Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with AFP at the Presidential Office in Kyiv on May 17, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during an interview with AFP at the Presidential Office in Kyiv on May 17, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia

Zelensky rejects Olympic truce call, saying it could help Russia
  • Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal told him Russian President Putin cannot be trusted
  • Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an interview with AFP on Friday rejected a French call for an Olympic truce this summer, saying it could just help Russia move its troops and equipment.

In an interview with AFP on Friday, Zelensky said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron who made the appeal and told him: “Let’s be honest... Emmanuel, I don’t believe it.”
“Who can guarantee that Russia will not use this time to bring its forces to our territory?” Zelensky said, adding: “First of all, we don’t trust Putin.”
“We are against any truce that plays into the hands of the enemy,” he said.
“If it’s a truce, an Olympic truce for the duration of the Olympics, a land truce, they will have an advantage,” he said, explaining that there was “a risk that they will bring heavy equipment to our territory and no one will be able to stop them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Friday also suggested that Moscow would not support the idea of a truce during the games in Paris this summer.
Asked during a visit to China whether he backed Macron’s idea, Putin said: “I think these Olympic principles, including the ‘Olympic truce’ are very right.”
But he added: “Today’s international sporting officials are themselves disobeying the principles of the Olympic charter.”
He accused sports bodies of “not allowing our athletes to perform at the games with our banner, flag and our national music, our anthem.”
“They are committing violations against us and demand fulfilment from us. Dear friends: we won’t get far that way. No one has ever come to an agreement that way,” Putin said.
Macron had restated on Friday his idea of “an Olympic truce so that Russia ceases its current operations” in Ukraine.
Macron also thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping last week for backing the idea of a truce in all conflicts, including Ukraine, during the Paris Olympics.

Only 25 percent of needed air defense
Zelensky also said his country needed over a hundred aircraft to counter Russian air power and said Ukraine only had a quarter of the air defenses it needs.
His country has faced a surge of devastating attacks as the war stretches into its third year, leading Kyiv to double down on pleas to strengthen its depleted air defenses.
“Today we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I’m talking about air defense,” Zelensky said.
Russia currently holds an advantage in the air, which limits Ukraine’s ability to protect cities and hold the front line.
To combat sustained aerial and ground assaults, Ukrainian officials have called for more support.
“So that Russia does not have air superiority, our fleet should have 120 to 130 modern aircraft... to defend the sky against three hundred (Russian) aircraft,” Zelensky said.
He also said the fighter jets were needed “to have parity” with Russia.
His comments came just weeks after the US Congress finally approved a $61-billion financial aid package for Ukraine following months of political wrangling.
Zelensky called for some of the assistance to be delivered.
“Can we have three (billion) to get two (Patriot) systems in Kharkiv region, and no bombs will fall on the heads of the military,” he said.


US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children
Updated 9 sec ago
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US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

US slams Russia over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday again accused Russia of taking Ukrainian children, some of whom were put up for adoption, after fresh media accounts detailed alleged abductions.

“This is despicable and appalling. These Ukrainian children belong with their families inside Ukraine,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

“Russia is waging a war not just against the Ukrainian military — but against the Ukrainian people.”

An investigation by the Financial Times, published Wednesday, identified and located four Ukrainian children allegedly transferred to Russia, then offered for adoption on the website usynovite.

The children are aged between 8 and 15 years old.

According to the report, the name of one child was changed to Russian and no mention is made on the site of their Ukrainian origins.

Ukraine is demanding the return of nearly 20,000 minors it says have been illegally taken by Russia since the start of Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, over the allegations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told AFP last month that he planned to make the return of children a top priority at this weekend’s summit in Switzerland on ending the war.


US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China
Updated 10 min 33 sec ago
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US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

US expands Russia sanctions, targets chips sent via China

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Russia, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow, as part of its effort to undercut the Russian military machine waging war on Ukraine.

Among the steps, the US Treasury said it was raising “the risk of secondary sanctions for foreign financial institutions that deal with Russia’s war economy,” effectively threatening them with losing access to the US financial system.

It also said it was moving to restrict the Russian military industrial base’s ability to exploit certain US software and information technology services and, with the State Department, targeting more than 300 individuals and entities in Russia and beyond, including in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it was targeting shell companies in Hong Kong for diverting semiconductors to Russia, taking steps that would affect nearly $100 million of high-priority items for Moscow including such chips.

