the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
Ukraine says its forces had reached the Russian border, 40 km north of Kharkiv. They have also pushed at least as far as the Siverskiy Donets river 40 km to the east, where they could threaten supply lines to Russia’s main advance in the Donbas.
Russia is still pressing that advance, despite taking heavy losses, including in a failed river crossing last week. Zelensky’s office said on Tuesday the entire frontline around Donetsk was under constant massive shelling.
In response the invasion, historically non-aligned Finland and Sweden have announced plans to join NATO, bringing about the very expansion of the Western alliance Putin had invoked as one of the main justifications for his “special military operation.”
After weeks in which Russia threatened unspecified retaliation, Putin appeared to climb down, saying on Monday that Russia had “no problems” with either Finland or Sweden, and their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance deployed additional troops or weapons there.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday there would be “probably not much difference” if Finland and Sweden join NATO, since they had already been cooperating in the alliance’s military exercises.

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
Updated 30 June 2022

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
  • Rise to power comes 36 years after his dictator father was forced from office in a bloodless popular uprising
  • New leader promises economic transformation, education reform and support for millions of overseas Filipino workers

MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn in as president of the Philippines on Thursday, vowing to open a new chapter in the country’s history, almost four decades after his dictator and namesake father was ousted in a popular uprising.
Marcos Jr., 64, scored a landslide victory in May’s presidential election, winning almost 60 percent of the vote after promising unity, prosperity and happiness to the 110 million population weary of years of political polarization and pandemic hardship. 
His rise to power comes 36 years after his father was removed from office by the bloodless popular revolt known as People Power. The dictator had ruled the country with an iron fist for two decades — an era marred by martial law, widespread corruption and human rights abuses.
For years, Marcos Jr. has sought to rehabilitate the family name by portraying his father’s rule as an age of prosperity. But while he mentioned infrastructure projects built at the time, he distanced himself from the past in his inaugural address.  
“In this fresh chapter of our history, I extend my hand to all Filipinos,” he said during a ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila. “I am here not to talk about the past. I am here to tell you about our future.”
In the 25-minute speech, Marcos Jr. covered plans for economic transformation, education reform, improvement of food sufficiency, infrastructure development, energy supplies, pollution, waste management, as well as support for millions of overseas Filipino workers.
“Come, let us put our shoulders to the wheel and give that wheel a faster turn to repair and to rebuild and to address challenges in new ways to provide what all Filipinos need, to be all that we can,” the incoming president said, adding that he seeks dialogue and to “listen respectfully to contrary views.”
Marcos’ thematic speech, which covered all issues, came as a surprise since he has little direct experience on the political scene.
“He took up all things, he even had something to say on climate change,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila, told Arab News.
However, Casiple added that he will reserve judgment until Marcos speaks before Congress.
“By then, he will already have concrete proposals. That’s more important for me.”
The political analyst believes Marcos’ references to the future were attempts at charting “his own path,” not merely a continuation of his father’s.
“I’ve already noticed that during the campaign. He was avoiding talking about martial law and he was also avoiding debates. He doesn’t want to be treated as a son to the father in terms of his programs. His inaugural speech was basically his own,” Casiple said. “There’s hope.”
However, the new administration, despite the unity pledge, is likely to be a polarizing one due to the historical burden the Marcos family carries, according to political sociologist Prof. Frederick Rey.
“A polarizing administration in the sense that there is what I call the natural enemy of the Marcoses. This may be viewed as a love affair, a Filipino love affair, but on the other side of it, there is also a natural enemy when we talk about the dark history of the Philippines, as mentioned in our textbooks,” Rey said in a TV interview.
“This really is a difficult administration.”

