Scholz warns EU weapons support for Ukraine ‘not big enough’

Scholz warns EU weapons support for Ukraine ‘not big enough’
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin on Jan. 24, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 24 January 2024
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Scholz warns EU weapons support for Ukraine ‘not big enough’

Scholz warns EU weapons support for Ukraine ‘not big enough’
  • “Europe must do more to support Ukraine in the defense of its own country,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly
  • “The contributions that European nations have earmarked for 2024 so far are not big enough”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday urged European nations to step up weapons pledges to Ukraine, raising the spectre that help from biggest contributor United States could fall away.
“Europe must do more to support Ukraine in the defense of its own country,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly in an interview.
“The contributions that European nations have earmarked for 2024 so far are not big enough,” he added.
He urged them to discuss how each country could “significantly expand the support” to Kyiv.
The chancellor also said he was “rather irritated” that Germany was constantly being criticized for not doing enough, when it was already “doing more than all other EU nations — much, much more.”
Ukraine has been pleading for more ammunition and armaments in its fight against Russian troops. Among the weapons Kyiv is seeking are Taurus cruise missiles, which Germany has so far declined to provide.
Nevertheless, Germany accounts for more than half of Europe’s known weapon deliveries to Ukraine.
But it would be “hubris to think that we can do this alone in the long term,” said Scholz.
“It would not be good news if Germany, should the US drop off as a supporter, were to become the biggest supporter of Ukraine at the end,” he said, adding that “we are, as (former chancellor) Helmut Schmidt once said, only a medium-sized power.”
In a phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, Scholz underlined Germany’s “continued and unwavering solidarity with Ukraine” and promised to keep up military support for Kyiv, according to the German leader’s spokesman.
President Joe Biden has made backing Ukraine a priority and US weapons and financial assistance have been crucial in helping the pro-Western country battle against a far larger attacking Russian force.
But opposition Republicans have led a push to halt the effort, refusing to authorize new budget outlays unless the Democrats first agree to sweeping, tough new measures against illegal migration.
With the US in an election year that could again pit Biden against Donald Trump, Zelensky has warned that a Trump return to the White House would likely bring a “different policy” on the war.


Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing

Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing
Updated 7 sec ago
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Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing

Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing
BRUSSELS/LONDON: The United States and Britain backed outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as the next secretary general of NATO, putting him in a strong position to clinch the post.
Stoltenberg’s successor when he steps down in October will take office at a crucial juncture, tasked with sustaining NATO members’ support for Ukraine’s costly defense against Russia’s invasion while guarding against any escalation that would draw the alliance directly into a war with Russia.
“President Biden strongly endorses PM Rutte’s candidacy to be the next Secretary General of NATO,” a US official said.
“PM Rutte has a deep understanding of the importance of the Alliance, is a natural leader and communicator, and his leadership would serve the Alliance well at this critical time.”
Depending on the outcome of November’s US presidential election, the next NATO boss may have to deal with a second term for Donald Trump, who recently once again called into question his commitment to defending NATO allies.
NATO leaders are appointed by consensus requiring the support — or at the least no opposition — from all its 31 members. Two diplomats said Rutte has the backing of about 20 NATO members so far.
Sweden is currently set to become the Western alliance’s 32nd member — a move precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Rutte, who was already considered the favorite to fill the role, signaled his interest in the top job at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year.
The British Foreign Office said Rutte was a well-respected figure across NATO with serious defense and security credentials, and someone who would ensure it remained strong and prepared for any need to defend itself.
The Netherlands’ longest-serving leader, Rutte unexpectedly announced his departure from Dutch politics in July, but remains in post as a caretaker leader while coalition negotiations continue following a Nov. 22 election.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, has served as NATO chief since 2014. His term was extended in July last year for a fourth time as the alliance opted to stick with an experienced leader rather than try to agree on a successor with Russia’s war in Ukraine raging on NATO’s doorstep.
Diplomats say Rutte is currently the only official candidate for the post. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins have also signaled interest but not been presented formally as candidates, diplomats say.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, whom some had mentioned as a possible successor, ruled it out on Thursday, saying she would turn down the job if it were offered to her.

