Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs
The ‘Iuventa’, a rescue ship run by German NGO ‘Jugend Rettet’ (Youth Saves), sails off the Libyan coast during a rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs

Sicily judge weighs trial of migrant rescue NGOs
  • Trapani judge Samuele Corso must rule whether or not to proceed to trial after a five-year investigation mired in controversy
  • The charities are accused of coordinating their actions with smugglers just off Libya

ROME: Charities running migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean faced a pre-trial hearing in Sicily Saturday over alleged collusion with people traffickers after a controversial probe that involved mass wiretapping.
Twenty-one suspects, including crew members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Save the Children and German NGO Jugend Rettet rescue ships, are accused of “aiding and abetting unauthorized entry into Italy” in 2016 and 2017.
“Our crews rescued over 14,000 people in distress from unseaworthy and overcrowded boats... and are now facing 20 years in prison,” Kathrin Schmidt, who sailed with Jugend Rettet’s ship Iuventa, said ahead of the hearing.
Trapani judge Samuele Corso must rule whether or not to proceed to trial after a five-year investigation mired in controversy for the mass wiretapping of charity workers, lawyers and journalists in what critics say is a politically motivated bid to stop sea rescues.
Italy has long been on the front line of seaborne migration from Africa to Europe, with a record 180,000 arrivals in 2016, dropping to 120,000 in 2017.
It has registered some 17,000 arrivals so far this year, according to the interior ministry.
Prosecutor Brunella Sardoni told AFP she expected the preliminary hearings process to last “several months, considering the complexity” of a case file with some 30,000 pages and hundreds of CDs.
Corso set the date for the next hearing as June 7.
Supporters of the rescue charities held a sit-in at the port in Trapani featuring large paper boats bearing the date and location of shipwrecks, and the number of victims.
The charities are accused of coordinating their actions with smugglers just off Libya, returning inflatable dinghies and boats to them to be reused, and picking up people whose lives had not been in danger.
The rescuers say anyone attempting the central Mediterranean crossing to Europe — the “world’s deadliest” according to the UN — on rickety boats or unseaworthy dinghies is at risk, and should be saved.
At least 12,000 people have drowned on this route since 2014. Many shipwrecks go unrecorded.
The charities also deny ever communicating with smugglers, who are sometimes armed and can be spotted loitering near rescues in the hope of retrieving valuable engines from migrant boats.
Save the Children told AFP it “strongly rejects” the accusations, as did MSF, which slammed a “period of criminalization of humanitarian aid” it hoped would soon end.
The Iuventa was impounded in 2017 shortly after Jugend Rettet and others refused to sign a new and contentious interior ministry “code of conduct” accord, and as the European Union scaled up surveillance and policing in the Mediterranean.
“Despite the fact that mobile phones and computers were seized and analyzed, not a single contact with Libyan smugglers... has been found,” said Nicola Canestrini, lawyer for the Iuventa crew members.
Pre-trial hearings are held behind closed doors, but representatives from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Amnesty International have requested the judge allow them to sit in for transparency.
ECCHR senior legal adviser Allison West has condemned “improper investigative practices” in the investigation, led by a prosecutors’ office more used to exposing Mafia crimes.
The probe was launched after ex-policeman Pietro Gallo, working as a security contractor on Save the Children’s Vos Hestia ship, sent allegations against the charities in October 2016 to Italy’s secret services, Canestrini told AFP.
He and a fellow ex-policeman also sent them to the head of the anti-immigration League party, Matteo Salvini, before reporting their suspicions to the police.
Gallo has since said in an interview that he regrets it. Asked if he ever saw any contact between the charities and traffickers, he replied “no, never.”
The damage was done. Police placed an undercover agent on the Vos Hestia in May 2017, who would provide information including elements used to charge the four Iuventa crew members, Canestrini said. Those included alleged hand signals between the crew and smugglers.
Iuventa’s case has been studied by Forensic Architecture, an agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which uses advanced reconstruction techniques to investigate police, military and state facts.
It discredited the police theories for all three Iuventa rescues in question.


Bus falls into deep ravine in southwest Pakistan, killing 19

Bus falls into deep ravine in southwest Pakistan, killing 19
Updated 03 July 2022

Bus falls into deep ravine in southwest Pakistan, killing 19

Bus falls into deep ravine in southwest Pakistan, killing 19
  • Deadly road accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws

QUETTA: A passenger bus slid off a mountain road and fell into a deep ravine in heavy rain in southwest Pakistan on Sunday, killing 19 people and injuring 12 others, a government official said.
Mahtab Shah, assistant administrator for the district of Shirani in Baluchistan province, said about 35 passengers were traveling in the bus. He said rescue workers were searching for survivors in the wreckage of the destroyed vehicle and surroundings.
Shah said apparently the bus slid on the wet road amid heavy rain and the driver lost control of the vehicle, which fell about 200 feet (61 meters) into the ravine.
Deadly road accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws, as well as poorly maintained vehicles. Last month, 22 people were killed in a similar accident when a bus fell into a ravine in Qila Saifullah district.


Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine
Updated 03 July 2022

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine
  • At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy
  • Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine

At least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said, after reports of several blasts in the city.
At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.
Gladkov said earlier the “incident” was being investigated, adding, “Presumably, the air defense system worked.”
At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy, Gladkov said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the reports.
Belgorod, a city of nearly 400,000 some 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, is the administrative center of the Belgorod region.
Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of carrying out the strikes.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for previous attacks but has described the incidents as payback and “karma” for Russia’s invasion.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.


Fighting intensifies for Ukraine’s last bastion in eastern Luhansk province

A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk
A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk
Updated 03 July 2022

Fighting intensifies for Ukraine’s last bastion in eastern Luhansk province

A view shows an apartment building heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Luhansk
  • Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites

KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine: Fighting intensified on Saturday for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, while blasts shook a southern city after the civilian toll from Russian strikes climbed in towns well behind the front lines.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian television that “Lysychansk has been brought under control,” but added: “Unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.”
Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.
He said the situations in the Lysychansk and Bakhmut areas, as well as in Kharkiv region, were the most difficult on the entire front line.
“The goal of the enemy here remains access to the administrative border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Also, in the Sloviansk direction, the enemy is attempting assault actions,” he said.

Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the southern region of Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, reported powerful explosions in the city.
“Stay in shelters!” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
Authorities said a missile slammed into an apartment block near Odesa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit on Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, leaving at least 19 dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strikes on Friday as “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike.”
In his nightly television address on Saturday, he said it would be a “very difficult path” to victory but it was necessary for Ukrainians to maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the “aggressor ... so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken.”
“In many areas from the front, there is a sense of easing up, but the war is not over,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is intensifying in different places and we musn’t forget that. We must help the army, the volunteers, help those who are left on their own at this time.”
Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummelled residential areas.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov repeated Russian denials that its forces targeted civilians.
The Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation,” Russia’s defense ministry said, although it was not clear if he was in Ukraine.
The inspection followed slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in east Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
“Definitely they are trying to demoralize us. Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk.

HOUSES ‘BURNING DOWN’
Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city Sievierodonetsk last month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war that pounded whole districts into rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardment.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram shelling had stopped Lysychansk residents dousing fires and added: “Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one.”
Ukraine has appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned by the Russian military.

A war crimes prosecutor (C) and a rescuer (R) and a civil, look at a destroyed building after being hit by a missile strike in the Ukrainian town of Sergiyvka , near Odessa, killing at least 18 people and injuring 30, on July 1, 2022. (AFP)

Troops on a break from the fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv and asked not to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” the soldier said.
Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged into the ground in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.
The missile fell in a wooded area between residential tower blocks. Police and military cordoned off an area a few meters around the missile and told onlookers to stand back. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.
Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seed for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a big grain producer, denies it has caused the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.


Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest
Updated 03 July 2022

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest
  • If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms

ALMATY: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to curtail the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province following a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.
Friday’s rally was called to protest constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people — an ethnic minority group with its own language, Uzbek authorities said.
Police dispersed the protesters after some of them tried to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, following a march and a rally at the city’s central market, local and government officials said.
Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “in order to ensure the security of citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law and order” in the region.
Under the current Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakstan is described as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.
The new version of the constitution — on which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months — would no longer mention Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or right for secession.
But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said on Saturday during a visit to Karakalpakstan that the changes regarding its status must be dropped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.
Karakalpakstan’s government said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest, and several other protesters who had put up resistance.
The changes concerning Karakalpakstan were part of a broader constitutional reform proposed by Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.

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Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash
Updated 02 July 2022

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash
  • From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river

MANAUS: In Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, tons of stinking trash fill the canals and streams, giving one the feeling that they’re visiting a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

On the west side of the city, in a poor neighborhood where homes have been erected on stilts, a worker uses an excavator to scoop up a bucket-load of bottles, pieces of plastic and even home appliances that have been tossed in the water.

Not far from the city’s main port, municipal workers wearing orange uniforms gather garbage from a boat and pile it onto a big barge floating on the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon River’s main tributaries.

With the rising water levels signaling an end to the rainy season, the mounds of trash are often intermingled with leaves and tree branches.

Each day, nearly 30 tons of debris is plucked from the water. In some areas, the water is almost completely covered.

The massive influx of trash to Manaus’s waterways occurs around this time every year, but city authorities believe the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks.

From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river.

“The people who live on the water’s edge throw garbage straight into the streams... few people put it in the trash,” says Antonino Pereira, a 54-year-old Manaus resident who complains that the stench is unbearable.

According to the city’s undersecretary of sanitation, Jose Reboucas, if the population was more aware of the costs associated with littering, the city could save $190,000 per month.

“The awareness of the population will be very beneficial for our city and especially for our environment,” he said.

The Amazonian region is also facing a major threat from deforestation, with more than 3,750 square kilometers of jungle chopped down since the beginning of the year.