Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness
People carrying luggage walk past a long line of vehicles with Russian license plates at the customs checkpoint between Georgia and Russia on Sept. 25, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness
  • Putin's partial mobilization order is also triggering protests in Russia, with new anti-war demonstrations on Sunday

KYIV, Ukraine: Russia’s rush to mobilize hundreds of thousands of recruits to staunch stinging losses in Ukraine is a tacit acknowledgement that its “army is not able to fight,” Ukraine’s president said Sunday, as splits sharpened in Europe over whether to welcome or turn away Russians fleeing the call-up.
Speaking to US broadcaster CBS, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said he’s bracing for more Russian strikes on Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure, as the Kremlin seeks to ramp up the pressure on Ukraine and its Western backers as the weather gets colder. Zelensky warned that this winter “will be very difficult.”
“They will shoot missiles, and they will target our electric grid. This is a challenge, but we are not afraid of that.” he said on “Face the Nation.”
He portrayed the Russian mobilization — its first such call-up since World War II — as a signal of weakness, not strength, saying: “They admitted that their army is not able to fight with Ukraine anymore.”
Zelensky also said Ukraine has received NASAMS air defense systems from the US NASAMS uses surface-to-air missiles to track and shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft. Zelensky did not say how many Ukraine received.
Although the European Union is now largely off limits to most Russians, with direct flights stopped and its land borders increasingly closed to them, an exodus of Russian men fleeing military service is creating divisions among European officials over whether they should be granted safe haven.
The partial mobilization is also triggering protests in Russia, with new anti-war demonstrations on Sunday.
In Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus, police fired warning shots to try to disperse more than 100 people who blocked a highway while protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up, Russian media reported.
Dozens of women chanted “No to war!” in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala on Sunday. Videos of the protests showed women in head scarves chasing police away from the rally and standing in front of police cars carrying detained protesters, demanding their release.

Women also protested in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, chanting “No to genocide!” and marching in a circle around police, who later dragged some away or forced them into police vans, according to videos shared by Russian media.
At least 2,000 people have been arrested in recent days for similar demonstrations around Russia. Many of those taken away have immediately received a call-up summons.
Unconfirmed Russian media reports that the Kremlin might soon close Russian borders to men of fighting age are fueling panic and prompting more to flee.
German officials have voiced a desire to help Russian men deserting military service and have called for a European-wide solution. Germany has held out the possibility of granting asylum to deserters and those refusing the draft.
In France, senators are arguing that Europe has a duty to help and warned that not granting refuge to fleeing Russians could play into Putin’s hands, feeding his narrative of Western hostility to Russia.
“Closing our frontiers would fit neither with our values nor our interests,” a group of more than 40 French senators said.
Yet other EU countries are adamant that asylum shouldn’t be offered to Russian men fleeing now — when the war has moved into its eighth month. They include Lithuania, which borders Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic Sea exclave. Its foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, tweeted: “Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin.”
His counterpart in Latvia, also an EU member bordering Russia, said the exodus poses “considerable security risks” for the 27-nation bloc and that those fleeing now can’t be considered conscientious objectors since they did not act when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Many “were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then,” the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, tweeted. He added that they still have “plenty of countries outside EU to go.”
Finland also said it intends to “significantly restrict” entry to Russians entering the EU through its border with Russia. A Finnish opposition leader, Petteri Orpo, said fleeing Russian military reservists were an “obvious” security risk and “we must put our national security first.”
Russia is pressing on with its call-up of hundreds of thousands of men, seeking to reverse recent losses. Without control of the skies over Ukraine, Russia is also making increasing use of suicide drones from Iran, with more strikes reported Sunday in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.
For Ukrainian and Russian military planners, the clock is ticking, with the approach of winter expected to make fighting much more complicated. Already, rainy weather is bringing muddy conditions that are starting to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weapons, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Sunday.
But the think-tank said Ukrainian forces are still gaining ground in their counteroffensive, launched in late August, that has rolled back the Russian occupation across large areas of the northeast and which also prompted Putin’s new drive for reinforcements.
The Kremlin said its initial aim is to add about 300,000 troops to its invasion force, which is struggling with equipment losses, mounting casualties and weakening morale. The mobilization marks a sharp shift from Putin’s previous efforts to portray the war as a limited military operation that wouldn’t interfere with most Russians’ lives.
The mobilization is running hand-in-hand with Kremlin-orchestrated votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine that could pave the way for their imminent annexation by Russia.
Ukraine and its Western allies say the referendums in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south and the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions have no legal validity, not least because many tens of thousands of their people have fled. They also call them a “sham.” Some footage has shown armed Russian troops going door-to-door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.
The voting ends Tuesday and there’s little doubt it will be declared a success by the Russian occupiers. The main questions then will be how soon Putin’s regime will annex the four regions and how that will complicate the war.
 


Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
Updated 26 November 2022

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
  • China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns
  • Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night

Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!,” pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many Internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID-19 measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame-the-victim” attitude would make people angrier. “Public trust will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero COVID-19 policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a COVID-19 quarantine bus.
“Is there not something we can reflect on to make some changes,” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero COVID-19 policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.


Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
Updated 56 min 40 sec ago

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
  • Shooting the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began when Iman Khan was ousted
  • Rally takes place on a vast open ground between Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is expected on Saturday to address thousands of supporters at his first public appearance since being shot earlier this month in an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor.
The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Saturday’s rally is the climax of a so-called “long march” by Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to press the government to call a snap election before parliament’s term expires in October next year.
“My life is in danger, and despite being injured I am going to Rawalpindi for the nation,” PTI quoted Khan as saying in a morning tweet.
“My nation will come to Rawalpindi for me.”
On Saturday, a video was circulating of aides posing with a now-removed blue cast that Khan wore on his right leg after the shooting.
The rally will take place on a vast open ground between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi — the garrison city that is home to the headquarters of the country’s powerful military.
Authorities have thrown a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent Khan’s supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
Khan-led protests in May spiraled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
Police said any attempt by PTI supporters to enter Islamabad this time would be firmly dealt with.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah — who Khan says was involved in the assassination plot — issued a “red alert” Friday warning of security threats to the rally.
“PTI still has the time (to cancel),” he said, listing Pakistan’s Taliban and Al Qaeda among the extremist groups that could harm Khan.
The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone wolf now in custody, with police leaking a “confession” video by the junk-shop owner saying he acted because Khan was against Islam.
But Khan, a former international cricket star with a playboy reputation before he married, said he has long warned the government would blame a religious fanatic for any attempt to kill him.
Saturday’s rally takes place two days after the government named a former spymaster as the next military chief.
General Syed Asim Munir’s appointment ended months of speculation over a position long considered the real power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.
Munir served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency under Khan, but his stint ended after just eight months following a reported falling out.
Pakistan’s military, the world’s sixth-largest, is hugely influential in the country and has staged at least three coups since independence in 1947, ruling for more than three decades.
Since being ousted, Khan has staged a series of mass rallies across the country, drawing huge crowds.
Saturday’s gathering is expected to be one of the biggest yet.
Convoys of PTI supporters were streaming in from around Pakistan, with buses, trucks and cars bearing party flags.

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Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
Updated 26 November 2022

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
  • Treatment of women and girls may amount to ‘gender persecution’ under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party

GENEVA: The Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women and girls, including their exclusion from parks and gyms as well as schools and universities, may amount to a crime against humanity, a group of UN experts said on Friday.
The assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett and nine other UN experts says the treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution” under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party.
Responding to the assessment, Taliban Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said: “The current collective punishment of innocent Afghans by the UN sanctions regime all in the name of women rights and equality amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN experts said in a statement that women’s confinement to their homes was “tantamount to imprisonment,” adding that it was likely to lead to increased levels of domestic violence and mental health problems. The experts cited the arrest this month of female activist Zarifa Yaqobi and four male colleagues.
They remain in detention, the experts said.
The Taliban took over from a Western-backed government in August 2021. They say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.
Western governments have said the Taliban needs to reverse its course on women’s rights, including their U-turn on signals they would open girls’ high schools, for any path toward formal recognition of the Taliban government.
Separately, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office called for the Taliban authorities to immediately halt the use of public floggings in Afghanistan.
Ravina Shamdasani said the office had documented numerous such incidents this month, including a woman and a man lashed 39 times each for spending time alone together outside of marriage. Balkhi said the Taliban administration considered the statement by the United Nations and others by Western officials were “an insult toward Islam and violation of international principals.”


Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims
Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

LONDON: The Consul General of Pakistan has been working with the UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal to raise “life-changing funds” for communities hit by devastating floods across Pakistan.

“The Consul General of Pakistan, Mr. Ibrar Hussain Khan, honored the charity’s efforts to support the people of Pakistan by attending their fundraising dinners as the chief guest of honor, and making a special guest appearance on the charity’s live appeals which were aired on British Muslim TV,” Penny Appeal said in a statement.

“Khan has played a crucial role in driving the compassion and generosity of the public to secure more funds and extend Penny Appeal’s provisions across Pakistan,” it added.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

The £1 million ($1.2 million) cheque was presented to the consul general at the Pakistani consulate in Bradford by Penny Appeal’s founder, Adeem Younis.

“With the support of the Pakistani authorities on the ground, Penny Appeal have been working tirelessly across 16 flood-affected districts to deliver life-changing aid, in the form of hot food, safe drinking water, medical aid, shelter, and cash grants to those most in need,” Penny Appeal said.

So far, the charity has delivered over half a million liters of drinking water, distributed over 200,000 cooked meals, and continues to provide food, medical aid and hygiene kits daily.

The charity is now in phase two of its response and is working with the government to provide newly built homes, with 100 homes already being built to accommodate up to 1,000 people.

“Khan has been an incredible asset to the appeal and his passion for helping those in need knows no bounds,” Younis said.

“Thanks to people like him, we are making a real and lasting difference to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and I am particularly proud of the way we have united in our efforts both here in the UK and across Pakistan to help our brothers and sisters get through this calamity.’’

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EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat
Updated 26 November 2022

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat



BRUSSELS: European interior ministers welcomed Friday an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals, after a furious row over a refugee rescue boat erupted between Italy and France.
France has accused Italy of failing to respect the law of the sea by turning away the NGO vessel earlier this month, triggering crisis talks in Brussels to head off a new EU dispute over the politically fraught issue.
All sides described the meeting as productive, although Czech interior minister Vit Rakusan, whose country holds the EU presidency, later said all participants had agreed that “more can and must be done” to find a lasting solution.
The ministers will gather again at a pre-planned December 8 meeting to pursue the “difficult discussion,” he said.
European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas, the commissioner charged with “promoting our European way of life,” said Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc solution.
“We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by “populistic and europhobe forces.”
Numbers of asylum seekers are still far lower than the levels of 2015 and 2016, but the dispute has already undermined a stop-gap pact to redistribute arrivals more evenly around the 27-nation bloc.
Brussels has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers but the ugly row has brought the issue to the fore.
Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.
The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.
The row undermined the EU’s interim solution and led to Paris calling Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.
“The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvization,” Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.
“We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation.”
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said there was no reason for France to accept migrants relocated from Italy if Rome “does not take the boats, does not accept the law of the sea.”
Darmanin’s Italian opposite number Matteo Piantedosi played down the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting was “not dealing with individual cases or operational management.”
He said he had shaken hands with the French minister and that there was a “convergence of positions” allowing the ministers to resume discussion at the December 8 meeting.
Belgian counterpart Nicole De Moor called for “solidarity,” saying that Belgium was taking in more than its fair share of migrants leaving its reception facilities overwhelmed.
The previous plan was drawn up after Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores, like Italy and Greece, complained that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants.
A dozen EU members agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers — with France and Germany accepting 3,500 each — but so far just 117 relocations have actually happened.
On Monday, the European Commission unveiled a new action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean sea route.
It was not well-received by aid agencies. Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work.”
And a European diplomat said that plan “contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”
The ministers nevertheless accepted it and Schinas said it should prevent more crises as Europe once again attempts to negotiate a global migration plan that would have the force of EU law.
The plan would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.
While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.
Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.
Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi, meanwhile, complained that Turkiye is not complying with a 2016 migration agreement that includes taking back migrants who are not entitled to asylum.