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river
Updated 6 min 35 sec ago
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Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river
  • Military spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said on television the attack took place Wednesday, striking a range where Russian storm troops were training
  • “The work was carried out quite effectively: at least 60 invaders will definitely not return to combat positions”

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday that its forces had struck a Russian training ground on the Russia-occupied bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, killing or wounding dozens of troops.
Military spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said on television the attack took place Wednesday, striking a range where Russian storm troops were training.
“The work was carried out quite effectively: at least 60 invaders will definitely not return to combat positions,” said Gumeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Operational Command South.
She later told AFP that three strikes hit a training ground near the village of Podo-Kalynivka, with around 60 Russian troops “killed or seriously wounded.”
The Telegram channel of southern defense forces posted aerial video footage showing explosions and soldiers lying on the ground.
The attack came after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that Moscow forces had reclaimed a Ukrainian bridgehead around the village of Krynky on the Moscow-occupied bank of the Dnipro River.
The Ukrainian army denied the claim.
Gumeniuk said the training ground hit by the strike Wednesday was being used by soldiers deployed to attack the bridgehead.
One of the largest Russian Telegram blogs writing about the war, Rybar, said Thursday that there were three strikes on a training ground in a national park area of sand dunes called Oleshkivski Pisky, around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Krynky.
Rybar said fighting was also continuing in Krynky, where small numbers of Ukrainian troops remain, with Ukraine sending artillery and drones from the opposite bank of the river under its control.
Ukraine reportedly carried out a similar strike on a training ground near the Russian-controlled eastern town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region on Tuesday, with numerous casualties.
The BBC Russian Service reported that troops from Russia’s 36th motorized rifle brigade based in Siberia were lined up on the training ground waiting for a commander to arrive, and at least 60 may have been killed.
Rybar said the attack was carried out using US-made HIMARS rocket systems.
The governor of the region where the brigade was from called the information “spurious” but promised help to the soldiers’ families.
Ukrainian authorities have not commented.
Russian war bloggers criticized the military leadership, saying such gatherings of large numbers of troops on open ground made easy targets.


India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
Updated 20 min 59 sec ago
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India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
  • Farmers mostly from northern India have been attempting to march to New Delhi
  • Protesting farmers are demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops

SHAMBHU, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday his government is committed to the welfare of farmers and is on a mission to make them entrepreneurs and exporters, amid a protest by thousands of farmers seeking higher prices for their produce.

Modi’s comments on farmers were his first since the protests began last week and come months before general elections in which he is seeking a rare third term.

Farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been attempting to march to the capital for more than a week as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ (Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops, among other things.

They have been stopped 200 km (125 miles) away by police who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, with talks between farmers’ leaders and federal ministers failing to produce a breakthrough.

The farmer leaders said on Wednesday they were pausing their march for two days following the death of a young protester, with authorities telling local media that the man had suffered a head injury and the cause was yet to be determined.

After a meeting on Thursday, farmers’ leaders said they had decided to launch other “mega programs” across the country starting on Friday.

Friday would be observed as a Black Day and effigies of federal Interior Minister Amit Shah and some state leaders would be burnt across the country, farmers’ leader Avik Saha told reporters.

A tractor rally would be held on highways on Feb. 26 and a farm workers’ public meeting would be held in Delhi on March 14, he added.

POLITICAL RISK

“Our government is committed to fulfill every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X earlier on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8 percent.

The move does not benefit the protesting farmers who mostly grow rice and wheat but will help cane farmers in two other states that send the most lawmakers to parliament.

“How to better the life of the small farmer is our focus,” Modi later told a public meeting in his home state of Gujarat, without referring to the protests on the border of Punjab and Haryana states.

“We have given modern seeds to farmers...we are giving solar pumps to farmers...our effort is to get small farmers in villages to meet modern technology,” Modi said. 

“Besides making them producers, this is a mission to make small farmers entrepreneurs and exporters.”

Although the protesting farmers mostly belong to Punjab state, which has a limited footprint in parliament, analysts say Modi’s party cannot risk the campaign spreading to other states and angering more farmers, who are an influential bloc of voters, so close to the polls.

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi to repeal a set of farm reform laws in what was seen as the biggest political defeat of the strongman leader.

At the main protest site of Shambhu, on the border between Haryana and Punjab states, dozens of farmers milled on and around the highway, sipping tea, cooking and collecting tear gas shells fired on Wednesday, as police kept watch.

Earlier on Thursday, social media platform X said it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to the farmers protests.
 


Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
Updated 25 min 33 sec ago
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Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
  • Village of 5,000 has 14 spots where residents exchange and borrow books
  • Perukulam was named the ‘first book village’ of Kerala in 2021

NEW DELHI: Dotted with outdoor bookcases, Perukulam village in India’s southwest is building its community around reading — an initiative its residents hope will help them learn and grow.

