Indian billionaire Adani’s bid to remake Mumbai slum spurs residents’ doubts, favoritism claims

Indian billionaire Adani’s bid to remake Mumbai slum spurs residents’ doubts, favoritism claims
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A general view of Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, in Mumbai, India. (REUTERS)
Indian billionaire Adani’s bid to remake Mumbai slum spurs residents’ doubts, favoritism claims
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Mumbai residents protest against the redevelopment of Dharavi, one of Asia's largest slums, by the Adani Group on August 9, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 August 2023
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Indian billionaire Adani’s bid to remake Mumbai slum spurs residents’ doubts, favoritism claims

Indian billionaire Adani’s bid to remake Mumbai slum spurs residents’ doubts, favoritism claims
  • Hindenburg fallout, political uproar, residents’ worries weigh
  • Court battle between Dubai consortium, Adani adds new twist

MUMBAI: Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s plan to rehouse a million people living in one of Asia’s biggest slums is fueling worries among residents about his capacity to deliver amid high-profile financial setbacks and allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allies afforded him favorable treatment.
The Dharavi slum, about three-quarters the size of New York’s Central Park, featured in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” Its open sewers and shared toilets, close to Mumbai’s international airport and high-rises housing foreign companies, stand in contrast to India’s development boom.
Adani is at the helm of plans to redevelop Dharavi after the Maharashtra state government in July approved his $614 million contract bid to overhaul the slum, which is known for producing leather goods, following years of failed attempts.
Adani Group aims to demolish what it describes in legal documents as an area of “unhygienic, deplorable” conditions and build new towers on state-owned land to accommodate residents and their businesses. Consultancy Liases Foras estimates Adani may invest up to $12 billion on remaking Dharavi and in return get development rights that could yield revenue of up to $24 billion.
Only those who already lived in Dharavi before 2000, mostly ground-floor residents, will get free homes within the redevelopment. About 700,000 inhabitants of mezzanine and upper floors are considered ineligible by the government and will be offered units up to 10 kilometers away, which they say could require them to pay upfront costs or higher rents.
The overhaul, poised to start around September, comes at a tumultuous time for Adani. The tycoon was the world’s third-richest person until January, when — despite his denials — allegations by US short seller Hindenburg of improper dealings wiped $150 billion off his group’s market valuations.
In interviews with Reuters, some Dharavi residents cited the billionaire’s financial troubles as contributing to their concerns.
A fresh threat to Adani’s plans is a legal challenge from rival bidder SecLink Technologies Corporation. The Dubai-based consortium, which says it is backed by Bahrain’s royal family, alleges Maharashtra improperly canceled an original 2018 tender, for which SecLink bid highest, and restarted the process with new terms in 2022 so that Adani could win, according to court papers reviewed by Reuters.
The current state government, ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, is contesting the case. Last month, a Mumbai court allowed SecLink to add Adani to its lawsuit, forcing the conglomerate to defend its position before judges.
In an 809-page filing last month challenging Adani and the state, reported by Reuters for the first time, the eight-member consortium said Maharashtra’s modified bidding process was “politically motivated” and “tailor made to suit” Adani Group.
Those changes, according to SecLink, included doubling a bidder’s required net worth to $2.4 billion and capping consortium members at two instead of eight previously.
Adani, in a non-public submission to judges before an Aug. 31 hearing, denied SecLink’s allegations and argued the case should be thrown out in the interest of development.
Maharashtra said in a submission that SecLink’s claims were “baseless” and that officials had followed “proper process” in canceling the earlier tender, according to a Reuters review of non-public filings related to the case. It said it restarted the process because it added another land parcel to the project after the 2018 tender had closed.
Adani Group, SecLink, Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Modi’s office did not respond to questions from Reuters for this report.

