Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
In this image taken from video provided by the RU-RTR Russian television on Tuesday, smoke rises over the site of explosion at an ammunition storage of Russian army near the village of Mayskoye, Crimea. (AP)
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Updated 17 August 2022

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks

Russia replaces Black Sea fleet chief after Crimea setbacks
  • Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday
  • Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it

KYIV/LONDON: Russia has replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, a state news agency reported on Wednesday.
This comes after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014 and had previously seen as a secure rear base for its war in Ukraine.
Moscow blamed saboteurs for blasts that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday. Plumes of smoke were later seen rising at a second Russian military base in central Crimea, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said.
Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility but has hinted at it. The apparent Ukrainian capability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory, either with some form of weapon or with sabotage, indicates a shift in the conflict. Blasts destroyed warplanes at a Russian naval air base in Crimea last week.
On Wednesday, Russia’s RIA news agency cited sources as saying the commander of its Black Sea fleet, Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new chief, Viktor Sokolov.
If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most prominent sackings of a military official so far in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in men and equipment.
State-owned RIA cited the sources as saying the new chief was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, has suffered several humiliations since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine — which Moscow terms a “special military operation” — on Feb. 24.
In April, Ukraine struck its flagship, the Moskva, a huge cruiser, with Neptune missiles. It became the biggest warship to be sunk in combat for 40 years.

CRUCIAL SUPPLY ROUTE
Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has extensively fortified since then, provides the main supply route for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in coming weeks.
Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement that after the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces had urgently moved there some of their planes and helicopters deeper into the peninsula and to airfields inside Russia. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Ukrainians to steer clear of Russian military bases and ammunition stores and said the explosions could have various causes, including incompetence.
“But they all mean the same thing — the destruction of the occupiers’ logistics, their ammunition, military and other equipment, and command posts, saves the lives of our people,” he said in an evening address on Tuesday.
On Wednesday Russia’s FSB security service said it had detained six members of what it called an Islamist terrorist cell in Crimea, though it did not say if they were suspected of involvement in the explosions.
The Black Sea fleet has also blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of the war, trapping vital grain exports, which are only now starting to move again under an agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Another three ships left Ukraine on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministry said on its Facebook page.
“This morning, three ships with Ukrainian food products left the ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa... More than 33,000 tons of agricultural products are on board,” it said.

’WHERE SHOULD WE GO’
The war has caused millions to flee, killed thousands and deepened a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia, which says the aim of its operation is to demilitarise its neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities.
Ukraine, which broke free of Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, accuses Russia of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting, said early on Wednesday that two civilians were killed and seven wounded in shelling by Russian forces in the past 24 hours.
The Ukrainian government has ordered mass evacuations in Donetsk, but for one couple on a small farm near the city of Kramatorsk leaving was not an option.
“Grandmother cannot be transported – she is almost 100 years old,” Nataliia Ataiantz, 47, said as she checked on the elderly woman. For her husband, Oleksandr, the idea of leaving was “scary.”
“Our parents are buried here. And this is our land too ... where should we go, to foreign country?” he said.


Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs
Updated 06 December 2022

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

Students protest campus lockdown as China eases Covid curbs

BEJING: Students protested against a lockdown at a university in eastern China, highlighting continued anger as huge numbers of people across the country still face restrictions despite the government easing its zero-Covid policy.
Some Chinese cities have begun tentatively rolling back mass testing and curbs on movement following nationwide anti-lockdown demonstrations last week.
But analysts at Japanese firm Nomura on Monday calculated that 53 cities — home to nearly a third of China’s population — still had some restrictions in place.
China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother the rallies, deploying a heavy police presence while boosting online censorship and surveillance.
Videos published on social media Tuesday and geolocated by AFP show a crowd of students at Nanjing Tech University on Monday night shouting demands to leave the campus.
“Your power is given to you by students, not by yourselves,” one person can be heard shouting in the footage. “Serve the students!“
A third-year student who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the protest took place, a day after the school announced it would seal off the campus for five days because of just one Covid case.
Chinese universities have restricted movement for months, with many requiring students to apply for permission to leave the campus and banning visitors.
The Nanjing Tech student told AFP her peers were unhappy about poor communication from the university and worried they would be blocked from traveling home for the winter holidays.
In the footage, the crowd can be seen arguing with university representatives and shouting for school leaders to step down.
“If you touch us you will become the second Foxconn!” one protester yells in reference to violent demonstrations last month in central China at a factory run by the Taiwanese tech giant that supplies Apple.
Other clips showed a police car arriving on the scene and university officials promising students they would compile their complaints in a file.
The Nanjing protest comes days after people took to the streets in multiple Chinese cities urging an end to the zero-Covid policy, with some even calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
Hundreds gathered at Beijing’s elite Tsinghua and Peking universities at the end of last month as well as on campuses in the cities of Xi’an, Guangzhou and Wuhan.


Authorities have cracked down on subsequent efforts to protest while appearing to answer some demands by easing a number of restrictions.
On Tuesday Beijing said offices and commercial buildings including supermarkets would no longer require visitors to show proof of a negative test.
Major businesses and organizers of large-scale events will be allowed to devise their own testing requirements, authorities said.
Xie Shangguang, a 22-year-old student in Beijing, welcomed the changes as “good news” and told AFP he felt the capital was “coming back to life.”
“I have the impression that it will gradually ease up,” he said. “You can’t let everything go at once, or block everything at once, you have to proceed step by step.”
Another Beijing resident, 28-year-old Wu Siqi, also said the loosening should be incremental.
“You can’t just suddenly tell people they don’t need to do anything,” she said.
A host of other cities including Shanghai have dialled down mass testing mandates in recent days.
In the southern city of Guangzhou, officials began telling people to stay home if they have symptoms — a sharp about-turn from the previous approach of dragging all positive cases to central quarantine facilities.


Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis
Updated 06 December 2022

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis

Rwanda says international community not helping Congo crisis
  • Congolese Tutsi group resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, setting off a crisis in eastern DRC

KIGALI: Rwanda’s foreign minister has accused the international community of exacerbating the crisis the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, after Washington pressed Kigali to end its alleged support for rebels in the restive region.
In a call to Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said foreign support for armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) must end, “including Rwanda’s assistance to M23.”
Rwanda has denied repeated US-backed accounts of support for the M23 rebel group, an allegation also made by independent experts for the UN who found that Kigali was aiding and abetting the group.
The mostly Congolese Tutsi group resumed fighting in late 2021 after lying dormant for years, setting off a crisis in eastern DRC.
Rwanda’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, said Kagame and Blinken “had good discussions... but differences in understanding of the issue remain.”
“The wrong and misguided approach of the international community continues to exacerbate the problem,” Biruta said in a statement late Monday.
“External interference and dictates” were undermining regional diplomatic efforts to solve the problem, he added.
Rwanda has repeatedly put the blame for DRC’s crisis with its government in Kinshasa, and accuses the international community of turning a blind eye to its support for FDLR, a Congo-based rebel group pitted against Kigali.
Biruta said “the security concerns of Rwanda need to be addressed, and where others may not feel obliged to, Rwanda is and will continue to do so.”
“M23 should not be equated to Rwanda. It is not Rwanda’s problem to solve,” he added.
Talks between DRC and Rwanda in the Angolan capital Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23 but Kinshasa has subsequently accused M23 of massacring civilians despite the cease-fire.
The agreement should have also have been followed by a pullout by the M23 from territory it had seized, but this has not happened.
A separate peace initiative in Nairobi between East African officials and various rebel factions active in eastern Congo — but not the M23 — has been under way for over a week.


Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif
Updated 06 December 2022

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif

Roadside bomb kills 7 in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif
  • Tuesday’s blast happened near Sayed Abad Square

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan: A roadside bomb killed seven petroleum company employees aboard a bus in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, a provincial police spokesman said.
“The bomb was placed in a cart by the roadside. It was detonated as the bus arrived,” said Asif Waziri, of the Balkh police department in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Although the Taliban claim to have improved security across the nation since storming back to power in August last year, there have been scores of bomb blasts and attacks — many claimed by the local chapter of the Daesh group.
At least 19 people were killed and 24 others wounded earlier this month by a blast at a madrassa in Aybak, southeast of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Waziri told AFP Tuesday’s blast happened around 7:00 am (0230 GMT) near Sayed Abad Square in the city.
He said six people were injured in the blast.
Further details were not immediately available, and there has been no claim of responsibility.


Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings
Updated 06 December 2022

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

Beijing no longer requires COVID test results to enter supermarkets, buildings

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing no longer requires people that enter supermarkets and commercial buildings to show negative COVID-19 tests on their mobile phones, the city government said in a statement on Tuesday.
However, the city still requires negative test results to enter Internet cafes, schools, bars, KTV lounges, indoor gyms and elderly care institutions.

 


North Korea orders new artillery firings over South’s drills

People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
Updated 06 December 2022

North Korea orders new artillery firings over South’s drills

People watch a report on North Korea's artillery firings, at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea 05 December 2022. (EPA)
  • Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border
  • South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea’s military says it has ordered frontline units to conduct artillery firings into the sea for the second consecutive day in a tit-for-tat response to South Korean live-fire drills in an inland border region.
The statement by the North Korean People’s Army’s General Staff came a day after the North fired about 130 artillery rounds into waters near its western and eastern sea boundaries with South Korea in the latest military action raising tensions between the rivals. An unidentified North Korean military spokesperson said the planned artillery firings Tuesday were meant as a warning to the South after the North detected signs of South Korean artillery exercises in the border region.
The South Korean army is conducting live-fire exercises involving multiple rocket launching systems and howitzers in two separate testing grounds in the Cheorwon region, which began on Monday and continues through Wednesday.
North Korea’s military said Monday that it instructed its western and eastern coastal units to fire artillery as a warning after it detected dozens of South Korean projectiles flying southeast from the Cheorwon region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said those North Korean shells fired fell within the northern side of buffer zones created under a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce military tensions and urged the North to abide by the agreement.
It was the first time North Korea has fired weapons into the maritime buffer zones since Nov. 3, when around 80 artillery shells landed within North Korea’s side of the zone off its eastern coast.
North Korea has fired dozens of missiles as it increased its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, including multiple tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile system potentially capable of reaching deep into the US mainland, and an intermediate-range missile launched over Japan.
North Korea has also conducted a series of short-range launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets in an angry reaction to an expansion of joint US-South Korea military exercises that North Korea views as rehearsals for a potential invasion.
Experts say North Korea hopes to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength and force the United States to accept it as a nuclear power. South Korean officials have said North Korea might up the ante soon by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017.