Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
Flags of Ukraine and European Union wave at European Square in Kyiv on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes

Ukrainians cheer nation’s EU candidacy amid wartime woes
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country's candidate status
  • “Thank you to our soldiers - they won this decision," Yatsenyuk tweeted

KYIV: The European Union’s decision to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership offered war-weary Ukrainians a morale boost and hope of a more secure future Friday as the country’s military ordered its fighters to retreat from a key city in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the decision of EU leaders as vindication for his nation’s fight against Russia’s aggression and said he was determined to ensure Ukraine retained the ability to decide if belonged in Europe or under Moscow’s influence.
“This war began just when Ukraine declared its right to freedom. To its choice of its future. We saw it in the European Union,” Zelensky told the nation in a televised address late Thursday. “That is why this decision of the EU is so important, motivates us and shows all this is needed not only by us.”
Others recalled the 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, sparked in part by his decision not to complete an association agreement with the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin had opposed the agreement, just as he demanded before he sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader who became prime minister after the revolution, expressed joy at the country’s candidate status but also “bitterness” over the “terrible price that Ukraine pays for the desire to be a free, independent European state.”
“Thank you to our soldiers — they won this decision,” Yatsenyuk tweeted. “Ukraine is a great country that will inevitably become a member of the EU and, just as inevitably, a member of NATO.”
Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after Russia invaded the country and must undergo a complicated process of many months to be eligible to join the 27-nation bloc.
The EU also granted candidate status to the small nation of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine and also has territory controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday called the decision “internal European affairs” that shouldn’t complicate already difficult regional dynamics.
“It is very important for us that all these processes do not bring more problems to us and more problems in the relations of the countries mentioned with us. There are enough of these problems anyway,” Peskov said.
In Pokrovsk, a small town close to the four-month-old war’s frontline in eastern Ukraine, few resident wanted to share their thoughts on EU candidacy as they hurried to collect their daily aid handouts. Those who did said the decision would send a strong message to the Russians trying to seize cities and villages a few miles away.
“The next stop is NATO. There is no way back now. I was born during the USSR, but there is no return (to that)” Pokrovsk resident Valerii Terentyev said. “Ukraine wanted a different thing, and in my opinion it is the right thing.”
The chairman of Ukraine’s parliament said that a path toward EU membership would remind the country’s soldiers that their fight is worth the hardship and won international admiration.
“This is a powerful political message. It will be heard by soldiers in the trenches, every family that was forced to flee the war abroad, everyone who helps bring our victory closer. But it will also be heard in the bunker,” Stefanchuk said.
Encouragement aside, the reality remains that the European Union sometimes is long on words of solidary and support but short on the kind of concerted action that might deter outside threats, even though a treaty obligates EU countries to assist a fellow member facing armed aggression.
To gain EU membership, countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles. The EU’s executive arm has indicated that Ukraine also will have to curb entrenched corruption and adopt other government reforms.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the EU’s embrace of Ukraine was “an important symbolic signal, but it’s the beginning of the beginning.”
Some Ukrainians understood that their country still has much to do in order to meet the tough membership criteria.
“We still need to grow” resident Yevhen Zaitsev said. “There is much corruption. There are a lot of lies“
While the EU fast-tracked its consideration of Ukraine’s application for membership, the ongoing war could complicate the country’s ability to fulfill the entry criteria. Russian forces in recent weeks have slowly advanced in their offensive to capture the Donbas region, where pro-Russia separatists have controlled much of the territory for eight years.
Ukrainian forces were ordered to retreat from the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian-held areas of Luhansk province, to avoid being completely surrounded.
The city has faced relentless Russian bombardment while Ukrainian troops fought the Russians in house-to-house battles before retreating to a huge chemical factory on the city’s edge.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said the retreat order was given to prevent encirclement by Russian forces that made gains around Sievierodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lysychansk in recent days.


Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
Updated 13 sec ago

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
  • Despite warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing celebrated in the streets of Uman
  • Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman in which he promised he would ‘save (worshippers) from hell’ if they came to visit his tomb
UMAN, Ukraine: Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in the Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage, officials said Sunday, despite authorities asking them to skip the trip because of the war.
Every year, Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from across the world to visit the tomb of one of the main figures of Hasidic judaism for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The central Ukrainian city of Uman is relatively far from the frontline, but Ukrainian and Israeli authorities urged worshippers to skip the celebrations taking place between September 25 and 27 this year.
But despite the warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing gathered in Uman, celebrating in the streets.
“This is the most important day of the year to be able to connect with God. And this a great place to do it,” one pilgrim, Aaron Allen, told AFP.
Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman, the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement who died in the city in 1810, in which he promised he would “save (worshippers) from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashana.
“There were sirens, but coming from Israel we are used to sirens, we know what to do. We feel pretty safe,” said Allen, a 48-year-old doctor from Yad Binyamin.
Police set up a wide perimeter to access the area around the grave, checking IDs and only letting through residents and Hasidim.
It was forbidden to sell not only alcohol, fireworks and firecrackers, but even toy guns during the festivities in Uman, regional police spokeswoman Zoya Vovk told AFP.
A curfew between 11 p.m. (20 GMT) and 5 am is also in place.
Despite the restrictions, the shrine housing the tomb was buzzing with celebrations on Sunday.
Pilgrims — only men and boys — were praying, pressed against the white walls and columns of the burial place.
Outside the temple, a simultaneous prayer from hundreds of pilgrims resonated.
Police will not release the exact number of pilgrims until the end of the festivities for fear of attacks from Russia.
“We understand that there is a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the enemy is monitoring information,” Zoya Vovk told AFP.
“The only thing I can say is tens of thousands (of pilgrims have already arrived),” she added, however.
The United Jewish Community of Ukraine NGO said that more than 23,000 pilgrims had arrived in Uman.
Uman in central Ukraine has been hit several times by Russian strikes since the invasion began on February 24.

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.


Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
Updated 25 September 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
  • The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone

KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.


Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
Updated 25 September 2022

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
  • Two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy
  • No damage was caused

ATHENS: A Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown against the Iranian embassy in Athens on Sunday, Athens News Agency reported.
According to Greek police, at around 1:00 am local time (2200 GMT on Saturday), two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy where it exploded.
No damage was caused.
On Saturday afternoon, around 200 people gathered at Syntagma Square in downtown Athens to denounce Iran’s crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s notorious morality police.
Iranian women cut their hair in a gesture of solidarity with Amini, brandishing placards reading “say her name!.”


Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague
Updated 25 September 2022

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague

Rwanda genocide ‘financier’ trial to open in The Hague
  • Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century

THE HAGUE: Alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga will go on trial in The Hague on Thursday, one of the last key suspects in the 1994 ethnic slaughter that devastated the small central African nation.
Kabuga’s trial will open at 0800 GMT before a UN tribunal, where he has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacres 28 years ago of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Prosecutors and the defense are expected to make their opening statements on Thursday and Friday, with evidence in the case to start the following Wednesday.
Kabuga’s lawyers entered a not guilty plea to the charges at a first appearance in 2020.
Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, prosecutors say the octogenarian allegedly helped set up hate media that urged ethnic Hutus to “kill Tutsi cockroaches” and funded militia groups in 1994.
Now in his mid-80s, Kabuga was arrested in France in May 2020 after evading police in several countries for the last quarter of a century.
He was then transferred to the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague, set up to complete the work of the now defunct Rwanda war crimes tribunal.
Said to be in fragile health, Kabuga in August appeared before the judges in a wheelchair — and it was not known whether he’ll be in court on Thursday as judges are permitting him to attend the hearings via a video link.
Kabuga was originally scheduled to appear in court in Arusha, where the other arm of the IRMCT — also referred at as the MICT — resides, but judges had ruled he would remain in The Hague “until otherwise decided.”
In June, the judges denied a defense objection, ruling Kabuga was indeed fit to stand trial.

The UN says 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in 1994 in a 100-day rampage that shocked the world.
An ally of Rwanda’s then-ruling party, Kabuga allegedly helped create the Interahamwe Hutu militia group and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
The radio station also identified the hiding places of Tutsis where they were later killed, prosecutors said in the indictment.
More than 50 witnesses are expected to appear for the prosecution, which said they needed about 40 hours to wrap up their case.
Prosecutors said Kabuga controlled and encouraged RTLM’s content and defended the station when the minister of information criticized the broadcasts.
Kabuga is also accused of “distributing machetes” to genocidal groups, and ordering them to kill Tutsis.
Later fleeing Rwanda, Kabuga spent years on the run using a succession of false passports.
Investigators say he was helped by a network of former Rwandan allies to evade justice.
Following his arrest in a small apartment near Paris, his lawyers argued that Kabuga, whose age is now given as 87 on the indictment, should face trial in France for health reasons.
But France’s top court ruled he should be moved to UN custody, in line with an arrest warrant issued in 1997.
Kabuga is one of the last top wanted suspects for the Rwandan genocide to face justice.
Others, including the man seen as the architect of the genocide, Augustin Bizimana, and former presidential guard commander Protais Mpiranya have both died.
Victims of the genocide have called for a swift trial for Kabuga saying “if he dies before facing justice, he would have died under the presumption of innocence.”