Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 September 2022

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to host a Kremlin ceremony on Friday annexing four regions of Ukraine, while his Ukrainian counterpart said Putin would have to be stopped for Russia to avoid the most damaging consequences of the war.
There was a warning too from United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who said the planned annexations were a “dangerous escalation” and jeopardize prospects for peace.
Putin has doubled down on the invasion he ordered in February despite suffering a major reversal on the battlefield this month and discontent in Russia over a widely criticized “partial mobilization” of thousands more men to fight in Ukraine. Russia calls the war in Ukraine a “special operation.”
“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war is that Russian society will be left without a normal economy, a worthwhile life, or any respect for humanitarian values,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Thursday evening address.
“It can still be stopped. But to stop it we have to stop that person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your lives, citizens of Russia,” said Zelensky, who earlier spoke of Ukraine delivering a “very harsh” reaction to Russian recognition of so-called referendum results.
Moscow plans annexation of eastern and southern provinces after what Ukraine and Western countries said were sham votes staged at gunpoint in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The territory Russia controls amounts to more than 90,000 square km, or about 15 percent of Ukraine’s total area — equal to the size of Hungary or Portugal.
Putin took the intermediary step of signing decrees on Thursday paving the way for occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to be formally annexed into Russia. The decrees were made public by the Kremlin.
Zelensky promised a strong response to the annexations and summoned his defense and security chiefs for an emergency meeting on Friday where “fundamental decisions” will be taken, an official said.

CEREMONY
On the eve of the planned ceremony in the Georgievsky Hall of the Great Kremlin Palace and a concert in Red Square, Putin said that “all mistakes” made in a call-up announced last week should be corrected, his first public acknowledgment that it had not gone smoothly.
Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid a draft that was billed as enlisting those with military experience and required specialities but has often appeared oblivious to individuals’ service record, health, student status or even age.
Russia says the referendums, ostensibly asking people in the four regions whether they wanted to be part of Russia, were genuine and showed public support.
At Friday’s event, Putin will give a speech, meet leaders of the self-styled Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) as well as the Russian-installed leaders of the parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that Russian forces occupy.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Putin would attend the Red Square concert, as he did a similar event in 2014 after Russia proclaimed it had annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A stage has been set up on the Moscow square with giant video screens and billboards proclaiming the four areas part of Russia.
“Any decision to proceed with the annexation ... would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” United Nations Secretary General Guterres told reporters.
US President Joe Biden said the United States would never recognize Russia’s claims on Ukraine’s territory, denouncing the referendums. “The results were manufactured in Moscow,” Biden said at a conference of Pacific Island leaders on Thursday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pressed Putin in a call to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine.

NUCLEAR UMBRELLA
Russian government officials have said that the four regions will fall under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella once they have been formally incorporated into Russia. Putin has said he could use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory if necessary.
Washington and the European Union are set to impose additional sanctions on Russia over the annexation plan, and even some of Russia’s close traditional allies, such as Serbia and Kazakhstan, say they will not recognize the move.
What Russia is billing as a celebration comes after Moscow has faced its worst setbacks of the seven-month-old war, with its forces routed in Ukraine’s northeast Kharkiv region.
Heavy fighting continues in the four disputed regions, particularly Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Our situation (in Luhansk region) is more difficult than in the Kharkiv region. There is no effect of surprise here,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday. “They (the Armed Forces of Ukraine) are advancing. And I hope we will receive very positive news in the near future.”
Some military experts say Kyiv is poised to deliver another major defeat, gradually encircling the town of Lyman, Russia’s main remaining bastion in the northern part of Donetsk province.
“The most difficult area for us remains (Lyman). Allied forces are holding their ground. And given that reinforcements will be coming, I believe we will make a breakthrough there,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Telegram.


Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
Updated 05 December 2022

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
  • Local authorities have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years
  • Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases

BEIJING: Businesses reopened and testing requirements were relaxed in Beijing and other Chinese cities on Monday as the country tentatively eases out of a strict zero COVID-19 policy that sparked nationwide protests.
Local authorities across China have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years, encouraged by the central government’s orders for a new approach to fighting the coronavirus.
In the capital Beijing, where many businesses have fully reopened, commuters from Monday were no longer required to show a negative virus test taken within 48 hours to use public transport.
Financial hub Shanghai — which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year — was under the same rules, with residents able to enter outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.
Neighboring Hangzhou went a step further, ending regular mass testing for its 10 million people, except for those living in or visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people became the catalyst for the recent anti-lockdown protests, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from August until November.
Authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and Shandong scrapped the testing requirement for public transport on Sunday.
And Zhengzhou — home to the world’s largest iPhone factory — on Sunday said people will be allowed to enter public places, take public transport and enter their residential compounds without a 48-hour negative test result.
The World Health Organization has cheered China’s loosening of its zero COVID-19 policy, which came after hundreds took to the streets across the country to call for greater political freedoms and an end to lockdowns.
While some COVID-19 rules have been relaxed, China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother further rallies, boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
And as officials have dismantled testing facilities, long queues have appeared around those that remain, forcing residents to wait in cold temperatures to get tests that remain obligatory across much of China.
“Students can’t go to school without a 24-hour negative test,” wrote a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“What’s the point in closing testing booths before dropping the need to show test results completely?” another asked.
Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases.