Everything started in 2017, when the village’s public library, Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala, placed a shelf with books on one of the streets to see how people would respond.

“The inspiration came from the US-based Little Free Library, a book-sharing movement that places bookcases in public places and the Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala library is a member of the Little Free Library,” V. Vijesh, a schoolteacher and the library’s secretary, told Arab News.

The idea was to test the village’s reading habits, which proved to be better than expected and soon more bookshelves, or “book nests,” as residents refer to them, popped up in Perukulam.

The village in Kollam district of Kerala, India’s only state with a literacy rate nearing 100 percent, has only 5,000 inhabitants and over a dozen mini-libraries.

“Today there are 14 ‘book nests’ in the village and the villagers are the stakeholders because it’s them who contribute to running the library and the library in turn maintains the nest,” Vijesh said.

The books are in the local Malayalam language, Hindi and English. Besides fiction, the volumes also cover politics and science.

The bookcases are usually located in public spaces where people can sit, meet, and talk. They can either read the books outdoors or take them home.

“It works on the concept of bring one, take one. There is a notebook, and the villagers have to make an entry while returning or borrowing a book,” Vijesh said.

The initiative has won Perukulam the attention of authorities. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared it the state’s “first book village” in 2021.

It was also noticed in the literary world, with celebrated Malayalam writer Maniyambath Mukundan calling it a “unique experiment” that needed to be promoted and emulated.

“The Perumkulam village is doing remarkable work and you have committed youngsters in the village who are keen to encourage others to read,” Mukundan told Arab News.

Collections in Perumkulam’s book nests are chosen to appeal not only to the young but also older readers.

“We take special care in maintaining and running all the bookshelves,” said Akhila Mohanan, a member of the village council.

“It’s not only youngsters but elderly people also can be seen sitting on the bench reading either a newspaper or a book. Through books you evolve, and we feel as a village we are evolving each passing day.”

For Pwijitha Kalyani, a 20-year-old youth volunteer, fostering the culture of reading in her village makes her and her peers proud.

“This is the first of its kind village where books are celebrated, and everyone fancies himself or herself as a reader. This culture of book reading is important because youngsters these days try to find knowledge only through the internet and Google search,” she said.

“If you read a book, you remember its content but if you read the stuff online, you tend to forget it. So, holding a book is a magical experience.”


Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
Updated 22 February 2024
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Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
  • NGO condemns ‘abusive and degrading’ treatment of 50 migrants
  • Evidence of problem across continent, says Council of Europe official

LONDON: Footage of Syrian migrants in Serbia being stripped and forced back into North Macedonia has emerged, in what human rights groups warn is evidence of growing violence targeting migrants on the edges of Europe.

Legis, an NGO in North Macedonia, sent two video clips to The Guardian newspaper showing a line of semi-naked men on a road near Lojane, close to the border with Serbia.

The videos are dated Feb. 10 and show the second instance of “abusive and degrading” migrant pushbacks that day, Legis said.

In total, more than 50 migrants who crossed the border were stripped and pushed back by Serbian authorities, the NGO added.

Legis President Jasmin Redjepi said the pushback followed an EU-Serbian cooperation summit that aimed to bolster the Serbian border against people-smuggling operations.

 

 

He added: “These incidents occur when the EU prepares restrictions for migrants on the route, and in this case just days after an EU-Serbia border cooperation summit. We then see the direct impact and consequences.”

Though the stripping of migrants has taken place across Europe, the Legis footage is the first instance of the practice taking place on the Serbia-North Macedonia border.

A report by a Belgian NGO estimated that in 2023, almost 350,000 forced pushbacks took place on Europe’s external borders.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said: “Recent reports of alleged pushbacks by Serbian police officers at the border with North Macedonia, characterized by ill- and degrading treatment and robbery of migrants, possibly including those attempting to seek asylum, require prompt and effective investigation by state authorities.”

She added that the pushbacks on the North Macedonia border are indicative of an “urgent pan-European problem,” with the practice becoming a widespread phenomenon across the continent.

“These incidents are not only disturbing, but also indicative of a wider, worrying trend among Council of Europe member states.

“These actions appear to violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits refoulement and collective expulsions, as well as other international standards which require ensuring genuine and effective access to asylum for those who seek it,” Mijatovic said.

“What I have observed and warned about is that migrants have been subjected to treatment that might constitute degrading treatment or torture in several European countries for years, in clear violation of states’ human rights obligations.”