White House: Russia’s Wagner received arms from North Korea

White House: Russia’s Wagner received arms from North Korea
The White Hous expressed alarm about Wagner’s growing involvement in Russia-Ukraine war as it has been active in the eastern Donbas region. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2022

White House: Russia’s Wagner received arms from North Korea

White House: Russia’s Wagner received arms from North Korea
  • US claims North Korea completed initial arms shipment of rockets and missiles last month
  • North Korea denied shipping munitions to Russia

WASHINGTON: The White House said Thursday that the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, has taken delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster its forces as it fights side-by-side with Russian troops in Ukraine.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said US intelligence officials determined that North Korea completed an initial arms shipment that included rockets and missiles last month.
“We assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner will not change battlefield dynamics in Ukraine,” Kirby said. “But we’re certainly concerned that North Korea is planning to deliver more military equipment.”
On Friday, North Korea again flatly denied it has shipped munitions to Russia, calling the US accusation of arms transfers to Russia “the groundless theory” cooked up by “some dishonest forces.”
The White House has expressed alarm about Wagner’s growing involvement in the war as it has been particularly active in the eastern Donbas region. Kirby said in certain instances Russian military officials have even been “subordinate to Wagner’s command.”
Biden administration officials said with the arms sales to the private military group, North Korea is violating UN sanctions that ban Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the United Nations, called it “despicable” that Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, which imposed the sanctions, is now using weapons procured from North Korea and Iran “to pursue its war of aggression against Ukraine.”
An unidentified spokesman at the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state media that the nation “remains unchanged in its principled stand on the issue of ‘arms transaction’ between (North Korea) and Russia which has never happened.”
The spokesman didn’t mention Thursday’s US assessment that North Korea sent an arms shipment to the Wagner Group. But he accused the US of “criminal acts of bringing bloodshed and destruction to Ukraine” by providing it with a large amount of weapons, while repeating its support of Russia in the war.
“I would like to say that the Russian people are the bravest people with the will and ability to defend the security and territorial integrity of their country without any others’ military support,” he said.
Kirby said the US now assesses that Wagner has some 50,000 personnel fighting in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts that the company has recruited from prisons.
The US assesses that Wagner, owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is spending about $100 million a month in the fight, Kirby said.
Wagner Group mercenaries have also been accused by Western countries and UN experts of numerous human rights abuses throughout Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he had de signated the Wagner Group as an “entity of particular concern” for its activities in the Central African Republic.
Wagner has faced US sanctions since 2017. The Commerce Department on Wednesday unveiled new export restrictions targeting Wagner in a bid to further restrict its access to technology and supplies.
The White House has repeatedly sought to spotlight intelligence findings that show Russia — struggling to maintain a steady supply of arms for its war in Ukraine and pinched by sanctions that are limiting access to key components for weapons manufacturing — has limited options to help it resupply weapons.
Russia has also turned to Iran to provide drones to use against Ukraine, and the Biden administration has expressed concern that Russia may seek to acquire additional advanced conventional weapons from Iran. The White House has previously said that Moscow turn to North Korea for artillery.
The British government also condemned Russia for Wagner arm’s purchase.
“The fact that President Putin is turning to North Korea for help is a sign of Russia’s desperation and isolation,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. “We will work with our partners to ensure that North Korea pays a high price for supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
North Korea has sought to strengthen relations with Russia as much of Europe and the West has pulled away from Moscow.
Friday’s statement was mainly meant to deny recent Japanese media reports that North Korea transported munitions to Russia by rail. The statement called the report “false” and “the most absurd red herring, which is not worth any comment or interpretation.”
Some experts say North Korea may be seeking Russian fuel as well as technology transfers and supplies needed to advance its military capabilities as it pursues more sophisticated weapons systems targeting the United States and its allies.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have heightened because of concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The North has carried out a series of weapons demonstrations, while the US and South Korea held stepped up joint defense exercises.
Thomas-Greenfield said Wagner’s purchase “contributes to instability on the Korean Peninsula by giving the DPRK funds it can use to further develop its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
“Russia is not only defending the DPRK as it engages in unlawful and threatening behavior, Russia is now a partner to such behavior,” Thomas-Greenfield added.

Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West

Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West
Updated 13 sec ago

Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West

Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West
UNITED NATIONS: The West’s steady criticism of Hungary on democratic and cultural issues makes the small European country’s right-wing government reluctant to offer support on practical matters, specifically NATO’s buildup against Russia, Hungary’s foreign minister said.
In an interview with AP, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also said Friday that his country has not voted on whether to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO because Hungarian lawmakers are sick of those countries’ critiques of Hungarian domestic affairs.
Lawmakers from the governing party plan to vote Monday in favor of the Finnish request but “serious concerns were raised” about Finland and Sweden in recent months “mostly because of the very disrespectful behavior of the political elites of both countries toward Hungary,” Szijjártó said.
“You know, when Finnish and Swedish politicians question the democratic nature of our political system, that’s really unacceptable,” he said.
A vote on Sweden is harder to predict, Szijjártó said.
The EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has frozen billions in funds to Budapest and accused populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban of cracking down on media freedom and LGBTQ rights. Orban’s administration has also been accused of tolerating an entrenched culture of corruption and co-opting state institutions to serve the governing Fidesz party.
In a European Parliament resolution, EU lawmakers declared last year that Hungary had become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Orban’s nationalist government and that its undermining of the bloc’s democratic values had taken Hungary out of the community of democracies.
That criticism raised objections within Hungary and made it hard for the government to support Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, Szijjártó said. Skeptics insist that Hungary has simply been trying to win lucrative concessions.
When it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Szijjártó said that his country’s advocacy of peace does not mean accepting that Russia would keep the territory it currently controls.
“You know, stopping the war and sitting around the table does not mean that you accept the status quo,” he said. “When the war stops and the peace talks start, it’s not necessary that the borders would be where the front lines are. We know this from our own history as well ... Cease-fire has to come now.”
As for relations with the United States, Szijjártó said they had a heyday under former President Donald Trump. His government found things more difficult under President Joe Biden.
In perfect, nearly unaccented English, Szijjártó explained that Hungary is “a clearly rightist, right-wing, Christian Democratic, conservative, patriotic government.” He then went on in terms that would be familiar to millions of Americans.
“So we are basically against the mainstream in any attributes of ours. And if you are against the liberal mainstream, and in the meantime, you are successful, and in the meantime, you continue to win elections, it’s not digestible for the liberal mainstream itself,” he said. “Under President Trump, the political relationship was as good as never before.”
Key to that relationship was Trump’s acceptance of Hungary’s policies toward its own citizens. The government has banned the sharing of materials with minors that it regards as a display or promotion of homosexuality or gender reassignment.
The law has been condemned by human rights groups and politicians from around Europe as an attack on Hungary’s LGBT community.
Szijjártó said Trump was more welcoming of such measures than the Biden administration.
“He never wanted to impose anything. He never wanted to put pressure on us to change our way of thinking about family. He never wanted us to change our way of thinking about migration. He never wanted us to change our way of thinking about social issues,” Szijjártó said.
He also said Trump’s attitude toward Russia would be more welcome by some parties today.
During Trump’s term in the White House, Russia did not start “any attack against anyone,” Szijjártó said.

2 men plead guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan at gunpoint

Two men have pleaded guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan (pictured, with his wife) at gunpoint of his £70,000 diamond watch
Two men have pleaded guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan (pictured, with his wife) at gunpoint of his £70,000 diamond watch
Updated 17 min 46 sec ago

2 men plead guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan at gunpoint

Two men have pleaded guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan (pictured, with his wife) at gunpoint of his £70,000 diamond watch
  • Khan and his wife were leaving a restaurant in Leyton in east London when suspect brandished gun
  • Khan: ‘I have been put in the toughest situations, but this is something different’

LONDON: Two men have pleaded guilty to robbing boxer Amir Khan at gunpoint of his £70,000 ($86,000) diamond watch, Metro newspaper reported.

London’s Snarebrook Crown Court convicted Dante Campbell, 20, and 25-year-old Ahmed Bana on Friday after the two pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to rob and possession of an imitation firearm, with sentencing to be set at a later date.

Stuart Ponder, Met Flying Squad detective constable, said: “This was carefully planned and executed by individuals who knew exactly who they were targeting and what for.

“Despite being on a busy street with other members of the public close by, they had no qualms about brandishing a firearm and threatening Mr. Khan with the most brazen and extreme level of violence.”

The robbery, caught on CCTV, took place just after 9 p.m. on April 18, 2022, when 36-year-old Khan and his wife, Faryal Makhdoom, left a restaurant in Leyton in east London.

Pointing a gun in the former light welterweight champion’s face as the couple crossed the road, Campbell yelled, “Take off the watch,” before fleeing the scene in a silver Mercedes driven by Bana, which had pulled in front of Khan’s car just moments before the attack.

A Flying Squad investigation used CCTV footage to identify the car as being insured by Bana and through him identified Campbell as the gunman, with the pair arrested on June 22.

Speaking at a previous hearing, Khan told the court: “I am a sportsman, a fighter. I have been put in the toughest situations, but this is something different. This is really, really scary. When he put the gun to my face, I couldn’t recognize him because he had a mask on. I looked away because I didn’t want him to pull the trigger.”

Ponder said that every robbery leaves a “significant” mark on the victim, praising Khan for speaking out about the impact it had on both him and his family.

“That is why we are doing everything we can to target individuals who think they can get away with this type of behavior, from extra patrols at known robbery hotspots and developing intelligence on those carrying out these crimes,” Ponder added.