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
Updated 30 June 2022

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
  • Contamination is investigated at Barry Callebaut company
  • All chocolate products made at the plant placed on hold

BRUSSELS: A huge Belgian chocolate factory has halted production after detecting salmonella in a batch of chocolates.
The Barry Callebaut company said Thursday that its plant in Wieze – which it says is the world’s largest chocolate factory – shut down all production lines as a precaution while the contamination is investigated.
Barry Callebaut produces chocolate for multiple brands sold around the world.
The salmonella was detected Monday, and all chocolate products made at the plant were placed on hold pending investigation, the company said. It identified lecithin, an emulsifier routinely used in making chocolates, as the source of the contamination.
The company said it informed Belgian food safety authorities and is contacting customers who might have contaminated products in their possession.
It is unclear whether any consumers have reported being sickened by the chocolates.
Earlier this year, at least 200 reported cases of salmonella were believed linked to chocolate Easter eggs made in another Belgian plant operated by Italian company Ferrero.

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
Updated 24 min 11 sec ago

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
  • Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night
  • Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades as thousands of anti-coup protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and its suburbs Thursday demanding an end to military rule, AFP correspondents said.
“Down with Burhan’s rule,” protesters chanted in north Khartoum, urging the reversal of an October military coup by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan that prompted foreign governments to slash aid, deepening a chronic economic crisis.
“Even if we die, the military will not rule us,” they cried.
Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night, in small-scale protests in the run-up to the main rallies.
More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, according to UN figures, as the military has cracked down on the anti-coup movement over the past eight months.
An AFP correspondent said Internet and phone lines had been disrupted since the early hours of Thursday, a measure the Sudanese authorities often impose to prevent mass gatherings.
Security was tight in Khartoum despite the recent lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the coup.
Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace, witnesses said.
Shops around the capital were largely shuttered.
Activists have been calling for “million-strong” rallies.
UN special representative Volker Perthes said Thursday that “violence needs to end,” while the US embassy in Khartoum urged restraint and “the protection of civilians so that no more lives are lost.”

Sudan’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticized the UN envoy’s comments, saying they were built on “assumptions” and “contradict his role as facilitator” in troubled talks on ending Sudan’s political crisis.
The latest protests come on the anniversary of a previous coup in 1989 that toppled the country’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed general Omar Al-Bashir.
They also come on the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals, who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year, cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the mixed civilian-military transitional government which was toppled in last year’s coup.
Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since Burhan seized power last year.
“June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives,” said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
Alongside the African Union and east African bloc IGAD, the United Nations has been attempting to broker talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by all the main civilian factions.
The UN has warned that the deepening economic and political crisis has pushed one third of the country’s population of more than 40 million toward life-threatening food shortages.

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s port of Berdyansk. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island
  • The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday began shipping grain from Ukraine’s occupied territory, with a vessel carrying 7,000 tons of cereal sailing from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk.
Kyiv has for weeks accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain from southern Ukraine, contributing to a global food shortage caused by grain exports blocked in Ukrainian ports.
Until now shipments have been transported by land, Kyiv says.
Thursday’s grain shipment from the port of Berdyansk marks the opening of a sea route to export wheat from Ukraine to third countries.
“After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tons of grain are heading toward friendly countries,” Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram.
Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey, he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been demined.
Balitsky did not specify the final destination of the cargo.
Berdyansk is a port city on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov, in the region of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine.
The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russia’s control since the first weeks of Moscow’s military intervention, and are now being forcefully integrated into Russia’s economy.
The pro-Moscow officials in the two Ukrainian regions claim that they have “nationalized” state infrastructure and property there and buy their crops from local farmers.
A representative of the pro-Moscow authorities, Vladimir Rogov, told state news agency RIA Novosti that 1.5 million tons of grain can be exported via Berdyansk.
Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, a country known as Europe’s breadbasket, has pushed up food prices and led to shortages, as Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports prevents millions of tons of grain from being shipped out.
The crisis has sparked fears of famine in vulnerable countries highly reliant on Ukrainian exports, particularly in Africa.
Russia insists that it will let Ukraine ship its grain if Kyiv forces demine sea lanes.
Kyiv fears Russia will launch an attack on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
Talks involving Turkey and the UN have brought no results so far.
On Thursday, Russia said it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.
Russia, the largest wheat exporter in the world, has said it is facing difficulties in exporting its own grain due to unprecedented Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine.
Pro-Moscow officials in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are hoping that the occupied territories could stage a referendum and join Russia in the near future.
On Wednesday, pro-Russian authorities said they were launching bus and train services between Moscow-annexed Crimea and the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The pro-Moscow administration of the Kherson region also announced the opening of a branch of Russian Pension Fund responsible for paying state pensions.
Putin has said Russian forces will not occupy Ukraine.
The Kremlin claims local residents will choose their own future, suggesting they are in favor of a referendum on the status of Ukraine’s occupied territory.

