Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network

Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network
The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network

Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network
  • The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children
  • Russia has accelerated its destruction of Ukraine’s front-line cities in 2024 to a scale previously unseen in the war using the glide bombs

KHARKIV, Ukraine: The first shock wave shattered aisles stacked almost to the ceiling with home improvement products. The next Russian bomb streaked down like a comet seconds later, unleashing flames that left the megastore an ashen shell.
A third bomb failed to detonate when it landed behind the Epicenter shopping complex in Kharkiv. Investigators hope it will help them trace the supply chain for the latest generation of retrofitted Russian “glide bombs” that are laying waste to eastern Ukraine. The Soviet-era bombs are adapted on the cheap with imported electronics that allow distant Russian warplanes to launch them at Ukraine.
Other cities that have been devastated by the weapons include Avdiivka, Chasiv Yar and Vovchansk, and Russia has nearly unlimited supplies of the bombs, which are dispatched from airfields just across the border that Ukraine has not been able to hit.
Store manager Oleksandr Lutsenko said the May 25 attack hints at Russia’s aim for Kharkiv: “Their goal is to turn it into a ghost city, to make it so that no one will stay, that there will be nothing to defend, that it will make no sense to defend the city. They want to scare people, but they will not succeed.”
Russia has accelerated its destruction of Ukraine’s front-line cities in 2024 to a scale previously unseen in the war using the glide bombs and an expanding network of airstrips, according to an Associated Press analysis of drone footage, satellite imagery, Ukrainian documents and Russian photos.
The results can be seen in the intensity of recent Russian attacks. It took a year for Russia to obliterate Bakhmut, where the bombs were first used. That was followed by destruction in Avdiivka that took months. Then, only weeks were needed to do the same in Vovchansk and Chasiv Yar, according to images analyzed by AP that showed the smoldering ruins of both cities.
Now, Russia is putting the finishing touches on yet another airstrip less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Ukraine and launching the bombs routinely from multiple bases just inside Russian borders, according to the AP analysis of satellite pictures and photos from a Russian aviation Telegram channel.
The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children. In all, glide bombs have hit the city more than 50 times this year, according to Spartak Borysenko of the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office.
He showed investigation documents to AP that identified at least eight Russian air bases used to launch the attacks, all within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Ukraine. He said at least one of the munitions had foreign electronics and was made in May. That date suggests Russia is using the bombs rapidly and that it has successfully circumvented sanctions for dual-use items.
Photos on Russian Telegram channels linked to the military show glide bombs being launched three and four at a time. In one launch of four bombs, the AP traced the aircraft’s location to just outside the Russian city of Belgorod, near the air base now under construction. All four bombs in the photo were headed west — with Vovchansk and Kharkiv in their direct line of fire.
At the end of May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was launching more than 3,000 of the bombs every month, with 3,200 used in May alone.
Oleh Katkov, whose military-oriented site Defense Express first traced the launch location, said hitting air bases is key to slowing the pace of the bombings by forcing Russian planes to launch farther away.
“This doesn’t mean they will completely stop their bombings, but it will become more difficult for them,” Katkov said. “They will be able to make fewer sorties per day.”
For months, Ukrainian officials complained bitterly about restrictions on using Western-supplied weapons against targets in Russia, including the airfields that house Russian bombers. The United States and Germany recently authorized some targets in Russia, but many others remain off-limits.
The newest airfield, just outside Belgorod, has a 2,000-meter (-yard) runway, the AP analysis found. Construction began late summer 2023, during the failed Ukrainian counteroffensive.
A Ukrainian intelligence official, who provided information to AP on condition of anonymity, said his government had been closely following the construction, which did not yet appear complete in a photo taken mid-June.
The official also noted that Belarus provides sanctuary for Russian bombers. A map created by the Ukrainian battlefield analysis site DeepState showed 10 airfields in Belarus, including five just across the border from Ukraine.
In all, the DeepState map shows 51 bases used by Russia within 600 kilometers (370 miles) of Ukrainian-controlled territory, including three in occupied eastern Ukraine, six in the illegally annexed peninsula of Crimea, and 32 in Russia.
“The greatest strategic advantage Russia has over Ukraine is its advantage in the sky,” Zelensky said last week. “This is missile and bomb terror that helps Russian troops advance on the ground.”
Russia launches up to 100 guided bombs daily, Zelensky said. Besides missiles and drones, which Russia already routinely uses for attacks, the bombs cause “an insanely destructive pressure.”
The base material for the glide bombs comes from hundreds of thousands of Soviet-era unguided bombs, which are then retrofitted with retractable fins and guidance systems to carry 500 to 3,000 kilograms (1,100 to 6,600 pounds) of explosives. The upgrade costs around $20,000 per bomb, according to the Center for European Policy Analysis, and the bombs can be launched up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) from their targets — outside the range of Ukraine’s regular air defense systems.
The bombs are similar in concept to the American Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, missiles, which have had their GPS systems successfully jammed by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Because Russia does not have the strength to occupy eastern cities such as Kharkiv, bombing is their preferred option, said Nico Lange, an analyst with the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“From their point of view, the strategy seems to be to terrorize the cities enough that people will leave,” Lange said.
Back at the Epicenter home improvement store, surveillance footage taken just before the explosion showed salesperson Nina Korsunova walking across the floor toward the aisle that she was staffing that day. Then there was a blinding flash, and the camera cut out.
Korsunova curled into the fetal position as a display crashed on top of her. She uncovered her eyes just in time to see the second bomb streak inside. With her eardrums blown out, she could hear nothing and saw not a single sign of life.
“I thought I was alone and that they had abandoned me there. It gave me the strength to climb out,” she said. She crawled over piles of shattered lamps, and cables snarled her legs as she climbed through debris from the electrical supply aisle.
Two weeks later, the skeleton of the building reeked of a disorienting combination of scorched metal and laundry detergent that spilled from melted jugs in the cleaning products aisle.
Neither Korsunova nor the store manager have any plans to leave their hometown.
“It didn’t break me,” she said. “I will remain in Kharkiv. This is my home.”


