Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender
It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender
  • The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol

KYIV: The battle that turned Mariupol into a worldwide symbol of defiance and suffering drew toward a close as Russia said nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who held out inside a pulverized steel plant had surrendered.
Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a civilian and could get life in prison. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, abandoning generations of neutrality for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.
Amnesty International said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the fighters. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited lawless executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said the Azovstal defenders “must not meet the same fate.”
It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point. A separatist leader in the region said no top commanders had emerged from the steelworks.

This AFP video shows an aerial view of Mariupol and the distruction caused by Russian shelling.
The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol. Its fall would make Mariupol the biggest Ukrainian city to be taken by Moscow’s forces, giving a boost to Putin in a war where many of his plans have gone awry.
Military analysts, though, said the city’s capture at this point would hold more symbolic importance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting have already left.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian troops have abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday.
Video showed the fighters carrying out their wounded on stretchers and undergoing pat-down searches before being taken away on buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin “Z” sign.
The US has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Kremlin forces in Mariupol are carrying out abuses, including beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to a USofficial familiar with the findings.
The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will further inspire residents to resist the occupation and that the treatment runs counter to Russia’s claims that its military has liberated Russian speakers, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment.
Resistance fighting was reported in the occupied southern city of Melitopol, where the regional military administration said Ukrainians killed several high-ranking Russian officers and a Russian armored train carrying troops and ammunition overturned, causing the munitions to detonate.
The administration said on Telegram that the Russian military does not maintain the tracks and overloads the trains, and “with help” from resistance fighters the train derailed. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
In a sign of normalcy returning to Kyiv, the US Embassy reopened on Wednesday, one month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed. A dozen embassy employees watched solemnly as the American flag was raised. Other Western countries have been reopening their embassies in Kyiv as well.
In the war-crimes case in Kyiv, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through a car window in the opening days of the war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.
On the diplomatic front, Finland and Sweden could become members of NATO in a matter of months, though objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten to disrupt things. Turkey accuses the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.
Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy adviser and spokesman for Erdogan, said there will be “no progress” on the membership applications unless Turkey’s concerns are met. Each of NATO’s 30 countries has an effective veto over new members.
Mariupol’s defenders grimly clung to the steel mill for months and against the odds, preventing Russia from completing its occupation of the city and its port.
Its full capture would give Russia an unbroken land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. It also would allow Russia to focus fully on the larger battle for the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial east.
For Ukraine, the order to the fighters to surrender could leave President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government open to allegations it abandoned the troops he described as heroes.
“Zelensky may face unpleasant questions,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, who heads the independent Penta think tank in Kyiv. “There have been voices of discontent and accusations of betraying Ukrainian soldiers.”
A hoped-for prisoner swap could also fall through, he cautioned.
Russia’s main federal investigative body said it intends to interrogate the surrendering troops to “identify the nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.
Also, Russia’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate Ukraine’s Azov Regiment — among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison — as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the far right.
The Russian parliament was scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of any Azov Regiment fighters but didn’t take up the issue Wednesday.
Mariupol was a target of the Russians from the outset. The city — its prewar population of about 430,000 now reduced by about three-quarters — has largely been reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says over 20,000 civilians have been killed there.
In other developments, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Russia has begun using a prototype new laser weapon in Ukraine that is capable of hitting a target 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, state news agency Tass quoted him as saying on national television. He said it was tested Tuesday against a drone and incinerated it within five seconds.
Borisov said a new generation of laser weapons will eventually allow Russia to conserve its expensive long-range missiles.
Speaking late Wednesday in his nightly video address, Zelensky likened the Russian boast to Nazi Germany’s claims of Wunderwaffe, or wonder weapons, as the tide began to turn against it during World War II.
A senior US defense official said Wednesday that the US has seen nothing to corroborate the claims. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment.


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
Updated 12 sec ago

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
Updated 04 July 2022

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker

Singapore urged to halt hanging of Malaysian drug trafficker
  • Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday
  • Activists: Death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates

KUALA LUMPUR: Anti-death penalty activists in Malaysia urged Singapore’s government on Monday to halt the execution of a convicted Malaysian drug trafficker this week, the second in less than three months.
Kalwant Singh, who was convicted in 2016 of bringing heroin into Singapore, is scheduled to be hanged Thursday, activists said. The execution of another Malaysian in late April sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be mentally disabled.
The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network delivered a statement to Singapore’s embassy urging that Kalwant’s execution be suspended to allow him an opportunity to file for clemency.
It said Kalwant, who was 23 when he was arrested in 2013, had been threatened with violence and forced to make drug deliveries to Singapore to repay a football gambling debt, and that factor was not adequately considered during his trial.
It said the death penalty has done little to stop drug traffickers and organized syndicates.
“The government of Singapore’s persistence in maintaining and utilizing the death penalty has only led to global condemnation and tarnishes Singapore’s image as a developed nation governed by the rule of law,” it added.
The hanging in April of Malaysian drug trafficker Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam sparked an international outcry because he was believed to be intellectually disabled with an IQ of 69. Another Malaysian drug trafficker who was to be hanged in April was given a reprieve pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
A Singapore activist, Kokila Annamalai, said convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Norasharee Gous is to be hanged on Thursday, the same day as Kalwant. She said they are the seventh and eighth executions scheduled this year. So far, two people including Nagaenthran have been hanged while four other executions were delayed by last-minute legal challenges, she said.


