World Inside

Russian forces pound Ukraine's Donetsk region

Publish: 10:07 AM, 15 Aug, 2022


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Ukrainian forces reported heavy Russian shelling and attempts to advance on several towns in the eastern region of Donetsk that have become a key focus of the near six-month war, but said they had repelled many of the attacks.

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces also reported Russian shelling of more than a dozen towns on the southern front - particularly the Kherson region, mainly controlled by Russian forces, but where Ukrainian troops are steadily capturing territory.

Much attention has been focused on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine amid fears of a catastrophe over renewed shelling in recent days that Russia and Ukraine blame on each other.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Russian soldiers who shoot at Europe's largest nuclear power station or use it as a base to shoot from that they will become a "special target" of Ukrainian forces.

The Zaporizhzhia plant dominates the south bank of a vast reservoir on the Dnipro River. Ukrainian forces controlling the towns and cities on the opposite bank have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which seeks to inspect the plant, has warned of a nuclear disaster unless the fighting stops. Nuclear experts fear fighting might damage the plant's spent fuel pools or reactors.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine had many times proposed different formats to the Russian leadership for peace talks, without progress.

"So we have to defend ourselves, we have to answer every form of terror, every instance of shelling - the fierce shelling which does not let up for a single day," he said in video remarks late on Sunday.

Fighting in east, south

Kyiv has said for weeks it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture Zaporizhzhia and neighbouring Kherson province, the largest part of the territory Russia seized after its Feb 24 invasion and still holds.

Ukraine's military command said early on Sunday that Russian soldiers had continued unsuccessfully to attack Ukrainian positions near Avdiivka, which, since 2014, has become one of the outposts of Ukrainian forces near Donetsk. 

Ukrainian Military Expert Oleg Zhdanov said the situation was particularly difficult in Avdiivka and nearby towns, such as Pisky.

"We have insufficient artillery power in place and our forces are asking for more support to defend Pisky. But the town is basically under Ukrainian control," he said in a video posted online.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation" to demilitarize and "denazify" its smaller neighbour. The war has pushed Moscow-Washington relations to a low point, with Russia warning it may sever ties.

While Russia has been largely isolated on the global diplomatic stage, North Korean state media on Monday said Russian President Vladimir Putin told leader Kim Jong Un the two countries would expand "comprehensive and constructive" ties. 

In July, North Korea recognized as independent states the Russian-backed breakaway "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk, and officials raised the prospect of its workers being sent there to help in construction and other labour.

Ukraine immediately severed ties with Pyongyang over the move.

Grain ships

Amid the fighting, more ships carrying Ukrainian grain left or prepared to do so as part of a late July deal to ease a global food crisis.

An Ethiopia-bound cargo, the first since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was getting ready to leave in the next few days, while sources said the first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a UN deal was nearing Syria. 

"The world needs the food of Ukraine," Marianne Ward, the deputy country director of the World Food Program, told reporters. "This is the beginning of what we hope are normal operations for the hungry people of the world," she added.

The relief agency bought more than 800,000 tons of grain in Ukraine last year.

- Reuters



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World Inside

Iran targets celebrities, media over Mahsa Amini protests

Publish: 03:07 PM, 30 Sep, 2022


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Iran stepped up pressure on celebrities and journalists Thursday over the wave of women-led protests sparked by outrage over the death of Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the Islamic republic's morality police.

Filmmakers, athletes, musicians and actors have backed the demonstrations, and many saw it as a signal when the national football team remained in their black tracksuits when the anthems were played before a match in Vienna against Senegal.

"We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots," Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Iran's judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei similarly charged that "those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times are difficult".

The warnings came after almost two weeks of protests across Iran and a deadly crackdown that human rights group Amnesty International says has been marked by "ruthless violence by security forces".

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights has reported a death toll of at least 83 people, including children.

Public anger flared after Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran's strict rules for women on wearing hijab headscarves and modest clothing.

"Woman, Life, Freedom!" protesters have chanted ever since, in Iran's biggest demonstrations in almost three years, in which women have defiantly burned heir headscarves and cut their hair.