France intercepting 6 drones daily near Olympic sites: PM

Updated 2 sec ago
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France intercepting 6 drones daily near Olympic sites: PM

France intercepting 6 drones daily near Olympic sites: PM
The miniature flyers are sometimes operated by “individuals, maybe tourists wanting to take pictures,” Attal said
“That’s why it’s important to remind people of the rules. There’s a ban on flying drones,” he added

VELIZY VILLACOUBLAY, France: French security forces guarding sites set to be used in the Paris Olympics are intercepting an average of six drones per day, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said.
The miniature flyers are sometimes operated by “individuals, maybe tourists wanting to take pictures,” Attal said.
“That’s why it’s important to remind people of the rules. There’s a ban on flying drones,” he added during a visit to the event’s drone defense hub at Velizy-Villacoublay air base outside Paris.
“Systems are in place to allow us to very quickly intercept (drones) and arrest their operators,” Attal said. “We can’t allow anything to slip past us.”
He highlighted several incidents around the Olympic village on Sunday. According to a member of Attal’s team, the communications chief of the Brazilian delegation was apprehended over operating a drone.
“Any unauthorized drone will be jammed,” said Stephane Groen, France’s general in charge of air defense, as Attal visited a control room where an aerial vehicle had been spotted over the Stade de France stadium.
The defenders’ job is particularly tricky as they must avoid the remote vehicles falling while a sporting event is underway.
Nevertheless, “if in doubt, we always jam” a drone, Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said.
As well as drone defenses, other forms of anti-aircraft defense are in place around Olympic sites.
Around 18,000 French troops have been deployed to secure the Olympics, 11,000 of them in the Ile-de-France region around Paris.
In a French first, airspace in a 150-kilometer (93 miles) radius around Paris will be completely closed on Friday evening during the opening ceremony.