“Anyone who is a victim of a robbery should report it as soon as possible. This helps us ascertain crucial forensic evidence to take these violent criminals off our streets.”

Two other men arrested on suspicion of acting as “spotters” by dining in the restaurant to keep track of Khan’s movements were acquitted by a jury at Snaresbrook on Friday, while another man, Hamza Kulane, remains wanted in connection with the robbery.

Evacuated villagers tell how Spain’s forest fire forced them to leave animals

Evacuated villagers tell how Spain’s forest fire forced them to leave animals
Updated 25 March 2023

Evacuated villagers tell how Spain’s forest fire forced them to leave animals

Evacuated villagers tell how Spain’s forest fire forced them to leave animals
  • Residents recounted fleeing their houses and leaving animals behind
  • More than 500 firefighters supported by 20 planes and helicopters were working to bring the blaze under control near the village of Villanueva de Viver

BARRACAS, Spain: Spain’s first major wildfire of the year scorched more than 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of forest and forced 1,500 villagers to leave their homes in the Valencia region.
Residents recounted fleeing their houses and leaving animals behind.
“Bad, how am I supposed to feel? Your town is burning, your life is burning, Our animals were there and no one can tell us anything,” Antonio Zarzoso, 24, who had to leave the village of Puebla de Arenoso, told Reuters.
More than 500 firefighters supported by 20 planes and helicopters were working to bring the blaze under control near the village of Villanueva de Viver, emergency services said on Saturday.
However, they had managed to stop the fire spreading to other areas.
“The surrounding forest has been reached by fire and we don’t know how exactly the area looks,” Montse Boronat, from Los Calpes, told Reuters.
Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia region, told reporters the blaze was made more “voracious” by summer-like temperatures of about 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
Las Provincias, a regional newspaper, reported police believe that the blaze may have been started by a spark from a machine used to gather brushwood.
A Spanish Civil Guard spokeswoman said that an investigation was underway into the cause of the fire.
An unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe has raised concern that there could be a repeat of last year’s devastating wildfires.
The weather will be drier and hotter than usual this spring along Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, increasing the risk of fires, meteorological agency AEMET said last week.
Last year some 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe more than double the annual average for the past 16 years, according to European Commission (EC) statistics.
In Spain, 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares of land, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.

With Ramadan underway, Afghan families survive on bread and tea

With Ramadan underway, Afghan families survive on bread and tea
Updated 25 March 2023

With Ramadan underway, Afghan families survive on bread and tea

With Ramadan underway, Afghan families survive on bread and tea
  • Living costs have skyrocketed since the Taliban took control in August 2021
  • UN estimates 70 percent of Afghans now depend on aid, as most are jobless

KABUL : The holy month of Ramadan is a time of celebration and unity, but with Afghanistan’s economy near collapse, families are resorting to desperate measures to buy food, with many surviving only on bread and tea. 

Since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, living costs and food prices have skyrocketed, while most adult Afghans are jobless. 

The UN estimates that 28 million people, or nearly 70 percent of the population, now depend on aid to survive. But even that assistance is limited as major international organizations have stopped operations in Afghanistan under its new rulers. 

As the Muslim world celebrates the holy month, with families planning flavorful dishes to enliven sahoor meals before sunrise and iftar dinners, in Afghan households that mood is no more. 

“In the past, we prepared iftar and sahoor not only for ourselves but also for security personnel and those living around us, but now we have nothing at all, only green tea and dry bread,” Shamsia Hassanzada, a former women’s rights activist and head of a kindergarten in Kabul, told Arab News.  

“Five members of our family, including me, used to work, but now only one person is working, and his income is not enough to meet our family’s needs.”  

Mohammad Naeem, a resident of Kabul who used to work as a driver for the Ministry of Defense under the previous administration, was glad that since the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan in 2021, the country has been safer and more peaceful, but the economic situation has not left much room to rejoice. 

“Believe me, I did not make a single piece of clothing for myself in the last two years because of a lot of economic problems at home,” the 71-year-old said. 

He has not received his pension for the past few months.    

“In the past, I had different types of foods at our iftar and sahoor, but now we have no food,” he said. “If I eat meat, it is somewhere at a charity, but I cannot buy it at the market for my family.” 

Fasting and charity are among the five main obligations of Islam, and during Ramadan, there is a strong focus on helping others, but that is hardly possible now when families have to fend for themselves. 

“Keeping the fast for the whole day and then having nothing for iftar and sahoor is so hard and painful for me and for most Afghan families…Most of us have nothing except green tea,” said Karishma Nazari, a women’s rights activist. 

“We had a lot of rich countrymen across Afghanistan who would donate and help many poor families. Unfortunately, these countrymen also left the country after the Taliban took control.” 