12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
Updated 04 July 2022

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

BEIJING: Twelve bodies have been found following a shipwreck in the South China Sea over the weekend that left the crew of 30 missing, Chinese authorities said Monday.
“As of 3:30 p.m. on July 4, rescue forces found and recovered 12 bodies, suspected to be of victims who drowned, in an area around 50 nautical miles southwest of the site where the vessel sank,” said the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center in a notice.


Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
Updated 04 July 2022

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN: Danish police said Monday that the suspect in a weekend shooting at a Copenhagen mall that left three dead, including two teenagers, was known to mental health services.
“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment,” Copenhagen police chief Soren Thomassen told a press conference.
Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn’t motivated by gender or something else,” Thomassen said.
The police chief could not yet comment on a motive, but said there seemed to have been preparation ahead of the attack and that the 22-year-old suspect was not aided by anyone else.
“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish teenage girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
Police confirmed that the suspected shooter was present at the mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally.”
They added that they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

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)

In some of the images, the young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work.”
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight, AFP noted.
The shooting occurred Sunday afternoon at the busy Fields shopping mall, located between the city center and Copenhagen airport.
According to police, the shooter was armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and while the guns were not believed to be illegal, the suspect did not have a license for them.
Witnesses quoted by the Danish media described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach.
“He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn’t running,” one witness told public broadcaster DR.
Other eyewitnesses told Danish media they had seen more than 100 people rush toward the mall’s exit as the first shots were fired.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen denounce the “cruel attack” in a statement late Sunday.

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) 

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said.
The shooting came just over a week after a gunman opened fire near a gay bar in Oslo in neighboring Norway, killing two people and wounding 21 others.
In February of 2015, two people were killed and five injured in Copenhagen in a series of Islamist-motivated shootings.


Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
Updated 04 July 2022

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
  • The 85-year-old pontiff repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has dismissed reports that he plans to resign in the near future, saying he is on track to visit Canada this month and hopes to be able to go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as possible after that.
In an exclusive interview in his Vatican residence, Francis also denied rumors that he had cancer, joking that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it,” and for the first time gave details of the knee condition that has prevented him carrying out some duties.
In a 90-minute conversation on Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian, with no aides present, the 85-year-old pontiff also repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month.
Rumors have swirled in the media that a conjunction of events in late August, including meetings with the world’s cardinals to discuss a new Vatican constitution, a ceremony to induct new cardinals, and a visit to the Italian city of L’Aquila, could foreshadow a resignation announcement.
L’Aquila is associated with Pope Celestine V, who resigned the papacy in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited the city four years before he resigned in 2013, the first pope to do so in about 600 years.
But Francis, alert and at ease throughout the interview as he discussed a wide range of international and Church issues, laughed the idea off.
“All of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” he said. “But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no. Really!”
Francis did, however, repeat his often-stated position that he might resign someday if failing health made it impossible for him to run the Church — something that had been almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
Asked when he thought that might be, he said: “We don’t know. God will say.”
The interview took place on the day he was to have left for Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a trip he had to cancel because doctors said he might also have to miss a trip to Canada from July 24-30 unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee.
He said the decision to cancel the Africa trip had caused him “much suffering,” particularly because he wanted to promote peace in both countries.
Francis used a cane as he walked into a reception room on the ground floor of the Santa Marta guest house where he has lived since his election in 2013, eschewing the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
The room has a copy of one of Francis’ favorite paintings: “Mary, Untier of Knots,” created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmidtner.
Asked how he was, the pope joked: “I’m still alive!”
He gave details of his ailment for the first time in public, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in the knee when he took a misstep while a ligament was inflamed.
“I am well, I am slowly getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture was knitting, helped by laser and magnet therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that a cancer had been found a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon because of diverticulitis, a condition common in the elderly.
“It (the operation) was a great success,” he said, adding with a laugh that “they didn’t tell me anything” about the supposed cancer, which he dismissed as “court gossip.”
But he said he did not want an operation on his knee because the general anesthetic in last year’s surgery had had negative side-effects.
Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there have been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to Moscow.
The initial signs were not good. No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he implicitly accused it of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression.”
When the Vatican first asked about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow replied that it was not the right time.
But he hinted that something may now have changed.
“I would like to go (to Ukraine), and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the Russian president gave me a small window to serve the cause of peace ...
“And now it is possible, after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine,” he said. “The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”
Asked about the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a woman’s right to have an abortion, Francis said he respected the decision but did not have enough information to speak about it from a juridical point of view.
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring a hit man.” The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.
“I ask: Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?”
Francis was asked about a debate in the United States over whether a Catholic politician who is personally opposed to abortion but supports others’ right to choose should be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion.
House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, has been barred by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco from receiving it there, but is regularly given communion at a parish in Washington, D.C. Last week, she received the sacrament at a papal Mass in the Vatican.
“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem,” the pope said. “That’s all I can say.”