It will also expand its lists of items Russia cannot import from other nations to cover not just US-origin products but US-branded goods, meaning those made with US intellectual property or technology, a senior Commerce official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

US-made chips and other technology have been found in a wide array of Russian equipment, from drones to radios, missiles and armored vehicles, recovered from the battlefield, Ukrainian officials say.

After seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor in 2022, triggering a host of new US economic sanctions on Moscow.

While many analysts do not expect US and other nations’ sanctions to materially change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculus, they believe they will both make it harder for Moscow to wage war and, over time, weaken Russia’s economy.

“Today’s actions strike at their remaining avenues for international materials and equipment, including their reliance on critical supplies from third countries,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The Treasury also said it was imposing sanctions on key parts of Russia’s financial infrastructure, including the Moscow Exchange (MOEX), which operates Russia’s largest public markets for equity, fixed income, foreign exchange and other products.

MOEX and its related subsidiaries have facilitated sanctions evasion by obscuring the identities of parties engaged in such transactions, a senior Treasury official told reporters. By sanctioning them, the official said, the US would force greater transparency on cross-border transactions, making it harder to evade sanctions.

MOEX, in a statement rushed out within an hour of the US moves on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, said the new sanctions had forced an immediate suspension of trading in dollars and euros on its leading financial marketplace.

The news came as President Joe Biden departed for a summit in southern Italy with leaders from other Group of Seven democracies: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

One of the G7 leaders’ priorities is boosting support for Ukraine, now in the third year of resisting Russia’s invasion, and disarming the Russian war machine.

Peter Harrell, who served as White House senior director for international economics in 2021 and 2022, described the latest sanctions as a “paradigm shift,” partly because they expose foreign banks to the risk of being cut off from the US financial system if they deal with key large Russian banks.

The Treasury accomplished this by increasing to 4,500 the universe of Russian companies and individuals who could trigger such sanctions from about 1,200, the senior Treasury official told reporters.

“For the first time, the US is shifting toward something that begins to look like ... an effort to set up a global financial embargo on Russia,” Harrell said.


Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron
Updated 18 min 14 sec ago
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Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

PARIS: Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday, urging Tehran to free three other French citizens “without delay.”

“Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron posted on X, thanking Oman in particular for helping to secure “this happy outcome.”


Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border
Updated 21 min 17 sec ago
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Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border
  • The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day.

WASHINGTON: A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden’s recent directive that effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move during the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and RAICES — is the first test of the legality of Biden’s sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

“By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 4,000 daily.

The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. But it’s far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order went into effect June 5, and Biden administration officials have said they expected record levels of deportations.

But advocates argue that suspending asylum for migrants who don’t arrive at a designated port of entry — which the Biden administration is trying to push migrants to do — violates existing federal immigration law, among other concerns.

Biden invoked the same legal authority used by the Trump administration for its asylum ban, which comes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That provision allows a president to limit entries for certain migrants if their entry is deemed “detrimental” to the national interest.

Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump’s immigration policies as he campaigns, and his administration argues that his directive is different because it includes several exemptions for humanitarian reasons. For example, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and those with severe medical emergencies would not be subject to the limits.

“We stand by the legality of what we have done,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week” before the lawsuit was filed, saying he anticipated legal challenges. “We stand by the value proposition.”

Under Biden’s directive, migrants who arrive at the border but do not express a fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even hours. Those migrants could face punishments that could include a five-year bar from reentering the US or even criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, those who express fear or an intention to seek asylum will be screened by a US asylum officer but at a higher standard than currently used. If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian protection, including the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits returning people to a country where they’re likely to face torture.


More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo
Updated 12 June 2024
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More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo: A boat carrying more than 270 passengers has capsized on a river near Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, leaving more than 80 dead, President Félix Tshisekedi said Wednesday.

It was the latest deadly boat accident in the central African country where overloading is often blamed, including in February when dozens lost their lives after an overloaded boat sank.
A statement quoting Tshisekedi said the locally made boat capsized late Monday in Maï-Ndombe province along the Kwa River.
The boat was carrying 271 passengers to Kinshasa when it broke down due to an engine failure, according to the UN-backed Radio Okapi, citing Ren Maker, the water commissioner in the Mushi district where the accident happened.
Eighty-six of the passengers died while 185 managed to swim ashore, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) near the closest city of Mushie, Maker said.
He said the boat hit the edge of the river bank and broke up.
Congolese officials have often warned against overloading and vowed to punish those violating safety measures for water transportation. But in remote areas where most passengers come from, many are unable to afford public transport for the few available roads.