Sweden, Finland move closer to joining NATO; Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive

Sweden, Finland move closer to joining NATO; Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive
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In this May 19, 2022, photo, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö speaks about his country's' bid to join NATO while US President Joe Biden (L) and Sweden’s PM Magdalena Andersson (R) listen. (AFP)
Sweden, Finland move closer to joining NATO; Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive
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Ukrainian soldiers pack sandbags to be used as fortifications in the eastern Donetsk region on Aug. 3, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Sweden, Finland move closer to joining NATO; Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive

Sweden, Finland move closer to joining NATO; Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive
  • US, Italy approve Finland, Sweden accession to NATO
  • Strike force aimed at president’s hometown, says Ukraine

KYIV/WASHINGTON: Ukraine said Russia had started creating a military strike force aimed at President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, as NATO moved closer to the most significant expansion of the alliance in decades as it responds to the invasion of Ukraine.
The US Senate and the Italian parliament both approved on Wednesday Finland and Sweden’s accession to the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Under NATO membership, which must be ratified by all 30 member states, an attack on one member is an attack against all.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO.
NATO’s 30 allies signed the accession protocol last month, allowing them to join the US-led nuclear-armed alliance once its members ratify the decision.
Ratification could take up to a year.
Ukraine on Wednesday dismissed suggestions by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the five-month war and said any dialogue would be contingent on a Russian cease-fire and withdrawal of its troops.
Tentative attempts at peace talks in March went nowhere.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Thursday that Ukraine was seeking an opportunity to speak “directly” with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help end the war.
In an interview with SCMP, Zelensky urged China to use its political and economic influence over Russia to bring an end to the fighting.
“It’s a very powerful state. It’s a powerful economy … So (it) can politically, economically influence Russia. And China is (also a) permanent member of the UN Security Council,” the report quoted Zelensky as saying.

New southern offensive
Ukraine on Wednesday night said Russia was engaged in considerable military activity in the east, northeast and south of the country and warned that Moscow could be preparing new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.
Dmytro Zhyvytsky, governor of Sumy region on the border with Russia, said three towns had been shelled by Russian forces on Wednesday, with a total of 55 missiles fired. There were no injuries, but homes and commercial premises were damaged.
He said eight artillery shells hit residential parts of Krasnopilska community.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Russia denies it targets civilians, but many towns and cities have been destroyed and thousands of civilians killed in the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two. Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russian forces of war crimes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops in Ukraine in what he said was a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists. Ukraine and the West said Putin launched an unprovoked “imperial” land grab.
The war has sparked a global energy and food crisis. Russia and Ukraine produce about one third of global wheat and Russia is the main energy supplier to Europe.
An agreement between Moscow and Kyiv, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, to allow safe passage of grain ships from Ukraine has been hailed as a rare diplomatic success in the war.
The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain since the war started passed through the Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday.
The ship, Razoni, left Odesa on the Black Sea early on Monday carrying 26,527 tons of corn to the Lebanese port of Tripoli.
A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily following the Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said 17 more ships had been loaded with agricultural produce and were waiting to set sail.


Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
Updated 14 sec ago

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
  • Group of 50 Conservatives demands prime minister removes ‘loopholes’ in asylum law
  • Organization says returning trafficked people is likely to ‘deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again’

LONDON: A row is brewing in the UK after Amnesty International condemned a group of Conservative MPs who called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to return Albanian asylum-seekers to their home country — including those claiming to be victims of human trafficking.

The UK has witnessed a marked increase in the number of Albanians coming to the country in the past 12 months, with many who cross the English Channel in small boats claiming they have been trafficked, and are victims of modern slavery.

The group of more than 50 politicians said moves to expedite the process of deporting Albanians was necessary to dissuade migrants from making the journey from what, they said, was a safe country, and reduce significant backlogs in the UK’s asylum process.

In a letter to Sunak, the MPs said: “If they (asylum-seekers) have really been taken (to the UK) against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes.

“The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed.”

David Davis MP, one of the signatories, told Sky News: “The Home Office itself has not been interpreting the asylum laws correctly. The point is to turn the turnaround time for an Albanian landing on our shores from years to days or weeks.

“That’s the aim and we think it’s possible. If we don’t do it, the Home Office is never going to be able to cope with the number of applications. It’s already 420 days to get a decision. It’d be longer and longer.”

He added that fear of persecution by smugglers and criminal gangs should not enable people to claim asylum.

“I’m not scapegoating the individual Albanians. What I want to do is to close those loopholes,” he said.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International’s UK refugee and migrant rights program director, criticized Davis, telling The Guardian: “There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here.

“The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.

“It could be organized crime, or a blood feud. It can also be women who are persecuted by their own families. The question is whether the state is both able and willing to provide the protections that it is expected under international law to provide.”

He added: “Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned, but returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.


More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
Updated 28 November 2022

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
  • The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company
  • Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes

KOCHI, India: More than 80 people were wounded in southern India as villagers halting the construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation of a months-old protest waged by a mostly Christian fishing community against Asia’s richest man.

The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company which has been forced to stop work on the Vizhinjam seaport that is seen winning business from rivals in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Construction, however, has been halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the entrance of the site, blaming the port of causing coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihoods.

Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after they blocked Adani’s construction vehicles from entering the port, despite a court order for work to resume.

The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march on the police station, clash with personnel and damage vehicles there, according to police documents and footage on local television.

Senior local police official M R Ajith Kumar said 36 officers were wounded in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were also hurt.

Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by billionaire Adani, estimated by Forbes to be the world’s third richest man.

Asked about the latest protest, the Adani Group did not immediately comment. The company has said that the port complies with all laws and cited studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has also said that any erosion was due to natural causes.

The protests have continued despite repeated orders by the Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to start. Police have largely been unwilling to take any action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions.

In the latest clashes, police documents said the protesters “came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire.” Eugine H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and a protest leader, said the police pelted the protesters with stones.

The port protests recall the backlash Adani faced in Australia over his Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.