President Ebrahim Raisi warned that, despite "grief and sorrow" over Amini's death, public security "is the red line of the Islamic republic of Iran and no one is allowed to break the law and cause chaos".

- 'No to dictatorship' -

Iran on Thursday slammed "interference" in its internal affairs by France over a statement in support of the protests, having earlier complained to Britain and Norway.

Solidarity protests with Iranian women have been held worldwide, and rallies are planned in 70 cities Saturday.

One protest erupted in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, where women rallied outside Iran's embassy with banners that read: "Iran has risen, now it's our turn!" and "From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship!"

Forces of the ruling hardline Islamist Taliban fired their guns into the air to disperse the crowd, then swiftly snatched the banners and tore them up, an AFP correspondent reported.

Iran on Thursday arrested the reporter Elahe Mohammadi, who had covered Amini's funeral, her lawyer said, the latest of a growing number of journalists to be detained.

Police have also arrested journalist Niloufar Hamedi of the reformist Shargh daily, who went to the hospital where Amini lay in a coma and helped expose the case to the world.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that three additional journalists -- Farshid Ghorbanpour, Aria Jaffari and Mobin Balouch – had been arrested, bringing the total behind bars to 28.

Intelligence officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested 50 members of "an organised network" behind the "riots" in the holy Shiite city of Qom, the Guards said, according to Fars news agency.

- Push for EU sanctions -

London-based Amnesty International criticised Iran's "widespread patterns of unlawful use of force and ruthless violence by security forces".

It said this included the use of live ammunition and metal pellets, heavy beatings and sexual violence against women, all "under the cover of deliberate ongoing internet and mobile disruptions".

"Dozens of people, including children, have been killed so far and hundreds injured," said the group's secretary general Agnes Callamard.

Fars news agency has said "around 60" people had been killed.

Iran has blamed outside forces for the protests and on Wednesday launched cross-border missile and drone strikes that killed 13 people in Iraq's Kurdistan region, accusing armed groups based there of fuelling the unrest.

The US on Thursday said one of its citizens had been killed in the Iranian strikes, separately announcing the fresh enforcement of sanctions on Tehran's oil sales.

Iran's economy is already hit by punishing sanctions over its contested nuclear programme.

On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she was "doing everything" she could to push for European Union sanctions against those "beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion".

The Iranian government has sought to play down the crisis.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said he told Western diplomats at recent UN meetings that the protests were "not a big deal" for the stability of the clerical state.

"There is not going to be regime change in Iran," he told National Public Radio in New York on Wednesday. "Don't play to the emotions of the Iranian people."


World News   Iran   Protests   HIjab row   Mahsa Amini protests  


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World Inside

Kremlin to annex more Ukraine territories

Publish: 02:14 PM, 30 Sep, 2022


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Russia will annex four occupied regions of Ukraine at a ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday, Moscow said, after President Vladimir Putin threatened he could use nuclear weapons to defend the territories.

The Russian leader is expected to deliver a major speech at the event, following referendums held last week in which four Ukrainian regions voted in a landslide to join Russia, but which were dismissed as a sham by the West.

In a presidential decree issued Thursday evening, Putin said he had recognised the independence of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, paving the way for Moscow to claim the territories.

Russia recognised the independence of the two other regions it is preparing to annex -- Donetsk and Lugansk -- at the end of February.

"I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence" of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, located in southern Ukraine, Putin said in the decrees.

Putin's nuclear threats have not deterred a sweeping Ukrainian counter-offensive, which has been pushing back Russian troops in the east and is on the doorstep of the Donetsk town of Lyman, which Moscow's forces pummelled for weeks before capturing it this summer.

Putin has blamed the conflict in Ukraine on the West and said simmering conflicts in the former Soviet Union were the result of its collapse.

The rhetoric built on his now-famous phrase that the fall of the USSR was a tragedy, and he has recently suggested Moscow should extend again its influence over the former Soviet region.

