Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson

Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson
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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets soldiers during a visit at a military training center for mobilized reservists outside the town of Ryazan on Oct. 20, 2022. (SPUTNIK / AFP)
Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson
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Civilians evacuated from the Russian-controlled Kherson region of Ukraine arrive at a railway station in the town of Dzhankoi, Crimea, on October 20, 2022. (REUTERS)
Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson
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Civilians evacuated from the Russian-controlled Kherson region of Ukraine arrive at a railway station in the town of Dzhankoi, Crimea, on October 20, 2022. (REUTERS)
Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson
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Ukrainian artillerymen on the front line with Russian troops in Donetsk region on amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 21 October 2022

Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson

Russian, Ukrainian troops gird for major battle in Kherson
  • Fighting and evacuations were reported in the Kherson region as Moscow tried to pound the invaded country into submission with more missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure

KYIV, Ukraine: Russian and Ukrainian troops appeared Thursday to be girding for a major battle over the strategic southern industrial port city of Kherson, in a region which Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed and subjected to martial law.
Fighting and evacuations were reported in the Kherson region as Moscow tried to pound the invaded country into submission with more missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure.
Putin declared martial law in the Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions on Wednesday in an attempt to assert Russian authority in the annexed areas as he faced battlefield setbacks, a troubled troop mobilization, increasing criticism at home and abroad, and international sanctions.
The unsettled status of the illegally absorbed territory was especially visible in the Kherson region’s capital, where Russian military officials have replaced Kremlin-installed civilian leaders as part of martial law that took effect Thursday to defend against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Kherson city, with a prewar population of about 284,000, was one of the first urban areas Russia captured when it invaded Ukraine, and it remains the largest city it holds. It is a prime target for both sides because of its key industries and major river port. Reports of sabotage and assassinations of Russian-installed officials in Kherson have surfaced for months, in what appeared to be one of the most active Ukrainian resistance movements in occupied territory.
Russian-installed officials have urged residents to evacuate for their safety and to allow the military to build fortifications. Officials said 15,000 residents of an expected 60,000 had been relocated from the city and surrounding areas as of Thursday.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Thursday that Ukrainian forces mounted 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region. For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said the Kremlin’s forces repelled Ukrainian attempts to advance with tanks on the Kherson villages of Sukhanove, Nova Kamianka and Chervonyi Yar.
A Russian-installed official in the region, Vladimir Leontyev, said Thursday Ukrainian forces had launched five missile strikes against the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station about 70 km (44 miles) from Kherson city. He said on Russian TV that if the facilities were destroyed, a critical canal providing water to annexed Crimea would be cut off.
Zelensky countered that the Russians have mined the dam and power station, with plans to blow them up in what he called a terrorism act to unleash 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) and flood Kherson and dozens of areas where hundreds of thousands of people live. He told the European Council Russia would then blame Ukraine.
None of the claims could be independently verified.
Russia’s new military commander in Ukraine this week acknowledged the threat posed by Ukraine’s counteroffensive to Kherson, and Britain’s Defense Ministry interpreted that Thursday to mean, “Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnieper River.”
Putin tried Thursday to address another problem area, the partial mobilization of reservists he ordered last month and estimated it would end by the end of this month by reaching its 300,000-man target. He visited a training center in the Russian region of Ryazan to show progress in rectifying problems with training and supplies for newly mobilized troops. Russian TV showed him lying under a net on a field, wearing goggles and ear protection, and shooting a rifle. A military officer showed Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu soldiers wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, with weapons. The officer displayed winter boots, clothes, cooking utensils and other supplies — all to counter images Russians have posted on social media of shabby or non-existent gear for newly mobilized troops.
In another sign of Russia’s wavering mobilization, Ukrainian authorities said more than 3,000 Russians have called a hotline for soldiers who don’t want to take part in the war and are asking to surrender.

In other developments:
• Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions near Bilohorivka, a village in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region. In the neighboring Donetsk region, fighting raged near the city of Bakhmut. Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of both regions for 8½ years.
• Russia continued attacking energy infrastructure, dispatching drones and missiles to eight regions, prompting authorities to ask residents to reduce energy consumption from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and to dim city street lights. They warned of rolling blackouts continuing Friday. In Kryvyi Rih, Russian strikes damaged a power plant and another energy facility, cutting electricity to the central Ukraine city of about 600,000 residents. Kryvyi Rih is home to metallurgical factories key to Ukraine’s economy. Gov. Valentin Reznichenko said the city sustained serious damage.
• Ukrainian authorities said missile and drone strikes started fires in the southern city of Mykolaiv, with four drones hitting a school. Another school in Komyshuvakha, a village in Zaporizhzhia, also took four drone strikes.
• The Ukrainian army’s general staff reported a heightened chance that Russian forces could attack from Belarus to cut supply routes for Western weapons and equipment. Oleksei Hromov, a general staff official, said Russia was deploying aircraft and troops in Belarus.
• The White House said Iranian troops are “directly engaged on the ground” in Crimea supporting Russian drone attacks, troubling evidence of Tehran’s deepening role assisting Russia as it exacts suffering on Ukrainian civilians just as the cold weather sets in.
• Despite the Kremlin’s — and Iran’s — claims to the contrary, a leading Russian military expert unwittingly acknowledged that Iran has supplied Russia with weaponized drones it uses in Ukraine. Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, asked journalists before a TV interview not to question him about where the drones came from, unaware that he was live on air. “We all know that they are Iranian-made, but authorities haven’t acknowledged that,” Pukhov said.
• The EU on Thursday imposed sanctions on Iran’s Shahed Aviation Industries, as well as three Iranian armed forces generals, for undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity by helping to supply Russia with drones.
 


Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast forces evacuation of 16,000 people

Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast forces evacuation of 16,000 people
Updated 31 May 2023

Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast forces evacuation of 16,000 people

Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast forces evacuation of 16,000 people
  • “It’s extensive. It’s heartbreaking,” said Premier Tim Houston, who announced a ban on woodland activity after visiting the disaster area to get a sense of the damage
  • The forest protection manager in the province's wildfire management group said it is safe to say that all of these fires were “very likely human-caused”

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia’s leader begged people to stay out of the woods and avoid any activity that could start more fires after a wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast damaged about 200 houses and other structures and prompted the evacuation of 16,000 people.
“It’s extensive. It’s heartbreaking,” said Premier Tim Houston, who announced a ban on woodland activity after visiting the disaster area to get a sense of the damage.
Many residents were eager to return Tuesday to see whether homes and pets had survived, while fire officials expressed concern that dry, windy conditions could cause a “reburn” in the evacuated subdivisions. The extended forecast is calling for hotter weather on Wednesday and no rain until Friday at the earliest.
Houston said the ban extends to all travel and activity in all wooded areas. That includes all forestry, mining, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, off-road vehicle driving and all commercial activity on government lands, he said.
“Don’t be burning right now. No burning in Nova Scotia. Conservation officers reported six illegal burns last night. This is absolutely ridiculous with what’s happeniung in this province — three out-of-control fires, eight fires yesterday, 12 on Sunday. Do Not Burn!” Houston said Tuesday. “We have to do what we can to make sure we don’t have new fires popping up.”
Scott Tingley, the forest protection manager in the province’s wildfire management group, said it is safe to say that all of these fires were “very likely human-caused.”
“Much of it probably is preventable. Accidents do happen and so that’s why we certainly appreciate the premier’s message,” Tingley said.
Firefighters have been working to extinguish hotspots in the fire that started in the Halifax area on Sunday, Halifax Deputy Fire Chief David Meldrum said. He said Tuesday that it was too early to give an exact count of homes damaged or destroyed, but the municipal government put the toll at about 200 buildings.
Dan Cavanaugh was among two dozen people waiting Tuesday in a Halifax-area parking lot to learn if their suburban homes had been consumed.
“We’re like everyone else in this lot,” said the 48-year-old insurance adjuster. “We’re not sure if we have a house to go back to.”
Police officers wrote down names of residents and were calling people to be escorted to see what had become of their properties.
Sarah Lyon of the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said an eight-member team was going into the evacuation zone to retrieve animals left behind.
In all, about 16,000 people were ordered to leave their homes northwest of Halifax, most of which are within a 30-minute drive of the port city’s downtown. The area under mandatory evacuation orders covers about 100 square kilometers (38 miles).
Sonya Higgins, who runs a cat rescue operation in Halifax, said she and more than 40 others waited in a nearby supermarket parking lot to be led into the evacuation area. They hoped to retrieve seven cats from two homes. She said the pet owners contacting her have been “frantic” to find their animals and get them to safety.


Pakistan ex-PM Khan in court as rights watchdog issues warning

Pakistan ex-PM Khan in court as rights watchdog issues warning
Updated 31 May 2023

Pakistan ex-PM Khan in court as rights watchdog issues warning

Pakistan ex-PM Khan in court as rights watchdog issues warning
  • The Islamabad High Court and a specialist corruption court granted Khan bail on Wednesday in the same graft case
  • Thousands have been rounded up since the Supreme Court declared that detention illegal and allowed him to walk free

ISLAMABAD: Embattled Pakistan opposition leader Imran Khan returned to court on Wednesday, as the nation’s human rights watchdog warned all sides are to blame in a rapidly deteriorating democratic crisis.
Khan’s brief arrest earlier this month sparked days of deadly unrest before Islamabad orchestrated a crackdown on his party, including mass arrests and a pledge to try some protesters in army courts.
The Islamabad High Court and a specialist corruption court granted Khan bail on Wednesday in the same graft case which prompted his arrest on May 9, his lawyers said.
Thousands, including grassroots supporters and key Khan aides, have been rounded up since the Supreme Court declared that detention illegal and allowed him to walk free.
Islamabad says the arrests are justified because it was targeted by anti-state terrorism, while Khan claims his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is being quashed ahead of elections due by October.
But Hina Jilani, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), issued a stark warning to “all political stakeholders.”
“Unless they desist from any further measures that could imperil the country’s fragile democracy, they may find themselves unable to steer the country safely through the multiple crises it is facing.”
Since he was ousted from office in a no-confidence vote last spring, Khan has waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which analysts say was behind his rise and fall from power.
His arrest was widely seen as payback ordered by top brass after he repeated incendiary allegations that they plotted an assassination attempt against him.
The HRCP said “civilian supremacy has emerged as the greatest casualty” from the deepening political crisis, which comes as Pakistan suffers from a flatlining economy and worsening security situation.
“The government’s inability — or unwillingness — to safeguard civilian supremacy” and PTI’s “incessant humiliation of law... has led to making military interference in politics inevitable,” Jilani said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch criticized Islamabad for agreeing to try 33 civilians in military courts for allegedly attacking army installations during the unrest.
“Pakistan’s military courts, which use secret procedures that deny due process rights, should not be used to prosecute civilians,” said associate Asia director Patricia Gossman.
As the clampdown on PTI continues, several senior figures have defected, leaving former cricket star Khan increasingly isolated.
He says arrests are being used to force resignations. Nonetheless he remains far and away Pakistan’s most popular politician.

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Indonesia’s creative sector sets sights on pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

Indonesia’s creative sector sets sights on pilgrims in Saudi Arabia
Updated 31 May 2023

Indonesia’s creative sector sets sights on pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

Indonesia’s creative sector sets sights on pilgrims in Saudi Arabia
  • Southeast Asian nation aims to become regional creative economy hub by 2045
  • Minister looks to set up Saudi base for Indonesian creative products

JAKARTA: Indonesia is setting its sights on pilgrims in Saudi Arabia for its creative economy products, a minister told Arab News, as Jakarta sought to make the sector its main source of exports.

Indonesia’s creative economy, led by fashion, crafts, and culinary products, contributed around 7.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2022, when its export value for the first time exceeded $25 billion.

The country wants to become a regional creative and digital economy hub under its Vision 2045 plan and make them its key export products. The sector has been growing steadily over the years and has been important in helping Indonesia bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic.

Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno said: “The driving force behind economic revival and job creation has been the creative economy.”

As millions of Muslims from around the world visit Saudi Arabia for Umrah and Hajj every year, Uno pointed out that pilgrims were a potential market for Indonesian creative economy products.

During a meeting with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, in November, Uno discussed Indonesia’s opportunity to “enter the ecosystem and provide many beneficial programs to improve the quality and experience for pilgrims.”

The minister noted that Indonesian pilgrims themselves could help promote their goods and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

“The pilgrims could also be good promotional ambassadors when they wear Indonesian products,” he said, adding that there was substantial “growth opportunity for the two countries” as they could bank on a high purchasing power and strong consumer demand in the Middle East in general.

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia will send around 229,000 Hajj pilgrims to the Kingdom this year, while another 3 million are expected to travel for Umrah.

“This is a good way that we promote Indonesian SME products that could set up base in Saudi Arabia to create economic benefits,” Uno said.

“All the important goods and services including handicrafts, textiles, furniture, food and beverages, and creative products have potential to attract customers.”


Milosevic spymasters get longer jail terms in last UN court verdict

Milosevic spymasters get longer jail terms in last UN court verdict
Updated 31 May 2023

Milosevic spymasters get longer jail terms in last UN court verdict

Milosevic spymasters get longer jail terms in last UN court verdict
  • Judges rejected appeals by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's state security service boss Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic
  • Prosecutors hailed the verdict as crucial because for the first time it formally linked atrocities in Bosnia to the regime of Serbia's Milosevic

