Biden blames lawmakers’ ‘inaction’ for fall of Ukrainian city

Biden blames lawmakers’ ‘inaction’ for fall of Ukrainian city
Biden “reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support in the US government and among the American people for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (Reuters/File)
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Updated 18 February 2024
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Biden blames lawmakers’ ‘inaction’ for fall of Ukrainian city

Biden blames lawmakers’ ‘inaction’ for fall of Ukrainian city
  • Avdiivka, though mostly destroyed by now, had been a symbol of Ukraine’s determined resistance to Russian aggression since 2014

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Saturday blamed congressional inaction for Russia’s capture of the eastern Ukrainian stronghold of Avdiivka, as partisan wrangling holds up $60 billion in badly needed military aid.
With Ukrainian forces running low on supplies, Biden called President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday “to underscore the United States’ commitment to continue supporting Ukraine,” according to a White House statement summarizing the call.
It said the Ukrainian withdrawal from Avdiivka came “after Ukrainian soldiers had to ration ammunition due to dwindling supplies as a result of congressional inaction, resulting in Russia’s first notable gains in months.”
Biden “reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support in the US government and among the American people for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and he called on Congress to urgently pass a spending bill including aid for Ukraine.
“The Ukrainians continue to fight bravely, but they are running low on supplies,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said earlier, adding that Ukraine needed artillery ammunition and other critical equipment.
In a post on Telegram following the phone call, Zelensky said: “I am glad that I can count on the full support of the American president. We also believe in the wise decision of the US Congress.”
The fall of Avdiivka, an industrial city in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, was a major symbolic victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Avdiivka, though mostly destroyed by now, had been a symbol of Ukraine’s determined resistance to Russian aggression since 2014.
The statements of US support came as Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were scrambling to reassure Western allies at the Munich Security Conference that Washington’s support of Kyiv’s war effort against the Russian invasion would continue.
With existing US funding having already dried up, Donald Trump’s allies in the House of Representatives have been stalling crucial Ukraine aid.
Trump, the likely Republican nominee in the November presidential race, opposes helping Kyiv and recently used his sway to kill a US border reform bill that would have also authorized additional aid to Ukraine.
Speaking in Munich earlier Saturday alongside Zelensky, Harris said: “As it relates to our support for Ukraine, we must be unwavering and we cannot play political games.”


Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
Updated 47 min 5 sec ago
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Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
  • Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing"
  • This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area

Manila: The Philippines said Tuesday one of its navy personnel was severely injured after the China Coast Guard rammed a Philippine vessel near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
"A Philippine Navy personnel sustained severe injury after the CCG's (China Coast Guard's) intentional high-speed ramming during the rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre (LS57) on June 17," a military statement said.
The shoal, which hosts a tiny Philippine garrison stationed on a deliberately beached old warship, has been a focus of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to the disputed area.
Shortly after the incident, the Chinese coast guard reported that a Philippine resupply ship in the area had "ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side".
It "approached the... Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision", Beijing said, accusing the ship of having "illegally broken into the sea near Ren'ai Reef".
"The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law," it added.
But the Philippine armed forces called China's version of events "misleading", decrying "the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone".
Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing".
"Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats," it said.
In an update, the Philippine military on Tuesday made its first casualty report from the incident, adding that the injured navy personnel "has been safely evacuated and received prompt medical treatment".
It gave no details on the sailor's injury and also did not comment on news reports that a sailor had lost a finger and that Chinese personnel also boarded a Philippine vessel and seized several guns and inflatable boats.
The Second Thomas Shoal lies about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometres from China's nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
It deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarised artificial islands.
It has in recent months stepped up moves against Philippine vessels in the area around Second Thomas Shoal.
This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area.
It was the first time supplies had been seized, the military said.
Chinese personnel on the boats later dumped the items in the water, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said.
It was not clear if they belonged to the Chinese coast guard or navy, the military said.
China in response insisted the Sierra Madre was illegally grounded on the reef and urged the Philippines to "stop making trouble".


