NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia

NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia
Ukraine has been pressing its supporters — chiefly the United States — to allow it to use the longer-range weaponry they supply to hit targets inside Russia. (REUTERS file photo)
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Updated 30 May 2024
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NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia

NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia
  • The gathering in the Czech capital is meant to focus on efforts to support Ukraine at NATO’s summit in Washington in July

PRAGUE:NATO foreign ministers meet in Prague on Thursday in the face of growing calls for leading allies to lift restrictions stopping Kyiv from using Western weapons to strike inside Russia.
The two-day gathering in the Czech capital is meant to focus on efforts to hammer out a package of support for Ukraine at NATO’s summit in Washington in July.
But the swirling debate over whether to let Kyiv use arms sent by Western backers to strike inside Russia risks overshadowing the meeting.
Ukraine has been pressing its supporters — chiefly the United States — to allow it to use the longer-range weaponry they supply to hit targets inside Russia.
The United States and Germany have so far refused to permit Kyiv to strike over the border out of fear that it could drag them closer to direct conflict with Moscow.
Ahead of the NATO meeting — which starts with a dinner on Thursday — alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said repeatedly it was time for members to reconsider those limits as they hamper Kyiv’s ability to defend itself.
French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to shift the dial on Tuesday when he said Ukraine should be allowed to “neutralize” bases in Russia used to launch strikes.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, remained less committal, saying Ukraine should act within the law — and Berlin had not supplied the weapons to hit Russia anyway.
Across the Atlantic, the White House said it still opposed Ukraine using US arms to strike inside Russia, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted that that strategy could change.
Moscow, meanwhile, has reacted strongly — with President Vladimir Putin warning there would be “serious consequences” if Western countries give approval to Ukraine.
Those pressing for Ukraine to be given a freer rein say they hope momentum is building for the United States and others to change course as Kyiv struggles to stop Russia’s offensive in the Kharkiv region.
“Clearly president Macron’s ideas help allies who believe this rule should change,” said a diplomat from one NATO country.
“I hope the debates in the US will take Macron’s ideas into consideration.”

As NATO allies wrestle with that issue, ministers in Prague are also trying to come up with a support package that keeps Ukraine satisfied as its hopes of eventual membership remain a distant prospect.
After pressing hard at a summit last year, Kyiv has been told firmly by NATO countries — led by the United States and Germany — that it should not expect any concrete progress toward joining the alliance in Washington.
NATO chief Stoltenberg instead wants to get alliance members to make clear, multi-year commitments on how much aid they’ll give to Ukraine in the future.
Last month he floated an overall target figure of 100 billion euros ($108 billion) over five years, but that fell flat among allies confused over what it would involve.
“People understand you need to announce something, but they don’t just want it to be air,” the Western diplomat said.
Diplomats say debate is still ongoing as allies try to work out what any pledges would cover and how they might be structured.
One area where NATO does seem closer to agreement is a plan for the alliance to take over from the United States coordination of weapon supplies to Ukraine.
So far, Washington has been in charge as NATO has stayed clear of involvement in delivering arms due to worries it would incite Russia.
Proponents say making the alliance overall responsible could help insulate future deliveries against a possible return of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
But others fear it might just add more bureaucracy.
“The first hope is to not make it less effective than the current system,” a second Western diplomat said.
Diplomats say that to avoid opposition from Hungary — one of the friendliest countries to Russia in the alliance — Budapest has been given an “opt-out” not to be involved.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50
Updated 40 min 58 sec ago
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50
  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally

BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.


Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons
Updated 23 June 2024
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons
  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos
Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos
  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers
  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy
Updated 23 June 2024
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Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy
  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.