Russian embassy in US in contact with State Department ahead of elections, ambassador says

Anatoly Antonov. (Twitter @RusEmbUSA)
Anatoly Antonov. (Twitter @RusEmbUSA)
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Updated 11 March 2024
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Russian embassy in US in contact with State Department ahead of elections, ambassador says

Anatoly Antonov. (Twitter @RusEmbUSA)
  • Antonov did not specify what provocations he was referring to, saying only that the "degree of Russophobic rhetoric" of President Joe Biden's administration "is off the chart"

MOSCOW: The Russian embassy in Washington is in "close contact" with the U.S. State Department ahead of the presidential election in Russia this week to ensure the security of the diplomatic mission, ambassador Anatoly Antonov said on Monday.
President Vladimir Putin, who launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, is set to win a new six-year term in the March 15-17 vote. This would enable him to overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia's longest-serving leader for more than 200 years.
"In the conditions of constant provocations, the embassy works calmly. We are dealing with issues related to the organization of the upcoming elections in a business-like manner," Antonov was cited as saying on the embassy's Telegram messaging channel. "We are in close contact with the secret service of the State Department. We expect that the Americans will fulfil their obligations to ensure the security of the diplomatic mission."
Antonov did not specify what provocations he was referring to, saying only that the "degree of Russophobic rhetoric" of President Joe Biden's administration "is off the chart."
Last week, Russia had summoned the U.S. ambassador in Moscow to warn her it would expel U.S. diplomats it deems to be interfering in its internal affairs through "subversive actions and the spread of information" related to the election.
In late February, Biden called Putin a "crazy SOB" and during his State of the Union address last week the U.S. president said in remarks directed at Putin that he "will not bow down."
 

 


Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police

Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police
Updated 15 June 2024
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Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police

Dutch tourist missing on Greek island found dead — police
  • The man went missing after hiking alone on the southwest of the island during searing heat

ATHENS: A 74-year-old Dutch tourist who was missing for a week on the Greek island of Samos has been found dead, a police official said on Saturday.
The man went missing after hiking alone on the southwest of the island during searing heat, and his wife reported his disappearance on Sunday.
Samos is an island of 30,000 people in the eastern Aegean and is popular with tourists.
Last Sunday, British TV presenter Michael Mosley was found dead following a four-day search operation on the Greek island of Symi after taking a walk alone in high temperatures.


French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections

French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections
Updated 15 June 2024
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French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections

French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country’s snap elections
  • In Paris, those who fear that the elections will produce France’s first far-right government since World War II gathered at Place de la Republique before marching through eastern Paris
  • A large crowd turned out in spite of rainy and windy weather, holding placards reading “Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all”

PARIS: Anti-racism groups joined French unions and a brand-new left-wing coalition in protests in Paris and across France on Saturday against the surging nationalist far right as frenzied campaigning is underway ahead of snap parliamentary elections.
The French Interior Ministry said 21,000 police and gendarmes would be deployed at the rallies with authorities expecting between 300,000 and 500,000 protesters nationwide.
In Paris, those who fear that the elections will produce France’s first far-right government since World War II gathered at Place de la Republique before marching through eastern Paris.
A large crowd turned out in spite of rainy and windy weather, holding placards reading “Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all” — a reference to France’s national motto — as well as “Let’s break frontiers, documents for all, no to the immigration bill.”
Some chanted “Free Palestine, viva Palestina,” and wore keffiyeh scarves.
Among them was Nour Cekar, a 16 year-old high school student from the Paris region, who has French and Algerian parents and wears the hijab.
“To me, the extreme right is a danger because it supports an ideology based on the fear of the other, whereas we are all French citizens despite our differences,” she told The Associated Press.
Cekar said she will vote for the left-wing coalition because “it is the only political party that addresses racism and Islamophobia.”
“I fear the rise of the National Rally because I am afraid that they will ban the hijab in name of women’s liberty. I am a woman and I should be able to decide what I want to wear. I am a free woman,” she said, adding that she is insulted on social media and in the streets on a daily basis because of her headscarf.
In the French Riviera city of Nice, protesters marched down Jean Médecin Avenue, the city’s main shopping street, chanting against the National Rally, its leader Jordan Bardella as well as against President Emmanuel Macron.
Protest organizers said 3,000 took part, while the police put the number at 2,500.
Nice is traditionally a conservative stronghold, but has over the past decade turned firmly in favor of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and her far-right rival Eric Zemmour.
Crowds have been gathering daily ever since the anti-immigration National Rally made historic gains in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, crushing Macron’s pro-business moderates and prompting him to dissolve the National Assembly.
New elections for the lower house of parliament were set in two rounds, for June 30 and July 7. Macron remains president until 2027 and in charge of foreign policy and defense, but his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins and takes power of the government and domestic policy.
“We need a democratic and social upsurge — if not the extreme right will take power,” French unions said in a statement Friday. “Our Republic and our democracy are in danger.”
To prevent the National Rally party from winning the upcoming elections, left-wing parties finally agreed Friday to set aside differences over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and form a coalition. They urged French citizens to defeat the far right.
French opinion polls suggest the National Rally — whose founder has been repeatedly convicted of racism and antisemitism — is expected to be ahead in the first round of the parliamentary elections. The party came out on top in the European elections, garnering more than 30 percent of the vote cast in France, almost twice as many votes as Macron’s party Renaissance.
Macron’s term is still on for three more years, and he would retain control over foreign affairs and defense regardless of the result of the French parliamentary elections.
But his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins, which could put its 28-year-old party leader Bardella on track to become the next prime minister, with authority over domestic and economic affairs.


Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat

Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat
Updated 15 June 2024
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Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat

Philippines’ ancient ‘stairway to heaven’ facing climate threat
  • 2,000-year-old terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Hand-carved steps are often called the Eighth Wonder of the World

Perched on the side of mountains in the Cordillera region, about 250 km north of Manila on Luzon island, enormous green steps rise to a height of 1,500 meters, funneling water from the mountaintop forests down to the rice terraces below.

Known in the Philippines as a “stairway to heaven,” the Ifugao rice terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 2,000-year-old indigenous engineering feat that is increasingly under threat due to climate change.

The ancestors of the indigenous Ifugao people carved the terraces by hand to irrigate their rice crops, which even now are a staple in the province.

This masterpiece of ancient agricultural engineering entered the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995 and is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” — and one of its most endangered. In May, one of the sites in Batad village collapsed after heavy rains, causing a landslide that damaged 12 terraces.

“At present, risks of damage to the rice terraces and to local culture are exacerbated due to increased temperatures, erratic rainfall, poverty, and demographic shifts, just to name a few examples,” Marlon Martin, a member of the Ifugao ethnic group and executive of the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement, told Arab News.

“This makes loss and disruption of life in the terraces a strong possibility. As a result, you can see the landscape rapidly changing. These same vulnerabilities may cause the loss of traditions, indigenous knowledge, and intangible identity that connects the Ifugao to their ancestral lands and forebears.”

Aside from Batad, similar steep terraces can also be found in nearby Banaue, Mayoyao, Hapao and Kiangan. Covering about 10,360 sq. km, the extensive network would be at least 20,000 km in length — half the Earth’s circumference — if laid end to end.

Ancient engineers created the highland paddies by making walls with stones and mud. The terraces are designed to retain and also channel water to the steps below, immersing the paddies all year round.

The Ifugao see the terraces as integral to their identity and culture.

“People maintain the terraces because, primarily, it is of significant value to them as a people and as a culture. The terraces link them to their ancestors. It brings them together as a community, and this is how they keep traditional knowledge alive,” Martin said.

“People need to understand that these are not built monuments like Memphis and its Necropolis or the Great Wall, and that when you do restoration, you are already done. Year in and year out, Ifugao farmers need to restore, repair, and maintain the terraces.”

Yet the costs of maintaining the terraces are increasingly high, with erratic weather and effects of the changing climate making their cultivation economically unfeasible.

“Damages to paddy walls induced by drought and torrential rains associated with climate change make maintenance not worth the economic benefit. Were it not for the other values of the terraces, this alone would discourage people,” Martin said.

As part of the Preserving Legacies project, he has conducted a year-long study assessing the terraces’ climate vulnerability, and believes it is time for the government to step in to prevent the sites from being abandoned and losing UNESCO status.

“The government needs to subsidize rice terrace farmers,” he said. “Heritage, economics, socio-cultural solidarity, and a source of indigenous knowledge are key to the preservation of the terraces.”

For Raymond Macapagal, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines’ Center for International Studies and manager of the Batad Kadangyan Ethnic Lodges Project — a community-based tourism enterprise at the UNESCO site — a key strategy is to create opportunities for young people.

Over the past two decades, the younger generation’s migration to cities in search of other work has resulted in 30 percent of the terraces being abandoned. Developing tourism was one way to provide alternative sources of income.

“They will have a deeper understanding of the challenges and solutions in the complex task of safeguarding the terraces. They will also be more motivated to protect the landscape that provides their livelihood,” Macapagal said.

The rice terraces, featured on the Philippines’ 20-peso banknotes, are also a part and witness to the region’s long human history and remnants of millennia-old indigenous heritage.

“The significance of the Ifugao rice terraces to the Ifugao people, I believe, can be rooted in how it represents indigenous cultural heritage that has resisted centuries of colonization,” Macapagal said.

“It demonstrates the harmonious interaction of humans, gods, and nature in order to come up with an outstanding cultural landscape that is admired throughout the world.”


Princess of Wales appears at first public event since cancer diagnosis

Princess of Wales appears at first public event since cancer diagnosis
Updated 15 June 2024
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Princess of Wales appears at first public event since cancer diagnosis

Princess of Wales appears at first public event since cancer diagnosis
  • Kate arrives at Buckingham Palace with William and their children 
  • She is making good progress with cancer treatment, Kate says

LONDON: Catherine, Princess of Wales, on Saturday made a tentative return to public life for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer, attending a military parade in central London to mark Britain’s King Charles III’s official birthday.
Kate, as she is widely known, rode in a carriage alongside her three children at the outset of the annual celebration before disembarking to watch proceedings from a viewing point.
It comes nearly three months after the future queen revealed she was receiving chemotherapy treatment. The 42-year-old princess had not been seen at a public engagement since a Christmas Day service last year.
In a Friday evening statement Kate said she was “making good progress” with her treatment, which is set to last for several more months, but was “not out of the woods yet.”
“I’m looking forward to attending the King’s Birthday Parade this weekend with my family and hope to join a few public engagements over the summer,” the princess said.
Kate’s announcement that she had cancer came just weeks after it was disclosed that her father-in-law, King Charles III, had also been diagnosed with the condition.
Neither has revealed what type of cancer they have.
British head of state Charles, 75, was given the green light to resume public duties in April, after doctors said they were “very encouraged” by his progress.
His first engagement was meeting staff and patients at a London cancer treatment center.
Earlier this month, he attended commemoration events in northern France for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.
However, unlike previous years when he inspected troops on horseback at Trooping the Color, Charles participated this year from a carriage, in full military regalia alongside Queen Camilla.
His elder son and heir William, 41, rode on horseback, also in military uniform.
Kate, wearing a white dress and hat, had been seen arriving by car at Buckingham Palace with William and their children ahead of the parade, which formally began at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).
Spectators on The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace to witness the yearly ceremonial event welcomed Kate’s tentative return to public appearances.
“I was so pleased to hear the news last night,” Angela Perry, a teacher in her 50s from Reading in central England, told AFP.
“She’s our future queen. She’s so important,” she added, calling Kate’s reemergence “reassuring.”
Royal officials will be keen to manage expectations about Kate’s gradual return to the public eye, and have maintained that her appearances will depend on her treatment and recovery.
Kate explained in her statement that she had “good days and bad days” and was “taking each day as it comes.”
After traveling with Prince George, aged 10, Princess Charlotte, nine, and six-year-old Prince Louis in a state carriage to watch the parade from a building, the family were set to return to Buckingham Palace for a balcony appearance.
Trooping the Color marks the British sovereign’s official birthday and is a minutely choreographed military tradition dating back more than two centuries.
It starts at Buckingham Palace and moves down The Mall to Horse Guards Parade, where Charles will receive a royal salute before inspecting soldiers.
Charles was actually born in November but the second birthday tradition dates back to King George II in 1748, who wanted to have a celebration in better weather as his own birthday was in October.
The ceremony has its origins in the preparations for war, where all regimental flags — or colors — were shown to the soldiers so that they would recognize them in the confusion of battle.
This year’s event will include three of five military horses that bolted through the streets of central London in April after being spooked by the noise of building construction.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it would mount a “significant” security operation and had been liaising with anti-monarchy group Republic, which kicked off protests at the event.
The force said it had banned “amplified sound” in and around the parade route on public safety grounds and to avoid disruption to the mounted regiments taking part.
Republic’s activists, who huddled on a section of The Mall alongside royalists, held aloft placards bearing slogans including “not my king” and “down with the crown.”


Zelensky eyes ‘history being made’ at Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace conference, but Russia’s absent

Zelensky eyes ‘history being made’ at Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace conference, but Russia’s absent
Updated 15 June 2024
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Zelensky eyes ‘history being made’ at Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace conference, but Russia’s absent

Zelensky eyes ‘history being made’ at Swiss-hosted Ukraine peace conference, but Russia’s absent
  • Zelensky said: “I believe that we will witness history being made here at the summit”
  • Swiss officials hosting the conference say more than 50 heads of state and government will join the gathering

OBBÜRGEN, Switzerland: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday predicted “history being made” at the Swiss-hosted conference which aims to plot out the first steps toward peace in Ukraine even though experts and critics say little substance or few big breakthroughs are expected because Russia is not attending.
The presidents of Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia joined dozens of Western heads of state and government and other leaders and high-level envoys at the meeting, in hopes that Russia — which is waging war on Ukraine — could join in one day.
In a brief statement to reporters alongside Swiss President Viola Amherd, Zelensky already sought to cast the gathering as a success, saying: “We have succeeded in bringing back to the world the idea that joint efforts can stop war and establish a just peace.”
“I believe that we will witness history being made here at the summit,” he said.
Swiss officials hosting the conference say more than 50 heads of state and government will join the gathering at the Bürgenstock resort overlooking Lake Lucerne. Some 100 delegations including European bodies and the United Nations will be on hand.
Who will show up – and who will not – has become one of the key stakes of a meeting that critics say will be useless without the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and is pushing ahead with the war.
As US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived at the venue, shuttle buses rumbled up a mountain road that snaked up to the site — at times with traffic jams — with police along the route checking journalists’ IDs and helicopters ferrying in VIPs buzzed overhead.
Meanwhile, Türkiye and Saudi Arabia have dispatched their foreign ministers while key developing countries like Brazil, an observer at the event, India and South Africa will be represented at lower levels.
China, which backs Russia, is joining scores of countries that are sitting out the conference, many of whom have more pressing issues than the bloodiest conflict in far-away Europe since World War II. Beijing says any peace process needs to have the participation of both Russia and Ukraine, and has floated its own ideas for peace.
Last month, China and Brazil agreed to six “common understandings” on a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, asking other countries to endorse them and play a role in promoting peace talks.
The six points include an agreement to “support an international peace conference held at a proper time that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine, with equal participation of all parties as well as fair discussion of all peace plans.”
Zelensky has recently led a diplomatic push to draw in participants to the Swiss summit.
Russian troops who now control nearly a quarter of Ukrainian land in the east and south have made some territorial gains in recent months. When talk of a Swiss-hosted peace initiative began last summer, Ukrainian forces had recently regained large swaths of territory, notably near the cities of southern Kherson and northern Kharkiv.
Against the battlefield backdrop and diplomatic strategizing, summit organizers have presented three agenda items: nuclear safety, such as at the Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant; humanitarian assistance and exchange of prisoners of war; and global food security — which has been disrupted at times due to impeded shipments through the Black Sea.
That to-do list, encapsulating some of the least controversial issues, is well short of proposals and hopes laid out by Zelensky in a 10-point peace formula in late 2022.
The plan includes ambitious calls, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory, the cessation of hostilities and restoring Ukraine’s state borders with Russia, including Crimea.
Putin’s government, meanwhile, wants any peace deal to be built around a draft agreement negotiated in the early phases of the war that included provisions for Ukraine’s neutral status and limits on its armed forces, while delaying talks about Russia-occupied areas. Ukraine’s push over the years to join the NATO military alliance has rankled Moscow.
Ukraine is unable to negotiate from a position of strength, analysts say.
“The situation on the battlefield has changed dramatically,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, saying that although Russia “can’t achieve its maximalist objectives quickly through military means, but it’s gaining momentum and pushing Ukraine really hard.”
“So, a lot of countries that are coming to the summit would question whether the Zelensky peace formula still has legs,” he told reporters in a call Wednesday.
With much of the world’s focus recently on the war in Gaza and national elections in 2024, Ukraine’s backers want to return focus to Russia’s breach of international law and a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
On Friday, Putin called the conference “just another ploy to divert everyone’s attention.”
The International Crisis Group, an advisory firm that works to end conflict, wrote this week that “absent a major surprise on the Bürgenstock,” the event is “unlikely to deliver much of consequence.”
“Nonetheless, the Swiss summit is a chance for Ukraine and its allies to underline what the UN General Assembly recognized in 2022 and repeated in its February 2023 resolution on a just peace in Ukraine: Russia’s all-out aggression is a blatant violation of international law,” it said.
Experts say they’ll be looking at the wording of any outcome document, and plans for the way forward. Swiss officials, aware of Russia’s reticence about the conference, have repeatedly said they hope Russia can join the process one day, as do Ukrainian officials.
“Most likely, the three items under review will be endorsed by the participants. But then the big question is ‘OK, what comes next?’” Gabuev said. “And I don’t think we have a very clear answer to that question yet.”
As leaders headed to the conference venue, the war raged on.
Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov of Russia’s southern Belgorod region, writing on social media, blamed Ukraine for shelling Friday that struck a five-story apartment building in the town of Shebekino, killing five people. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.
In Ukraine, shelling killed at least three civilians and wounded 15 others on Friday and overnight, regional officials said. Gov. Oleh Syniehubov of the Kharkiv region, which has been the focus of a recent Russian offensive.