Sayed Omar, 35, who used to work for the previous administration in Kabul, has been taking odd jobs for the past two years to keep nine family members afloat — a duty that makes it hard to extend charitable deeds to others. 

He goes to the city every day to look for an opportunity to earn but often returns home empty-handed. 

“It’s very difficult to support my family,” he said. “In the past, we had enough food for both iftar and sahoor, even we were sharing our food with our neighbors, but now I’m entirely preoccupied with my family.” 

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi
Updated 25 March 2023

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi
  • Tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70 mph without weakening
  • The Storm Prediction Center warned the greatest threat of tornadoes would come in portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee

ROLLING FORK: A powerful tornado tore through rural Mississippi on Friday night, causing injuries, widespread damage and downing power lines as severe weather that produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states and prompted authorities to warn some in its path that they were in a “life-threatening situation.”
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 96 kilometers northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork were reporting destruction as the tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70 mph without weakening, racing toward Alabama through towns including Winona and Amory into the night.
The National Weather Service issued an alert that didn’t mince words: “To protect your life, TAKE COVER NOW!“
“You are in a life-threatening situation,” it warned. “Flying debris may be deadly to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Considerable damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles is likely and complete destruction is possible.”

Cornel Knight said that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. He said the sky was dark but “you could see the direction from every transformer that blew.”
He said it was “eerily quiet” as that happened. Knight said he watched from a doorway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away. Then he told everyone in the house to take cover in a hallway. He said the tornado struck another relative’s home across a wide corn field from where he was. A wall in that home collapsed and trapped several people inside. As Knight spoke to AP by phone, he said he could see lights from emergency vehicles at the partially collapsed home.
Rolling Fork mayor Eldridge Walker told WLBT-TV he was unable to get out of his damaged home soon after the tornado hit because power lines were down. He said emergency responders were trying to take injured people to hospitals. He did not immediately know how many people had been hurt.
A former mayor of Rolling Fork, Fred Miller, told the television station a tornado blew the windows out of the back of his house.
Storm chaser Reed Timmer posted on Twitter that Rolling Fork was in immediate need of emergency personnel and that he was heading with injured residents of the town to a Vicksburg hospital.
The Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork was damaged, WAPT reported.
The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork reported gas leaks and people trapped in piles of rubble, according to the Vicksburg News. Some law enforcement units were unaccounted for in Sharkey, according to the the newspaper.
Rolling Fork and the surrounding area has wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in the state by emergency officials.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Twitter post Friday night that search and rescue teams were active and that officials were sending more ambulances and emergency assets to those affected.
“Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight,” the post said. “Watch weather reports and stay cautious through the night, Mississippi!”
This was a supercell, the nasty type of storms that brew the deadliest tornado and most damaging hail in the United States, said University of Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. What’s more this a night-time wet one which is “the worst kind,” he said.

Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the general region, not the specific area, as much as a week in advance, said Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as March 17. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center put out a long-range alert for the area on March 19, he said.
Tornado experts like Ashley have been warning about increased risk exposure in the region because of people building more.
“You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and, disaster will happen,” Ashley said in an email.
Earlier Friday a car was swept away and two passengers drowned in southwestern Missouri during torrential rains that were part of a severe weather system. Authorities said six young adults were in the vehicle that was swept away as the car tried to cross a bridge over a flooded creek in the town of Grovespring.
Four of the six made it out of the water. The body of Devon Holt, 20, of Grovespring, was found at 3:30 a.m., and the body of Alexander Roman-Ranelli, 19, of Springfield, was recovered about six hours later, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Thomas Young said.
The driver told authorities that the rain made it difficult to see that water from a creek had covered the bridge, Young said.
Meanwhile, the search continued in another southwestern Missouri county for a woman who was missing after flash flooding from a small river washed a car off the road. The Logan Rogersville Fire Protection District said there was no sign of the woman. Two others who were in the car were rescued. Crews planned to use boats and have searchers walking along the riverbank.
When a woman’s SUV got swept up in rushing flood waters Friday morning near Granby, Missouri, Layton Hoyer made his way through icy-cold waters to rescue her.
Some parts of southern Missouri saw nearly 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain Thursday night and into Friday morning as severe weather hit other areas. A suspected tornado touched down early Friday in north Texas.
Matt Elliott, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said the severe weather was expected across several states.
The Storm Prediction Center warned the greatest threat of tornadoes would come in portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Storms with damaging winds and hail were forecast from eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma into parts of southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois.
More than 49,000 customers had lost power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee as of Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.
In Texas, a suspected tornado struck about 5 a.m. in the southwest corner of Wise County, damaging homes and downing trees and power lines, said Cody Powell, the county’s emergency management coordinator. Powell said no injuries were reported.
The weather service had not confirmed a tornado, but damage to homes was also reported in neighboring Parker County, said meteorologist Matt Stalley.