- US rejects claims -

The Kremlin-installed leaders of the four regions that pleaded to Putin for annexation this week were gathered in the Russian capital on Thursday, ahead of the ceremony.

Their nearly simultaneous requests came after they claimed residents had unanimously backed the move in hastily organised referendums that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as illegal, fraudulent and void.

Ukraine said the only appropriate response from the West was to hit Russia with more sanctions and to supply Ukrainian forces with more weapons so they could keep reclaiming territory.

US President Joe Biden said Thursday that "the United States will never, never, never" recognise Russia's claims on Ukraine's sovereign territory.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also rejected the annexation plans, condemning them as "a dangerous escalation".

"It must not be accepted," he said.

The UN Security Council will vote at 1900 GMT on Friday on a resolution condemning the referendums, according to France, the council's current president.

But the resolution -- drafted by the United States and Albania and whose exact contents are not yet public -- has no chance of passing due to Moscow's veto power, though it can be presented to the General Assembly after the vote.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky called an "urgent" meeting of his national security council for Friday, his spokesman said, after the Kremlin announced the timing of the annexation ceremony.

The four territories create a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Together, all five make up around 20 percent of Ukraine, whose forces in recent weeks have been clawing back ground.

In the south, Ukrainian forces have been wresting back territory near Kherson, and residents of recently recaptured villages described the months spent under Russian occupation.

"They robbed and humiliated us," 72-year-old Maria Syzhuk said in the village of Vysokopillya, over the dull thuds of artillery from both sides -- mostly in the distance, but sometimes a little closer.

Ukrainian troops in particular have been progressing in the eastern Kharkiv region and recapturing territory in Donetsk. Military observers say Kyiv's forces are close to capturing Lyman.

- 'I don't want to kill people' -

Moscow's forces are striking back along the entire frontline and officials in Kyiv said Thursday that Russian bombardment had killed three in the Dnipropetrovsk region, killed five in Donetsk and wounded seven in the Kharkiv region.

Along with threats to use nuclear weapons, Putin announced a mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of Russians to bolster Moscow's army in Ukraine, sparking demonstrations and an exodus of men abroad.

Putin on Thursday called for mistakes with the draft to be "corrected", as discontent grows over the often chaotic conscription push.

Finland's Vaalimaa crossing has been flooded with new arrivals recently. Helsinki announced on Thursday it would close its border from midnight to Russians holding European tourism visas for the Schengen zone.

"I just made it through, I don't know how the others will get through," Andrei Stepanov, a 49-year-old Russian, told AFP.

On a bright morning in Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar, a young Russian fleeing Moscow's first military call-up since World War II had a stark answer for why he had left: "I don't want to kill people."

"It was very difficult to leave everything behind -- home, motherland, my relatives -- but it's better than killing people," the man in his 20s told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Belarus was preparing to host 20,000 Russian soldiers, converting warehouses, hangars and abandoned farms into military accommodations, Ukraine's ministry of defence said on Thursday.

To bolster Ukraine, the United States pledged more money on Thursday, with the Senate approving $12 billion in new economic and military aid as part of a stopgap budget extension.

The European Commission has proposed fresh sanctions targeting Russian exports worth seven billion euros, an oil price cap, an expanded travel blacklist and asset freezes.


World News   Russia Ukraine War   Kremlin   Annexation   Soviet Union  


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World Inside

US will never recognize Russia claims in Ukraine: Biden

Publish: 02:03 PM, 30 Sep, 2022


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US President Joe Biden vowed Thursday to "never, never, never" recognize the results of Russian-led referendums in Ukraine, which he called a "flagrant violation" of international principles.

"I want to be very clear about this. The United States will never, never never recognize Russia's claims on Ukraine sovereign territory," Biden said as he met Pacific Island leaders in Washington.

"The so-called referenda was a sham, an absolute sham. The results were manufactured in Moscow," he said.

"The true will of the Ukrainian people is evident every day as they sacrifice their lives to save their people and maintain the independence of their country," Biden said.

