Serb gunmen battle police in Kosovo monastery siege; four dead

Serb gunmen battle police in Kosovo monastery siege; four dead
Kosovo police officers evacuate a wounded person at a cross road leading to the Banjska Monastery in the village of Banjska on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 25 September 2023
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Serb gunmen battle police in Kosovo monastery siege; four dead

Serb gunmen battle police in Kosovo monastery siege; four dead
  • Ethnic Albanians form the vast majority of the 1.8 million population of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia

NORTH MITROVICA, Kosovo: Ethnic Serb gunmen in armored vehicles stormed a village in north Kosovo on Sunday, battling police and barricading themselves in a monastery in a resurgence of violence in the restive north that killed four people.
The siege centered on a Serbian Orthodox monastery near the village of Banjska in the Serb-majority region where monks and pilgrims hid inside a temple as a shootout raged.
One police officer and three of the attackers died, according to authorities in Kosovo and Serbia.
Ethnic Albanians form the vast majority of the 1.8 million population of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia.
But some 50,000 Serbs in the north have never accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and still see Belgrade as their capital, more than two decades after a Kosovo Albanian guerrilla uprising against repressive Serbian rule.
A group of Kosovo Serbs positioned trucks on a bridge into the village, shooting at police who approached them, before the battle moved to the nearby monastery, according to accounts by both Kosovo police and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
The gunmen had left the monastery by night, the Serbian Orthodox Church said, though it was unclear where they went.
Vucic said the action was a rebellion against Kurti, who has refused to form an association of Serb municipalities in north Kosovo. “Serbia will never recognize independent Kosovo, you can kill us all,” he said. Two Serbs were seriously injured and a fourth among them may have died, Vucic said. He condemned the killing of the police officer and urged restraint from Kosovo Serbs.
The Serbian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Raska-Prizren, which includes Banjska, said men in an armored vehicle entered the monastery compound, forcing monks and visiting faithful to lock themselves inside the temple.
The Kosovo police later said they had entered the monastery and were checking for possible infiltrators among worshippers. Three of their personnel were also injured, as well as the fatality in their ranks, police said.
Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said police found a large number of heavy weapons, explosives and uniforms “that were enough for hundreds of other attackers,” indicating preparations for a massive assault.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN
The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Caroline Ziadeh, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the violence.
Borrell talked with both Kurti and Vucic, according to his office.
NATO troops, along with members of the EU police force EULEX and Kosovo police, could be seen patrolling the road leading to Banjska, according to a Reuters reporter nearby.
Kosovo border police closed two crossings with Serbia.
Serbs in north Kosovo have long demanded the implementation of a EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.
EU-sponsored talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo stalled last week, with the bloc blaming Kurti for failing to set up the association.
Pristina sees the plan as a recipe for a mini-state within Kosovo, effectively partitioning the country along ethnic lines.
Serbia still formally deems Kosovo to be part of its territory, but denies suggestions of whipping up strife within its neighbor’s borders. Belgrade accuses Pristina of trampling on the rights of minority Serbs.
Unrest intensified when ethnic Albanian mayors took office in north Kosovo after April elections the Serbs boycotted.
Clashes in May
injured dozens of protesters and NATO alliance peacekeepers. NATO retains 3,700 troops in Kosovo, the remainder of an original 50,000-strong force deployed in 1999.
The area of north Kosovo where Serbs form a majority is in important ways a virtual extension of Serbia. Local administration and public servants, teachers, doctors and big infrastructure projects are paid for by Belgrade.


Ukraine jails man for aiding Russian forces in Donetsk

Ukraine jails man for aiding Russian forces in Donetsk
Updated 9 sec ago
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Ukraine jails man for aiding Russian forces in Donetsk

Ukraine jails man for aiding Russian forces in Donetsk
Prosecutors in Ukraine have opened thousands of criminal cases into collaboration since Russian forces invaded in February 2022
The regional prosecutor’s office said the man had committed high treason by passing information on the location of Ukrainian troops in the area to Russian forces

KYIV: A Ukrainian man has been handed 15 years behind bars for passing sensitive military information to Russian forces, prosecutors in the eastern Donetsk region said on Tuesday.
Prosecutors in Ukraine have opened thousands of criminal cases into collaboration since Russian forces invaded in February 2022.
The regional prosecutor’s office said the man, who was not identified, had committed high treason by passing information on the location of Ukrainian troops in the area to Russian forces.
“Fifteen years behind bars — Russian agent who directed hostile attacks on Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel and armored vehicles is sentenced,” it announced in a statement.
The prosecutors said the resident of Kostyantynivka, a town near the frontline, had disclosed in May last year locations of Ukrainian troop deployments and movements of Kyiv’s artillery in the region via the Telegram messenger service.
It said the man’s Russian handler had promised payment in return but had not made good on the promise.
Russian forces are making steady gains in the industrial Donetsk region, which the Kremlin claims is part of Russia, as Ukraine suffers critical manpower and ammunition shortages.
The United Nations said last year that Ukraine had opened more than 6,600 criminal cases “against individuals for collaboration and other conflict-related crimes” since the war began.

Finnish law to stop migrants at Russia border makes progress in parliament

Finnish law to stop migrants at Russia border makes progress in parliament
Updated 26 min 40 sec ago
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Finnish law to stop migrants at Russia border makes progress in parliament

Finnish law to stop migrants at Russia border makes progress in parliament
  • Finland has accused Russia of weaponizing migration by encouraging hundreds of asylum seekers last year from countries such as Syria and Somalia to cross the border
  • Helsinki believes Moscow is promoting the crossings in retaliation for Finland joining NATO, which backs Ukraine against Russia’s invasion

HELSINKI: Finland’s parliament will be able to accept a government proposal to temporarily reject asylum seekers arriving across the border from Russia if some amendments are made, an influential committee of legislators said on Tuesday.
The announcement by the chair of parliament’s constitutional committee is expected to pave the way for the controversial proposal to be approved in a plenary vote in due course.
Finland has accused Russia of weaponizing migration by encouraging hundreds of asylum seekers last year from countries such as Syria and Somalia to cross the border, an assertion the Kremlin denies.
Helsinki believes Moscow is promoting the crossings in retaliation for Finland joining NATO, which backs Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
After first shutting all land border crossings with Russia late last year, preventing regular travel, the Finnish government in May presented legislation allowing border guards to stop migrants still arriving from seeking asylum.
While the plan clearly contradicts principles included in international human rights agreements, it is still justified as a temporary emergency measure under the circumstances, committee chair Heikki Vestman told a press conference.
For the legislation to pass it must be accompanied by a procedure giving those who are rejected a possibility to appeal the decision, said Vestman, who belongs to the ruling National Coalition Party.
No migrants have arrived across the border with Russia since March 13, official data shows.
Before the vote, the committee heard 18 experts, who were all against approving the law.
But in the end, 15 of the 17 parliamentarians on the constitutional committee gave their backing, with only the Left Alliance and Green Party representatives objecting.
“For the first time the Finnish state explicitly ignores the human rights system and European Union legislation,” Left Alliance lawmaker Anna Kontula said, adding that this could set a dangerous precedent.


A Swedish diplomat says his release from a 2-year detention in Iran is like a dream

A Swedish diplomat says his release from a 2-year detention in Iran is like a dream
Updated 33 min 30 sec ago
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A Swedish diplomat says his release from a 2-year detention in Iran is like a dream

A Swedish diplomat says his release from a 2-year detention in Iran is like a dream
  • “The dream that I sometimes did not dare to believe in has come true — to be back with my loved ones and to live my life in freedom,” said Floderus
  • Sweden’s Expressen tabloid posted a video of Floderus on his knee at the airport on Saturday and appearing to be proposing to his fiancé

COPENHAGEN: The Swedish European Union diplomat who was held in Iran for two years and freed in a prisoner swap over the weekend said Tuesday that his release was “the dream that I sometimes did not dare to believe in.”
Johan Floderus and a second Swedish citizen, Saeed Azizi, returned to Sweden on Saturday in exchange for Hamid Nouri, an Iranian convicted in Stockholm of committing war crimes over his part in 1988 mass executions in the Islamic Republic.
Floderus was arrested in April 2022 at the Tehran airport while returning from a vacation with friends. He had been held for months before his family and others went public with his detention.
“After two long years, I am finally a free man, reunited with my family, my fiance, and will be able to marry,” he said in a statement to Swedish media. “The dream that I sometimes did not dare to believe in has come true — to be back with my loved ones and to live my life in freedom.”
Sweden’s Expressen tabloid posted a video of Floderus on his knee at the airport on Saturday and appearing to be proposing to his fiance. In the background stood Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who had welcomed Floderus and Azizi at the airport and said they had faced a “hell on earth.”
The swap was mediated by Oman, a sultanate on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula that has long served as an interlocutor between Iran and the West. It came as the Muslim world celebrates Eid Al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage and typically sees prisoners freed.
The arrest of Nouri by Sweden in 2019 as he traveled there as a tourist likely sparked the detentions of the two Swedes, part of a long-running strategy by Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution to use those with ties abroad as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West. Iran long has contended it doesn’t hold prisoners to use in negotiations, despite years of multiple swaps with the US and other nations showing otherwise.
In 2022, the Stockholm District Court sentenced Nouri to life in prison. It identified him as an assistant to the deputy prosecutor at the Gohardasht prison outside the Iranian city of Karaj.
Saturday’s swap did not include Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian expert on disaster medicine whom a UN panel long has described as being arbitrarily detained by Tehran since 2016. He is currently being held in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
In an appeal to Kristersson, Swedish broadcaster SVT on Tuesday carried an audio message from Djalali, who faces possible execution after being convicted on charges of “corruption on Earth” in 2017.
“Mister prime minister, you decided to leave me behind under huge risk of being executed,” Djalali said in the message. “You left me here helpless. Why not me? After 3,000 days.”


