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.


Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
Updated 25 June 2022

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
  • Government hopes the 6.15 km-long bridge will boost economy
  • Padma Bridge may increase GDP by more than one percent, economist says

DHAKA: Bangladesh unveiled the largest infrastructure project in its history on Saturday.

The 6.15-kilometer Padma Bridge — which spans the river after which it was named — connects Dhaka to the country’s southern regions, slashing the distance between the capital and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers. Journeys that would previously have taken two to three days from the south of the country can now be completed in a few hours, according to Ahsan H. Monsur, executive director of the Dhaka-based Policy Research Institute.

The bridge cost an estimated $3.6 billion to build, all paid for with domestic funding. It will open to the public on Sunday, after an inauguration attended by thousands.  

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It showcases our passion, our creativity, our courage, our endurance, and our perseverance,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the ceremony in Mawa, about 34 kilometers southwest of Dhaka. 

“This bridge is built with the latest technology … The whole construction process has been completed while maintaining the highest standards,” Hasina added. 

More than 14,000 workers — including some foreign engineers — took part in the project, which is expected to spur economic growth in the country, as the government plans to build special economic and industrial zones in Bangladesh’s less-developed southern and southwestern region. 

“Now that the Padma Bridge has been established, we will have more special economic zones, industrial zones, factories and employment. We will be able to process crops and fish for export. It will put an end to our sorrows and change our fortunes,” Hasina said. 

Construction of the bridge began in November 2014. The construction faced several setbacks, including the World Bank pulling funding from the project over concerns about corruption.

That decision prompted other lending agencies, including the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project, leaving Bangladesh to build the bridge with its own funds. 

Monsur told Arab News that the bridge is an “iconic investment” for Bangladesh and that it would likely contribute to economic growth.

“People from the southern region are now easily connected with the capital and other regions. The return of this investment can’t be measured considering only financial indexes, it’s something beyond,” he said. 

“The country’s gross domestic product may see a growth of more than 1 percent due to the project’s launch,” Monsur continued. 

“Bangladesh built the bridge with self-financing and it has a high signaling value. We hope it will bring more foreign investment into the country.”


Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
Updated 25 June 2022

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
  • Investigation into the anti-drug campaign was suspended in November
  • Government said deadly crackdown was a ‘lawful operation’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said on Saturday that the president was “exasperated” by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and his plan to reopen a probe into the outgoing leader’s controversial anti-drug campaign.

Duterte, whose six-year rule ends June 30, initiated a controversial crackdown on drug suspects that international rights groups said involved systematic extrajudicial killings. According to official data, more than 6,200 Filipinos were killed in the campaign, but the ICC estimated that the death toll could be as high as 30,000. 

In September 2021, ICC judges authorized prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate allegations of crimes carried out by authorities waging Duterte’s drug war, but Khan’s probe was suspended at Manila’s request two months later. 

Khan said on Friday that he has asked judges to authorize a resumption of his investigation, saying in a statement that the deferral requested by the Philippine government “is not warranted” and that the probe should restart “as quickly as possible.” 

In a statement issued on Saturday, the outgoing administration described Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign as “hugely successful,” claiming that it resulted in a massive reduction in drug-related crimes. 

“For the nth time, we express exasperation at the latest request of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan,” presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said. 

Andanar added that the Duterte administration has launched investigations into “all deaths that have arisen from lawful drug enforcement operations,” adding that the ICC should let those investigations run their course. 

Khan’s request to reopen his investigation has been welcomed by human rights activists in the Philippines.

“The ICC prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippine government’s ‘drug war’ is a booster shot for accountability,” Maria Elena Vignoli, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said. 

The ICC has said that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign appeared to be “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” that could qualify as a crime against humanity. 

Amnesty International has urged the new government — led by president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who will be sworn into office next week — to cooperate with the investigation and “ensure the safety of families of victims and witnesses.” 

Amnesty International Philippines director, Butch Olano, said: “Six years on from the start of the ‘war on drugs,’ families of victims are another step closer to some form of justice.”


Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
  • Sajid Mir believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba
  • Militants killed more than 170 people in the attacks

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities confirmed on Saturday that the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was in their custody and sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of terrorism financing.

Sajid Mir has been on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head. He has been sought by the US and India for over a decade in connection to the Mumbai attacks in late November 2008, when militants killed more than 170 people, including six US nationals.

Mir is believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the attacks. According to the FBI's most-wanted list, he allegedly served as the “chief planner of the attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks.”

He was sentenced by a court in Lahore earlier this month to 15-and-a-half years in prison and is serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat jail.

“The sentencing in a TF (terrorism financing) case is confirmed,” Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, spokesperson for the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News.

Mir was indicted by an Illinois court in April 2011 and his arrest warrant was issued the same month. The court charged him with “conspiracy to injure property of foreign government; providing material support to terrorists; killing a citizen outside of the U.S. and aiding and abetting; and bombing of places of public use.”

In Pakistan, his sentencing is seen as being connected to government efforts to get off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list.

In June 2018, the global watchdog downgraded Pakistan to its increased monitoring list for lacking measures to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.

During its plenary meeting last week, the FATF kept Pakistan on its grey list but said an onsite inspection — expected in October — could verify the country’s progress in fulfilling the watchdog’s action plan and lead to the removal of the designation.

