Putin says US threats smack of Soviet Union's fatal mistakes

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with chief executives of foreign companies via video conference at the SPIEF on June 4, 2021. (Sputnik Pool Photo via AP)
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Updated 06 June 2021

Putin says US threats smack of Soviet Union's fatal mistakes

  • Says Russia-US disagreements "are not the result of Russian actions"
  • Voices hope that his June 16 meeting with US President Biden will help ease tensions

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday set a tough tone for his upcoming summit with US President Joe Biden, accusing Washington of trying to contain Russia and citing its response to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as a manifestation of the West’s double standards.
Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in St. Petersburg, Putin said that arms control, global conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic and climate change are among the issues he and Biden would discuss at their June 16 summit in Geneva.
“We need to find ways of looking for a settlement in our relations, which are at an extremely low level now,” Putin said.
“We don’t have any issues with the US,” he continued. “But it has an issue with us. It wants to contain our development and publicly talks about it. Economic restrictions and attempts to influence our country’s domestic politics, relying on forces they consider their allies inside Russia, stem from that.”
He voiced hope that the meeting will help ease tensions with Washington. Russia-US ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian interference in elections in the US and other Western nations, and cyberattacks that US officials allege had Russian origins.
Putin reiterated that Russia rejects accusations of interfering in US presidential elections, and he spoke critically of the US response to the Capitol attack, which took place as Congress prepared to certify that Biden had defeated then-President Donald Trump in November.
“They weren’t just a crowd of robbers and rioters. Those people had come with political demands,” he said.
Putin pointed out that the heavy charges against hundreds of participants in the attack were filed even as the US and its allies strongly criticized Belarus’ crackdown on anti-government protests. And he charged that even as the West has criticized Russian authorities for a harsh response to anti-Kremlin demonstrations, protesters in Europe have faced an even tougher police response, with some shot in the eye by what he mockingly called “democratic rubber bullets.”
At a later videoconference with the heads of major international news agencies, Putin said “I don’t expect any breakthrough results” from the summit with Biden. The United States and Russia have some corresponding interests, he said, “despite certain disagreements. These disagreements are not the result of Russian actions.”
In response to a question from Associated Press President and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt, Putin returned to the theme of blaming the United States for poor relations.
“We are not taking steps first — I’m talking about the steps that deteriorated our relations. It was not us who introduced sanctions against us, it was the United States who did that on every occasion and even without grounds, just because our country exists,” he said through a translator.
He also criticized the United States as being overconfident and drew a parallel with the Soviet Union.
“You know what the problem is? I will tell you as a former citizen of the former Soviet Union. What is the problem of empires — they think that they are so powerful that they can afford small errors and mistakes,” he said. “But the number of problems is growing. There comes a time when they can no longer be dealt with. And the United States, with a confident gait, a firm step, is going straight along the path of the Soviet Union.”
At the earlier session, Putin praised Biden as a “very experienced statesman who has been involved in politics for his entire life ... and a very prudent and careful person. I do hope that our meeting will be positive.”
He also took time to deride the allegations that Russian hackers targeted a US pipeline and a meat plant — accusations that have clouded the atmosphere before the summit.
“I do hope that people would realize that there hasn’t been any malicious Russian activity whatsoever,” he said. “I heard something about the meat plant. It’s sheer nonsense. We all understand it’s just ridiculous. A pipeline? It’s equally absurd.”
Putin said “the US special services should track down those ransom seekers. It’s certainly not Russia that would extort money from some company. We don’t deal with chicken or beef. It’s plain ridiculous.”
He alleged the hacking accusations were aired by those who try to “provoke new conflicts before our meeting with Biden,” and added that some in the US doubted Russian involvement in the hacks.
“It means that inside the American society, media and political class, there are people who want to find ways to repair US-Russian relations,” he said.
On other issues, Putin praised his country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and called for a stronger worldwide response to global warming as he sought to bolster Russia’s international standing.
Addressing the forum, Putin lauded the efficiency of Russian-designed vaccines and bemoaned what he described as “politically motivated bans” on their purchase in some countries.
Last year, Russia boasted of being the first in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine, but it has since moved slowly in giving shots to its population. The slack pace of vaccination has been partly attributed to public skepticism about the vaccines amid controversial signals from the authorities.
Experts have questioned whether Russia will be able to meet the government target of vaccinating more than 30 million of the country’s 146 million people by mid-June, and nearly 69 million by August.
Putin again urged the Russians to move quickly to get the shots, and he invited foreigners to Russia to get vaccinated, saying he would instruct the government to facilitate that.
He also emphasized the need to strengthen the international response to climate change, noting that melting permafrost has posed a major challenge to Russia’s Arctic regions.
“We have entire cities built on permafrost,” he said. “What will happen if it all starts melting?”
Putin said pipes have been laid for the first of two lines of the prospective Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany, leaving only welding to finalize its construction. He said the second line will follow soon.
The US has strongly opposed construction of the Russian pipeline, but the Biden administration opted last month not to punish the German company overseeing the project while announcing new sanctions against Russian companies and ships. The Kremlin has hailed it as a “positive signal” before the Putin-Biden summit.
The Russian leader hailed the project as more economically feasible than an existing pipeline via Ukraine, rejecting Ukrainian and Western criticism that it’s designed to rob Kyiv of transit fees.
Putin said Russia will continue pumping via Ukraine 40 billion cubic meters of gas a year in line with an existing five-year contract, and could continue doing so after it expires if Ukraine shows “goodwill.”
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a tense tug-of-war following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Putin deplored what he described as the US use of the dollar as a political weapon, saying that “its use as an instrument of competition and political struggle has hurt its role as the world reserve currency.”
Russia said Thursday it will completely remove the US dollar from its National Wealth Fund and turn the dollar-denominated assets into euros, yuan and gold. Russia long has moved to reduce the dollar’s share in its hard currency reserves as it has faced US sanctions amid tensions with Washington and its allies.


Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

Updated 10 August 2022

Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

  • Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares
  • France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record

HOSTENS, France: Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 8,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Skies darkened from the smoke billowing from forests destroyed by fires that have razed more than 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) and were continuing to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings and WAIT FOR THE INVITATION TO LEAVE which will be notified to you by the gendarmerie, officials or volunteers going door-to-door,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook after authorities decided to evacuate part of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers before taking flight.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening — within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads, and parts of a highway, were closed.

HEATWAVES
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures to some places.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.


Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

Updated 10 August 2022

Indian mother and son shoot to fame after passing civil service exam together

  • Social media posts praise the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and children
  • The mother and son applied and prepared together for Public Service Commission exams

NEW DELHI: A mother and son from Kerala made national headlines and did the rounds on social media in India on Wednesday after clearing civil service exams together.

Nedumkalathil Bindu, 42, and Vivek Ottupara, 24, from Malappuram district in the southwestern Indian state, studied together to take the Public Service Commission’s examination.

The mother’s test results for Last Grade Servants were announced in late July with the rank of 92, while her son for Lower Divisional Clerk came out last week with the rank of 38. 

For Bindu, who for the past 10 years has been involved in rural social work, it was a third attempt at the test. And the third time proved to be the charm.

“I have been trying to clear this exam since 2014,” she told Arab News over the phone from Malappuram.

The exam is conducted every three years. After failing twice, Bindu joined hands with her son, who had completed his degree in geography in 2019.

“I used to go to the Prateeksha coaching center in the Areekode area of Malappuram,” she said. “I also asked my son to join the coaching.”

Although both knew that they were well prepared for the tests, they were surprised when the news broke and went viral on social media.

“We are happy and tense because we are not able to handle this situation of constant attention,” Ottupara said. “We did not expect that the result would go viral.” 

It was the last chance for Bindu to try to join the civil service in Kerala, where the maximum age to apply is 40. She applied in 2019, a year before crossing the limit.

Social media posts praised the duo for being an inspiration for Indian mothers and their children, and an “awesome example of willingness to achieve goals.”