Referring to President Vladimir Putin, Biden said, "Russia's assault on Ukraine in pursuit of Putin's imperial ambitions is a flagrant violation of the UN Charter and the basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The Kremlin said that the annexation of four parts of Ukraine would be formally announced on Friday, with Putin delivering a speech.

Putin has made veiled threats to use nuclear weapons to defend the territories, amid Ukrainian gains on the ground against Russia, which invaded on February 24.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier called the Kremlin-staged votes an affront to international peace.

"The Kremlin's sham referenda are a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab in Ukraine," Blinken said in a statement.

The votes came in areas controlled by Kremlin proxies and follow a playbook in 2014 when Russia took over the Crimean peninsula.

Blinken earlier called the latest votes part of a "diabolical scheme," saying that Ukrainian residents were forced out and Russians bussed in, with the results themselves also under question.


World News   Russia Ukraine War   US   Russian claims   Joe Biden  


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World Inside

Russia-Middle East-Japan interested trading in Indian Rupee

Publish: 09:23 AM, 27 Sep, 2022


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Due to the fear of Western sanctions and the volatility of the US dollar, some non-Western countries including Russia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Japan have expressed interest in paying in Indian rupees. India has also opened the door to international trade in rupee through policy reforms to boost bilateral trade.

Prabir Kumar Bhattacharjee, secretary general of India's industry group 'Tea Association of India', told Russian Media Sputnik that importers from countries like Russia and Iran, which are subject to Western sanctions, want to pay the price in rupees for Indian products. In fact, they want to advance trade in this way to avoid economic blockade.

Prabir Bhattacharjee also said that major tea importing countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Sri Lanka and China are also looking to use the opportunity to pay in rupees. Because, in the case of the US dollar, there is a kind of worldwide duty for this.

According to Indian government statistics, India is the world's number one producer and fourth exporter of tea. According to 2021 estimates, about 17.3 percent of India's total tea exports went to Russia, 13.4 percent to Iran and about 8.8 percent to the United Arab Emirates. Imports are expected to increase further this year.

Economic experts say finding an alternative to the US dollar is the need of the hour. According to Ashwani Mahajan, co-convener of Indian economic advocacy group Swadeshi Jagran Manch, India now needs to find alternatives to the dollar to boost foreign trade. He also expressed hope that foreign transactions in rupees will expand in the coming months and years.

Ashwani Mahajan blames sanctions on Iran and Russia for India's retreat from the US dollar. Experts say, India should have encouraged trade in local currency a lot earlier to expand trade.


Indian Rupee  


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World Inside

School shooting in Russia: 17 including 11 children dead, 24 wounded

Publish: 08:46 AM, 27 Sep, 2022


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A gunman opened fire in a school in central Russia on Monday, killing 17 people and wounding 24 others before shooting himself dead, authorities said.

The shooting took place in School No. 88 in Izhevsk, a city 960 kilometers (600 miles) east of Moscow in the Udmurtia region.

Russia’s Investigative Committee identified the gunman as 34-year-old Artyom Kazantsev, a graduate of the same school, and said he was wearing a black t-shirt bearing “Nazi symbols.” No details about his motives have been released.

The government of Udmurtia said 17 people, including 11 children, were killed in the shooting. According to Russia's Investigative Committee, 24 other people, including 22 children, were wounded in the attack.

The governor of Udmurtia, Alexander Brechalov, said the gunman, who he said was registered as a patient at a psychiatric facility, killed himself after the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the shooting as “a terrorist act” and said Russian President Vladimir Putin has given all the necessary orders to the relevant authorities.

“President Putin deeply mourns deaths of people and children in the school, where a terrorist act took place,” Peskov told reporters Monday.

The school educates children between grades one and 11. It has been evacuated and the area around it has been cordoned off, the governor said.

Russia's National Guard said Kazantsev used two non-lethal handguns adapted to fire real bullets. The guns were not registered with the authorities.

A criminal probe into the incident has been launched on charges of multiple murder and illegal possession of firearms.

Izhevsk, a city of 640,000, is located west of the Ural Mountains in central Russia.

- AP/UNB


Russia   School Shooting  


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