“This issue rather became a major sticking point in FATF’s assessment of Pakistan’s progress on the action plan late last year. This was where things finally started moving in Mir’s case,” Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported on Saturday. “His conviction and sentencing were, therefore, major achievements that Pakistani officials showcased in their progress report given to FATF on its action plan during the latest plenary.”

Being on the FATF grey list severely restricts a country’s international borrowing capabilities. Exiting it is likely to increase foreign inflows, specifically direct investment, into Pakistan, which desperately needs funds amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

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Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’
Updated 25 June 2022

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

Biden signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’
  • "Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved,” Biden said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House
  • Citing the families of shooting victims he has met, the president said, "Their message to us was, ‘Do something’”

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise that seemed unimaginable until a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
“Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved,” he said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Citing the families of shooting victims he has met, the president said, “Their message to us was, ‘Do something.’ How many times did we hear that? ‘Just do something. For God’s sake, just do something.’ Today we did.”
The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday, and Biden acted just before leaving Washington for two summits in Europe.
“Today we say, ‘More than enough,’” Biden said. “It’s time, when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”
The legislation will toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
The president called it “a historic achievement.”
Most of its $13 billion cost will help bolster mental health programs and aid schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere in mass shootings.
Biden said the compromise hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators from both parties “doesn’t do everything I want” but “it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.”
“I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never going to give up, but this is a monumental day,” said the president, who was joined by his wife, Jill, a teacher, for the signing.
After sitting to sign the bill, Biden sat reflectively for a moment, then murmured, “God willing, this is gonna save a lot of lives.”
He also said they will host an event on July 11 for lawmakers and families affected by gun violence. The president spoke of families “who lost their souls to an epidemic of gun violence. They lost their child, their husband, their wife. Nothing is going to fill that void in their hearts. But they led the way so other families will not have the experience and the pain and trauma that they had to live through.”
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday striking down a New York law that restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons. And Saturday’s ceremony came less than 24 hours after the high court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which had legalized abortion nationwide for nearly five decades.
“Yesterday, I spoke about the Supreme Court’s shocking decision striking down Roe v. Wade,” Biden said. “Jill and I know how painful and devastating the decision is for so many Americans. I mean so many Americans.”
He noted that the abortion ruling leaves enforcement up to the states, some of which have already moved to ban abortion or will soon do so. Biden said his administration will “focus on how they administer it and whether or not they violate other laws, like deciding to not allow people to cross state lines to get health services.”
Asked by reporters about whether the Supreme Court was broken, Biden said, “I think the Supreme Court has made some terrible decisions.” He walked away without answering more questions, noting, ” “I have a helicopter waiting for me to take off.”
While the new gun law does not include tougher restrictions long championed by Democrats, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and background checks for all firearm transactions, it is the most impactful gun violence measure produced by Congress since enactment a long-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.
Enough congressional Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the steps after recent rampages in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks but senators emerged with a compromise.
Biden signed the bill just before departing Washington for a summit of the Group of Seven leading economic powers — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — in Germany. He will travel later to Spain for a NATO meeting.


Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
Updated 25 June 2022

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions

Afghan escape relatives barred from UK family reunions
  • UK government cites housing shortages as former Afghan allies denied chance to reunite with families

LONDON: British ministers have been accused of failing to honor their promises to Afghan refugees by refusing to accommodate their family members.

About 12,000 Afghan refugees are still living in hotels paid for by the British taxpayer as ministers blame a housing shortage for the delay.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last year, the UK government told refugees that their family members would be allowed to join them once they were evacuated.

But The Times newspaper said that 10 months after the collapse of Kabul, about 6,500 refugees were still blocked from joining family members in the UK because they had yet to be granted refugee status.

The newspaper quoted government sources saying that ministers were forced to adjust the policy of family reunion because the average family size of those involved is 6.7, and regulations on housing rules meant that bigger homes were needed to shelter them.

By contrast, the average household size in Britain is three, and much of local government housing is developed around this figure.

Hossain Saeedi, 37, told The Times that he was evacuated with his wife and children, but his request to bring in his ex-wife, who is mother to his son, was denied.

He said: “The cases of Afghan family reunion have been overshadowed by the new scheme for Ukrainian refugees.”

The 6,500 Afghans barred from refugee status were brought in on the Home Office’s Pathway 1 scheme. In September, the government indicated that family members would be allowed to join other refugees, but has failed to demonstrate how this would be achieved.

The Home Office said that the 6,500 evacuees from Afghanistan who were unable to travel with their relatives would be given “options” for rejoining them “in due course.”

“Around 6,500 people were brought to safety in the UK during and after the Afghanistan evacuation who are eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme and received leave to remain under Pathway 1. While they do not hold refugee status, those who were evacuated were able to bring their immediate family members, including spouse or partner and children under 18 years old,” the government said.

The delay in reuniting families comes as a letter by several leading charity figures accused the government of treating Afghans unfairly compared with Ukrainians, who have received two visa schemes for reuniting family members, warning that this could have severe consequences on their mental health.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of Amnesty International, British Red Cross, Oxfam, Refugee Council, Safe Passage, Student Action for Refugees, UNHCR and Voices Network, said: “Ten months later these families remain separated. This is despite the government indicating, as long ago as September 2021, that family members would be eligible to join people who had been evacuated.

“Prolonged separation is distressing for families and can have a severe impact on mental health.

“We saw how the government acted to bring Ukrainian families together through the Ukraine Family Scheme. They must now act with the same urgency to safely reunite Afghan evacuees with their loved ones.”