HINDENBURG FALLOUT
Modi and Adani both hail from the western state of Gujarat. Their opponents and critics often allege the meteoric rise of Adani’s ports-to-energy empire was partly due to his close relations with, and favorable treatment by, administrations run by Modi’s BJP and its allies. The duo have repeatedly denied impropriety.
The opposition Congress party has seized on the Dharavi dispute to put pressure on Modi and the BJP ahead of 2024 national elections, accusing Maharashtra’s government of handing Adani an advantage.
“The fact that it is associated with Adani will automatically result in snowballing into a political controversy,” said Sandeep Shastri, director of academics at India’s NITTE Education Trust.
Hindenburg’s report and ensuing regulatory scrutiny of Adani have sowed mistrust among some in Dharavi, according to representatives of thousands of local families, and 25 other residents and business owners interviewed by Reuters.
“People have doubts regarding Adani’s image after the Hindenburg incident. There are issues of trustworthiness,” said Rajendra Korde, president of Dharavi Redevelopment Committee, which is calling for public consultation.
In early August, about 300 opposition supporters and residents gathered in Dharavi to object to Adani’s involvement. Some bore banners showing Adani’s face with a red cross, shouting, “Remove Adani, Save Dharavi.”
Many told Reuters they were troubled by Adani Group’s financial setbacks, including the collapse in its valuations.
“If something like that happens again, and if he is not able to complete the project, where will people like us go,” said Radha Pawar, a 50-year-old airport cleaner.

‘Colossal’ challenge
Adani, 61, in a July video address said the group had raised funds since Hindenburg’s report and that investors supported its governance and capital allocation practices.
Still, in a blog post last month, Adani acknowledged that rebuilding Dharavi presented “colossal” challenges — though he hoped the area in future would produce “millionaires without the slumdog prefix.”
Under the plan, the tycoon will need to create larger apartments of 300-350 square feet, with the state recommending fittings of foreign glass brands like France’s Saint-Gobain.
SVR Srinivas, who heads the Dharavi Redevelopment Authority, said efforts would be made to minimize disruption.
But residents remain jittery.
Mohammad Hasmat Ullah has lived in Dharavi since 1995 but runs an embroidery business from a rented upper floor, making his place ineligible for a free replacement. He earns $145 a month to support his family, including seven children.
“We are worried that Adani will throw us out of here,” said Ullah, 44, sitting inside his workshop accessed by a narrow, steep staircase.
“If Adani gives us a place to work and stay, it’s good. Otherwise, we will be forced to go back to our village.”
 


‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia
Updated 58 min 20 sec ago
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‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia
  • Superstars from film, fashion, music, sports been part of influx into Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural initiatives are attracting worldwide interest

DUBAI: Over the years, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to celebrities and stars from across the world as the Kingdom made its presence known in the global entertainment space. Here are 10 superstars who have visited Riyadh and were left in awe of the Saudi capital.

Sofia Vergara

The US-Colombian actress, most famous for her role in “Modern Family,” is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and also brought her trademark glamor to a promotional video for the VIA Riyadh luxury destination in the Saudi capital earlier this year.

She also dazzled on the red carpet of the 2023 Joy Awards in Riyadh in January. “I would like to dedicate the award to all the amazing women in the Kingdom and to all the women in the Middle East who are building a better future for all the women. Your dreams can come true, and they will if you use the two most important things: your mind and your culture,” Vergara said after accepting the Personality of the Year Award.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by VIA Riyadh | (@viariyadh)

Lionel Messi

While there has been an influx of international football stars joining the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation — who plays for Inter Miami — visited Riyadh this summer, along with his wife and kids, for a sightseeing trip.

“The best thing about holidays is spending quality time with our loved ones,” he wrote to his 480 million followers on Instagram. “Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, playing local games and making crafts with the warmest Saudi people.”

“If you are still planning your holidays, head to the cool mountains of (Asir) and chill at 17°C degrees,” he advised his fans.

The pictures feature the footballer playing with his sons and wife Antonella Roccuzzo.

He also shared an image of the picturesque mountains of Asir.

Messi visited the Kingdom in May and went to At-Turaif, the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and also explored some of Riyadh’s more contemporary attractions.

He also went on a guided tour in Diriyah and dined out at Al-Bujairi Terrace.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi)

Jason Momoa

Back in 2017, “Game of Thrones” and “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa visited Saudi Arabia as part of the pop-culture convention Comic Con Arabia.

“The food in Saudi Arabia is good. I missed Thanksgiving at home, so this was a true substitute,” he told Arab News.

Mada Abdelhamid, WWE star and Momoa’s trainer, posted a photo of himself and Momoa on Instagram, posing in front of a huge plate of traditional Saudi delicacies kabsa and mansaf.