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
Updated 30 June 2022

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit
  • Putin: Russia will respond to NATO moves in Finland, Sweden
  • NATO brands Russia most ‘significant and direct threat’

MADRID/KYIV: Russia pressed on with its offensive in eastern Ukraine on Thursday after NATO branded Moscow the biggest “direct threat” to Western security and agreed plans to modernize Kyiv’s beleaguered armed forces.
Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate residents from the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, the focus of Russia’s attacks where about 15,000 people remained under relentless shelling.
“Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up,” regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.
“Absolutely everything is being shelled.”

Ukrainian emergency service personnel help an injured local resident after Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on June 29, 2022. (AP Photo/George Ivanchenko) 

In the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces were fighting back with artillery strikes of their own, Oleskiy Arestovych, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in a video posted online.
At a summit on Wednesday dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the geopolitical upheaval it has caused, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join and pledged a seven-fold increase from 2023 in combat forces on high alert along its eastern flank.
In reaction, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the US-led military alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.
US President Joe Biden announced more land, sea and air force deployments across Europe from Spain in the west to Romania and Poland bordering Ukraine.
These included a permanent army headquarters with accompanying battalion in Poland — the first full-time US deployment on NATO’s eastern fringes.

“President Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and has created the biggest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.
“NATO has responded with strength and unity,” he said.
Britain said it would provide another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, including air defense systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles and new electronic warfare equipment.

’Fighting everywhere’
As the 30 national NATO leaders were meeting in Madrid, Russian forces intensified attacks in Ukraine, including missile strikes and shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region close to front lines and the Black Sea.
The mayor of Mykolaiv city said a Russian missile had killed at least five people in a residential building there, while Moscow said its forces had hit what it called a training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
There was relentless fighting around the hilltop city of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle as they try to capture the industrialized eastern Donbas region on behalf of separatist proxies. Donbas comprises Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
A video clip aired on Russia’s RIA state news agency showed former US soldier Alexander Drueke, who was captured while fighting for Ukrainian forces.
“My combat experience here was that one mission on that one day,” said Drueke, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, referring to the day he was captured outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. “I didn’t fire a shot. I would hope that would play a factor in whatever sentence I do or don’t receive.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky once again told NATO that Ukrainian forces needed more weapons and money, and faster, to erode Russia’s huge edge in artillery and missile firepower, and said Moscow’s ambitions did not stop at Ukraine.
The Russian invasion that began on Feb. 24 has destroyed cities, killed thousands and sent millions fleeing. Russia says it is pursuing a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked, imperial-style land grab.

The top US intelligence official Avril Haines said on Wednesday the most likely near term scenario is a grinding conflict in which Moscow makes only incremental gains, but no breakthrough on its goal of taking most of Ukraine.

Full solidarity
In a nod to the precipitous deterioration in relations with Russia since the invasion, a NATO communique called Russia the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” having previously classified it as a “strategic partner.”
NATO issued a new Strategic Concept document, its first since 2010, that said a “strong independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”
To that end, NATO agreed a long-term financial and military aid package to modernize Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era military.
“We stand in full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the communique said.
Stoltenberg said NATO had agreed to put 300,000 troops on high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 now, under a new force model to protect an area stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas.
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance marks one of the most momentous shifts in European security in decades as Helsinki and Stockholm drop a tradition of neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion.