Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request
US President Joe Biden makes a statement about the stopgap government funding bill passed by the US House and Senate to avert a government shutdown at the White House in Washington, October 1, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 October 2023
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Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

Biden tries to reassure allies of continued US support for Ukraine after Congress drops aid request

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden gathered other world powers Tuesday to coordinate on Ukraine as it battles Russia in a war now almost 20 months long — a deliberate show of US support at a time when the future of its aid is entangled with a volatile faction of House Republicans who want to cut off money to Kyiv.

The phone call — convened by the United States and joined by key allies in Europe as well as the leaders of Canada and Japan — was held three days after Biden signed legislation hastily sent to him by Congress that kept the federal government funded but left off billions in funding for Ukraine’s war effort that the White House had vigorously backed.

All the countries that participated in the call stressed that their backing of Ukraine remains unchanged, and no one questioned whether US support of Kyiv was in doubt, according to the White House. But the administration sternly warned Tuesday that Congress must not let the flow of aid be disrupted, lest Russian President Vladimir Putin exploit any lapses to his advantage.

“Time is not our friend,” said John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. He warned that any gaps in US support “will make Putin believe he can wait us out.”

Kirby said the current tranche of congressionally-approved US aid would be enough to help Ukraine for another “couple of weeks” or a “couple of months,” although the precise estimate would hinge on current battlefield conditions.

The outlook for the future of Ukraine aid has been murky at best after Biden on Saturday signed a bill to fund US government operations through mid-November that ignored the billions in additional funds for Kyiv requested by Biden in late August. The president, as well as congressional Democratic leaders, had stressed after the vote that they had expected then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to follow through on his public commitment to Ukraine aid even as Republican resistance to it continues.

Biden went as far as to imply that e had a deal with McCarthy to move Ukraine aid once the government was funded, although the speaker has denied that is the case and the White House has refused to elaborate on the president’s remarks. Meanwhile, McCarthy signaled over the weekend that he supports linking new Ukraine funding to security improvements at the US border with Mexico. Kirby said Tuesday that the White House supports both issues on their own merits but not tied together.

McCarthy was ejected from his own job on Tuesday in dramatic fashion on the House floor. Even as the White House said it was staying out of his fight to keep the speaker’s gavel, Kirby emphasized that other House GOP leaders support Ukraine aid, not just McCarthy himself.

In Poland, President Andrzej Duda said after the call that Biden had assured the group of continued US support for Ukraine and of his strong conviction that Congress will not walk away.

“Everyone took the floor. The main subject was Ukraine, the situation in Ukraine,” Duda said at a news conference in Kielce, Poland. “President Joe Biden began with telling us about the situation in the US and what is the real political situation around Ukraine. He assured us that there is backing for the continuing support for Ukraine, first of all for the military support.

He said that he will get that backing in the Congress.”

Duda said Biden assured the leaders that support for Ukraine in the US Congress is much broader than media reports suggest. He said Biden called on the participants to continue their support for Ukraine and that everyone assured him that they would.

Kirby added that the other leaders weren’t concerned about whether US would stop backing Ukraine: “They understand what’s going up on Capitol Hill,” he said.

Others on the call included the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Britain, the European Commission and the European Council. France’s foreign minister also participated, the White House said. French President Emmanuel Macron was not available due to scheduling issues, according to a US administration official.

The group also discussed how to provide Ukraine with the weapons support and strengthen its air defenses, as well as shoring up its energy infrastructure as the nation girds for a cold winter. The leaders also strategized on how to marshal private donations to aid Ukraine’s economic recovery, according to a White House readout of the call.

“Everyone was saying that this is the next step that will be necessary and for which preparations should begin now,” Duda said of the leaders’ discussion on helping to rebuild Ukraine.

As the White House made its case for continued aid to Ukraine, lawmakers and military veterans rallied outside the US Capitol to make their own call to keep up the funding. Many argued stopping US support to Ukraine would embolden Russia and other rivals to invade other democratic allies after Ukraine, and draw US forces into direct conflict.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Arnold, a veteran of the special forces, told the crowd that “the world is watching this debate about abandoning Ukraine.”

“Retreats to isolationism do not work,” Arnold said. China and Russia and other adversaries “will all rise in strength if Ukraine is defeated.”

The exclusion of money for Ukraine came little more than a week after lawmakers met in the Capitol with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He sought to assure them that his military was winning the war, but stressed that additional assistance would be crucial.

Voting in the House last week pointed to the potential trouble ahead. Nearly half of House Republicans voted to cut from a defense spending bill $300 million to train Ukrainian soldiers and buy weapons. The money later was approved separately, but opponents of Ukraine support celebrated their growing numbers.

The US has approved four rounds of aid to Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion, totaling about $113 billion, with some of that money going toward replenishment of US military equipment that was sent to the front lines. In August, Biden called on Congress to provide for an additional $24 billion.


Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans

Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans
Updated 58 min 16 sec ago
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Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans

Pakistan’s top court begins hearing challenge to expulsion of Afghans
  • More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Oct. 1, after Pakistan vowed to expel undocumented refugees
  • Pakistan is home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court began hearings on Friday on a petition by rights activists seeking to halt deportation of Afghan refugees, a lawyer said, as authorities are combing refugee settlements in an effort to find and send home thousands.
More than 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Oct. 1, after Pakistan vowed to expel more than a million undocumented refugees, mostly Afghans, amid a row with Kabul over charges that it harbors anti-Pakistan militants.
“Due to the urgency, as thousands of people are suffering on daily basis, I’ve requested the court to take up the case as early as next week,” said Umar Ijaz Gilani, the lawyer representing the rights activists.
The panel of three judges hearing the case has asked the government, the interior (home) and foreign ministries, as well as a panel of government and top military officials, to furnish an explanation in reply, the lawyer said.
Thousands of Afghans have gone underground in Pakistan to avoid deportation, fearing for their lives if they return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following a hasty and chaotic withdrawal of US-led Western forces in 2021.
Children born to Afghan families in Pakistan could not be sent back due to their birthright, Gilani said.
Friday’s petition is separate from another focused exclusively on seeking Pakistani citizenship for such children, as guaranteed by the South Asian nation’s constitution, he said.
Pakistan is home to more than 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented.
Many arrived after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, joining a large number living there since the Soviet invasion of the neighboring nation in 1979.
Pakistani police have searched door-to-door in refugee settlements for any who have not left voluntarily, starting from the southern port city of Karachi, where hundreds of thousands of Afghans live. Any remaining are being forced to leave.
Islamabad has not heeded calls from international bodies and refugee agencies to reconsider its deportation plans.


US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings

US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings
Updated 01 December 2023
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US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings

US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings
  • Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Sikh activist exiled from India, was shot and killed outside cultural center in British Columbia in June
  • US prosecutors  said the goal was to kill at least four people in the two countries by June 29, and then more after that

NEW YORK: A foiled plot to assassinate a prominent Sikh separatist leader in New York, just days after another activist’s killing, was meant to precede a string of other politically motivated murders in the United States and Canada, according to US prosecutors.
In electronic communications and audio and video calls secretly recorded or obtained by US law enforcement, organizers of the plot talked last spring about plans to kill someone in California and at least three other people in Canada, in addition to the victim in New York, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The goal was to kill at least four people in the two countries by June 29, and then more after that, prosecutors contend.
After Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh activist who had been exiled from India, was shot and killed outside a cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18, one of the men charged with orchestrating the planned assassinations told a person he had hired as a hitman that he should act urgently to kill another activist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
“We have so many targets,” Nikhil Gupta said in a recorded audio call, according to the indictment. “We have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: Now no need to wait.”
He urged the hitman to act quickly because Pannun, a US citizen living in New York, would likely be more cautious after Nijjar’s slaying.
“We got the go-ahead to go anytime, even today, tomorrow — as early as possible,” he told a go-between as he instructed the hitman to kill Pannun even if there were other people with him. “Put everyone down,” he said, according to the indictment.
The attack plans were foiled, prosecutors said, because the hitman was actually an undercover US agent.
The US attorney in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against Gupta, and said in court papers that the plot to kill Pannun was directed by an official in the Indian government. That government official was not charged in the indictment or identified by name, but the court filing described him as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in security management and intelligence.
Indian officials have denied any complicity in Nijjar’s slaying. External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Wednesday that the Indian government had set up a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns about the plot to kill Pannun.
Court filings revealed that even before Nijjar’s killing in Canada, US law enforcement officials had become aware of a plot against activists who were advocating for the secession from India of the northern Punjab state, where Sikhs are a majority.
US officials said they began investigating when Gupta, in his search for a hitman, contacted a narcotics trafficker who turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Administration informant.
Over the ensuing weeks, the pair communicated by phone, video and text messages, eventually looping in their hired assassin — the undercover agent.
The Indian government official told Gupta that he had a target in New York and a target in California, the indictment said. They ultimately settled on a $100,000 price and by June 3, Gupta was urging his criminal contact in America to “finish him brother, finish him, don’t take too much time .... push these guys, push these guys ... finish the job.”
During a June 9 call, Gupta told the narcotics trafficker that the murder of Pannun would change the hitman’s life because “we will give more bigger job more, more job every month, every month 2-3 job,” according to the indictment.
It was unclear from the indictment whether US authorities had learned anything about the specific plan to kill Nijjar before his ambush on June 18.
The indictment portrayed Gupta as boasting that he and his associates in India were behind both the Canadian and New York assassination plots. He allegedly told the Drug Enforcement Administration informant on June 12 that there was a “big target” in Canada and on June 16 told him: “We are doing their job, brother. We are doing their New York (and) Canada (job),” referring to individuals directing the plots from India.
After Nijjar was killed, Gupta told the informant that Nijjar was the target he had mentioned as the potential Canadian “job” and added: “We didn’t give to (the undercover agent) this job, so some other guy did this job ... in Canada.”
On June 30, Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the United States after arriving there on a trip from India. Federal authorities have not said when he might be brought to the United States to face murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges. It was unclear who would provide legal representation if he arrives in the US
Pannun told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he will continue his work.
“They will kill me. But I don’t fear the death,” he said.
He mocked India’s claim that it is conducting its own investigation into the assassination plots.
“The only thing, I think, (the) Indian government is going to investigate (is) why their hitman could not kill one person. That’s what they will be investigating,” he said.
Pannun said he rejects the Indian government’s decision to label him a terrorist.
“We are the one who are fighting India’s violence with the words. We are the one who are fighting India’s bullets with the ballot,” he said. “They are giving money, hundreds of thousands, to kill me. Let the world decide who is terrorist and who is not a terrorist.”
Some international affairs experts told the AP that it was unlikely the incidents would seriously damage the relationship between the US and India.
”In most cases, if Washington accuses a foreign government of staging an assassination on its soil, US relations with that government would plunge into deep crisis,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia institute. “But the relationship with India is a special case. Trust and goodwill are baked into the relationship, thanks to rapidly expanding cooperation and increasingly convergent interests.”
Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the Rand Corp., said the Biden administration has demonstrated that it is prioritizing the need to leverage India as part of its strategy to counter Chinese power.
“I think publicizing the details of the thwarted plot will have very little, if any, impact on the deepening US-India strategic partnership,” he said.


India's ruling BJP, opposition Congress in tight race to win state elections

India's ruling BJP, opposition Congress in tight race to win state elections
Updated 01 December 2023
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India's ruling BJP, opposition Congress in tight race to win state elections

India's ruling BJP, opposition Congress in tight race to win state elections
  • State elections are seen as a big test of Modi's chances of winning a third term in a national vote due by next May
  • Votes in all five states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram - will be counted on Dec. 3

NEW DELHI: India's main opposition Congress party is likely to win two of five state assembly elections while it is in close contest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling nationalist party in two heartland states, TV exit polls showed on Thursday.

The state elections are seen as a big test of Modi's chances of winning a third term in a national vote due by next May.

More than 160 million people - or about one-sixth of India's total electorate - were eligible to vote in the regional polls, which were held in four legs ending on Thursday.

Votes in all five states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram - will be counted on Dec. 3 and the results are expected that same day.

Three of the five states in contention have witnessed a tough battle between Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party. BJP has been in power in one of the states, Congress in two, and regional parties in the remaining two.

At least nine exit polls predicted Congress party's victory in mineral-rich Chattisgarh and Telangana state. Some of them said BJP was set to defeat Congress in Rajasthan.

Poll predictions from Madhya Pradesh state showed mixed results. A regional party was set to win again in the northeastern state of Mizoram, according to two exit polls.

Exit polls are conducted by various private organisations to predict election outcomes but critics say they tend to be inaccurate in India, partly because of the size and complexity of the electorate in the world's most populous nation.

Politicians and analysts also note that state elections do not always influence the outcome of the general elections or indicate national voter mood.

A survey conducted in August by the India Today media group said Modi's popularity remains intact after a decade in power, with 52% of respondents saying he is best suited to keep the top post for a third time.


Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria

Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria
Updated 01 December 2023
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Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria

Germany arrests French woman who allegedly committed war crimes after joining Daesh in Syria
  • The woman is suspected of having participated as a member of two foreign terrorist organizations as a teenager
  • She allegedly traveled to Syria in September 2013, where she first joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate at the time

BERLIN: German authorities said Thursday they had arrested a French woman who allegedly committed war crimes is Syria after joining the Daesh group.
Germany’s federal prosecutor said the woman, who was only identified as Samra N. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested Tuesday in the western city of Trier.
The woman is suspected of having participated as a member of two foreign terrorist organizations as a teenager, the prosecutor’s statement said.
She allegedly traveled to Syria in September 2013, where she first joined Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate at the time, and married one of the group’s fighters according to Islamic rites. In November 2013, the couple joined the Daesh extremist group.
Syria was in the throes of a civil war that broke out following a brutal government crackdown on pro-democracy mass protests in 2011. Protesters took up arms and the unrest eventually devolved into a civil war that drew in Islamic extremists and fighters from around the world.
While in Syria, N. allegedly tried to persuade people living in Germany to also go to Syria to become a member of Jabhat Al-Nusra. She also temporarily took in a woman who had been persuaded to leave the country in this way.
The suspect ran the household for her husband and helped him procure military equipment for Daesh, according to the charges.
On two occasions, when her husband was away on combat missions, she stayed in women’s houses that Daesh had occupied after driving out the original residents, which Germany considers a “war crime against property.”
N. returned to Germany at the beginning of 2014, but remained a member of Daesh until at least February 2015, prosecutors said. It was not immediately clear why, as a French citizen, she went to Germany.


Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls
Updated 30 November 2023
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Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition officially boycotted upcoming general elections on Thursday, removing the only party that could have offered a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth consecutive term in power.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, warning that thousands of its members had been arrested in a sweeping crackdown, said it had not applied to contest a single seat on the last day of filing candidate nominations before the Jan. 7 polls.

“We are boycotting the election,” A.K.M Wahiduzzaman, a spokesman of the party, said.

“We remained steadfast to our stand that we will not take part in any election with Sheikh Hasina in power.”

The BNP and other parties have held mass protests calling on Hasina to quit power and let a neutral government run the polls, demands the government has said are unconstitutional.

Human Rights Watch warned Monday of a “violent autocratic crackdown,” with almost 10,000 opposition activists arrested and at least 16 people killed since protests escalated in October, including two police officers.

Wahiduzzaman, accusing Hasina of having “rigged the previous two elections,” said the number arrested was even higher.

“She has arrested more than 18,090 of our leaders and supporters in an unprecedented crackdown since late Oct. 28 to rig another election,” he said.

“We won’t join any farcical election.”

Hasina has overseen massive economic growth during her 15 years in power, but there has been international alarm over democratic backsliding and thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Other key opposition parties have also said they will boycott the elections, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, and the Islami Andolon Bangladesh.

Election Commission spokesman Shariful Alam said they would confirm who was participating later.

Apart from the ruling Awami League, several smaller allied parties have said they will take part. Some BNP officials are understood to have left the party hoping to contest a seat as independents.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters.

“The government is claiming to commit to free and fair elections with diplomatic partners while the state authorities are simultaneously filling prisons with the ruling Awami League’s political opponents,” said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.