“The before and after. Now this is what I call a FEAST!!!!! Eating like kings over here in Saudi Arabia. We literally couldn’t move afterwards ... but we couldn’t stop eating either. Very fitting that we were over here during Thanksgiving. Our stomachs felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa also took to social media to write about his experience visiting Riyadh’s iconic Najd Village: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia you treated me like royalty. Aloha to the fans and new friends. I had so many amazing experiences. I’ll be back very soon. Mahalo omar for fattening me up, the food here is amazing @najdvillagesa aloha j,” he wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thanks (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumamah National Park during the same visit.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@realdealmada)

Steve Aoki

US-Japanese DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the MDLBEAST music festival in Riyadh in 2019 with a special remix of tunes by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu.

“I love collaborating across cultures, it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Aoki told Arab News at the time.

Aoki, who also performed earlier that year at Jeddah World Fest, said he “loves” the people of Saudi Arabia and that he did not realize he had a huge fan base in the Kingdom.

“It is surprising and incredible … to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia … everyone is so loving and so kind. They are just beautiful people,” he said, adding that he was keen to return to the country for future performances.

“The people want it. You feel the energy in the crowd, they want this kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki also recently performed in Riyadh for a Gamers8 concert and gushed about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi crowd. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I did Jeddah, I did MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi crowd, they’re full of life. They’re an explosion of energy and passion and excitement. And this is what an artist dreams to have... For fans to really express themselves,” he said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Steve Aoki (@steveaoki)

DJ Khaled

Renowned artist and producer DJ Khaled made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh in December 2022, ahead of his headlining performance at the region’s largest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM.

Coming to the region for the first time, his experience of the culture and people was unlike any other, he said. The quality of life and overarching excitement appealed to the artist. “When we were driving over here and I was looking around, I put my head out the window and somebody screamed ‘Khaled!’ and I appreciate the love, and I said ‘Joe, man, people here are just happy,’” he told Arab News.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

Katie Holmes

The popular US actress visited the Kingdom on a trip with British actor Idris Elba and retired French footballer Thierry Henry in 2018.

Holmes took to social media to share several snaps from her trip to Riyadh, waxing lyrical about the architecture in a caption for one photograph, and revealing, for another image, that she was “so grateful for this amazing and inspiring time.” During her visit, Holmes also had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, along with Elba and Henry.

She also opened up about her trip, saying the country was “so beautiful.” “It was a long trip, but I really enjoyed it. I love the women that I met.” 

“It was really inspiring to see these women enjoying the new freedoms they now have and there is a sense of creativity that is happening,” she added.

John Travolta

US actor John Travolta, best known for his starring roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” made his first-ever appearance in Saudi Arabia in 2017 to discuss his career, during a two-day gala event.

Travolta answered questions from fans in the Saudi capital. “I have been completely touched by the warmth and embracing nature of everyone since I’ve arrived,” said the actor at the event titled, “A Night with Travolta,” organized by the Saudi Entertainment Authority.

Jackie Chan

The celebrated actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award, and said that he was looking forward to filming movies in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s my first time in Saudi, and I know it’s a big country. After only a few hours (travelling) here and looking at locations I know there’s a good place for car chasing, explosions, action; so, next time, I hope to come back with my crew,” Chan said.

The movie legend — who also visited Jeddah for the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022 — thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country, and expressed hopes the Kingdom would become a leading center of regional film and television production.

 

Shah Rukh Khan

The Bollywood superstar — who most recently shot his upcoming film “Dunki” in Saudi Arabia — visited the Kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award.

“We have been talking about the hospitality, the warmth, the goodness and the love that has been showered upon us … and for most of us, it’s our first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi,” Khan said at the event.

“Inshallah, we all wait with bated breath because cinema has opened up here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we as the world look forward to being of help in any which way we can be of help.”

Idris Elba

The British actor — known for his roles in “Luther” and “The Wire” — first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018 to speak at the launch of the $35 billion “Quality of Life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives.

“Saudi Arabia gave me an opportunity to make my film here. It made sense on an economical model,” Elba said at the event. “I would definitely be here — why not?”

“Saudi Arabia has an awesome opportunity to spread its culture through filmmaking,” he added.

The actor also reflected on his time in Saudi Arabia later in a podcast.

“I found Saudi was warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest,” the actor said during the inaugural episode of a talk show produced by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra.

He went on to explain that it was, “surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi.”

Naomi Campbell

British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, appearing at several events including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” in Riyadh. 

“I had to actually pinch myself and say I am in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, the first one ever, this historical event,” said Campbell at the time.

“It’s really about the change that’s happening around the world. I have been doing this for 35 years and I am really honored and happy to be here, still, in the business … and to see the change.”

