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
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Swiss Federal President Viola Amherd shake hands during the Summit on peace in Ukraine, in Stansstad near Lucerne, Switzerland on Jun. 15, 2024. (Reuters)
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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.


PM Starmer says UK warplane capability important amid defense review

PM Starmer says UK warplane capability important amid defense review
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PM Starmer says UK warplane capability important amid defense review

PM Starmer says UK warplane capability important amid defense review
FARNBOROUGH, England, July 22 : Prime Minister Keir Starmer on Monday stressed the importance of Britain’s fighter jet capability, but stopped short of guaranteeing its next generation combat air program with Japan and Italy would not be affected by a defense policy review.
“It’s important for me to put on record just how important a program this is,” Starmer said at the opening day of the Farnborough Airshow on Monday.
Britain, Japan and Italy signed an international treaty last year to set up the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) — merging their separate next-generation fighter efforts and aiming for a new aircraft to enter service by 2035.
But there has been speculation that Starmer’s new Labour government might downgrade or scrap the program after it launched a defense review, which will report next year.
Starmer noted the review, but said GCAP, also known as Tempest in Britain, was making “significant progress.”
“It is an important program and I know that people in the room will want to hear me say that,” he said.
“The defense secretary is holding a ministerial level meeting (...) in relation to this because of the significant benefits here in this country.”
Britain’s biggest defense company BAE Systems and aero-engineer Rolls-Royce are working on the multibillion-pound project alongside Italy’s Leonardo and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Herman Claesen, BAE’s managing director for the project, said the partners were working “at pace” toward the launch of international design and development next year.
He said progress on the “industrial construct” for developing the platform was good. “We are nearing completion on the activities on that one too in readiness for 2025,” he told reporters.
The program could be opened up to others at a later stage, Italy’s defense minister said in January, with the likes of Saudi Arabia possible contenders to join the project.
Leonardo’s GCAP chief Guglielmo Maviglia said expanding the partnership to Saudi Arabia was matter for the governments involved.
“What we can say is that we are developing a construct that is able and is open for other partners,” he said. “Partners are important because of course the export market is relevant for the business case.”

Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll

Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll
Updated 22 July 2024
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Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll

Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll
  • What began as demonstrations against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs snowballed into some of the worst unrest of PM Sheikh Hasina’s tenure
  • A curfew has been imposed and soldiers are patrolling cities across the country, while a nationwide Internet blackout since Thursday has drastically restricted flow of information

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi student group leading demonstrations that have spiralled into deadly violence suspended protests Monday for 48 hours, with its leader saying they had not wanted reform “at the expense of so much blood.”
What began as demonstrations against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs snowballed into some of the worst unrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure.
A curfew has been imposed and soldiers are patrolling cities across the South Asian country, while a nationwide Internet blackout since Thursday has drastically restricted the flow of information to the outside world.
“We are suspending the shutdown protests for 48 hours,” Nahid Islam, the top leader of the main protest organizer Students Against Discrimination, told AFP from his hospital bed.
He was being treated for his injuries after being beaten by people he accused of being undercover police, he said.
“We demand that during this period the government withdraws the curfew, restores the Internet and stops targeting the student protesters.”
On Sunday, the Supreme Court pared back the number of reserved jobs for specific groups, including the descendants of “freedom fighters” from Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
“We started this movement for reforming the quota,” Islam said.
“But we did not want quota reform at the expense of so much blood, so much killing, so much damage to life and property.”
At least 163 people have died in clashes, including several police officers, according to an AFP count of victims reported by police and hospitals.
Sporadic violence continued Monday, with four people brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital with bullet injuries, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.
Government officials have repeatedly blamed the protesters and opposition for the unrest.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain told AFP that “at least 532” people had been arrested in the capital since protests began, including some leaders of the opposition Bangladesh National Party.
Ali Riaz, a professor of politics and leading Bangladesh expert at Illinois State University, described the violence as “the worst massacre by any regime since independence.”
“The atrocities committed in the past days show that the regime is entirely dependent on brute force and has no regard for the lives of the people,” he told AFP.
“These indiscriminate killings cannot be washed by a court ruling or a government announcement.”
Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus urged “world leaders and the United Nations to do everything within their powers to end the violence.”
“There must be investigations into the killings that have taken place already,” the 83-year-old said in a statement, his first public comments since the unrest began.
The respected economist is credited with lifting millions out of poverty with his pioneering microfinance bank but earned the enmity of Hasina, who has accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor.
“Bangladesh has been engulfed in a crisis that only seems to get worse with each passing day,” Yunus said. “High school students have been among the victims.”
Diplomats in Dhaka questioned Bangladeshi authorities’ deadly response to the protests.
Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud summoned ambassadors for a briefing on Sunday and showed them a 15-minute video that sources said focused on damage caused by protesters.
US ambassador Peter Haas told Mahmud he was presenting a one-sided version of events, according to a senior diplomatic official.
“I am surprised you did not show the footage of police firing at unarmed protesters,” the source quoted Haas as telling the minister.
A US embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the ambassador’s comments.
The diplomatic source added that Mahmud did not respond to a question from a UN representative about the alleged use of UN-marked armored personnel carriers and helicopters to suppress the protests.
Bangladesh is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations around the world — earning significant revenues from its efforts — and has UN-marked equipment in its military inventories.
With around 18 million young people in Bangladesh out of work, according to government figures, the quota scheme’s reintroduction deeply upset graduates facing an acute jobs crisis.
The Supreme Court decision curtailed the number of reserved jobs from 56 percent of all positions to seven percent, most of which will still be set aside for the children and grandchildren of “freedom fighters” from the 1971 war.
While 93 percent of jobs will be awarded on merit, the decision fell short of protesters’ demands to scrap the “freedom fighter” category altogether.
Critics say the quota is used to stack public jobs with loyalists to Hasina’s ruling Awami League.
Opponents accuse her government of bending the judiciary to its will.
Hasina, 76, has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.
Her government is also accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamp out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.


Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia
Updated 22 July 2024
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Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia
  • Unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting
  • Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a ‘retired military police officer’

DARUVAR, Croatia: A gunman opened fire in a nursing home in Croatia on Monday, killing at least five people, according to officials and state media, in a rare instance of gun violence in the Balkan country.
State broadcaster HRT said an unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting.
At least five were killed and several others wounded during the incident, HRT said.
Police said they were informed of the incident at 10:10 a.m. local time (0810 GMT), and confirmed the suspect had entered the nursing home and used a firearm.
“The person linked to the perpetration of the crime is under police custody,” police said in a statement.
The number of dead was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who called for a thorough investigation by relevant officials.
“We are appalled by the murder of five people at the home for elderly in Daruvar,” Plenkovic said on social media.
The head of a regional emergency care facility, Nenad Mrzlecki, told local media that medical teams found four dead at the scene and four others wounded, who were immediately taken to local hospitals.
Mrzlecki did not provide information about the fifth victim.
“Our teams are still on the ground and the priority is to provide everyone with the necessary help, after that is done we will know the exact data on the number of victims,” he said.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a “retired military police officer” who killed his mother along with other residents and staff.
Daruvar, a town of some 7,000, has long been a popular spa destination thanks to the area’s thermal springs.
Shootings in the Balkan country are rare.
Last year in neighboring Serbia, the country was rocked by back-to-back mass shootings, including a massacre at a school in the capital in Belgrade in which 10 people were killed.


Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
Updated 22 July 2024
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Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a trip from July 23 to 25
  • The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin

KYIV/BEIJING: Ukraine’s top diplomat will visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Beijing for talks that Kyiv said would focus on how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and on a possible Chinese role in reaching a settlement.
Nearly 29 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip to China from July 23 to 25, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
“The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia’s aggression and China’s possible role in achieving a stable and just peace,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Chinese statement said Kuleba’s visit would run from July 23 to 26 and provided less detail.
The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin, with which Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022 just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though the world’s second largest economy has not condemned the Russian invasion and helped keep Russia’s war economy afloat, Kyiv has been cautious in its criticism of Beijing.
China meanwhile says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of non-alliance and do not target any third party.
Various peace initiatives have emerged in recent months as the fighting has dragged on ahead of a US election in November that could see the return to power of ex-president Donald Trump who has threatened to cut vital aid flows to Ukraine.
Kyiv held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland in June to promote its vision of peace and now says it hopes to be ready to hold another one in November that would feature Russian representation.
China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, together with Brazil published a separate six-point peace plan on May 23, saying they supported an international peace conference being held that would be recognized by both sides in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that only the world’s powerful countries would be able to successfully bring an end to the war, singling out China as well as Kyiv’s close US ally as two possibilities.
The Ukrainian leader has said that China should play a serious role in helping to resolve the war.


India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns
Updated 22 July 2024
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.