French security forces guarding sites set to be used in the Paris Olympics are intercepting an average of six drones per day, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said. (Reuters/File)

Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims
Updated 1 min 35 sec ago
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Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims
  • Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in Feb 2021 after an appeal from then Pakistan PM Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka
  • The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east, but without participation of the bereaved family

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s government Tuesday formally apologized to the island’s Muslim minority for forcing cremations on Covid victims, disregarding WHO assurances that burials in line with Islamic rites were safe.
The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement.
It said a new law would guarantee the right to burial or cremation to ensure the funeral customs of Muslims or any other community were not violated in future.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead. Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are typically cremated, as are Hindus.
Muslim representatives in Sri Lanka welcomed the apology, but said their entire community, accounting for about 10 percent of the island’s 22 million population, was still traumatized.
“We will now sue two academics — Meththika Vithanage and Channa Jayasumana — who were behind the forced cremation policy of the government,” Hilmy Ahamed, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told AFP.
“We will also seek compensation.”
Ahamed said a young Muslim couple suffered untold anguish when their 40-day-old infant was cremated by the state against their wishes.
Then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned burials despite his administration facing international condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council and other forums for violating Muslim funeral norms.
In a book published earlier this month, he defended his action saying he was only carrying out “expert advice” from Vithanage, a professor of natural resources, not to let Covid victims be interred.
She has no medical background.
Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in February 2021 following an appeal from then Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka.
The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east under strict military supervision — but without the participation of the bereaved family.
Rajapaksa was forced out of office two years ago following months of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis, which had led to shortages of food, fuel and medicines.


Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos

Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos
Updated 35 min 55 sec ago
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Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos

Philippine police deny man inhaling white powder in video is president Marcos
  • Police forensic experts present photos of Marcos and the unidentified man to compare their facial features

MANILA: A video allegedly showing Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos inhaling a white powder has been denounced as “fake” and “malicious,” with investigators on Tuesday presenting close-up images of his ear to prove it was not him.
The clip featuring a dark-haired man was part of a video shown at a rally in Los Angeles that was organized by a political group linked to Marcos’s predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
The rally was livestreamed on the Facebook page of pro-Duterte broadcaster SMNI in the Philippines early Monday local time, hours before Marcos was due to deliver his annual State of the Nation address to Congress.
“It is obvious from the video that that is not our president. Their video is fake and obviously not real,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said Monday, after the video went viral on social media.
Teodoro said it was part of a “serious plan to destabilize our government.”
The video spread rapidly on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. One Facebook post was viewed at least eight million times.
Duterte’s former spokesman Harry Roque shared it on his Facebook page with a caption in Tagalog reading: “You be the judge.”
It was viewed 17,000 times.
Police forensic experts held a news conference on Tuesday to prove the man in the video was not the president, presenting photos of Marcos and the unidentified man to compare their facial features.
Enlarged images of their faces and right ears were placed side by side to demonstrate that Marcos’s ear was larger in proportion to his face and had a different shape to those of the other man, whose ear curled over at the top.
“Be it AI (artificial intelligence) or imposter or whatever it was, as far as the (police) is concerned that is not the president,” Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos said Tuesday.
“That is a different person based on the ear. That’s not even considering the jawline and the entire facial structure,” Abalos said, describing the video as “malicious.”
The Marcos and Duterte families have had a bitter, public falling out as they attempt to shore up their rival support bases and secure key positions ahead of the 2025 mid-term elections.
Duterte and Marcos have accused each other of being drug addicts, although neither man has offered proof of their allegations.


Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims
Updated 23 July 2024
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Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims

Sri Lanka apologizes for cremating Muslim Covid victims
  • The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s government Tuesday formally apologized to the island’s Muslim minority for forcing cremations on Covid victims, disregarding WHO assurances that burials in line with Islamic rites were safe.
The cabinet issued an “apology regarding the compulsory cremation policy during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the government said in a statement.
It said a new law would guarantee the right to burial or cremation to ensure the funeral customs of Muslims or any other community were not violated in future.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing Makkah. Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are typically cremated, as are Hindus.
Muslim representatives in Sri Lanka welcomed the apology, but said their entire community, accounting for about 10 percent of the island’s 22 million population, was still traumatized.
“We will now sue two academics — Meththika Vithanage and Channa Jayasumana — who were behind the forced cremation policy of the government,” Hilmy Ahamed, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, told AFP.
“We will also seek compensation.”
Ahamed said a young Muslim couple suffered untold anguish when their 40-day-old infant was cremated by the state against their wishes.
Then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa banned burials despite his administration facing international condemnation at the UN Human Rights Council and other forums for violating Muslim funeral norms.
In a book published earlier this month, he defended his action saying he was only carrying out “expert advice” from Vithanage, a professor of natural resources, not to let Covid victims be interred.
She has no medical background.
Rajapaksa halted his forced cremations policy in February 2021 following an appeal from then Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan during a visit to Sri Lanka.
The government then allowed burials at the remote Oddamavadi area in the island’s east under strict military supervision — but without the participation of the bereaved family.
Rajapaksa was forced out of office two years ago following months of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis, which had led to shortages of food, fuel and medicines.


India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls

India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls
Updated 23 July 2024
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India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls

India’s Modi focuses on jobs creation in first budget after winning polls
  • India’s finance minister says economy grew at sizzling 8.2 percent rate duirng last fiscal year
  • Modi remains under pressure to generate jobs to sustain India’s economic growth

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s newly formed government presented an annual budget to Parliament that raises spending to generate more jobs and spur economic growth, while aiming to appease coalition partners it needs to stay in power.

In her budget speech Tuesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government is focused on driving domestic growth through jobs, training and small businesses.

India’s inflation rate is stable and moving toward the government’s 4 percent target, she said, while the economy grew at a sizzling 8.2 percent rate in the last fiscal year.

“India’s economic growth continues to be the shining exception and will remain so in the years ahead,” Sitharaman said.

More than a decade after he first took office as prime minister, Modi is under pressure to generate more jobs to help sustain growth.

The proposed budget includes a $24 billion package for job creation over the next five years and raises spending on loans for small and medium-size businesses. It allocates $18 billion to support agriculture and farm technology, such as climate-resilient seed varieties.

It also would raise spending, to $133 billion, on construction of thirty million homes for the poor, schools, airports, highways and other infrastructure. The budget would cut taxes on big corporations and allocate more funds to two states, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, that are governed by the Modi government’s biggest coalition partners.

The government plans to build new airports, medical colleges and sports and tourism facilities in eastern India’s Bihar state, which is ruled by the Janata Dal (United) party.

Sitharaman also announced special financial support for southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state, ruled by the Telugu Desam party.

Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party is relying on those two regional parties to keep its coalition government in power after it failed to win a majority on its own in recent national elections.

India’s economy — the fifth largest in the world — is projected to grow at an annual rate of between 6.5 percent to 7 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2025. But experts say the benefits of its rapid growth are shared unequally, as wealth of already affluent Indians has risen steadily without reaching the the majority of Indians who toil in the country’s large informal sector, where the quality of jobs is poor and precarious.

Billions of dollars worth of subsidies to manufacturing have not led to creation of enough jobs. To mitigate rising unemployment, the government said it will provide 12-month paid internship opportunities to 10 million young people in India’s top 500 companies for a five-year period. Sitharaman said the training cost will be borne by the companies.

According to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, youth unemployment was at 9.2 percent in early July, underscoring the challenge of delivering jobs in the world’s most populous country, where millions graduate every year.

Inequality has surged in India in the last decade. According to a report by World Inequality Lab, wealth concentrated in the richest 1 percent of India’s population is at its highest in six decades.

The government is aiming for a fiscal deficit of 4.9 percent of India’s gross domestic product for the 2024-25 financial year, lower than the 5.1 percent figure in February’s short-term budget, Sitharaman said.

India is one of the highest current sources of emissions that lead to global warming, but the government announced plans Tuesday to set up a new 800-megawatt coal-fired thermal power plant. Sitharaman said the government will also support development of small and modular nuclear reactors to help meet India’s future energy demand.

The budget also allocates $1.37 billion to address damage from floods. India, which is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, has suffered an increase in flooding due to extreme rains and glacier melt in the last few years.

The budget requires approval from both houses of Parliament, but it is bound to be enacted as Modi’s coalition government holds a majority.