During the fashion panel in Riyadh, the model discussed her love of humanitarian work, which began in 1993 in Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the resulting cultural influences she has experienced.

“There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” she said. “There are so many similarities and I really believe that Africa can teach the Middle East (about) textile and the Middle East can teach artisan work to Africa.”


Odesa port hit in Russian attacks: Ukrainian military

Odesa port hit in Russian attacks: Ukrainian military
Updated 25 September 2023
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Odesa port hit in Russian attacks: Ukrainian military

Odesa port hit in Russian attacks: Ukrainian military
  • Russia “attacked the south of the country again,” the Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine said on the messaging platform Telegram.
  • Russia and Ukraine are two major agricultural powers whose supplies are crucial for global food security

Kyiv: Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa was hit by Russian missiles overnight, destroying grain stores, the Ukrainian military said Monday.
Russia “attacked the south of the country again,” the Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine said on the messaging platform Telegram.
Since July when Moscow pulled out of a UN-brokered deal allowing safe grain shipments via the Black Sea, Russia has ramped up attacks on Ukraine’s grain-exporting infrastructure in the southern Odesa and Mykolaiv regions.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian southern military command, said Russia was apparently “trying to test out the density of the air defense.”
“They understand that port infrastructure is a priority for our region, and that it is reliably protected. However, that is why the attack that occurred tonight was both massive and by combined means,” she said on Telegram.
The Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine said Russia directed 19 drones and 2 Onyx supersonic missiles at Odesa, and fired 12 Kalibr missiles.
They claimed all 19 Shaheds and 11 Kalibrs “were shot down.”
However, Russia did “hit the port infrastructure” in Odesa, which “suffered significant damage,” they said.
“Onyx missiles destroyed granaries. But people were not hurt,” they said.
Warehouses and a private house in the Odesa suburbs were damaged and caught fire, they added, “as a result of falling debris.”
Gumenyuk said one of the grain stores hit was empty.
“Nevertheless, hitting grain deal-related infrastructure,” she said, was a Russian “priority.”
Odesa regional governor Oleg Kiper said on Telegram that one woman in Odesa, a civilian, was injured by shrapnel “in a blast wave” and was being treated in hospital.
Ukraine is testing a new Black Sea route that avoids international waters and uses those controlled by NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.
A first ship loaded with wheat reached Istanbul on Thursday despite Russian threats to attack boats heading to or from Ukraine.
A second shipment reached Turkiye on Sunday, according to maritime traffic monitoring sites.
Russia and Ukraine are two major agricultural powers whose supplies are crucial for global food security.
Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor in February last year — and subsequent international sanctions — have destabilized global supplies and markets.
Meanwhile Russia’s defense ministry said its air defenses had “destroyed” four unmanned aerial vehicles over the northwestern Black Sea, and the Crimean peninsula which Moscow annexed in 2014.
It said two drones each were intercepted in Kursk and Bryansk, two regions bordering Ukraine.
Kursk regional governor Roman Starovoyt said several homes and the roof of an administrative building were damaged “due to an attack by Ukrainian UAVs” in the Central district.
No casualties were reported.
Bryansk regional governor Aleksandr Bogomaz said there were “no casualties or damage” in the region.


Punjab’s Sikhs fear Canada-India row threatens them at home, abroad

Punjab’s Sikhs fear Canada-India row threatens them at home, abroad
Updated 25 September 2023
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Punjab’s Sikhs fear Canada-India row threatens them at home, abroad

Punjab’s Sikhs fear Canada-India row threatens them at home, abroad
  • Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder sparked severe diplomatic row between India, Canada
  • Sikhs make up just 2 percent of India’s 1.4 billion Hindu-majority population but are a majority in Punjab

BHARSINGHPURA, India: A bitter row between India and Canada over the murder of a Sikh separatist is being felt in Punjab, where some Sikhs fear both a backlash from India’s Hindu-nationalist government and a threat to their prospects for a better life in North America.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a plumber who left the north Indian state a quarter-century ago and became a Canadian citizen, was shot dead in June outside a temple in a Vancouver suburb where he was a separatist leader among the many Sikhs living there.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week Ottawa had “credible allegations” that Indian government agents may be linked to the killing.

India, which labelled Nijjar a “terrorist” in 2020, angrily rejected the allegation as “absurd,” expelled the chief of Canadian intelligence in India, issued travel warnings, stopped visa issuance to Canadians and downsized Canada’s diplomatic presence in India.

