Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Lviv, Ukraine August 18, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader

Ukraine’s Zelensky hosts talks with UN chief, Turkey leader
  • At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges
  • Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia

LVIV, Ukraine: Turkey’s president and the UN chief met with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Thursday in a high-stakes bid to ratchet down a war raging for nearly six months, boost desperately needed grain exports and secure Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant. But little progress was reported.
The gathering, held far from the front lines in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, near the Polish border, marked the first visit to Ukraine by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the outbreak of the war, and the second by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Erdogan has positioned himself as a go-between in efforts to stop the fighting. While Turkey is a member of NATO — which backs Ukraine in the war — its wobbly economy is reliant on Russia for trade, and it has tried to steer a middle course between the two combatants.
At the meetings, Turkey agreed to help rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, and Zelensky asked Guterres to seek UN access to Ukrainian citizens deported to Russia, according to the Ukrainian president’s website. Zelensky also requested UN help in freeing captured Ukrainian soldiers and medics.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, at least 17 people were killed and 42 wounded in heavy Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Ukrainian authorities said.
Russia’s military claimed that it struck a base for foreign mercenaries in Kharkiv, killing 90. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian side.
Heightening international tensions, Russia deployed warplanes carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, an enclave surrounded by two NATO countries, Lithuania and Poland.
The three leaders’ agenda included the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the complex, and the fighting has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Zelensky has demanded that Russian troops leave the plant and that a team from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency be allowed in.
Zelensky and the UN chief agreed Thursday on arrangements for an IAEA mission to the plant, according to the president’s website. But it was not immediately clear whether the Kremlin would consent to the proposed terms. As for a pullout of troops, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said that would leave the plant “vulnerable.”
Concerns about the plant mounted Thursday when Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of plotting to attack the site and then blame the other side.
Earlier this month, Erdogan met in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the fighting. And last month, Turkey and the UN helped broker agreements clearing the way for Ukraine to export 22 million tons of corn and other grain stuck in its Black Sea ports since Russia invaded Feb. 24. The agreements also sought to clear roadblocks to exports of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets.
The war has significantly worsened the global food crisis because Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain. Developing countries have been hit particularly hard by shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared several African nations in danger of famine.
Yet even with the deal, only a trickle of Ukrainian grain exports has made it out. Turkey said more than 622,000 tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports since the deal was reached.
At a news conference Thursday in Lviv, Guterres touted the success of the grain export agreements but added, “There is a long way to go before this will be translated into the daily life of people at their local bakery and in their markets.”
The discussions about an overall end to the war that has killed untold thousands and forced over 10 million Ukrainians to flee their homes were not expected to yield anything substantive.
In March, Turkey hosted talks in Istanbul between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, but the effort to end the hostilities failed, with the two sides blaming each other.
Erdogan has engaged in a delicate balancing act, maintaining good relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Turkey has provided Ukraine with drones, which have played a significant role in the fighting, but it has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war.
Turkey is facing a major economic crisis, with official inflation near 80 percent, and is increasingly dependent on Russia for trade and tourism. Russian gas covers 45 percent of Turkish energy needs, and Russia’s atomic agency is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank characterized Turkey’s diplomatic policy as being “pro-Ukraine without being anti-Russia.”
“Turkey believed that it did not have the luxury to totally alienate Russia,” Ulgen said.


India bans Islamic organization PFI for five years

Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)
Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamic organization PFI for five years

Indian police men stand guard in Srinagar. (AP)

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities on Wednesday declared the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates an “unlawful association” with immediate effect, banning it for five years.
This comes after the authorities detained scores of members of the Islamic organization on Tuesday and earlier in the month, accusing them of violence and anti-national activities.

 


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.


UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests
Updated 28 September 2022

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

UN calls on Iran to refrain from ‘disproportionate force’ against protests

WASHINGTON: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi not to use “disproportionate force” against protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young woman in morality police custody, his spokesman said Tuesday.
In a bilateral meeting last week during the UN General Assembly, Guterres “stressed to President Raisi the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” Dujarric said in a statement.
He said Guterres “calls on the security forces to refrain from using unnecessary or disproportionate force and appeals to all to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further escalation.”
He also called for a “prompt, impartial and effective investigation” into the death of Mahsa Amini, the young woman who died in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking nationwide protests that have left at least dozens of people dead.
Raisi on Saturday labelled the protests “riots” and urged “decisive action against the opponents of the security and peace of the country and the people,” his office said.


Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
Updated 28 September 2022

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000

Biden keeps US target for refugee admissions at 125,000
  • Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency

SAN DIEGO: President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the US Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
Biden raised the cap to four times that amount, but so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest,” Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the US Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis,” she said in a statement.


UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
Updated 28 September 2022

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders

UN says committed to Ukraine ‘integrity’ within ‘recognized’ borders
  • In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move

UNITED NATIONS, US: The UN reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” on Tuesday, as pro-Moscow authorities in several parts of the war-torn nation claimed victory in annexation votes condemned internationally as a sham.
“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
Addressing the meeting by video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once more denounced the ballots hastily organized in Russian-occupied regions — Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
“There’s a very cynical attempt to force the male population in occupied territory of Ukraine to mobilize into the Russian army, in order to send them to fight against their own homelands,” he charged.
Taking aim at Russian leader Vladmir Putin, Zelensky warned that “annexation is the kind of move that puts him alone against the whole of humanity.”
“A clear signal is now needed from every country in the world,” he said.
In spite of Zelensky’s appeals, there is no chance of the Security Council — where Russia holds a veto — reaching a united stance on the annexation move.
Nevertheless, the United States intends to submit a resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” urging member states “not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obligating Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine,” said the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
China’s statements and vote on the resolution will be monitored closely for signals of any changes in its stance toward Russia, which it has yet to condemn over its invasion of Ukraine.
“Our position and proposition on how to view and handle the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun on Tuesday.
“That is, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected.”
In February, just after Moscow’s forces invaded, China chose to abstain on a resolution deploring the action, which was nonetheless vetoed by Russia.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s UN ambassador, made clear that Russia would wield its veto again, criticizing the move as “temper tantrums of the Western delegations.”
“The referendums were conducted exclusively transparently, with upholding of all the electoral norms,” Nebenzia argued, adding that the West’s only aim was to “weaken and bleed dry Russia as much as possible.”