China accuses US of ‘malign intention’ to discredit its COVID-19 vaccines

China accuses US of ‘malign intention’ to discredit its COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 18 June 2024
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China accuses US of ‘malign intention’ to discredit its COVID-19 vaccines

China accuses US of ‘malign intention’ to discredit its COVID-19 vaccines
  • US military launched a clandestine program during the COVID-16 pandemic to discredit China’s Sinovac inoculation in the Philippines

MANILA: China’s embassy in the Philippines accused the US military of “hypocrisy, malign intention and double standards” in response to a report of secret US campaign to undermine confidence in a Chinese vaccines and other aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The remarks made by the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Manila on Tuesday were in response to a Reuters investigative report that said the US military launched a clandestine program during the COVID pandemic to discredit China’s Sinovac inoculation in the Philippines.
The investigation found the US military aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other life-saving aid supplied by China. Through phony Internet accounts meant to impersonate Filipinos, the military’s propaganda efforts morphed into an anti-vax campaign, according to the report.
“People around the world are indignant about the US military’s actions which lay bare the hypocrisy, malign intention and double standards of the United States,” an embassy spokesperson said in a statement.
“While talking about respecting human rights, the United States does just the opposite regarding the fundamental human rights of life and health of the Filipino people.”
The US Embassy in Manila referred a request for comment to its Department of Defense.
In the Reuters report, a senior Defense Department official acknowledged the US military engaged in secret propaganda to disparage China’s vaccine in the developing world, but the official declined to provide details.
A Pentagon spokeswoman was cited in the report as saying the US military “uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the US, allies, and partners.” She also said China had started a “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19.”


Half a million immigrants could eventually get US citizenship under new plan from Biden

Half a million immigrants could eventually get US citizenship under new plan from Biden
Updated 18 June 2024
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Half a million immigrants could eventually get US citizenship under new plan from Biden

Half a million immigrants could eventually get US citizenship under new plan from Biden
  • About 50,000 noncitizen children with a parent who is married to a US citizen could also potentially qualify for the same process
  • The president will also announce new regulations that will allow certain DACA beneficiaries and other young immigrants to more easily qualify for long-established work visas

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is taking an expansive, election-year step to offer relief to potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the US — aiming to balance his own aggressive crackdown on the border earlier this month that enraged advocates and many Democratic lawmakers.
The White House announced Tuesday that the Biden administration will, in the coming months, allow certain spouses of US citizens without legal status to apply for permanent residency and eventually, citizenship. The move could affect upwards of half a million immigrants, according to senior administration officials.
To qualify, an immigrant must have lived in the United States for 10 years as of Monday and be married to a US citizen. If a qualifying immigrant’s application is approved, he or she would have three years to apply for a green card, and receive a temporary work permit and be shielded from deportation in the meantime.
About 50,000 noncitizen children with a parent who is married to a US citizen could also potentially qualify for the same process, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the proposal on condition of anonymity. There is no requirement on how long the couple must have been married, and no one becomes eligible after Monday. That means immigrants who reach that 10 year mark any time after June 17, 2024, will not qualify for the program, according to the officials.
Senior administration officials said they anticipate the process will be open for applications by the end of the summer, and fees to apply have yet to be determined.
Biden will speak about his plans at a Tuesday afternoon event at the White House, which will also mark the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a popular Obama-era directive that offered deportation protections and temporary work permits for young immigrants who lack legal status.
White House officials privately encouraged Democrats in the House, which is in recess this week, to travel back to Washington to attend the announcement.
The president will also announce new regulations that will allow certain DACA beneficiaries and other young immigrants to more easily qualify for long-established work visas. That would allow qualifying immigrants to have protection that is sturdier than the work permits offered by DACA, which is currently facing legal challenges and is no longer taking new applications.
The power that Biden is invoking with his Tuesday announcement for spouses is not a novel one. The policy would expand on authority used by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to allow “parole in place” for family members of military members, said Andrea Flores, a former policy adviser in the Obama and Biden administrations who is now a vice president at FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organization.
The parole-in-place process allows qualifying immigrants to get on the path to US permanent residency without leaving the country, removing a common barrier for those without legal status but married to Americans. Flores said it “fulfills President Biden’s day one promise to protect undocumented immigrants and their American families.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes two weeks after Biden unveiled a sweeping crackdown at the US-Mexico border that effectively halted asylum claims for those arriving between officially designated ports of entry. Immigrant-rights groups have sued the Biden administration over that directive, which a senior administration official said Monday had led to fewer border encounters between ports.