Sikhs make up just 2 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people but they are a majority in Punjab, a state of 30 million where their religion was born 500 years ago. Outside of Punjab, the greatest number of Sikhs live in Canada, the site of many protests that have irked India.

DREAM OF CANADA

An insurgency seeking a Sikh homeland of Khalistan, which killed tens of thousands in the 1980s and ‘90s, was crushed by India, but embers from the flame of the independence drive still glow.

In the village of Bharsinghpura, there are few memories of Nijjar, but his uncle, Himmat Singh Nijjar, 79, said locals “think it was very brave of Trudeau” to accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of potential involvement in the killing.

“For the sake of one ordinary person, he did not need to take such a huge risk on his government,” the uncle told Reuters, sitting on a wooden bench by a tractor in his farmhouse, surrounded by lush paddy fields and banana trees.

Still, though, the elder Nijjar said he is worried about deteriorating diplomatic relations with Canada and declining economic prospects in Punjab.

The once-prosperous breadbasket of India, Punjab has been overtaken by states that focussed on manufacturing, services and technology in the last two decades.

“Now every family wants to send its sons and daughters to Canada as farming here is not lucrative, said the elder Nijjar.

India is the largest source for international students in Canada, their numbers jumping 47 percent last year to 320,000.

‘ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR’

“We now fear whether Canada will give student visas or if the Indian government will create some hurdles,” said undergraduate Gursimran Singh, 19, who wants to go to Canada.

He was speaking at the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where many students go to pray for, or give thanks for, for student visas.

The temple became a flashpoint for Hindu-Sikh tension when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allowed it to be stormed in 1984 to flush out Sikh separatists, angering Sikhs around the world. Her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her soon afterward.

Ties between Sikh groups in Punjab and Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have been strained since Sikh farmers led year-long protests against farm deregulation in 2020 and blocked the capital, forcing Modi to withdraw the measure in a rare political defeat for the strongman.

Modi’s government has created “an atmosphere of fear,” especially for young people, said Sandeep Singh, 31, from Nijjar’s village.

“If we are doing a protest, parents wouldn’t like their child to participate because they are afraid their children can meet the same fate” as Nijjar in Canada, he said.

Kanwar Pal, political affairs secretary for the radical separatist Dal Khalsa group, said, “Whosoever fights for Khalistan fights for right to self-determination, rights for plebiscite in Punjab. India perceived those Sikhs as their enemies and they target them.”

A BJP spokesperson declined to comment on the accusations.

Senior BJP leaders have said there was no wave of support in Punjab for independence and that any such demands were a threat to India. At the same time, the party says no one has done as much for the Sikhs as Modi.


Leader of Canada’s House of Commons apologizes for honoring man who fought for Nazis

Leader of Canada’s House of Commons apologizes for honoring man who fought for Nazis
Updated 25 September 2023
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Leader of Canada’s House of Commons apologizes for honoring man who fought for Nazis

Leader of Canada’s House of Commons apologizes for honoring man who fought for Nazis
  • Canadian lawmakers cheered and Zelensky raised his fist in acknowledgement as Hunka saluted from the gallery during two separate standing ovations

TORONTO: The speaker of Canada’s House of Commons apologized Sunday for recognizing a man who fought for a Nazi military unit during World War II.
Just after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an address in the House of Commons on Friday, Canadian lawmakers gave 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka a standing ovation when Speaker Anthony Rota drew attention to him. Rota introduced Hunka as a war hero who fought for the First Ukrainian Division.
“In my remarks following the address of the President of Ukraine, I recognized an individual in the gallery. I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision to do so,” Rota said in a statement.
He added that his fellow Parliament members and the Ukraine delegation were not aware of his plan to recognize Hunka. Rota noted Hunka is from his district.
“I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world. I accept full responsibility for my action,” Rota said.
Hunka could not be immediately reached for comment.
Canadian lawmakers cheered and Zelensky raised his fist in acknowledgement as Hunka saluted from the gallery during two separate standing ovations. Rota called him a “Ukrainian hero and a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”
Zelensky was in Ottawa to bolster support from Western allies for Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion.
Vladimir Putin has painted his enemies in Ukraine as “neo-Nazis,” even though Zelensky is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement that Rota had apologized and accepted full responsibility for issuing the invitation to Hunka and for the recognition in Parliament.
“This was the right thing to do,” the statement said. “No advance notice was provided to the Prime Minister’s Office, nor the Ukrainian delegation, about the invitation or the recognition.”
The First Ukrainian Division was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a voluntary unit that was under the command of the Nazis.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies issued a statement Sunday saying the division “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”
“An apology is owed to every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis, and an explanation must be provided as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation,” the statement said.
B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Michael Mostyn, said it was outrageous that Parliament honored a former member of a Nazi unit, saying Ukrainian “ultra-nationalist ideologues” who volunteered for the Galicia Division “dreamed of an ethnically homogenous Ukrainian state and endorsed the idea of ethnic cleansing.”
“We understand an apology is forthcoming. We expect a meaningful apology. Parliament owes an apology to all Canadians for this outrage, and a detailed explanation as to how this could possibly have taken place at the center of Canadian democracy,” Mostyn said before Rota issued his statement.
Members of Parliament from all parties rose to applaud Hunka. A spokesperson for the Conservative party said the party was not aware of his history at the time.
“We find the reports of this individual’s history very troubling,” said Sebastian Skamski, adding that Trudeau’s Liberal party would have to explain why he was invited.