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”


UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report
Updated 05 December 2022

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report

UK political instability delays British-Moroccan energy project: Report
  • Xlinks venture will provide Britain with renewable energy via cable through Sahara
  • Morocco is established market leader in wind, solar, hydroelectric power industry

LONDON: Political turmoil in London has delayed an ambitious joint UK-Morocco plan to provide Britain with energy via a cable through the Sahara desert by “at least a year,” The Observer reported on Sunday.
The £18 billion ($22 billion) Xlinks venture, expected to be operational in 2027, would supply the UK with 8 percent of its energy needs from huge wind and solar farms in the desert through a 3,800 km cable, powering as many as 7 million homes by 2030.
Morocco is an established market leader in the wind, solar and hydroelectric power industry, and is second only to Egypt for solar intensity, a measure of generation power.
But the link-up has been delayed until at least late 2023, The Observer reported. Sir Dave Lewis, executive chair of the project, said recent political turmoil in Britain — which has seen three prime ministers come to power in less than six months — has slowed down its progress.
“We spent a long time with the then-business secretary (Kwasi Kwarteng) who said: ‘We like it a lot but it needs to go through Treasury.’ There was a review with Treasury, Cabinet Office and the business department, which was very positive,” Lewis told The Observer.
“Then we came back to them to start the detail and the political world exploded and, as a result, everything stopped. And everybody has changed, so it’s sort of like you’re starting again,” he added.
“Time is important for the UK to meet its net zero ambitions, to secure energy supplies and to reduce bills. We have lost a year.”
The cable transporting the power would run along the Moroccan coastline, then along Portugal, northern Spain and western France before looping around the Scilly Isles Scilly and finishing in the English county of Devon, where Xlinks has already approved 1.8 gigawatt connections.


Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 
Updated 04 December 2022

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 

Philippines to join hands with Saudi Arabia in tourism development 
  • Kingdom set to help Philippines develop halal tourism 
  • Manila sees ‘great potential’ in attracting more Saudi tourists 

MANILA: The Philippine government said on Sunday it is going to work closely with Saudi Arabia in developing the tourism industry in both countries. 

More than 9,400 Saudi tourists have visited the Southeast Asian country since it reopened to fully vaccinated international travelers in February. Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia was the top Middle Eastern source of arrivals, according to data from the Philippine Department of Tourism. 

“The two countries agreed on formalizing their partnership with Saudi Arabia,” the tourism department said in a statement on Sunday. 

The Kingdom will support the Philippines with Arabic-speaking tour guides, increasing direct flights and developing halal tourism, while the Philippines will “provide hospitality and human capital development to the Kingdom’s tourism frontline.” 

The agreement follows Philippine Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco’s meeting with her Saudi counterpart Haifa Al-Saud in Riyadh last month. 

“Saudi Arabia actually ranks No. 1 for our Middle East source market. We see great potential in ushering in more arrivals into the Philippines,” Frasco said, as quoted in the statement. 

She added that the relationship is mutual, as there are over 800,000 Filipinos living in Saudi Arabia. 

“Our affection for each other is long-standing, and I am very interested in furthering this relationship by formalizing an agreement specifically focused on tourism development,” she said. 

The Philippines, known for its white sand beaches and famous diving spots, is dependent on tourism. In 2019, the sector generated around $44 billion and made up nearly 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. 

Most tourism destinations in the country were forced to shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, dealing a major blow to the industry. Foreign arrivals slumped by 82 percent, while revenues from tourism plummeted to $17 billion. 

Tourism recovery efforts yielded results once several COVID-19 restrictions were lifted this year. 

By Nov. 14, official data showed nearly 1.5 million foreign tourists had visited the Philippines. 


Iraqi in UK who saved baby niece via illegal entry granted leave to remain

Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
Updated 05 December 2022

Iraqi in UK who saved baby niece via illegal entry granted leave to remain

Photo: (Pexels/Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas)
  • Najat Ibrahim Ismail, 35, rescued 7-month-old Rwen Tahsin Ibrahim from France after burn incident

LONDON: An Iraqi man who saved his baby niece by bringing her to the UK illegally has been granted leave to remain following years of legal attempts by the Home Office to deport him, The Guardian reported.

Najat Ibrahim Ismail, who arrived in Britain in 2004, saved his niece, Rwen Tahsin Ibrahim, then only 7 months old, after she had sustained significant burn injuries in a French refugee camp.

Her parents had fled Iraq following the expansion of Daesh and in 2016 had traveled to France.

Ismail, 35, heard the news of his relative’s injuries and traveled to Dunkirk, where he drove his niece back to Britain illegally in a bid to give her access to urgent medical care.

In 2017, he was prosecuted for assisting illegal entry into the UK.

As a result, the UK Home Office pursued his deportation three times, but to no avail.

Now the 35-year-old, who is married to a British woman and has three children, has been granted leave to remain following years of legal campaigning by his solicitor.

His niece — whose family has also been given leave to remain — has since made a full recovery following the 2016 incident and is now in school.

Ismail said: “For the first time I can sleep well. I’m the happiest person in the world and I can’t stop smiling.

“I can’t thank my solicitor enough. She saved my life.”

Though a judge condemned Ismail’s actions in assisting the illegal entry, they said: “I do accept that you were not a person who was trafficking for gain. These were family members you decided to assist.”

Hannah Baynes, Ismail’s solicitor, said: “We are very pleased that Najat will be allowed to remain in the UK after so many years of uncertainty.

“The judge acknowledged that there was a risk of Najat’s mental health deteriorating if he was forced to live separately from his family in Iraq, where he has a well-founded fear of persecution.”