Drone attack sets oil tanks ablaze in southern Russia

Drone attack sets oil tanks ablaze in southern Russia
Updated 18 June 2024
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Drone attack sets oil tanks ablaze in southern Russia

Drone attack sets oil tanks ablaze in southern Russia
  • Ukraine did not immediately claim responsibility but it has carried out similar attacks on Russian energy facilities before
  • Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze

Kyiv, Ukraine: An overnight drone attack set several oil storage tanks ablaze near the town of Azov in southern Russia on Tuesday, sparking a large fire, local officials said.
Ukraine did not immediately claim responsibility but it has carried out similar attacks on Russian energy facilities before, arguing they are fair targets given that they fuel Moscow’s military.
“Oil product tanks caught fire in Azov as a result of a drone attack. According to preliminary data, there were no casualties,” the governor of the local Rostov region, Vasily Golubev, said on Telegram.
Video published by the emergencies ministry showed thick smoke and flames billowing out of what appeared to be multiple oil storage tanks in an undisclosed location.
Officials did not say how many drones were involved in the attack.
Some 200 firefighters and emergency personnel were deployed to deal with the blaze, which spanned an area of at least 3,200 square meters (3,800 square yards), the emergencies ministry said.
The Rostov region sits directly across the border from Ukrainian and is home to the operational headquarters overseeing Russia’s invasion.
On the battlefield, Ukraine said that Russian forces were fighting to enter the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a flashpoint town of the war in the east whose capture could accelerate Russian advances.
Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk, where war-scarred Chasiv Yar lies, has borne the brunt of fighting over more than two years and the Kremlin claims the region is part of Russia.
“The enemy keeps trying to advance to the microdistrict Novy in the town of Chasiv Yar,” Ukraine’s military said in a briefing, adding that fighting was “currently taking place.”
Further south, it said Moscow’s forces were also pushing toward Pokrovsk, where they were closing in on a key road that would complicate supplies between strategic hubs in the region.
Ukraine’s air force meanwhile said it had downed 10 Iranian-designed attack drones launched by Russian forces overnight.


China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown

China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown
Updated 18 June 2024
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China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown

China dismisses EU comments on human rights crackdown
  • Foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian told reporters at a briefing that China was willing to cooperate with the EU
  • Chinese #MeToo activist and independent journalist Huang Xueqin was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion on Friday

BEIJING/BRUSSELS: China on Tuesday dismissed European Union calls for it to stop alleged human rights violations and said it opposed “double standards” and interference in its internal affairs.
The EU said on Monday after an EU delegation visited Tibet and met with Chinese officials last week that it was concerned about what it called the “very serious” human rights situation in China, in particular in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.
This included a crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in China. The EU urged China to investigate any rights violations and expressed concern about cases of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, the EU said in a statement.
In response, Chinese officials said the EU should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights issues.”
Foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian told reporters at a briefing that China was willing to cooperate with the EU on the issue on a basis of equality and mutual respect.
“At the same time, China firmly opposes politicizing the human rights issue and double standards, and opposes imposing one’s own model on others. We are opposed to...engaging in microphone diplomacy in the multilateral arena,” Lin said.
Lin said both sides believed the dialogue was “frank and in-depth,” and said that China was willing to explore further multilateral human rights cooperation in areas including rights of women, children and the disabled.
The EU also raised the case of the detained Swedish citizen Gui Minhai as well as the imprisoned Uyghur intellectuals Ilham Tohti, Gulshan Abbas and Rahile Dawut, the EU statement said.
Chinese #MeToo activist and independent journalist Huang Xueqin was sentenced to five years in prison for subversion on Friday, which supporters called arbitrary and politically motivated.