France’s troop pullout announcement warmly welcomed by Niger ruling junta

French Barkhane Air Force mechanics maintain a Mirage 2000 on the Niamey, Niger base on June 5, 2021. (AP)
French Barkhane Air Force mechanics maintain a Mirage 2000 on the Niamey, Niger base on June 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 September 2023
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France’s troop pullout announcement warmly welcomed by Niger ruling junta

French Barkhane Air Force mechanics maintain a Mirage 2000 on the Niamey, Niger base on June 5, 2021. (AP)
  • Niger’s military rulers describes pullout as “a new step toward sovereignty”
  • Macron said he still regards democratically elected president Mohammed Bazoum as Niger's leader

PARIS: France will pull its soldiers out of Niger following a July coup in the West African country, President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, dealing a huge blow to French influence and counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel region.

Macron said 1,500 troops would withdraw by the end of the year and that France, the former colonial power in Niger, refused to “be held hostage by the putchists.”

Niger’s military rulers welcomed the announcement as “a new step toward sovereignty.”

France’s exit, which comes after weeks of pressure from the junta and popular demonstrations, is likely to exacerbate Western concerns over Russia’s expanding influence in Africa. The Russian mercenary force Wagner already present in Niger’s neighbor Mali.

“This Sunday, we celebrate a new step toward the sovereignty of Niger,” said a statement from the country’s military rulers, who seized power in late July by overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

“The French troops and the ambassador of France will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year.”

The statement, read out on national television, added: “This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people.”

Earlier Sunday, before Macron’s announcement, the body regulating aviation safety in Africa (ASECNA), announced that Niger’s military rulers had banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace.

The French president has refused to recognize the junta as Niger’s legitimate authority but said Paris would coordinate troop withdraw with the coup leaders.“We will consult with the putschists because we want things to be orderly,” Macron said in an interview with France’s TF1 and France 2 television stations.

France’s ambassador was also being pulled out and would return to the country in the next few hours, Macron added.

French influence over its former colonies has waned in West Africa in recent years, just as popular vitriol has grown. Its forces have been kicked out of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso since coups in those countries, reducing its role in a region-wide fight against deadly Islamist insurgencies.

Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which have used it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.

Russia's expanding presence

France’s military base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, had become the epicenter of anti-French protests since the July 26 coup.

Groups have regularly gathered on the street outside to call for the exit of troops stationed in the capital. On one Saturday this month, tens of thousands rallied against France, slitting the throat of a goat dressed in French colors and carrying coffins draped in French flags.

Pro-coup demonstrators in Niamey have waved Russian flags, adding to Western countries’ fears that Niger could follow Mali’s lead and replace their troops with Wagner fighters.

Before his death in a plane crash last month, Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin spoke in a social media clip of making Russia greater on all continents and Africa more free. Wagner’s future has been unclear since his demise.

Wagner is also active in Central African Republic and Libya. Western nations say it is also present in Sudan, though it denies this. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a return to constitutional order in Niger.

French nuclear power plants source a small amount — less than 10 percent — of their uranium from Niger, with France’s state-owned Orano operating a mine in Niger’s north.

Macron said he still regarded democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum, currently held prisoner by the coup leaders, as Niger’s legitimate leader and had informed him of his decision.