French far-right leader Bardella slams Mbappe on election comments

French far-right leader Bardella slams Mbappe on election comments
Updated 45 min 26 sec ago
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French far-right leader Bardella slams Mbappe on election comments

French far-right leader Bardella slams Mbappe on election comments
  • “We must respect the French, we must respect everyone’s vote,” Bardella told CNews TV
  • Forward Marcus Thuram had earlier urged people to “fight daily” to prevent Bardella’s National Rally (RN) from gaining power

PARIS: French far-right leader Jordan Bardella criticized star footballer Kylian Mbappe on Tuesday for his call on the youth to vote against the “extremes” in parliamentary elections this month.
“I have a lot of respect for our footballers, whether Marcus Thuram or Kylian Mbappe, who are icons of football and icons for youth ... But we must respect the French, we must respect everyone’s vote,” Bardella told CNews TV.
“When you’re lucky enough to have a very, very big salary, when you are a multi-millionaire ... then I’m a little embarrassed to see these athletes ... give lessons to people who can no longer make ends meet, who no longer feel safe, who do not have the chance to live in neighborhoods overprotected by security agents,” he said.
France captain Mbappe, who is hugely popular, said on Sunday, during a press conference on the eve of France’s opening match at Euro 2024 that “the extremes are knocking at the doors of power.”
Forward Marcus Thuram had earlier urged people to “fight daily” to prevent Bardella’s National Rally (RN) from gaining power.
Mbappe did not name the RN but said he supported the same values and position as Thuram.
“Kylian Mbappe is against extreme views and against ideas that divide people. I want to be proud to represent France, I don’t want to represent a country that doesn’t correspond to my values, or our values,” Mbappe said.
That call resonated with some youths in Mbappe’s old neighborhood, an underprivileged Paris suburb, but was immediately criticized by the RN.
Bardella was speaking a day after France won its Euro 2024 opening match in which Mbappe suffered a broken nose.
Bardella’s euroskeptic, anti-immigration party has its first real chance of winning national power in the June 30 and July 7 ballot. Opinion polls have consistently placed the RN first since President Emmanuel Macron’s shock decision this month to dissolve parliament.
Meanwhile, French Football Federation President Philippe Diallo told a press conference at the team’s camp in Germany that players were free to express their opinion. He urged political parties not to use these comments to their benefit.


Indian capital on alert as heat index surges to 50 degrees

Indian capital on alert as heat index surges to 50 degrees
Updated 55 min 35 sec ago
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Indian capital on alert as heat index surges to 50 degrees

Indian capital on alert as heat index surges to 50 degrees
  • Weather patterns disrupted by El Nino, India Meteorological Department says
  • Northern India was already on ‘red alert’ due to heatwaves in May

NEW DELHI: India’s capital territory of Delhi was on the meteorological department’s highest weather alert on Tuesday, with the heat index surging to 50 degrees Celsius as an unusually long hot spell continued to grip parts of the country.

Prolonged extreme heat has been roiling swaths of South Asia, covering some of the world’s most densely populated regions. In India, it has hit especially the country’s north — home to more than 400 million people — including Delhi, with its 30 million inhabitants.

As temperatures soared above 45 degrees Celsius, the India Meteorological Department issued a red alert for Delhi and the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

According to IMD, the heat index, or the feels-like temperature, was about 50 degrees Celsius due to humidity.

“If the temperature is 45 or 46 degrees Celsius, the feels-like temperature may be 50 or 51,” Dr. Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, the IMD’s director general of meteorology, told Arab News.

“The heatwave has been here in the northwest India in two spells. One spell was in the month of May and the second commenced around June 10.”

May is usually hot in the Indian subcontinent but this year the heatwave pattern is unusual, and northern parts of India were already on the IMD’s highest, “red alert” last month.

Mohapatra attributed the anomaly to the El Nino climate phenomenon, which every few years disrupts weather patterns. The El Nino effect was overlapping the warming due to climate change.

“In El Nino years, north India experiences more heatwave conditions so that is the reason,” Mohapatra said. “Climate change leads to the rising of temperature and when there is a rise in temperature, the probability of the occurrence of heatwaves increases. That doesn’t mean that every year you will have this type of heat ... (but) there is a rising trend in the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves.”

Additional factors making the heat insufferable in India are rapid urbanization, deforestation and water shortages.

Delhi relies on external sources for freshwater supply, as its own groundwater resources are low.

Last month, the Delhi government had to approach the Supreme Court for intervention to obtain more water from neighboring states.

“I think the government has been looking after and lots of work has been done in various departments at the national and state level. But stringent policies have to be there ... we need to have good mitigation strategies to address the issue,” said Bharti Jasrotia, technology transfer manager at Development Alternatives, a Delhi-based social enterprise and think tank involved in sustainable development.

“They should do mass-scale plantation and create more urban forest areas in and around Delhi so that Delhi gets good air and the temperature gets diluted. The government will have to address the issue of groundwater, too. Many areas of Delhi are facing water shortages.

“They should also look for a good supply of water. They should involve people in plantation drives and this will help in the coming five years.”