Bindu was initially reluctant to give interviews but said her coaching center told her the achievement would help motivate others.

“I keep on getting lots of calls from people,” she said. “I got a call from a coaching center in Calicut which said that because of me many women have joined the coaching. I feel that all the bother is worth it if I can inspire even one person.”
 


London children to be offered polio booster as samples found 

Updated 10 August 2022

London children to be offered polio booster as samples found 

  • The last case of polio in the UK, which can cause paralysis, was in 1984
  • The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan 

LONDON: Around one million children in London will be offered a polio booster vaccine after the virus was detected in sewage samples across the capital, health officials said Wednesday.

“Following the discovery of type 2 vaccine-derived poliovirus in sewage in north and east London,” a targetted booster does would be offered to children between one and nine, said a health ministry statement.
There have been no confirmed cases of the disease, but it has been found at an increasing number of sewage plants across the capital. It was first detected at an east London treatment works earlier this year.
The detected levels suggest “that there is some level of virus transmission in these boroughs which may extend to the adjacent areas,” said the statement.
The last case of polio in the UK, which can cause paralysis, was in 1984.
The wild version of the virus now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a type of vaccine that contains small amounts of weakened but live polio still causes occasional outbreaks elsewhere.
Oral polio vaccine (OPV) replicates in the gut and can be passed to others through faecal-contaminated water. So, although it will not hurt the vaccinated child, it could infect their neighbors in places where hygiene and immunization levels are low.
While weaker than wild poliovirus, this variant can cause serious illness and paralysis in people not vaccinated against the disease.
The discovery in the London sewage samples suggests “there may be localized spread of poliovirus,” said polio eradication expert Kathlene O’Reilly.
That would most likely be among individuals who are not up to date with their polio immunizations, she added.
Polio immunization coverage in London stands at nearly 87 percent, according to the WHO, lower than the rest of the country.
“For the majority of the population, who are fully vaccinated, the risk is low,” said Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency.
“But we know the areas in London where the poliovirus is being transmitted have some of the lowest vaccination rates.
“This is why the virus is spreading in these communities and puts those residents not fully vaccinated at greater risk,” she added. 


Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Updated 10 August 2022

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

  • The 45-year-old recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at "the left" and defends her fight for "stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy"
  • Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League

ROME: Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni declared Wednesday in a video message aimed at international critics alarmed by her predicted victory in September 25 elections.
The 45-year-old, whose Brothers of Italy party is topping opinion polls, recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at “the left” and defends her fight for “stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy.”
“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists.
She also condemned as “absurd” the notion she would put at risk far-reaching structural reforms agreed with the European Union in return for billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funds.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.
Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.
Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.
Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.
Meloni emphasises her Christian and family values, backs more defense spending, lower taxes and an end to mass immigration.
In her video, she says the “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values.”
While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.
In her video, she emphasised the “shared values” with Britain’s Conservatives, the US Republicans and Israel’s Likud.


Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Updated 10 August 2022

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

  • If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan government minister on Wednesday submitted to Parliament a constitutional amendment bill that would clip the powers of the president, a key demand of protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe presented the bill, which would transfer some presidential powers — including those to appoint independent election commission members, police and public service officials, and bribery and corruption investigators — into the hands of a constitutional council comprising lawmakers and respected non-political persons. The council would then recommend candidates for these appointments that the president could choose from.
Under the proposed amendments, the president also would only be able to appoint a chief justice, other senior judges, an attorney general and a central bank governor on the recommendation of the council. The prime minister would recommend appointments to the Cabinet and the president would not be allowed to hold any ministry positions except defense.
The bill, which will undergo debate, must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was ousted as president by angry protests last month, reversed those reforms and concentrated power in himself after being elected to office in 2019.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has promised to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen Parliament in response to the protesters’ demands.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for the past four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa family’s alleged mismanagement and corruption for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials like medicines, food and fuel.
The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
The protests have largely dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore last month after angry protesters stormed his official residence and occupied several key state buildings. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and three other close family members resigned from their Cabinet positions before him.

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