Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms

Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 28 November 2022

Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms

Elderly residents are evacuated from the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)
  • Kherson city, which was liberated more than two weeks ago — a development that Zelensky called a turning point in the war — has faced intense shelling in recent days by Russian forces nearby

KHERSON, Ukraine: Russian forces struck eastern and southern Ukraine early Sunday as utility crews scrambled to restore power, water and heating with the onset of snow and frigid temperatures, while civilians continued to leave the southern city of Kherson because of the devastation wreaked by recent attacks and their fears of more ahead.
With persistent snowfall blanketing the capital, Kyiv, Sunday, analysts predicted that wintry weather — bringing with it frozen terrain and grueling fighting conditions — could have an increasing impact on the conflict that has raged since Russian forces invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.
Both sides were already bogged down by heavy rain and muddy battlefield conditions, experts said.
After a blistering series of Russian artillery strikes on infrastructure that started last month, workers were fanning out in around-the-clock deployments to restore key basic services as many Ukrainians were forced to cope with only a few hours of electricity per day — if any.
Ukrenergo, the state power grid operator, said Sunday that electricity producers are now supplying about 80 percent of demand, compared to 75 percent the previous day.
The deprivations have revived jousting between Ukraine’s president and Kyiv’s mayor. Mayor Vitali Klitschko on Sunday defended himself against allegations levelled by President Volodymyr Zelensky that too many Kyiv residents were still without power and that insufficient centers had been set up for them to stock up on food, water, battery power and other essentials.
Kitschko wrote on Telegram that hundreds of such centers are in operation, as well as hundreds of emergency generators, adding that “I do not want, especially in the current situation, to enter into political battles. It’s ridiculous.”
The president and the mayor have sporadically sparred since Zelensky took office in 2019. Zelensky has accused Klitschko and officials around him of corruption, while Klitschko contends the president’s office has put him under political pressure.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that has been closely monitoring developments in Ukraine, said reporting from both sides indicated that heavy rain and mud have had an impact — along with wider freezing expected along the front lines in the coming days.
“It is unclear if either side is actively planning or preparing to resume major offensive or counter-offensive operations at that time, but the meteorological factors that have been hindering such operations will begin lifting,” it said in a note published Saturday.
ISW said Russian forces were digging in further east of the city of Kherson, from which Ukrainian forces expelled them more than two weeks ago, and continued “routine artillery fire” across the Dnieper River.
The think tank also cited reports that Russian forces were moving multiple launch rocket and ground-to-air missile systems into positions closer to the city as part of a possible plan to step up “the tempo of rocket and anti-air missile strikes against ground targets north of the Dnieper River in the coming days.”
Kherson city, which was liberated more than two weeks ago — a development that Zelensky called a turning point in the war — has faced intense shelling in recent days by Russian forces nearby.
The top UN official in Ukraine said civilians, many of whom lamented unlivable conditions and feared more strikes to come, continued to pour out of Kherson on Sunday.
“The level of destruction, the scope of the destruction, what’s required in the city and in the oblast — it’s massive,” said UN resident coordinator Denise Brown, referring to the region. UN teams were ferrying in supplies like food, water, shelter materials, medicines, and blankets and mattresses, she said.
“Time is of the essence, of course, before it becomes an absolute catastrophe,” Brown told The Associated Press in Kherson.
Galina Lugova, head of the city’s military administration, said in an interview that evacuation trains had been lined up and bomb shelters set up in all city districts with stoves, beds, first aid kits and fire extinguishers.
“We are preparing for a winter in difficult conditions, but we will do everything to make people safe,” Lugova said. Her biggest worry, she said, was “shelling that intensifies every day. Shelling, shelling and shelling again.”
On the roads out of the city, some residents felt they had no choice but to leave.
“The day before yesterday, artillery hit our house. Four flats burned down. Windows shattered,” said Vitaliy Nadochiy, driving out with a terrier on his lap and a Ukrainian flag dangling from a sun visor. “We can’t be there. There is no electricity, no water, heating. So we are leaving to go to my brother.”
In the eastern Donetsk region, five people were killed in shelling over the past day, governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Overnight shelling was reported by regional leaders in the Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk areas to the west. In addition, he said two people were killed in artillery firing on the town of Kurakhove.
Kharkiv governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and three wounded in the northeastern region.
Russian rockets hit unspecified railroad facilities in Kryvyi Rih, Zelensky’s hometown, on Sunday, according to a regional official. No injuries were immediately reported.
 

 


Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police
Updated 10 sec ago

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises around 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, police at the crash site told AFP.
“We have located the wreckage of one of the planes and found an injured pilot in the Pahadgarh forests,” officer Dharmender Gaur told AFP. “The other plane has likely fallen further away from the site and we have sent teams to locate it.”

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Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 28 January 2023

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.

 


Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Updated 28 January 2023

Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)

COPENHAGEN: After pledging all 19 of its French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, Denmark is in talks with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for new mobile artillery to plug a “critical gap.”
The Defense Ministry said that negotiations were on “with the manufacturer Elbit Systems for the delivery of ATMOS artillery pieces and PULS rocket launcher systems as soon as possible.”
The equipment could be delivered this year, the government said.
“The rocket launchers complement the new artillery systems,” the ministry said.

BACKGROUND

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.
But deliveries have been delayed and only a few have arrived. All of them have been pledged to Ukraine.
The system can carry 36 155 mm shells and reach targets at distances of up to 40 km.
ATMOS can fire six shots per minute and can be mounted on most off-road 8X8 trucks.
The next acquisitions are “important for Denmark’s defense and for Denmark to be able to meet its NATO commitments,” Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.
“The donation to Ukraine leaves a critical capability gap in defense,” he said.
According to Danish media, Nexter advised Denmark against changing suppliers, saying it could provide new artillery.
“Caesar has proven itself on the battlefield in Ukraine, Danish soldiers can use them and the parts are compatible with Danish military IT systems,” a spokesman for the group said.