THE HAGUE: A UN court slapped two former Serbian spy chiefs with longer prison sentences Wednesday in the last major Hague war crimes trial from the 1990s Bosnian conflict.
Judges rejected appeals by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s state security service boss Jovica Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic against their 2021 convictions, and increased their original jail terms from 12 to 15 years.
The court found that Stanisic, 72, and Simatovic, 73, had been part of a criminal plan to “ethnically cleanse” non-Serbs from large parts of Bosnia and Croatia — reversing their acquittal on that charge at the initial trial.
Prosecutors hailed the verdict as crucial because for the first time it formally linked atrocities in Bosnia to the regime of Serbia’s Milosevic, who died in custody in The Hague in 2006.
“It’s really important,” chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told reporters outside court.
“It’s the only decision we have with the direct involvement of officials from Belgrade convicted as part of a joint criminal enterprise.”
Munira Subasic, president of one of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” associations that campaigns for justice for victims of the 1995 massacre, said the verdict could help ease the tensions that still plague the Balkans.
“Without truth, there is no justice. Without justice, there is no trust. And without trust, there is no reconciliation,” Subasic told reporters.
Only Stanisic was in court for the verdict, wearing a blue jacket and wide-collared white shirt, and occasionally wringing his hands. Simatovic watched by videolink from his cell.
The court upheld the pair’s convictions for the war crime of murder and the crimes against humanity of murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation.
It said they had aided and abetted a Serb death squad that terrorized the Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac in April 1992 with killings, rapes and looting.
But judges also found them guilty of being part of a broader conspiracy to commit wider crimes across the Balkans, and for being responsible for a murder in Croatia in June 1992.
“The appeals chamber dismisses Stanisic’s and Simatovic’s appeals in their entirety... and imposes a sentence of 15 years” on each, head appeals judge Graciela Gatti Santana said.
“Stanisic and Simatovic shared the intent to further the common criminal purpose to forcibly and permanently remove the majority of non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Stanisic has already served seven years and Simatovic just over eight years, the judge added.
Suspects including Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and military chief Ratko Mladic have previously been sentenced to life by the Hague tribunal, but it has been harder to link crimes to Serbia itself.
Prosecutor Brammertz said Wednesday’s verdict showed that “political leadership from neighbor countries, here in particular from Belgrade, were involved in the planning of those large ethnic cleansing campaigns.”
The Stanisic and Simatovic case has been running for two decades, making it the longest and the last at the UN tribunal dealing with crimes from the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia after the fall of communism.
The pair were arrested in 2003 and cleared at an initial trial in 2013, but the court ordered a retrial.
“This pronouncement marks a milestone in the mechanism’s history... The appeals chamber pronounces the last appeal judgment,” Gatti Santana said.
The court, formally known as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT), has taken over cases left over from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
The ICTY closed in 2017.
The Balkans wars left about 130,000 people dead and millions displaced.
Tensions continue to simmer in the region, with clashes erupting on Monday in northern Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and NATO-led peacekeepers.


Philippine lawmakers approve $8.9bn sovereign wealth fund

Philippine lawmakers approve $8.9bn sovereign wealth fund
Updated 31 May 2023

Philippine lawmakers approve $8.9bn sovereign wealth fund

Philippine lawmakers approve $8.9bn sovereign wealth fund
  • National government will be the biggest contributor to the 500-billion-peso ‘Maharlika Investment Fund’
  • Private financial institutions and corporations will also be allowed to invest

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers approved the creation of an $8.9 billion sovereign wealth fund on Wednesday to boost growth and cut poverty, but critics insisted it was a “scam” and should be scrapped.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr had called for a swift passage of the bill, filed by his son and cousin late last year, to enable the debt-laden government to earn extra funds to finance infrastructure projects.
The national government will be the biggest contributor to the 500-billion-peso “Maharlika Investment Fund,” drawing seed funds from the central bank, gaming revenue, and two government-owned banks.
Private financial institutions and corporations will also be allowed to invest.
House of Representatives deputy speaker Aurelio Gonzales declared the Senate’s version of the bill approved during a session. It will be sent to Marcos to be signed into law.
The original proposal was for a $4.9 billion fund that would be partly bankrolled by state-run pensions for government and private sector workers, sparking public fears that retirement savings could be put at risk.
The final version of the bill said pension funds would not have to contribute.
“I assure our countrymen they need not worry. All the safeguards that could be put in were put in place,” Senate President Miguel Zubiri told reporters.
Senator Mark Villar, the main author of the Senate bill, said the fund would create infrastructure projects, resulting in stronger growth, more jobs and reduced poverty.
“This would help the government manage its budget and mitigate fiscal pressures during economic downturns,” Villar said in a statement Tuesday.
The fund will be allowed to make a wide range of investments, including in corporate bonds, equities, joint ventures and infrastructure projects.
Activists and opposition figures have questioned the need for a sovereign wealth fund in the poverty-plagued country and raised concerns about the potential for corruption.
Business groups have said the government was already running huge budget deficits and the proposed law risked downgrading its credit rating.
Conventional sovereign wealth funds are seeded by windfall government profits from natural resources, such as oil or minerals.
The left-wing Akbayan Party said Wednesday the measure was “the country’s largest investment scam” and warned the public to “remain vigilant.”
“This bill shouldn’t even exist,” the party said in a statement.
“Safeguards may be in place now, but a law is only as good as its execution.”